Chinese Old Man Exercises

Posted in Health and Medicine at 11:06 am by Benjamin Ross

Looking to join a gym?  Don’t have the money to pay for a high-tech super-sophisticated 24-hour fitness megaplex?  Why not go to China where public exercise equipment is free and abundant in parks and squares across the nation?  I call it the 老头锻炼公园 or “Old Man Exercise Park.”  When I stayed in Beijing 3 months this past summer, there was one right next to my building.  Sure, it isn’t a bona fide full facility gym, and sure you aren’t going to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger simply by pumping iron with Chinese retirees, but why not fit in a quick workout on your way back from the grocery store…or before you grab your late night shao kao…or while your shoes are being repaired?  Let’s try it out!

All of the machines work by using one’s own body weight for resistance.  Therefore each machine tailors to an individual’s size, and thus presumably his strength.  The main drawback is that the resistance weight cannot be adjusted.Let’s start off simple by working the shoulders.
That wasn’t so bad now, was it?
Now for pull ups
As you pull down with your arms, the machine pushes your legs upward
nice…and easy…nice…and easy
Not all of the Old Man Exercise Gear is quite so intuitive…
…as Shumin demonstrates here.  Neither of us could figure out the proper use for either of these two.
Now time to work those triceps
Unfortunately, at 28 years old, I am well past my prime as a gymnast. But that doesn’t mean I can’t strut my stuff with other fogies.
…just don’t break a hip.
Here’s another confusing one.
Maybe if I raise the bars over my head…
little help anybody?
There we go…This machine doesn’t seem to have been designed for people in excess of 5′ 7.”
And finally the Hip Gyrator, as we practice that all-important act of rapidly thrusting one’s pelvis in a forward motion.
So there you have it.  The Chinese “Old Man Exercise Park.”  They can be found in almost any public area or residential development in any province, city, or county in the Middle Kingdom.  Nothing beats a quick, easy workout, which doesn’t require a membership, gym clothes, or even much athletic ability on your own part.  Makes me wonder why we don’t have these back home in the Corpulent States of America…oh yeah, because some idiot would probably injure himself and sue the city…nevermind.
china children's playground
Also, thanks to Shumin for modeling (and taking most of the pics).



Sexual Education and Family Planning with Chinese Characteristics

Posted in Health and Medicine, Society, Translations at 6:01 pm by Benjamin Ross

This past summer, during my trip to the Yu Village in Southern Hebei, I came across a jovial series of public health/sex education signs. They were constructed out of tile and affixed to the sides of stone buildings lining the main road of the Yu Village. Several generations ago, public displays such as these were the main avenues for the dissemination of public information. Thesedays, they are less and less common, and virtually non-existent in major cities. The following signs give step-by-step instructions on how you and your family can live a happy healthy life, and I have translated them for your enjoyment. Read carefully. You might even learn something.

(Click on the images to see enlarged views)

Fresh New Marriage and Child Rearing for 10,000 Families

Carrying out the activities of “Fresh New Marriage and Child Rearing for 10,000 Families” relies on the community, depends on families, and is for the greater purpose of establishing proper childbearing masses, science, civilization, and improving the institution of marriage. Our purpose is to create families which are civilized and happy, have less children, and become rich fast. There should be a societal trend in which marriage and childbearing is delayed, having less children is eugenic, and having a girl is just as good as having a boy. Happiness is connected to you, me, and others. Keep your knowledge of marriage and child rearing up to date, and help to establish Fresh New Marriage and Child Rearing.

Promote the idea of women having only one child.

note: ”10,000” is a commonly used Chinese hyperbolic expression implying an extremely large, if not infinite number.

The Wonderful Green Spring Period

What is the Green Spring Period?
The Green Spring Period is the stage which occurs from about 12 or 13 years of age until about 17 or 18.

The Green Spring Period…
is sexual development and the sign of maturation; For females it generally begins at the time of the first menstrual period. For males, it starts around the time of their first emission.

What are the signs of the Green Spring Period?
blurb: Every year (I) get 6-13 inches taller.
blurb: Every year (I) get 5-10 kilograms heavier.

The secondary sexual characteristics appear
females: the nipples protrude, the pelvis widens,the breasts develop, pubic hair and armpit hair begin to grow: menstrual periods begin and gradually become more regular, the voice gets higher.
males: stature increases, muscles develop: pubic hair, facial hair, and armpit hair begins to grow: Adam’s apple starts to show, the voice gets deeper and the tone gets lower, they begin to produce semen

side note: 青春期 (the Green Spring Period), in English is commonly known as “puberty.” However, the adolescent in me couldn’t help but leave it directly translated.

Chinese stick figure public health poster
The Wonderful Green Spring Period

“Menstruation,” What’s going on?
blurb: “What’s happening?”

Once a girl has reached the Green Spring Period, the inner lining of the uterus and the hormones begin to react. Girls will find that a cycle begins, and they will bleed. Blood will come out of the vagina and this is called “menstruation.” The menstrual cycle on average is 28 days. Menstruating is a sign of a healthy girl.

What you should pay attention to during your menstrual period
-Maintain a stable, optimistic, cheerful mood
-Avoid strenuous exercise and heavy manual labor
-Don’t go into the rice paddies barefoot
-Eat less cold and spicy food
-Do not swim
-Do not shower
-In order to prevent the private parts from getting to cold, do not sit on any cold surfaces.
-Every day use warm water to wash the genital area or eluviate
-Change and clean your “menstrual belt.” After you wash it, dry it out in the moonlight.

If you fall in love early, you could easily be affected by bad guys

What are the dangers of falling in love early?

blurb, middle right: 工读学校 (a special school for kids who need extra discipline)
-It will influence studies and work
-It will influence physical health
-Having a baby early will bring a lot of pain and suffering

Wish You A Happy Marriage

What is the pre-marriage examination?
Before they register to get married, young men and women undergo a health examination which is called the pre-marriage examination. There are a few diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis which need to be healed before getting married. This is in order to benefit the health of the woman and the child.

Why do you have to register to get married?

Once you have registered, the marriage is a legal marriage, and (the couple) can receive legal protection.

Regular gynecological exam
After women get married (they should regularly check) blood pressure, heart, pelvic exam, pap smear (cancer screening) , ultra-gynecology, etc. If there is a disease, they can find it early, and treat it early.

Help for you to get through the difficult peri-natal period

What you should pay attention to during labor
-Eat more, eat high calorie soup, milk, eggs, etc.
blurb: “It looks like this time you’re really going into labor!”
-Giving birth at home is way too dangerous!
-Don’t be nervous going to the hospital to have your baby. It will go much better if you do it with a doctor.

What you should pay attention to during the post-partum period
-Make sure you get 10 hours of sleep every day.
-Maintain proper ventilation
-Eat less, but more often
-get enough activity
-get adequate sunlight
-keep warm and keep sanitary

How to Have a Healthy and Smart Child

Why close relatives can’t get married
Regulation: It is illegal for relatives whose relations are closer than third cousins to get married.
blurb: “Cousin, Cousin.”
blurb: “Illegal!”
The mortality rate of children whose parents are close relatives is three times that of those whose parents are not related.

The chances of inheriting a genetic disease are 150 times higher for children whose parents are related as opposed to those of unrelated parents.

How to choose the best age to have children
blurb: “I’m 26 years old!”
sign: Females are fully developed by the age of 23-25.
The best age to have children is 25-29.

What is 优生?
优生means having a happy, healthy child
blurb: “This child is really smart!”
blurb: “This child is growing really well!”

Who determines the sex of the child?
banner : Having a boy and having a girl are the same
sign: mother XX father XY female child XX male child XY
The sex of the child is determined by the male!

note: The word next to the crying mother and female child in the bottom right (过去) means “in the past.” The word next to the two happy parents and the female child (现在) means “now,” thus implying in the past having a girl would make a couple sad, whereas today it will make a couple happy.

Necessary Precautions for Pregnancy

How to project your due date
The easy way to calculate is to start from the last menstrual period and either subtract 3 or add 9 to the month, and from the day add 7.

Due date:
If the pregnant woman is used to using the lunar calendar, she can add 15 days to the date.

How do you know you’re pregnant?
The most important sign of pregnancy is that the menstrual period stops.
caption: “I don’t want to eat. I want to…throw up…”

Early on in pregnancy, most women feel nausea, vomit, notice enlargement of the breasts, and become picky about their food
What to pay attention to after pregnancy
You should:
-Keep the skin clean
-Take good care of the breasts during pregnancy
-Make sure you are having regular bowel movements
-Do a prenatal screening
-Control your sex life
-Wear loose clothing
-Stay in happy spirits

Healthcare for Infants

What kinds of special neonatal care should be given to infants?

Neonatal refers to the period from when the baby is born until it is 28 days old

Be sure to keep them warm, keep the skin clean and sterile, have good oral hygiene, keep the umbilical cord clean, sterile, and dry,
loss of body weight

Do not button their clothes. Do not use a needle either. You should use a 带子系 which is tied at one side

The best thing for infants to eat is their mother’s milk

Mother’s milk is full of various nutrients. it’s easy to digest and absorb, it can boost the immune system, it’s economical, convenient, clean, and it’s the appropriate temperature. Under normal circumstances, at about 10-12 months, an infant should stop drinking its mother’s milk.

Care for Common Infant Maladies

What kinds of maladies do infants often get?
high fever,children’s pneumonia,
Make sure the air in their room is fresh
Give them enough water
Make sure the respiratory path is clear

This disease is the result of low iron intake
(Eat) more foods which contain iron such as meat, eggs, liver, vegetables, and vegetables should be added to the diet.

Infant Diarrhea

Make sure the anus and surrounding area is clean and sterile
Control the diet
Do not use medication without the guidance of a doctor

Children’s Rickets
This disease is caused by a vitamin D deficiency
You should eat more eggs, liver, vegetables, and fruit, and spend more time in the sun.

Care and prevention for other diseases in infants

bed rest, cover the blanket, keep the room dark and ventilated, drink a lot of water

Care for whooping cough
Keep the air fresh to prevent choking on smoke
Eat less, but more often
make sure they get adequate sleep

“Children’s Hospital”

Go quickly to the hospital to get a diagnosis


Choosing the Most Suitable Birth Control Method for You
Contraception method choices

1. For unmarried women
The best contraception methods:
-the man wears a condom
-short-term or “visiting relatives” birth control pills
-make sure to stop taking the pills 6 months before you want to get pregnant

2. During the breast feeding period
The best birth control methods:
-contraceptive implants
-long-acting contraceptive injections (get the injection every 3 months)

3. A mother with one child
The best birth control methods:
-oral contraceptives
-contraceptive injections
-contraceptive implants

4. Parents with two children
-The best birth control methods:
-getting the tubes tied
-contraceptive implants

5. Couples living in two different regions
The best birth control methods:
-“visiting relatives” birth control pills

6. Women nearing menopause
The best birth control methods: condoms
(those using birth control should stop half a year after the onset of menopause)

Control the population and thus improve the population’s quality.Strengthen the population and the Family Planning Policy.  Stabilize the low birth rate.



Japanese meat…banned in China?

Posted in Curious English, Health and Medicine, Japan at 7:06 pm by Benjamin Ross

Lately, the hubbub in the press has been all about the safety of products originating from China.  As I was leaving Japan, I ran into this sign at Narita Airport.

China prohibits carry-on beef from japan

I had been previously unaware of any Chinese restrictions on transporting Japanese beef. However, I guess you have to run a pretty tight ship when you are selling to distributors like the one pictured below.

Really Safe Meat

Maybe they just have to massage all of the cattle in-house now…安全第一



Picture of the Day: Olympic No-Smoking Propaganda

Posted in Health and Medicine, Olympics, Society, Translations at 4:11 pm by Benjamin Ross

I saw this advertisement at the bus stop outside my apartment this morning.

Chinese No Smoking Advertisement

It reads:

Establish a non-smoking environment. Controlling smoking begins with me (you).

There are so many messages wrapped up into this advertisement it is difficult to know where to begin. Here’s what I see.

-You will be healthy if you don’t smoke.

-You will be happy if you don’t smoke.

-There is an inherent connection between quitting smoking and helping the environment.

-There is an inherent connection between the environment and the Olympics.

-A proper Chinese family should have only one kid.

-Having a girl child can make a family just as happy as having a boy.

The Chinese word for “propaganda” is 宣传 (xuan1 chuan2). However, unlike the English word, the Chinese term does not necessarily come with a negative connotation. 宣传 is more like a public service announcement, messages for the greater good of the masses. But like “propaganda,” 宣传 often specifically tells the reader what action he should take or how he should think, rather than just stating the facts.

A picture may be worth 1000 words, but a carefully procured picture, along with a working knowledge of Photoshop and an explicit slogan, is usually worth a whole lot more.



Take that cigarette outside!…not in Tokyo.

Posted in Health and Medicine, Japan at 9:04 pm by Benjamin Ross

While American states and cities are systematically banning smoking in indoor public establishments, the city of Tokyo has recently enacted a law which has banned smoking in outdoor public establishments as well. Outdoor smoking is now restricted to special smoking zones. Like China, Japan has high rates of smoking, and from what I gathered from the locals, people are not too stoked about this new regulation. However, based on my limited observation (I was only there 3 days), it did seem that a large portion of Tokyo’s smokers are complying by the new rules. With serial public smoking becoming increasingly difficult in Japan and the United States, one might wonder if at some point the smoking dominoes will begin to fall in China as well. My personal thought is that as long as the Chinese government remains interested in promoting “stability” and creating a “harmonious society” smoking will go on unchecked in virtually every nook and cranny of the Middle Kingdom.

smokers in smoking area Shibuya Station
Smokers congregate in the designated smoking area outside of Shibuya Station.
Shibuya City Smoking Rules
A sign clarifies the policy for those uninitiated.
A lit cigarette is carried at the height of a child's face.
Japanese anti-smoking propaganda (closeup of sign in the middle of the first picture)



AIDS Education with Chinese Characteristics

Posted in Health and Medicine at 2:17 pm by Benjamin Ross

The other day I was having lunch with a Chinese friend when the conversation turned to homosexuality.

“What is your attitude about homosexuals?” he asked me.

“I don’t really have any problem with it. I think it’s a personal decision.” I told him.

“Me to. I think China has a lot of gay people, most of them are not open about it though. I agree. People should be able to be gay if they want, and others should respect their privacy. But I do think it is quite dangerous because of AIDS,” he replied.

Like anywhere in the world these days, AIDS is a problem in China. Up until about 5 or 6 years ago, AIDS was not talked about much in China. The government’s stance was that AIDS was a Western problem and that China need not concern itself with these matters.

Today this is not the case. The central government has realized that AIDS is no longer a problem which can just be ignored and expected to go away, and now AIDS receives regular coverage in Chinese TV, newspapers, and public health campaigns. When I was teaching in Fuqing in 2004, my university even displayed posters about AIDS prevention around campus. The language used on them was vague, and did not contain much information about prevention, but at least the problem was being acknowledged, which is the first step towards a solution.

In the past few years I have noticed the amount of AIDS coverage in the Chinese media has been steadily increasing. This should be a welcome change, since HIV/AIDS is one of the few physical ailments which, in theory could be eliminated by prevention education alone.

In the United States, this was the approach taken in the 1990’s, and the result was a barrage of advertisement and educational campaigns. The message was simple. AIDS is real; AIDS is deadly; There are 3 ways it is transmitted (mother to baby, sexual intercourse, sharing drug needles); Anybody is susceptible.

When I was in high school, every few months we would have an assembly or a guest speaker which would reinforce our AIDS education. It was a bit overkill, but it was effective. Talking to most Americans my age these days, there is little ambiguity over how AIDS is transmitted. Whether or not people take the proper precautions is another issue, but at least the knowledge is there.

In China the message is different: AIDS is real; AIDS is deadly; But you are much more likely to contract it if you are homosexual, a drug user, or a prostitute. The connections can be subtle, but there is an implied connection with AIDS and homosexuality that pervades a great deal of the AIDS literature in China. This stereotype was actively spoken against in the US in the 90’s, as we were constantly reminded “AIDS is not a gay disease.” In China it seems to be working the other way around.

As we continued our conversation about homosexuality, the topic shifted more towards that of HIV/AIDS. We were discussing the differing ratios of AIDS among homosexuals and heterosexuals, and this is how my friend explained it.

“In homosexual sex there is a high incidence of the tissue being torn. AIDS cannot survive in the air, but it is transmitted through blood. In “regular” sex, the chance of tissue being torn is much less, and if no blood passes, then the AIDS virus cannot be transmitted.”

While the first part of his answer is accurate, it was the last statement which had me concerned.

“What about other fluids?” I asked, trying not to be too graphic.

“What do you mean? AIDS is transmitted by the blood.”

“No not that…” I responded.

“Oh, other bodily fluids,” he replied, suddenly realizing what I was referring to “I don’t really know about that.”

My friend is a well educated, affluent, Fuzhou resident in his early thirties, who would presumably be well-versed in worldly matters such as HIV/AIDS. However, I think he, like millions of other Chinese, have been victim to a glitch in the public health educational campaign which implies that AIDS is still a gay disease.

While his statement about AIDS being easier to transmit though homosexual sex is accurate, the fact that he did not even know it was possible to contract it through heterosexual sex has grave implications, especially when you consider that China has over 1 billion people who are neither gay, prostitutes, nor intravenous drug users.

AIDS is one of very few medical ailments which could be eliminated by prevention education alone. But in order for the prevention education to work, it must be emphasized that individuals who refrain from those “immoral” activities are succeptable as well. Based on the current Chinese AIDS coverage, this is not the message I am receiving.



Ba Guan, Chinese Fire Cupping (拔罐)

Posted in Barbershop, Health and Medicine at 4:45 pm by Benjamin Ross

On my second to last night in the barbershop, I was giving a massage to one of our regular customers who is a good friend of Mr. Zheng. She asked me to pull down her shirt a bit in back, and have a look. There was a long red scar going down her back. “It’s from gua sha. Have you ever had one?” she said.

Gua sha (刮痧) is a Chinese medical treatment in which a smooth edge is rubbed up and down the back after applying a lubricant. The result is a red bruise which makes the recipient look like a torture victim. Last week I had seen Xiao Wang perform an amateur gua sha on Adamum in the store, and insisted I would never get one no matter how good it felt.

“No, I’ve never tried gua sha. How was it?” I replied to the woman.

“It’s great. You really should try it sometime. What about ba guan?” she asked.

Xiao Wang gives an in-store gua sha to Adamum

Ba guan (拔罐) also known as “fire cupping,” is another Chinese medical treatment in which a vacuum is created by fire in glass cups which are placed on the patients back. The resulting suction is believed to cleanse toxins, and also provide treatment to diseases such as pneumonia and the common cold. If you have ever seen people in China with large circular purple bruises on their back, this is what it is from.

“I haven’t tried that either.”

“Wanna try?” she asked. By this time Mr. Zheng was listening in on our conversation. “How about I take both of you out to the sauna after work and you can try it out,” she continued.

Now up until this point, I had been steering away from any activity or benefits which might separate me from the other employees, but I must admit I was also quite interested to try out ba guan for myself.

“Sure, why not. Let’s do it,” I told her. By this time, several of my coworkers had been listening in, and began questioning if me if I really thought I could go through with it. Chinese medicine has a reputation for pain and bad tastes, and foreigners (probably rightly so) are often perceived as not being able to take it. Putting on an arrogant air of machoness, I told them I could take the pain and would come back the next day with the scars to prove it.

The plate of glass cups which will momentarily be heated and placed on my back.

The woman drove Mr. Zheng and I to a sauna near the barber shop. Like any Chinese sauna, the men and women have to separate and you go into a locker room where you are followed by a little Chinese guy wearing a tuxedo top who stands next to you as you strip down naked. After you take a shower he hands you the sauna clothes, a loose-fitting pajama-like garment which comes in a top and a bottom.

After we took a shower and put on our sauna clothes, Mr. Zheng and I were led into a massage room. Mr. Zheng had opted out of the ba guan, and instead ordered a massage. A few minutes later, a young girl came in and began massaging Mr. Zheng’s back. I must add that the thought of having a massage is ten times more appealing after you have spent the day massaging other people. But I had chosen my destiny, and it was too late to back out now. Just then, my server walked in the door. But instead of a cute little massage girl, it was a young guy with a full plate of glass cups and metal tongs. Let’s call him Frank out of convenience.

Frank gets everything prepared…Do they use these kinds of tools in Western medicine?

“Just tell me if it’s uncomfortable,” he said which is Chinese for “This is going to hurt like hell.”

Mr. Zheng confirmed with me once more that I really wanted to go through with the process, and fearing the embarrassment of having come this far only to return to the barber shop the following day without a back looking like a detainee at a torture camp, I decided to proceed.

The massage bed had a hole for the head, so I lay face down, with my head in the hole, and could not see anything which was going on. First Frank applied an ointment or lubricant to my back. After this, I began to feel the suction of one of the cups on my back. The suction is created by a flame which is ignited inside the cups before they are applied, so when the cup was applied to my back it was still hot, but not hot enough to be uncomfortable. I could feel the flesh being sucked up in the cup, when all of a sudden…”pop.” He pulled it up. The process was then repeated over and over again. A hot cup was placed on different spots on my back, and then removed a few seconds later, providing a rhythm of “pop’s” up and down my backside. After about five minutes of this, I began to feel a hot scraping on my back. It felt as if somebody was running a smooth stone down my back and scraping off the skin, although not quite that painful. At this point, I did have to chicken out and ask Frank to stop. I still have no idea what he was actually doing, as the whole time my face was stuck face down in the head hole in the bed. As Frank moved on to the final stage, I could hear the hot flame igniting the cups as one by one he placed each of the hot cups in different points along my back. After ten minutes, my entire back was covered in hot cups, all simultaneously sucking upwards on my back skin. It was a little awkward, slightly painful, but one of the more relaxing sensations I have ever experienced. Generally speaking, I do not take pain too well, and I am not a masochist, but the pain on my back actually felt good. I lay face down on the bed, with my back being sucked up by the hot cups for ten minutes before Frank came back to remove them pop by pop.

My back is completely covered in glass cups.

“Don’t take a shower for the next 12 hours, and if it itches, it is best not to scratch it,” he told me as he removed the cups. After we were finished, Mr. Zheng and I went back to the locker room, where the first thing I did was look at my back in the mirror. I had done the ba guan, my body felt great, and I had the large circular red scars on my back to prove it to my coworkers. From what I had heard they would be turning purple within the next day or two.

The cost of the service was 40 RMB, though I have heard it is cheaper if done at a more rustic venue. Although my understanding of ba guan and Chinese medicine as a whole is quite limited, I would recommend ba guan to anybody who is interested in trying something new. (And if anybody out there is more familiar with Chinese medicine, and can elaborate on ba guan’s effects that would be great). Although the effects were nothing extraordinary, my back felt great afterwards, and it was not nearly as painful as it looks from the pictures.

After the cups are removed, I am left with these lovely bruises. This shot could really freak out a mother if not placed into context, eh?



Sanitation with Chinese Characteristics

Posted in Barbershop, Health and Medicine at 11:10 am by Benjamin Ross

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China often gets a reputation for not having exceptionally high standards in terms of cleanliness and sanitation. After living in China for three years, I have to say that I agree with this assertion. While in some areas, such as food, sanitation may not be as necessary in China as it is in the West, this does not quell the fact that most Chinese public establishments are considerably less sanitary than the American equivalent.

With this in mind, I wanted to write a little expose, if you will, on sanitation in Chinese barber shops, or more accurately, my Chinese barber shop.

For starters, I should mention our shop is what is referred to as “mid-range.” We refer to it as a 美发店 (mei3 fa4 dian4) rather than a 理发店 (li3 fa4 dian4) and our barbers are called 美发师 (mei3 fa4 shi1) instead of 理发师 (li3 fa4 shi1). This is analogous to the euphemistic differences between “barbers” in a “barber shop” and “hair dressers” in a “salon.” This means that most of our clientele are rich, but not so rich that they need to have the same hairdresser who once gave Jackie Chan a foot massage. A hair wash is 12 RMB, and a haircut is 30 RMB (50 if Mr. Zheng does it himself). Customers expect levels of sanitation higher than what you would you would get in a 10 RMB barbershop…or from those barber shops with the red lights that don’t actually cut any hair.

Carrottop (now with purple hair) scrubs the floor during out late night cleaning routine.

I must say that of the various service industry jobs I have worked (all in the US), the barber shop is probably the cleanest environment I have ever worked in. Every evening from 10 to 10:30, Mr. Zheng has us 做卫生 (zuo4 wei4 sheng1), the Chinese word for “clean up” which literally means “do sanitation.” All of us little brothers and sisters have to meticulously clean every nook and cranny of the shop even though it is just going to get covered with hair again the following morning. We sweep the floor, scrub all the sinks with detergent, tidy up the bathroom, and clean all mirrors, windows, and machinery. The whole cleaning routine goes a bit overkill, but since there are no hourly wages, Mr. Zheng has little incentive not to make use of the excess labor that he has on hand. He is particular about all the cleaning, and inspects everything before we leave. One evening he determined that the floor hadn’t been properly cleaned, and made us stay late to do it all over again. Because of the wage structure, this does not cost him any extra money in overtime, as it would in the US.

“Every nook and cranny” includes the area under the AC, which is usually full of hair.

All this being said, there are still a few token areas of concern when it comes to cleanliness and sanitation. The first is the towels. When a customer comes in for a wash, a towel is placed on their back before they lie down on the washing bed to protect their clothes from any misguided water. Another towel is used to wrap their hair after the wash is complete. After they finish their post-wash massage they are guided over to one of the barbers, who blow dries and styles their hair. Before this happens the towel used to wrap the hair during the massage is discarded onto a nearby chair. Part of my job is to collect the discarded towels. If they are thoroughly wet I throw them in a tub and they go home to Mr. Zheng’s washing machine. If they are dry or only somewhat wet, I put them on top of the wet face towel heater to dry them off. They are then thrown into a bucket, refolded and used again. So in theory, the towel that is being used to dry off your hair could have already been used on three or four different heads that day, granted they were all freshly washed heads.

The next area of concern is of sterilizer for the hair cutting utensils, which is…never used. This may sound gross to us mysophobic Westerners, but I’m not convinced how absolutely necessary it really is. When I get a haircut in the US, my barber always meticulously sterilizes all of the utensils before they touch my head. However, he also does not wash my hair first. It’s feasible a customer could have weeks of oil, dirt, and germs built up in their hair which then comes into contact with the utensils. In our shop every customer is given a thorough hair wash (2 rounds of shampoo, plus a shot of conditioner) before and after every haircut. While this probably does not kill as many germs as the sanitizer, I’m willing to accept it as clean enough and leave the rest to my immune system.

Other than these 2 areas, I have yet to notice anything else which may be of concern from a sanitation perspective. The floor and barber chairs are always spotless, the sinks are as clean as they could be for receiving as much use as they do, and the bathroom is always spotless. Now, if only I could say the same for Chinese restaurants.

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Cross Cultural Contamination

Posted in Culture Clash, Food and Drink, Health and Medicine at 9:57 pm by Benjamin Ross

chinese meat market
a typical Chinese “meat market” in Fuqing, Fujian

As Westerners, one of our first impressions of the China is an apparent lack of sanitation, especially in regards to food. In Chinese markets, one can find meat remaining out on tables all day long, unwrapped and unrefrigerated. Vegetables are sprawled over the dirty ground, often only a few feet away from heaps of rotting garbage. Flies and other pests are abundant. Chinese restaurants can be even worse. Like the market, the floors are dirty, the food is not always refrigerated, cooking utensils are often old and rusty, and cooks slice their vegetables on the same surface as raw meat without washing in between. Based on Western standards, China’s restaurants and markets fall far below our expectations of cleanliness in the West. (note: Many high-end Chinese restaurants follow Western sanitation standards. This article is concerned with the mid-range and cheaper places, which are more common.)

I believe there are 3 main reasons for this.

1. China is a developing country, and amenities such as refrigeration are still relatively new. Although they are available to most of the population, it still requires time for these devices to be completely integrated into the culture. A refrigerator in China is still an amenity, not a necessity as it is in the West. The same could be said for individual packaging of meats and vegetables, which is available in most high-end grocery stores, but still not the norm for Chinese families buying groceries.

2. Americans* are over-paranoid about food sanitation. Our mysophobic society spends too much time and effort ensuring all our food products are clean, sealed, fresh, air-tight, unpolluted, untainted, uncontaminated, dirt free, sanitary, hygienic, sterile, disinfected, anti-bacterial, and vacuum-packed. Yes, germs are the culprits of most infectious diseases, but when did we forget that each of our bodies come equipped with its own personal immune system. While I am not saying food sanitation is not important, I do think it is a little overkill in the US.
*I could have probably said “Westerners” but I have not spent enough time in other Western countries to accurately judge.

3. This is the point I want to focus on. Traditional Chinese cooking methods, are by nature, more sanitary than those of the West. Because Chinese society survived for nearly 5,000 years without “modern” sanitation technology, the food culture developed with built-in sanitary checks.

Let’s look at some examples.

1. The Chinese rarely touch their food with their hands. As much as we fret about sneezing, spitting, and passing our bodily fluids, there is quite possibly no spot of the body which spreads as many germs as the hands. Yet, a good proportion of Western cuisine is “finger food.” In China this is rare. Even snacks such as peanuts are eaten with chop sticks. If you order fried chicken at a Chinese fast food restaurant, you will likely be given plastic gloves to assist you with your consumption. Why? Less chance of food touching the hands means less chance germs will enter through the mouth. I am not suggesting that the ancient Chinese possessed the knowledge of germ theory. However, it does not take a microscope to figure out that touching food with grimy hands can lead to sickness.

baby bok choy
Vegetables, such as this homemade baby bok choy, are always served cooked in China.

2. In China, vegetables come cooked. Outside of the context of Western cuisine, most Chinese people would not even think of eating uncooked vegetables. Whether they are stir-fried or dipped in boiling water, Chinese vegetables are served cooked, 99% of the time. Often times, food-born illness such as E. Coli are ingested from contaminated fresh vegetables. With cooked veggies this is a non-issue. This also nullifies the danger of cutting vegetables on the same surface as raw meat.

3. The Chinese tendency towards eating meat in morsels. In the West, we like our meat in large pieces. Cutting it up ourselves is part of the dining experience. In China, this task is relegated to the cook. Meat is diced up into small pieces before it hits the wok. With small morsels it is easier to ensure that the meat is thoroughly cooked. In the West, we prefer cooking large pieces of meat before they are cut up. This method increases the likelihood that part of the meat will not be fully cooked.

4. Everything goes on the fire. Chinese kitchens may be dirty, but there isn’t an item in that kitchen which won’t be exposed to extreme heat before it makes its way onto your plate. 2 million years of human civilization has proven that there is no better germ-killer than good old-fashioned fire. Virtually every item ordered in a traditional Chinese restaurant will arrive at your table straight from a fiery wok. Unlike when cooking with an oven, the operator of a wok constantly flips and turns the contents to ensure all ingredients are properly exposed to heat. With only a few small exceptions, everything in China is served hot (read: sterilized). Heck, the Chinese even boil their water before drinking it.

Interestingly enough, in nearly three years in China, I have only gotten sick off of food once; this as opposed to my average of at least once or twice a year when I was living in the US. At first glance, it would seem logical that living in an environment where food sanitation regulations are lax or non-existent would lead to an increase in food-related stomach ailments. However, three years of subsisting off a diet consisting primarily of cheap Chinese restaurant food has shown this not to be the case.

For the record, I am no doctor, nor do I have statistics to back up my claims. Instead, I am speaking on personal experience and observation, when I say posit that Chinese food culture is inherently more sanitary than that of the West. Western societies have developed higher degrees of sanitation standards, in part to compensate for a food culture which is in and of itself, relatively unhygienic. Had we been slicing our food into little bits, cooking everything on a wok, and not using our fingers, we might have been able to allow our sanitation standards to slide a bit as well. Alright, I’m off to get some stir-fried beef and boiled spinach.



Combating overpopulation…with Korea Style No Hurt 3-Minute Abortion

Posted in Health and Medicine, Society at 8:07 pm by Benjamin Ross

abortion China one child policy

As I was meandering around downtown Fuzhou the night before last week’s Lantern Festival, I came across this sign at a bus stop. For those of you who don’t 说中国话 it’s an advertisement for the gynecology department of the Fuzhou Peace Hospital’s new “Korean-Style No Hurt 3-minute abortion.”

Back in Kansas, I remember most public advertisements for abortion usually involved a yard full of crosses each representing a child who had been “murdered,” as a result of abortion. There was nothing about them being pain-free, nothing about them only taking 3 minutes, and certainly nothing about them being Korean style.

As ridiculous, and admittedly hilarious as this sign may be, it does reveal one characteristic about Chinese people, that is that abortion in China is not nearly as sensitive as it is in the Bible Belt of North America. Abortion in China is not a controversial issue, nor is it a highly debated topic. Rather it is simply a medical procedure just like LASEC, an appendectomy, on say…a boob job (there are public signs for those too).

These days, many of China’s hospitals are privatized, and fierce competition entices them into spending large amounts of time and energy on advertising. Hospital advertisements can be seen on sign boards all over Fuzhou (especially near college campuses) with the stereotypical image of a nurse in her young twenties, and a smiling patient (usually also a woman) comfortably within her grasp. It wasn’t until I could read the word 人流 (abortion) that I realized what all the signs with happy smiling women were all about.

China just may be the most “pro-choice” country in the world, as abortion is not only 100% legal and unrestrected, but based on these advertisements, I’m assuming it’s not too difficult to get one either. Contraception is easily attainable as well. Condoms are sold at convenience stores, sex shops, and random dispensers in public places and birth control pills can be purchased for around 20 RMB (approx $1.60 USD) per month at any pharmacy, without a prescription.

One reason behind the government’s stance on contraception and abortion is that China simply has too many people. Restricting abortions would make the problem even worse. While official estimates set the population at just over 1.3 billion, it is widely accepted that the actual population may be as high as 1.6 billion.

China one child policy abortion
The big characters in the middle of this sign read “free abortion.”

To combat overpopulation, China has instituted the often criticized and aptly mistranslated “one child policy,” whereby the state limits the amount of children a couple may have. Couples in cities are usually only allowed one child, and having a second child will result in a hefty fine or possibly a loss of job in the case of government workers. Certain conditions such as being a member of a Chinese minority, having a foreign spouse, or living in designated rural areas, will allow a couple to have two.

Regardless of any perceived violation of civil liberties, China’s population is simply too massive, and the failure of the government to curtail it would bring about disaster for the country and possibly the entire world. There is simply no alternative.

One unintended outcome of the “One Child Policy” however was the ensuing drive by couples to spawn a male child. Traditionally in China, it is the responsibility of children to care for their parents in their old age. Nursing homes are rare, and that responsibility typically falls on the sons, as when a daughter marries, she becomes a member of her husband’s family, and thus her responsibility turns toward his parents. Essentially, your sons are your social security.

This system worked out fine and dandy for several thousand years, as if a son wasn’t produced on the first shot (no pun intended), a couple could try and try again. But now with the “One Child Policy” it has become essential for the first child to be a male, otherwise a couple could potentially be left to fend for themselves after retirement. The emphasis on having a son has even driven many couples to abort fetuses if they are girls.

In an interesting bit of irony, while abortion is legal in China, this favoritism towards male children has caused the government to enact a law whereby it is illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of a fetus before birth, for fear that if the parents know it is a girl, they may opt to have an abortion. This is not to say, that this does not happen, as China now mysteriously has around 30 million more men than women.

While I do not believe the government’s population policy has directly caused the latest innovations in abortion and technology and their zany add campaigns, it certainly has done nothing to curtail it. Nobody knows for sure how many abortions happen per year in China, (even if I could find statistics I wouldn’t trust them), but I am guessing the number of aborted fetuses would be enough to equal the population of several small European states. And a market that size certainly leaves room for service innovation. At least I know that if I ever unwillingly pass my seed onto a Chinese womb, I will have ethnic options when choosing my abortion technique.

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