Teach Your Children

The apartment complex in which C and I cohabit is cutting edge by Shenzhen standards. Cosmopolitan even, with its parking garage, fake mini-Venetian "canals," swanky outdoor pool, badminton and hoops courts and (inexplicably, as I believe the odds are high that he never lived or slept here) a triple life-size bronze bust of Albert Einstein, complete with an "E=MC2" inscription, greeting occupants and visitors at the south entrance.

Our fellow cosmopolites are mostly Chinese yuppies with kids, some singles, Hong Kong retirees and a plethora of grandparents some of whom look as though they just got off the 38-hour bus or train from the hinterlands of Henan province, one of China's poorest and remotest areas. Think Beverly Hillbillies and you're in the general vicinity.

It's a mini-village of China's upper middle class, urbane sophisticates who presumably mix only the finest Sprite with their 39 yuan (US$5) bottle of Great Wall red. Still it is not uncommon to see parents and grandparents alike encouraging their toddlers to relieve themselves from either end in the lush shrubbery or on the polished faux marble walkways within our gated community, often as the bored 17-year-old security guards look on impassively. The fact that there's also a public toilet about a 20 second walk away and adjacent to the badminton court/yoga studio, is, of course, irrelevant.

Griping to the managment does nothing but there is a public Internet message board on which anonymous residents such as "Little Devil in Building 5" (that's C) can post various concerns, like rude security guards, "black taxi" (gypsy cabs) prices and the ones to avoid ("I curse license no. 845 for 7 generations for cheating me on a ride to Shekou and urge fellow residents to do likewise") and lately about pet owners who don't clean up after their Shar Peis. Nothing about children, however.

I urged C to weigh in with a new post. Something like "Control your dogs? What about your children?" She agreed, but was unsure about the subject title. "It isn't good to compare children with dogs in China," she said. "I might be, how do you say it, 'flamed?’"

"So I guess rug rats is out of the question, too," I replied.

She thought about it a little more and then decided to take the plunge. It's where I also got a lesson in Chinese writing styles versus my usual blunt instrument approach.

My imagined version: "Hey, Henan hillbillies! You're so frigging proud of your 5,000 years of ‘civilization’ how about discovering a basic concept like public hygene, buying some diapers and toilet training your Little Emperors and Empresses!"

C's took a circuitous, polite, near poetic and only slightly arch approach that employed a couple of traditional sayings ("I have crossed more bridges than roads you have walked" and "I have eaten more salt than rice") with a scolding and demand for action, sanitary courtyard conditions and a free Tibet.

Well, following the post she was just arrested this morning, and - no, just joshing about the Tibet thing. Toilet training first. Then Einstein. Later for Tibet. Small steps, long journeys, many bridges and lots of salt.