Wednesday, May 15, 2013

… Of The Week

Recently, in an email exchange with my good friend and constant correspondent, I seem to have dismayed him by disclosing that I showed my students pictures of the People of Walmart site as a tool to emphasize how different fashion is in the West. His response to my disclosure: “Won’t those images project an unfair image to yor (sic) young Chinese at how most ‘normal’ Americans dress and act in public?”

Yes, and no. I can understand why any solid American citizen would want American culture presented only in the best of forms and I can certainly side with him in thinking that I’ve radically changed my students’ perception of America. However, it is not me taking those snapshots of normal, everyday Americans out shopping, dressed and coiffed as they see fit. Those images are published for the entire world to see.

And it is not just the PoW site that is showing America in its most derogatory light. Television shows, politics, news stories and other websites also do damage to the world’s view of America. I author none of those.

I do write this blog though. And, to give America her due, China also has her weirdoes, albeit newly emerged.

With greater freedom and more disposable income, the Chinese are experiencing life such as they have never known it. The freedom to dress as they want, wear hairstyles that veer sharply away from the traditional, buying power… all of these are relatively new to Chinese society. It shows.

Because nowadays, even just in the two point five years I’ve been here, Chinese culture has changed so much, I had been kicking around the idea of writing this entry. Originally I was going to title it: ‘Lifestyles of the Chinese Nouveau Riche’, expounding on how people with newfound wealth are dealing with the sudden ability to buy whatever they want, and the fact that whatever people with money want to buy is suddenly available.

What does a Chinese nouveau riche spend his/her money on, after buying that second or third apartment (condo), that second or third car, and all the clothes their closets can hold? This is where ‘outrageous’ comes in. Because there is such a proliferation of wealth in certain parts of China, mainly in the big cities, more and more we are seeing nose-thumbing at convention and tradition, more of a ‘manifest destiny’ attitude.  

As usual, something stayed my hand… till the perfect platform presented itself, in the guise of a pair of shoes. Espying these shoes gave me the format I wanted for this topic.

Here are the rules: I cannot comment on a general fashion trend. What I present in this entry must be a specific spectacle I’ve seen this week. I cannot make use of something I’ve written about before either, such as people going about in their jammies, or wearing see-through clothing. The … whatever of the week must be an original sighting, in the past week, of strange attire, appearance or act. I’ll start with those shoes.

Shoes of the Week: Leather moccasins, dyed orange, with a leopard print upper, spotted on the bus. Worn by a man who complemented the outfit with a faded and scuffed pair of jeans rolled up to calf-height, a wrinkled, white button down shirt with rolled up sleeves and ‘bed-head’ type hair, dyed henna. Those shoes stood out dramatically against the paleness/blandness of the rest of his attire, but matched his hair color nearly perfectly.

Dress of the Week: A silver paillete mini dress, worn with black hose, towering black high-heeled sandals and an oversized bag. This dress was spotted out on Sunday afternoon, around 3PM. The whole front of the dress was covered in sequins; the back of it was black. The outfit would probably be acceptable as evening wear, but stood out like a sore thumb – or a scream in a hushed theater among all of the other, more conservative outfits in that shopping district.

Even Sam winced at that one.

Hairstyle of the Week: A beehived, hyperteased ‘do on a woman whose hair was dyed the color of copper. When the sun shone, one could see through her hair as though seeing the world through a gossamer weave. When she turned around, her face was overly made up, in the fashion of a harlequin. She was rushing to an empty seat on the bus and left grumbling (cussing) because someone beat her to it.

That hairstyle is tied for first place with the woman who had spit curls arranged on a cushioning bed of hair atop her head. The back portion of hair was pinned into a French twist. The only reason the beehive was mentioned as the ‘do of the week’ is because that head of hair was dyed. This woman stuck with basic black… although it too might have been dyed, if only to cover up the grey. But at least it was colored traditional black.  

I’m beginning to think I should go out with my camera at the ready, to snap pictures of these sights. Seriously: can’t make this stuff up! This week, with all of these strange sights, I almost regretted not having one.

Oversized of the Week: A woman who rivaled me for girth, maybe even outdoing me. She wore an orange voile shirt with fluttering sleeves, black mini skirt with black tights and lunky platform shoes. As she stepped the skirt crept up to precarious heights, threatening to expose her. Every few steps she pulled her skirt down, all while keeping her eyes on her cellphone. 

Makeup of the Week: Seen on a woman who… might enjoy drinking, or maybe suffered allergies. Her face was puffy, especially around the eyes. Her foundation makeup was most likely intended to conceal the eye damage but had the reverse effect. It didn’t do much for her general complexion, either. To add to the damage she wore dark eyeliner and green eye shadow. Her cheeks were brushed (painted) with a blush too rosy and her lips were altogether too glossy. This woman might have been in her late 40’s or early 50’s. She was certainly trying hard to look much younger. It did not work at all. 

Color of the Week: Hair dyed purple in front and blond in back, spotted at Starbucks. Remarkable because it is difficult for dark, coarse Asian hair to take an ashy blond color, and then… purple? Originally Sam thought it might be a ‘foreigner’ woman wearing that hair but she was in fact Asian. Whether Chinese or not is not known.

Outfit of the Week (men): A suit and tie, complete with dress shoes, worn by a man who was exercising a shovel in a pile of dirt. Not a small pile, either. The outfit itself was not strange, only the fact that the wearer was a laborer made it strange.

NOTE: Outfit of the week differs from Dress of the week in that either gender can wear an outfit but dresses are the exclusive purview of women… at least over here. At least for now.

Outfit of the Week (female): Flower pattern top with polka dotted bottom, complemented with blue slippers, worn by an older woman. The top was orange, red and black and the leggings – not pants were black with white polka dots. The top was not quite long enough to conceal the woman’s bulging stomach or her crotch, where the poor leggings bunched up, nearly screaming focus on that part of her body.

In fact, many people wear mismatched patterns: checks on top with plaid on bottom or vise versa, flowers with stripes, solids of clashing colors or a reasonable outfit with mismatching shoes, as in: the shoes don’t match the outfit. They do match each other.  

These are just a few strange sights that caught my eye this week. To be perfectly fair, the Chinese tend to present themselves well and, when I talked with my students they all averred they would never go out badly clad. However, I am only one person, in one region of China, in one city, out and about on my small rounds. And I don’t go out every day. The People of Walmart website invites people from everywhere there is a Walmart, even in China, to send in their weird sightings. So, there is more weirdness to be seen online at that site than I am reporting here.

But… if I am one person, in one region, reporting on my experiences of one week exclusively, wouldn’t that indicate that there must be more strange doings out there that I am not present to witness?

Remember: these sightings do not include the ‘normal’ display of jammie clad, or see-through clothing, or men with their belly air conditioning that are commonplace here, and that I’ve reported on before. 

So, to give America her due: strangeness is not exclusively assigned to American society. As Chinese become vulgar with wealth, they too are becoming outrageous in their presentation. Will they go so far as the People of Walmart?

I have a hard time imagining a Chinese man wearing a neon blue bikini in public, or wearing a pink dress and earrings (unless he is what is known as a ‘ladyboy’). I don’t believe any Chinese would wear a clown outfit or some of the otherworldly garb seen on the PoW site. But then… who knows?  



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