Rod MacKenzie
Rod MacKenzie

On the politics of bottom-touching in China

I recently had a fresh cultural shock here in China: seven to 10-year-old kids, at the primary school I sometimes teach at, who have a fondness for running up and touching my backside. Including in class. I tried to understand the reason why. I think it’s because Westerners, by and large (forgive the pun), actually have butts. There is a certain saucy roundness to most of our behinds that is sorely lacking in the average Han Chinese posterior.

To wit, the sad sight of Chinese lasses in tight leather pants. The legs are pleasantly chiseled in the smooth leather, but there is a disappointing sag in the area of the bottom. That’s because where there should be a proud female posterior, there just ain’t. It must be a tad painful to sit for long periods on those boney butts because of the lack of cushioning. It is just so nice to plump down and spread out a bit to cushion the weight of the rest of our bodies.

So. That’s my explanation for the fascination of Che Fang Primary schoolchildren’s fascination with my bottom. It has character. It’s actually there. This is not to say I was not getting rather indignant. I would thunder at the kids in Mandarin, “Don’t touch my backside!” They would giggle, scamper off, and when my back was turned, run back and play their favourite version of “tag” or “touchers” again. Incidentally, the Mandarin word for backside is pigu, pronounced pee-goo. It has, to my ear, a wicked onomatopoeia. So does the Mandarin word for nose, bizi, pronounced bee-zih, sounding so deliciously like a sneeze.

I was getting desperate to end the attention. What to do? I am the only “foreigner” at the school (indeed I have never seen another foreigner in Che Fang). So in Chinese I told my class coordinator what was going on, pointing to the nether region of my body for absolute clarity about my predicament. She said the school would sort it out. The kids, that is.

Firstly, some of the main culprits were trooped into the office which I share with eight teachers, and made to apologise to me for daring to touch teacher’s pigu. Then the bottom-touching vanished overnight. I don’t quite know how the information got out so fast to the whole school. But it had to have been announced at a school assembly (which I am not required to attend) or something like that. But this is what goes through my mind: did everybody, from headmaster to the smallest grade one titch, whilst the new instruction about the “foreign teacher” was being rolled out, manage to keep straight faces?

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