Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

This Blog was Invented in Xi'an 5,000 Years Ago

Life’s Three Greatest Moments

Posted by MyLaowai on Friday, April 20, 2007

Allow me to share with you some of my own experiences regarding those three great institutions, Birth, Death and Marriage, and how they work here in China. As with most things here, the Party has quite a lot to do with it…

Birth. *
Generally speaking, before this can happen, other activities of a more personal nature tend to take place. These activities are approved of (or otherwise, depending on your circumstances) by the family and the Powers That Be. Before you may have children (actually, Child, singular, unless you are rich or a politician or have the right guanxi) you must first obtain permission from the local KGB (they have other names for the place, but that’s who it is). They interrogate you and make sure you are married and are living in an approved place (not another town, for instance). Money has been known to change hands. Should you have a child without permission, then the child does not exist, which means no medical care or support, no education, no ID card, nothing. In this event it is not unknown for the child to be ‘adopted’ by a relative or friend who has got connections, sold, or merely abandoned on a quiet street in the early hours of the morning. Should you try to have a child without permission and are discovered, it’s the abortion room for you. The abortion room is a small room with typically 3 or so tables fitted with stirrups, a notable lack of anaesthetic, and doctors who are not exactly known for their bedside manner. It is less common these days, but until just a few years ago, abortions were regularly followed up with forced sterilisations. Lovely. Assuming you do it all according to the rules, you can be assured of the best medical treatment that dodgy herbs and cricket-part-soup can provide. Patience not being exactly a virtue here, children are often injured during birth by those doctors who are supposed to assist. I’ve seen the scars that prove it. It is a wonder that any survive.

Marriage. *
Before you get married you also need permission, either from the place where you work (all state-owned companies have a KGB department who keep detailed records of your history), or, if you are working for a private company or are unemployed, from the Community Centre (the neighbourhood KGB office). You are required to have a medical. If you have any serious hereditary disease your application is denied and if the woman is already pregnant, then it’s off to the abortion clinic before another application can be made. If all goes well, you are treated to sex education classes, Chinese style (which I can assure you, is considerably worse than useless unless you really did want to know that birds and bees are unable to reproduce together). The ceremony itself is quite an experience, and warrants a separate article, which will follow. At least these days some people get to meet their spouses before the day of the wedding, so things are improving.

  • Note: Some of the regulations for people have recently been waived. Many, however, have not. The regulations are different, too, if one of the parties isn’t a citizen of Red China.

Death.
Surprisingly, you do not need to fill out a form in triplicate before dying. But that is the only part that is so easy. I attended a funeral recently and found it to be quite different from the way we do things in civilised countries. To start with, they are very impersonal events. The official, approved place where it happens is a huge building with hundreds of rooms, like a hotel or a Las Vegas Wedding Centre. You rent some flowery wreathes (why buy when renting is cheaper? And then of course they can be reused by the next party) and make sure your name is on them, so everybody knows you were there. You also make sure there are some wreathes that are purchased, but these are made of paper, which is cheaper. Two people go to the front (Notice: you do not stand up, because nobody is sitting down… No chairs provided) and give speeches. The first person is from the dead persons Work Unit, and they represent the KGB. In many cases, they have never met the dead person or the family. They talk about the persons history and what contributions (if any) that person made to the Party and to the country in general. It reads like a resume. Then a member of the family gets up and makes a speech. They can say whatever they like, but it is generally the same thing all over again. Certainly nothing too personal. Whereas you or I would speak about why the person was important to us, here that is simply never done. Then everyone looks at the body, cries a bit (wails actually – and it’s definitely for face. The louder the better.) and goes outside. The Sales Rep who made the arrangements (and he is a Sales Rep, too!) usually has an argument with the attendees (being Chinese, whenever money changes hands, there is an argument. Not for any particular reason, just Because). Then they give back the real flowers and burn the paper ones in the street – there can never be too much pollution on a street. After that, everyone who attended gets a small present (chocolate and a hand towel, in my case) and goes to dinner. The dinner is most important. It is called a ‘bean curd dinner’, because everything you eat is sort of white. We had baby cuttlefish, fish heads, fish skin (the fish meat came out later but by then my appetite was also dead and buried), roasted pigeon skulls, sparrow’s gizzards, the obligatory chicken claws, turtle shells (minus the turtle meat, but including the turtle head of course), some other stuff that reminded me of crushed intestines, and some kind of jelly that was in no way to be confused with the sweet dessert we all know and love. There was also some duck which was quite nice, apart from the fact that I was looking in its’ eyes at the time. And very little drinking. Everybody is given a bowl from the dead persons kitchen to take home, for good luck amazingly. Then home, except for a short stop to throw onto the street the black patch of cloth you wear on your sleeve (what’s a little more pollution between friends?). At least I got to meet all the family for the first time.

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