Our evening meal in the city of Xining in Qinghai Province was a convivial affair, fourteen of us at two round tables, with the usual glass ‘Lazy Susan’ in the centre for serving the courses. In another part of the dining room there was a big Hui family celebration. The men, in their dark jackets and immaculate white caps, sat round two tables, while the women and children sat round others. I have to confess I’d find it extremely boring to be restricted to the company of my fellow men at the dinner table. I’d have to feign an interest in cars or football, wouldn’t I? I much prefer being in mixed company and so, it seems, do the Han Chinese. In the same city, in the grey light of 7 am, and with a thin dusting of fresh snow on the ground, elderly Chinese couples were waltzing in the city square, while others performed tai chi chuan and other exercises singly or in groups.
Talking of children, here and elsewhere in China, it was obvious that babies and toddlers don’t wear nappies. Their trousers have a split at the back. When nature calls they just pull their trousers apart and do what has to be done. Here in the west we debate the merits of disposables versus washables, but the Chinese way is more environmentally friendly than either. Mind you, I feel sorry for the wee mites in that region, having to bare their bottoms to the icy blasts of the Tibetan steppe.