China Observations – PDA

When I was in India – I kept seeing men holding hands. In their culture, it’s totally forbidden for men and women to hold hands (unless they are engaged/married). When I asked someone why this happened, they said “well, men want to touch, too!”


Apparently, this doesn’t stop in India. Another observation from my aunt:

Three days after everyone arrived at the school a boy and a girl (who had not previously known each other) were caught holding hands. The Guard who saw them explained that this was completely forbidden. In the School’s Handbook this is described as a: “PDA – A Public Display of Affection — and they are strictly prohibited on school property or during school excursions.” That’s all it says. Period. However, there are PDAs happening all day, everyday, everywhere.   They just happen to be between kids of the same sex!



Chinese kids cannot keep their hands off each other! I haven’t seen this much hand holding, hugging, or grooming since a school dance for seventh graders.



It turns out that this outward display of affection is part of their culture. And they don’t grow out of it!! Adult men and women aren’t quite as unabashed as the young, but they still touch each other MUCH more frequently than we westerners would approve of.   How is it possible that I’d never heard of this idiosyncrasy before moving here?



I have a theory about all this touching and it has to do with getting separated from your companion(s).   Students walking down the hall or the sidewalk cling to each other as if they’re afraid someone else will come between them. And when you’re in a city of 24 million people who are trying to occupy the same space YOU are occupying, life can be really crowded. Being separated is a distinct possibility.



The girls at school do a lot of hand holding, arms around each other, and elbows linked. They are also obsessed with each other’s hair. I remember being obsessed with my OWN hair – it was curly, and frizzy, and an embarrassment. And I remember admiring other girls’ hair. But I don’t remember fussing with my own hair during school (let alone someone else’s).


The boys? They are CONSTANTLY hugging each other! And when they aren’t hugging, holding hands, or draping various limbs on or around each other, they are sitting on each other’s laps! When I ask them to sit one person to a chair (please tell me that’s not an unreasonable request!), they look befuddled. “Why?” their faces say. They look just like little Kindergarten kids, except they’re tall and are growing facial hair!



As surprising as these PDAs initially were, I’ve come to think of them as … refreshing. Both boys and girls easily and joyfully show their friends how much they like each other … it’s fun to watch.



I remember high school as a period of anxiety, introspection, and heartbreak. Not these kids – they appear to be truly happy go lucky. I envy them this cultural difference.   I wish our American high schoolers could be as uninhibited when showing affection. I bet we’d have a lot fewer bullies – of either sex.



The other day I mentioned that two of my students (King and Emma) were sitting next to each other on a regular basis. “Don’t read too much into that,” I was told. “King and JENNY like each other. Emma and PATRICK are a couple. Rain and Yusie, too.  But no one can figure out if Diletta likes Arthur or Andrew.” I was shocked. Secret PDAs must have taken place!



Then, last week, I found out that over the past three months the students had been gossiping about Jim and me. They privately decided that we were, most definitely, an “item”. One of my students asked why I came to China, and I replied, “Because Mr. Walker came to China.” His eyes lit up as he smiled and exclaimed, “Ooooooooo! I knew it! I knew it!”



I don’t know what delighted me more: the fact that they didn’t previously know, or that they figured it out without the benefit of ANY PDAs.



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