Kashgar International Bazaar

I walk through the winding alleyways between market stalls.  Knives, dried fruit, raisins, hats, and anything that could be sold drenching the racks.  But I find myself drawn to the bolts and bolts of fabric. Bright colors, patterns, stripes, animal prints, golden thread studded with beads, beads winding into spider webs, flower petals blooming from the breadth of cloth.  I reach out to touch the gossamer thin lace that is laid over thick blue fabric.  It makes art of my fingers. Children play in overturned bolts of fabric, others take naps.  Women haggle over one fabric.

Around the corner, clothing spun from the colors studding the fabric stalls.  Longer tunics reaching the knees, trimmed in golden patterns, the bust carefully pinned with studs.  Matching trousers to go underneath, the skirts swaying.  Some are close to the waist, tapering.  Some lack persuasion, making up for it with color.  I wish I was an Arabian princess just to feel the slide of such fine fabric against my skin.

Imagine opening your closet and seeing this!
Imagine opening your closet and seeing this!

Walking around me, the women.  The lucky ones who get to call this their fashion trend.  I admire the women who fully cover their bodies, faces, hair, with only their eyes peeking out.  But not every Muslim woman dresses like that.  There are younger girls with more modern tops, leggings, fashionable skirts with pockets and laces, and leopard print headscarves.  Some women only wear headscarves.  My favorite look is the long swaying tunics and the matching trousers.  All of them have one thing in common—showing little, but still being perhaps some of the sexiest ladies I’ve ever seen.

I think in the West we assume that covering up is akin to repression. But being here, I have to wonder.  I find myself wishing I could wear such clothing, to know that my body will be much sexier with joyous colors and more left to the imagination.  Women here know how to work their bodies.  They seem to have more power with them than someone like me, who wrestles with pants to find the right combination of shape and cellulite.  Perhaps no woman is truly free from her clothes, but at least women here can wear their clothing with justly-earned pride.

The short of shorts

I want to make a brief (hah) amendment to the previous post about short-shorts, mostly because I walked into my class not two hours after posting it and saw three of my female students wearing super-short skirts with tube-socks, looking for all the world like anime characters.  

So here it is: short-shorts aren’t a thing in China, which is awesome.  But at a certain point, even “things” aren’t a thing in China and what seems to be a kind of rule gets bent and twisted somehow.  Girls don’t want to show too much leg, because it’s too racy.  But if they do, well.  They’re going to show basically all of it.  They aren’t seen as loose women, we aren’t seen as prudes.  There’s a line, I know there is, and I sort of hope to see it crossed one day just to figure out where it is.  For now, though, it all makes sense in a weird way.   

Why?  I think we all know why.

Because China, that’s why.

Screw you, short-shorts

Spring’s heating up into summer, which means that girls are pulling out their sun umbrellas, lazy afternoons are spent flying kites and eating pineapple wedges on sticks, and willow-thin girls aren’t prancing around in miniskirts. 

Which is sort of heaven for someone who never liked wearing shorts much anyway.  I mean, think about it.  Guys get all hyped up when the weather turns warm, because when the temperature rises, so do hemlines.  But for girls, it’s like “Oh, god…what can I feasibly pull off that won’t make me feel like the Michelin Man’s cousin?”  Some days, you can’t avoid it, like when it’s too hot to keep eating ice cream in the basement.  And on those days, I spend the majority of my time trying to cross my legs in a way that doesn’t make them bulge in unattractive angles.  Sure, dresses and skirts are all well and nice, but when there’s any kind of breeze, it becomes a battle against the elements.  And some guys, true, might be thinking “All right!” as phantom wind blows a skirt up, Marilyn Monroe-style.  But most girls aren’t thinking “Oh good, a chance to show off my underwear in public.” 

So, what does that leave us with?  Not much, if you really think about it.  Jeans?  Talk to me on a 90 degree day in the summer and we’ll see what kind of option those suffocation-tubes are.  Cute sun-dress?  What about the days I don’t feel like prancing around or trying to sit in a way that’s both comfortable and not scandalous?  Skorts?  Let the fires of hell decide whether or not they belong on my body.  So what have we got?  Capris.  Except most of the capris I’ve found tend to look like one thing: “I’m sorry, I just don’t want to wear shorts today.”  I mean, even guys seem to be able to pull off capris better than I can, which just doesn’t seem fair. 

But in China, well.  Here’s what’s awesome about China.  Wearing short-shorts doesn’t seem common (except on some willow-thin girls, but they always seem to win no matter the culture).  Instead, girls are in long skirts, or even knee-length skirts, or in capris that don’t look like a failed attempt at avoiding shorts.  Some are in skinny jeans rolled up a few times by the ankle, and that’s as much leg as anyone’s going to see.  I’ve seen girls wear leggings under jean shorts.  Tank tops aren’t a thing.  Bra straps shown in any way shape or form also doesn’t seem to be a thing.  Those denim shorts more tattered than a dog-eaten dish-rag are (THANK GOD) absent from this culture. There aren’t even backyard swimming pools or beaches to wade around in swimsuits, so that’s taken care of pretty nicely.

I can show as much or as little leg as possible and no one will think I have a horrible skin disease.  I don’t even have to worry about the tan that will never happen, because Chinese people think pale is gorgeous.     

You know what?  It’s a great day to be a prude, people.