At least I had been warned. The first time I saw it happening, I wasn’t completely shocked. Someone had pulled his van near the entrance to the compound and parked it. Our compound has been closed for a while for renovation and I am guessing that drivers have grown accustomed to being able to use some of the space like a parking lot. In the morning the guys are wiping down the cars, or giving them a full wash, while they block the less frequently used gates. They make it difficult to get from one curb to another especially since most drivers are not really looking for pedestrians, even in the cross walk. I never trust that one of the parked vehicles won’t lurch forward, the driver suddenly urgent to move, and whack into one of us as we cross to the other sidewalk. So the first time, I am walking the two younger kids to school, more concerned about moving vehicles than anything else, when there he is right in front of us.
In any other country, I would have been preparing myself for an altercation. A strange man with his pants down in front of my children is a pretty big red flag. As a general rule I try to avoid situations like that. But in any other country, he would at least be trying to hide if his only intention was peeing. He wouldn’t have it out on display in a residential neighborhood and not think that some woman walking her kids to school might discover him. He would think that this immediate need to empty his bladder might be best remedied indoors in a public bathroom of some sort. He would realize that this emergency stop should be fast and furtive. I try to ignore it and hope the kids don’t notice. He takes his time and luckily by the time we get close it isn’t immediately obvious what he is doing. The kids and I scoot past and neither of them seems to even notice him.
But then it happens on the way home and this time they notice. It would have been hard not to notice what with the taxi driver having decided to stop and park in the street, blocking a lane of traffic to relieve himself on the bushes. We can luckily only see his top half—the bushes serving as effective cover of his nether regions—but Ava notices.
“Is that guy peeing?!” she asks incredulously.
“Um, maybe.” I volunteer trying not to draw too much attention, as we get closer to the man in question. He shows no sign of stopping and doesn’t seem to mind the approaching crowd.
“Is he really peeing” Henry demands. “Is his penis out? I can’t see! I’m too short!” He begins jumping and standing on tiptoe in an effort to get a better view.
“Henry, no!” I scold and drag him down the sidewalk. We pass the man, still occupied with his business, and the kids’ jaws hang open in amazement.
The next time it happens I am standing in front of a neighbor’s house lamenting Ava’s difficult transition to her new school. We are talking when her eyes suddenly narrow and she becomes fixated on a spot above my shoulder.
“Hey!” She yells. “Oh, no! Don’t you do that! This is not a toilet!” I turn to see one of the young security guards standing on the edge of the bushes. I am not sure he was actually planning to pee, but the neighbor stands firm. “Oh yes he was, and I am sorry, but I am just through with it. Done.” She begins yelling at him again. “Move along! Don’t you do that there!” He doesn’t speak any English and just looks at us, confused. He motions with his arm in a gesture that doesn’t seem to mean anything, but she yells, “That’s right, go somewhere else!” and he does. “He’s just going to hide in those bushes further down and pee over there.” She tells me, exasperated. She yells after him, “Pig!” and then turns back to our conversation. “Is a pig even considered a dirty animal in China? I don’t know.”
“I’m not sure,” I confess. “Maybe a dog is dirtier?” I helpfully suggest.
“You may be right,” she says, nodding, “Maybe a dog.”
Hey guys! do you have a mailing address? hope you’re doing well. We’re keeping up with your posts on here…super fascinating literature! ; )
Gwen and Mark Erickson
Lane 1983 Huamu Road
Shanghai 200127 China