Split pants: We’ve all seen them and perhaps even scoffed at them – but I’m writing this in defense of what I’ve concluded is one of the most sensible practices in Chinese child rearing.
Yes, I realize that to most Westerners, the sight of a three-year-old running around in what is essentially a pair of ass-less cotton chaps can be a bit jarring; but there is a distinct reason and method to the madness.
It all boils down to perception: I submit that when it comes to their babies, local parents have a more “organic” (and I don’t mean that in the “fertilizer-free” sense) notion of that most basic of human functions than us Westerners – after all, what comes out is “perfectly natural” stuff that is as harmless as the drool trailing from their little mouths.
Back in the West, we’ve been conditioned to strive for all things sanitary – and for good reason, of course. Here in China, this notion obviously exists as well, but it seems that somewhat different standards apply when it comes to baby pee and poo.
You may well have observed that it is perfectly acceptable for local ayis and moms to “water*” their babies on sidewalks, over gutters and even in the aisles of supermarkets across the city. To the unaccustomed eye this seems comical at the very least and downright disturbing for the hygiene obsessed.
I, too, was once consistently bemused at such sights (“The horror! How could they let their little ones just go any which where like that?”), but the last 18 months have compelled me to see things in a different light.
1.Diapers are friggin’ expensive (RMB 118.5 for a pack of 75 Huggies on taobao.com)
2.Diapers are not environmentally friendly – we’ve all heard the stories of all those landfills filled with the diapers
3.Going "au naturel" (or in butt-less pants) prevents rashes in the summer and promotes gynecological health in little girls
4.Chinese babies tend to get potty trained earlier because of the practice of "ba" –ing them（in Chinese, 把, see the “watering” babies bit above)
5.Diapers are friggin’ expensive
This is not to say that I’m anti-diaper. Although my wife and ayi can "ba" our baby with the best of them, we still consistently rely on diapers when we put Marianne to bed at night or take her out and about. But like most local parents, we do make an effort to avoid using diapers when we can – a practice that annoyed me at first, but I’ve come to accept and even respect. Call me a convert.
As a final comment, I add this case in point: Before we left for Shanghai, Marianne was well on her way to being potty trained**, regularly giving us at least a few seconds head’s up anytime she needed to go ("Niao niao!" 尿尿! – "Pee pee!" – she always yells at that pivotal moment). But after a few diaper filled days on the road and on the plane, she’s regressed somewhat and for the past few days has foregone the automatic alert in lieu of just simply letting loose. Time will tell how long it takes her to get back on track.
*Facilitated, of course, by the ubiquitous split pants.
**We also have one of those Combi porta-potty trainers – it sits in a box collecting dust in the corner of her nursery.