Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Bellies and Beijing

Words: James Kramer
Wednesday 24 May 2017
reading time: min, words

We get bleddy everywhere these days! From the Middle Kingdom to the Midlands, long-time friend of the mag James Kramer fills us in on his thoughts surrounding China's hottest fashion trend...


After spending over half a decade stranded out in the capital of China (domestically referred to as the middle kingdom), I have on my return visits to the UK found myself in a variety of roles. Dispenser of anachronistic myths and superstitions, party-mouthpiece apologist, and occasionally bewildered cultural liaison. These roles all slot nearly into place when I find myself trying to answer that most ubiquitous and impossible question:

So, what’s life like in Beijing these days?

Well, it’s dazzling, maddening, kaleidoscopic or monochromatic; in short, life here is difficult to define. My experience of daily life in the ‘Jing has been arguably bipolar. When life is good, it is unparalleled. Beautiful and chaotic street life exudes an intoxicating mix of old and new China - tattoo parlors next to teahouses, that sort of thing. And when dark clouds descend on the city, well, they make Mordor seem pissweak in comparison. A quick (non) Google search will show you, we’re all choking out here.

So, to remedy this confused crisis of identity that always seems to flare up upon my being back on England’s green and verdant shores, I’ve decided to cast a new role for myself: I will be a type of ‘underground attaché’, a spokesperson for all those unusual elements that make life in Beijing that little bit unpredictable and exciting. I’m introducing these here in the firm belief that they are habits, customs, traditions and attitudes that would greatly benefit our own city.

The plan here is to bridge the gap, to find some common (rather than communist) ground. And it is within that caveat that I would like to bring to you today, perhaps not a new innovation, but definitely a classic; the Beijing bikini, or “Beijikini” as I promise to never refer to it as again.

As one UK heat wave rolls of the sweaty salmon-pink back of another, it seems we are a nation in peril under the rising temperature, given our unfortunate proclivity to burning faster than an EU flag at a UKIP sex-party. But fear not: when it comes to beating that insurmountable heat, your average blue-collar Beijinger has the answer. Take the tail end of that sadly besmirched t-shirt and fellas (this particular Beijing fashion trend is only open to guys I’m afraid) roll it up just so that it sits nestled neatly, tucked underneath those luscious male mammaries, revealing your large, protruding belly to the world.

Instant freshness knows no bounds! Forget what you’ve been told about getting in shape for the summer, it’s just a beach on a concrete slab after all. All of those pounds built from endurance style gauntlets at Red Hot World can finally pay off. Remember, the more rotund the better, as a perfect beer gut brings you closer to Buddha and therefore makes your belly a symbol of great prosperity. Don’t forget from time to time to give it a good slap, as this too will draw attending to your own private golden drum. But be warned, as strangers and their awestruck infant children will approach you with the desire to pat your bloated stomach-sack to cash in on your prosperous good fortune. Women may find you unexplainably alluring, due to your auspicious girdle gulch.

There is of course, the more fashionable version, popular among the stylish 20 somethings of Beijing. When temperatures rise in the city of forbidden palaces, Beijing’s male youth also take to rolling up their shirts, but do so to reveal instead (even on the most otherwise undeveloped of physical specimens) insanely chiseled, marble-esque washboard abdominals that would make your mother weep. Chinese guys go all out for those muscle clusters, furiously pumping away in the gym or hanging from any available suspended surface like crazed steroidal fruit bats. Against these testosteronically charged tubular tummies, we the English males cannot even begin to compete. We should not even try. Donald Trump has many times warned of the dangers of the Chinese work-ethic as a facilitator in America’s economic decline, and I’m suspect to believe that it is because he has spent time in the company of semi-naked Beijing boys.

However, for the classic, the old school, gut-heavy, paunchy swaggering Buddha-belly Beijing model, we are indeed strong contenders. It’s time to realise our own over-loved love handles, not just to let them hang out but to celebrate them, let them protrude with pride! Let heart disease be heart disease, cast diabetes to the wind! For this summer I say to you, men of Nottingham: unite in the glory of our ovoid and full moon like middle regions. Cast off the shame of ill-fitting t-shirts and distressed dress shirts. Roll it up and live as nature intended, unrestrained and affluent and proud.

Chinese does love itself some idioms, as most of us have come to know, and as for nearly all situations there is a rather apt one befitting this particular chesty occurrence. Roughly translated, ‘破罐破摔’ or ‘poguanposhuai’ means ‘broken pot, broken smash.’ But put more metaphorically: ‘if it’s already broken, why not break it further?’ This ‘ah to hell with it’ attitude is often employed with reference to said displayers of our urban male swimwear. Judge me if you will, the wearers seem to say, but I am unabashed and unashamed, not to mention quite well ventilated.

What our nation of pot-bellied princes could learn from this is the sweet embrace of the naked gut, not only to save ourselves from the slew of oncoming scorchers ahead, but as a means of coming to love our heavy, deity like selves. So come forward my brothers of the bulge, let us roll up our shirts and live comfortable and free.

Next time from Notes from the Middle Kingdom, Streets of Fire: Explosive Springtime blossom and a secret reserve home guard of grandmothers.

James Kramer was born in Nottingham and has lived in Beijing for the last six years. He will soon be returning to Nottingham.

James Kramer website

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