February 23rd, 2010 | Published in Uncategorized
This post is about to go all over the place.
When I came back from Hong Kong, I got to spend a few days in the hometown of a very generous colleague of mine, hanging out with his extended family members as they celebrated the Chinese New Year (“CNY”).
Chinese New Year is by far the biggest holiday in China. It’s evquivalent to Christmas in the U.S., except maybe even bigger, because hundreds of millions of Chinese all over the country tend to go back to their hometowns for at least a week or two to be with family. (I think in the U.S. we treat Christmas as a big deal, but most of us don’t necessarily always go back to our hometowns.)
One of the things I enjoyed the most about spending CNY with a big Chinese family was just hanging out with lots of people in their homes, while they talked and laughed with each other, ate food, encouraged each other to drink a lot of wine, and played games with the kids in the family and otherwise let everybody lounge around and spend time together. My Chinese isn’t good enough to really converse with people yet, so I spent a lot of the time smiling and nodding and not saying much; but it was still refreshing to feel a little bit of that family “vibe”.
One of the characteristic things about the winter here is that people tend not to use indoor heating in southern China, even though the temperature can drop low enough so that it can feel really cold inside (like around 50 degrees Fahrenheit). So people tend to spend time at home in fuzzy slippers, with long underwear and robes and sweatshirts on. Basically the most casual of casual attire. And they dress thusly even when they are having the whole family over for the afternoon/evening to celebrate, so as I was hanging out with people for CNY, folks were often in big comfy robes and hoodies and fuzzy slippers and etc. Which meant that I could dress however I wanted (those of you who know me well know this means mismatched flannel shirts + hideous Cosby sweaters + a hideous cardigan of some kind). Almost as if I were hanging out in my own slovenly apartment, except I wore jeans to their house and not pajama bottoms.
I mean, I did go to an environmental liberal arts college in Vermont where wearing pajama bottoms to class was the norm, but there are some standards of dress that I could never let go of (I always found it slightly repellant when other people wore pajamas to class in college, especially when those people were comfortable scratching, rubbing, leaving the crack exposed or any other combination of activities that should be limited strictly to private quarters).
Anyway, for some reason the winter dress style in China doesn’t bother me like it did in Vermont. Probably because although people do occasionally wear long underwear-type pajamas in public, they A.) generally put pants over their long underwear when they go outside, and B.) actually don’t use wasteful indoor heating when it is 50 degrees outside and when just wearing more layers would suffice, which I think probably saves a lot of money for them and a lot of fossil fuels for the rest of the world. I still actually haven’t found a pair of long underwear that fit me, and now the weather has gotten warm enough again where I won’t need them, but here in China, it all makes sense.
And I recently learned the Chinese word for long/thermal underwear. The literal translation is, apparently, “autumn clothes”, which seems appropriate. We don’t really have such a set word for this style in American English, as far as I know, but apparently the Aussies have a great combo of set phrases to describe someone who is dressed all pajama-y and thermal-grungy in public.
The term Australians use for those ugly, underwear-like pants is: “tracky dacks”. This word comes from the word “track pants” but appears to be sufficient to refer to any kind of hideous, not-for-public-eyes lower-body wear.
And another word Australians apparently can use for someone who looks like they have totally let themselves go and is just wearing tracky dacks in public, or in private, appears to be: “daggy”.
As in, I’ve just been at home all weekend hanging out in daggy tracky dacks and I haven’t shaved or taken a shower and I’ve been drinking milk from the carton and eating Flav-R-Ice and Ramen and watching episode after episode of the Wire.
Also, check out the Urban Dictionary’s explanation of “daggy”:
Australia (and New Zealand) are sheep-farming countries and our populations are familiar with many of the aspects of farming livestock. a “dag” or “dags” is the colloquial term for the dung which collects and mats into the fleece immediately surrounding a sheep’s anus; it hangs in dried-out dangling clumps which make a sound when the sheep runs, hence the phrase “rattle your dags”.
There’s a great example of various uses of these words at this blog, too: http://gailkav.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/daggy-tracky-dacks/
I have thought track pants were a worthy form of ironic attire since I first saw the show “Trailer Park Boys”, in which one of the main characters is always decked out in track pants, an ugly houndstooth shirt and a gold chain. He is definitely one of the most stupid characters I’ve ever seen depicted onscreen and I think that’s why I like him so much. Lots of people hate “Trailer Park Boys” because the comedy strikes them as obvious and transparent, but I always enjoyed it.
I told you this post was going to go all over the place. Since I got back to Sanming I have been sitting at home reading, writing, and studying Chinese. This lifestyle may lead to somewhat fragmentary thinking. But, classes begin again in less than a week so I will probably have more interesting things to write about then.