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Going lean and mean in China

I did not find or bump into a single fat man on the streets of Beijing in the four and half days that I was there.


Abhishek Sengupta

Published: Mon 18 Nov 2019, 10:12 PM

Last updated: Tue 1 Sep 2020, 4:28 PM

So I have just come back from China and out of all the 37 countries I have visited in as many years of my existence, I must admit, this has to be the queerest, most unique and the most intriguing of all places and perhaps a tad depressing for a man who has been perennially obese.
In the world's most populous country of mostly the Han Chinese who speak Mandarin-inspired dialects, people use English names, app-based dainty bicycles, and online pay services to get by in a burgeoning cashless economy. There's no official state religion although the Chinese civilisation has long been known for fostering some of the world's most enduring religio-philosophical faiths and ideas. Just as there is no WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the uppity to brag on social media even though there's Weibo, Sogou, WeChat and a host of other gateways to fame on the Chinese social media. And life on the insufferably crowded roads of Beijing, like other big cities of China begins and ends as early as six when families get down to dinners packed with proteins of anything that moves - from jelly fish to abalone and everything in between. Clearly, if you are used to the bohemian way of life and a certain type of sauce and garnish, China perhaps may not be the best of the places for you.
Yet in the four days that I spent in the capital of the 'Middle Kingdom', I loved absolutely every bit of my stay, often fascinated by the shimmering presence of global corporations in what is still truly one of the world's last few surviving single-party, communist states. You can't miss the neon signs of a Starbucks, McDonald's, and Gucci that bedazzle the streets of Beijing's central district where there's almost always a Mercedes, Maserati, or a Tesla to make you wonder if socialism, like Santa Claus, is just another finely celebrated idea. But none of all that has had me concerned as much as my inability to spot one single fat or obese Chinese man (or woman)! Are there no fat men in China? Of course, there are plenty of them and obesity, like the rest of the world and here in the UAE, is a huge problem in the country of 1.4 billion, too.
Once a victim of a terrible famine in the early 60s that wiped off nearly 20 million people, China faces obesity - fuelled by changing lifestyles thanks to the country's huge economic gains - like never before. A simple research online will tell you how more young Chinese now consume fat and sugar in their growing love for Western fast food. British author Paul French who specialises in books about modern Chinese history and contemporary Chinese society in his book Fat China: how expanding waistlines are changing a nation even noted how obesity rates have grown in the country. Only around 7 per cent of the Chinese were overweight back in 1982, albeit in an era when their government figures were even more classified than they are today. Today, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), that figure stands at nearly a third of the country's total population.
Yet to be honest, I did not find or bump into a single fat man on the streets of Beijing for the four and half days that I was there and for an obese, middle-aged pot-bellied journalist who just hit his highest weight in decades this week, the Dubai Fitness Challenge notwithstanding, it was the most depressing thing to have happened. A fat man finds solace in another fat man you see!
Worse what made me even more worried sick was when I realised it's the food they eat traditionally that keeps them the way they are - lean and mean. Not sure? Consider some of what I just consumed during the stay - sweet kidney beans, jellyfish in vinegar, pan-fried sliced chicken, roasted avocado with pumpkin, stir-fried shrimps with Longing tea leaves, Youyu spicy lamb chops, roasted beef ribs, sautéed scallops with broccoli, cabbage mustard, tofu soup, and fresh fruits as desserts. Where are the fat men you might ask? But where is the fat in their food? Go figure!

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