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November 6, 2009

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A war on 'uncivilized' pajamas

SOME Shanghai residents are fighting a long-standing habit in the city: wearing pajamas on the street.

Calling the attire "uncivilized," some neighborhoods in Pudong New Area and Hongkou District have recruited volunteers to try persuading residents that it's uncool to wear their jammies in public.

Sometimes people listen to them, but sometimes they're turned down or given a hostile, "None of your business!"

The drive has sparked a debate between those who regard the pajamas as a unique reminder of Shanghai's shikumen past - or, alternatively, an old status symbol which showed you were rich enough to afford a pair of PJs - and those who view the night-wear as a public embarrassment.

In Pudong New Area, the Qiba Neighborhood Community was a pilot for fighting pajama-wearing on the street. Shen Guofang, a neighborhood committee official, said it was hard work because the idea had been rooted in some people's minds.

For example, some old ladies have been accustomed to not changing clothes before going to the wet market or dropping garbage.

"We encourage our volunteers, most of whom are middle-aged women, and students in the summer holiday, to persuade people in a joking tone," Shen said.

Some foreigners wonder what all the fuss is about.

Paal Sveen, a 25-year-old operations manager from Norway, said he found the Shanghai habit an "interesting" phenomenon.

"I believe street wear is defined differently and has actually become a part of the culture of a big Chinese city like Shanghai," Sveen said.

Too nosy

Yu Hai, a sociologist with Fudan University, strongly opposes the campaign, which he called poking a nose into others' business.

"It's part of Shanghai people's tradition," he said. "Foreigners don't care about it so much. They believe when in Rome, do as Romans do.

"Only some government officials feel it's a big deal and may lose our dignity in this way."

The tradition originated from Shanghai's distinctive lifestyle in the shikumen houses, Yu said.

Locals used to live in the heavily subdivided shikumen buildings when housing was limited, sharing a communal kitchen, toilets, bathrooms.

In that situation, "it's very natural for people to go downstairs to throw litter or strolling in the lanes without changing their clothes," Yu said.

Harms image

Yang Xiong, a professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, supported the campaign, saying the habit should be eliminated, lest it harm the city's image.

But he also advised the government not to take the drive too seriously.

"Fashion and undesirable customs may change in different ages," he said.

"Shanghai people used to think it was a symbol of affluence and status to wear pajamas, but now it's become a bad habit as Shanghai comes in line with international conventions."


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