Boy pees in mall garbage can: let’s not jump to cultural conclusions

What do you make of the photo of an apparently Asian woman holding up a small boy so he can pee in a suburban Vancouver shopping mall garbage can?

Does it reinforce some views you may have about the norms of another culture or is this simply a case of when you've gotta go, you've gotta go?

The photo, taken at Richmond Centre, went viral over the last few days, sparking a sometimes nasty debate in social media.

Posts on Reddit suggested the woman was from Mainland China (Richmond is a popular destination for Chinese immigrants), where the practice of allowing young children to urinate and defecate on the street is supposedly common.

"For what it's worth, it's not uncommon to hear naturalized Chinese-Canadians — or even recent immigrants from Hong Kong — bitching about this behaviour too," bucky2300 posted on Reddit. "It's a mainland China thing, and an uneducated/backwater hick one at that."

"Many babies in Mainland China don't wear diapers. Instead they have split pants and just go outside a lot," added Antoine Dodson on Reddit. "I have seen this many times in China, including much younger children being held to poo on the street. Including in relatively swanky areas of Shanghai."

[ Related: Toddler given $2,500 ticket for peeing in public ]

Jonathan Manthorpe, who spent many years in Asia as a Canadian foreign correspondent, told CBC News the practice was indeed widespread.

"A few years ago, they were living very rough lives of peasants," he said. "I'm sure all of your viewers who have travelled in rural China will see, as I have seen, in many places that the standards of toilets is very different."

But Queenie Choo, head of SUCCESS, a Vancouver group that helps immigrants adapt to Canada, told CBC News that's not true.

"I have travelled to China and I don't think there is common practice in any city that I have observed," she said.

Postmedia News reported an unidentified person who claimed the woman and boy were their aunt and cousin respectively, said there's a much simpler explanation.

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The anonymous Reddit poster said their aunt noticed the boy was beginning to pee his pants without warning and the nearest washroom was too far away. The only option to prevent a messier situation was to use the garbage bin.

“It’s amazing how people come to conclusions without knowing the full story,” the poster said. “I think it’s a shame that people put race and culture as the main reason for peoples’ actions."

[ Related: Boy peeing in B.C. mall trash bin photo sparks online debate ]

Choo pointed out that no one says much when transients relieve themselves in public. And who hasn't seen someone ducking into an alley to take a whiz after a night of drinking?

I was gobsmacked once when I saw a well-dressed woman in her thirties squat and pee on a busy corner of Vancouver's Granville Street. Without taking down her pants. She returned our shocked stares with a stream of expletives that matched her urinary output.

And let's not forget the Biebs, who apparently couldn't find his way to a restaurant toilet and used a cleaning bucket instead.