A few nights ago I stepped through a "hole in the fence" into a gated community.  It was dark outside and I was behind Dave, Irene, and Becky, all of us walking silently in the cold.

It wasn't really a "hole in the fence" like you might normally picture, more of a doorway intentionally built into in a gate with a very high threshold to step over, 18 inches or so.  For some reason whoever built the wall around the community built it with big iron gates that had little doorways for people that remind me of those doors in submarines and navy ships that you have to step over the threshold to get through.  I think they make them like that, on boats, so that they can be closed and sealed against water in case the ship starts sinking or taking on water.  In this case I think they built doorways in the fence with high thresholds for structural reasons, so the gate didn't wobble.  By the way: the gate was built for cars with a little "man door" off to the side, the door that I'm talking about, in case you're trying to visualize it.  The gate is connected to a big thick wall that goes around this particular community of tallish apartment buildings.  One of these buildings had an apartment in it that had a delicious Korean dinner being prepared for us as we marched carefully over the ice.

Of course dinner was delicious and the company was charming.  After dinner I found myself building a little pile of sunflower nuts and a bigger pile of shells on the dinner table.  Our gracious hosts had brought out pomelos and a big bag of unshelled and unsalted sunflower seeds.  Dave, Irene, Becky, and I go through a bag of sunflower seeds almost every day. They roast them and sell them on the sidewalk near our front door.  So there we were chatting it up with our friendly hosts and eating our favorite snacks when Irene started to talk about her pants.

For a low price you can buy special pants, here in the coldest corner of China.  Pants that will keep you warm.  We've been calling them "Cellulite Pants" because of the way Dave's legs look when he wears them under his jeans.  They are made of a thick, maybe an inch, layer of cotton stuffing sandwiched between two thinner layers of fabric.  There are little dimples every inch or so to hold it all together.  A little like the comforter on your bed, but in the form of pants.  I don't own a pair yet but everyone who wears them says that they are incredibly warm.  And, yes, they make your legs look fat.  But it's worth it.

Irene owns a black pair of these cellulite pants, she's had them for a couple weeks now.  And, as I shelled sunflower seeds, she started telling our charming hosts about a conversation she had with her local friend about her pants.  To summarize: Her local friend, a girl in her twenties, politely told Irene that the pants were "Stupid" and that if Irene wore them she would walk far enough behind her so that no one would know that they knew each other.  Irene was asking our host's opinion of what he thought about the pants, and why her friend would say these things.

At first our host didn't understand why our mutual friend, the local girl, would say something like that.  The local girl is a very sensible and friendly person, she must have had a good reason to so harshly shun these warm and wonderful pants.  Keep in mind that when you are speaking foreign languages you generally have no choice but to be blunt, otherwise people won't understand your meaning, and even then, like in this case, meanings are frequently confused.

Our host told Irene that he also had some cellulite pants and that most of the locals wore them as well.  (Although he didn't call them "cellulite pants")  Naturally, around here, no one would be concerned about how fat their legs looked, everyone is bundled up in so many layers, so that wasn't the reason.  But Irene was determined to get to the bottom of this.

I'm sorry I don't remember all the details of the conversation but at some point our host came to understand one important detail about Irene's pants that he, and the local girl, had taken for granted.  Irene was not only wearing the pants outside, out-of-doors, but she was wearing them outside her clothes.  She was wearing only one layer, just the cellulite pants.  His eyes got big and he clearly used the word "underwear" to clarify what part of the wardrobe these cellulite pants were supposed to fill.  Our local friend's shunning of these pants was becoming more understandable.  (Our local friend wasn't there by the way)

Of course Irene was in a state of disbelief at this point, still trying to get to the bottom of this, so she was asking, to clarify, if our experienced host thought that she should wear her cellulite pants outside.  And apparently he did not want to tell her what to do, or boss her around, but he kept saying "underwear".

Irene has been walking around, shopping, riding buses and taxis, possibly teaching an English class, in her underwear pants.  Of course us foreigners already stick out around here because of our faces, but Irene asked our host if she had been further distinguishing herself as the "foreign lady who walks around in her underwear pants".  She even reached down and flipped the upper edge of pants down to reveal that the inside was lined with a leopard print.  Yep, our host communicated, that confirms it even more.  Underwear.

Of course, needless to say, everyone in the room was laughing so hard that we were crying.  I had even stopped paying attention to my little pile of sunflower seeds.