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The boy who peed in a garbage can at a B.C. mall: Why did it happen?

Earlier this week, a boy peed in a garbage can in the middle of a mall in Richmond, B.C.

It's a pretty weird thing to witness, to start with, as most people aren't necessarily used to seeing little boys peeing where we spit our gum in such public places, especially accompanied by someone who is likely his mother, helping him stand up while he does his business.

But then there's the whole social-cultural meaning that's been slapped on to this one, isolated incident.

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Is this a mirror of cultural differences between China and Hong Kong?

Did you know almost the same thing happened in Hong Kong in February of this year?

A mom and her son were out for dinner. When the boy had to pee, she pulled out a plastic bottle she carries – for this particular reason – and let him relieve himself at the table, much to the shock and horror of those in the restaurant.

She was publicly shamed by patrons and a woman working at the restaurant who not-so-kindly reminded her there was a toilet upstairs.

But the reaction is not altogether unfamiliar, and carried with it years of resentment as tension between the two areas has grown, sparking protests where people as young as 18 carried signs demanding "locusts" get out of their city.

The "locust" term given to those from mainland China by Hong Kong residents is in reference to the Biblical plague of crop-destroying insects.

The issue has been fuelled by the growing number of Chinese from the mainland who travel to Hong Kong on weekends and other occasions to shop and hang out.

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Some in Hong Kong have been said to consider "mainlanders" lacking in etiquette, though recent years have overturned a wealth trend – placing more money, for the first time, in the hands of mainland citizens than their Hong Kong counterparts. There's also a reported bitterness about mainland Chinese women giving birth in Hong Kong, specifically for the privileges that come along with citizenship, including welfare access, better education and a coveted Hong Kong passport, which is easier to travel with than a Chinese one, a Hong Kong professor told the Wall Street Journal. It was estimated that in 2011, as many as 40,000 women from mainland China gave birth in Hong Kong.

So why did one incident, where a mother let her boy pee in a garbage can at the Richmond Centre mall in British Columbia, cause such a fierce debate?

Because some people, assuming the family in question is Chinese, have said they're not surprised.

After a magazine blogger posted a picture of the child caught in the act, outrage was swift and widespread.

On Reddit, user LaunchThePolaris wrote, "I knew they were Asian before I even clicked the link. This is a fairly common occurrence in China."

"Many babies in mainland China don't wear diapers. Instead they have split pants and just go outside a lot. 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," said user antoinedodson_.

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And while some people have used the incident as an opportunity to discuss parenting techniques (such as "elimination communication," where parents don't put their children in diapers, attempting to read cues about when they need to relieve themselves), many have made the conversation about culture.

There are, of course, other possibilities.

On a Huffington Post article, the user TwoZeroOZ wrote: "We don't know the situation. Maybe there was a huge lineup at the washroom and the poor kid really had to go – what would you have done? Tell him to pee his pants???"

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