I’m a white-washed Korean who has been completely culture shocked living and visiting China. Man oh man, there were so many unusual things that I encountered during my travels in China. Here are the reoccurring basis of 10 Unexpected Things to Expect When Traveling to China:
1.Old Lady Square Dancing
One of the most unexpected things that I encountered was the random gatherings of old ladies in public places at all hours of the day, taking part in group square dances. These square dances are complete with loud speakers broadcasting Chinese songs and hefty crowds.
I’m all for good exercise, but the old ladies have gotten so out of hand with their dancing that the Chinese government is currently working on laws to restrict the hours of their public jazzercises.
2.The Obnoxious Spitting
One of the most disgusting and unfortunate thing that is a norm throughout Mainland China is the spitting (not a practice shared by the people in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau—making it easy to spot the Mainland Chinese on vacation in these spots). It’s not just a “let me turn to the side and spit so no one will notice,” kind of spit. NO. It’s a fucking “I can spit the loudest and the most obnoxiously” kind of spit, even from the pretty lady-like looking girls!
The Chinese believe that one should clear the body of impurities as soon as possible—meaning, that they think spit in their mouth is gross. This includes hawking a big loogie with earshot right behind you when you’re walking down the street, in the back of a taxi, inside the subway and in worse cases, in restaurants.
3.The Near-Death Street Crossing
You may think that a red light for the cars means a safe crossing for the pedestrians. NO. In China, this is more like, “you can cross technically, but watch out for the cars that are still going to run over you.”
When it does look safe to cross, it’s not so much the cars that will kill you—look out for motorbikes and bicycles! They use both the roads and the sidewalk and take the red light as just a “suggestion” to stop. Just remember, pedestrians in China have no way in hell the right of way.
4.That Stinky Tofu Smell
Stinky tofu is this popular fermented tofu snack in China that can be found as a popular street food and in restaurants. Unless you’ve smelled it, it’s very hard to describe it. If you’ve ever smelled a dead animal, imagine that fell into a garbage and was dug out a week later when its body is decomposing.
This is the smell that I associate with China to this day and I can’t get the smell out of my head even though it’s been months since I’ve last smelt anything like it. It’s so foul that the scent gets engraved in your brain and the worst part is that you can smell it from miles away. Stinky tofu smell will make you want to invest in an air mask—if the air pollution hasn’t already gotten to you yet.
There’s really no such thing as a dryer in China. Even in the nicer places that I’ve been to in China, I’ve never not seen people hang their laundry outside to air dry their clothes and blankets. Air drying is very normal even for Americans, but what’s not normal is what and how they hang it.
To give you a thought, when you’re walking down a normal street, whether it’s in a busy street in the middle of Shanghai or a residential area in the middle of nowhere, you will see underwear stretched onto hangers and hung on trees and fences to dry—this is VERY common. The Chinese are not afraid that people will steal their undergarments. The worst is when they have laundry hanging next to the food at restaurants, lol.
6.Pictures with Foreigners
A lot of Chinese people have never seen foreigners in their lives (especially if they’re tourists to a larger Chinese city coming from tiny villages). So if you’re a foreigner, be prepared to have your pictures taken—no permission needed. If you’re an Asian foreigner, be prepared to be the photographer—they’ll assume you’re the Chinese tour guide and pass you their cameras.
7.The Crotchless Children’s Onesies
Now this is something so unexpectedly normal in China: children pooping and peeing on the street. And, to accommodate for that, almost all of the children I’ve seen in China wear these crotchless onesies that facilitates their bodily necessities without having to strip down.
It’s like something that a dog would wear, if you think about it: it’s a piece of clothing that covers the body except for the parts that pee and poop. The worst part about it is that, unlike responsible dog owners, Chinese parents do not clean up after their children’s poops.
The Chinese LOVE brands. As long as it’s a famous brand, they want it whether it’s real or fake. They will brands on all and everything they feel would give them a higher status. For instance, I once saw a kid (maybe 5 years old) who’s head was shaved to the shape of the Apple logo.
Speaking of fake, sometimes they can’t decide on one brand that they’ll mash two or even three brands onto one article of clothing or product. For instance, a Burberry-Nike or a Coach-Apple!
Like most developing countries, you have to prepare to haggle. It may come as no surprise that bartering and negotiations take place in open air markets, but also be prepared to argue over taxi fares. For instance, Beijing is notorious for having taxi drivers that refuse to use the meter and then charge Westerners greater fares (typically double or triple the actual price).
The key to a good bargain in China is to look uninterested then cut the price down to a quarter, walk away at least once and meet at the third or half of the original asking price. You can do this with almost every merchants except at legit foreign brand stores.
10.People Party Until They Blackout
When you go to bars or clubs in China, you will see people sleeping/passed out in the corners. For some reason, the Chinese don’t really understand how to “limit” themselves so they literally drink until they fall asleep or they blackout.
Their friends? No where to be seen. They are literally just sleeping on a couch, left by themselves (even the girls at times). They really love to just go all out.
11.Joke of an “Airport Security” at Metros
In all the Chinese cities I’ve been to, they all have X-ray examination of your bags before you go through the metro. It looks legit for first timers, but in reality, most people just ignore it. When you walk towards them, they gesture that you put your belongings on a conveyor belt for it to get X-rayed. Well, first of all, the person watching the X-rays are usually half sleeping, secondly, try and ignore the security guard and just walk past his hand. NOTHING will happen. They don’t give a fuck, it’s literally just for shits and shows.
12.Worst Public Bathrooms
If you go to more westernized cities like Shanghai, you’ll most likely have a bathroom with regular stalls and locks. That goes without saying that you’ll still have to squat and bring your own toilet paper. However, if you go to cities like Beijing or villages, be ready to acquaint yourself to your bathroom buddy.
What the fuck does this mean? Well, in some parts of China, there is no such thing as privacy in the public bathroom and you are forced to go next to a person without a stall dividing the two of you. I had literally the absolute WORST experience in Beijing when I had diarrhea and I was just shitting like crazy in between two old ladies pooping next to me. I hope I never experience anything like that again.
13.Inanimate Talking Objects
Using an ATM for the first time in China may come as a shock. First of all, most of the ATMs lock the users into a booth—apparently Chinese people have little trust of banks and are paranoid about identity theft—and then the machine starts talking to you in Chinese.
You may also encounter the talking toilet, advertisement, trash can and the most popular: the talking door saying, “Huanying, Guanying” in an annoying baby-like voice.
14.The Indoor and Outdoor Pollution
China is known for its horrible pollution—when you can stare directly into the sun and not be effected by it, that’s a problem. Most people think it’s just a light mist of smog before they get to China, but it’s so much worse than that.
Now, what’s worse than that is the part where you can’t escape it indoors. You would think that if there’s bad pollution outside, you can get some fresh air indoors in China (sarcasm intended), but no. People smoke EVERYWHERE. Like the spitting, they do not care if they’re in the train or restaurant, people will light up that cigarette and blow the smokes in your face. Disgusting.
15.Completely Inaccurate Translations
Larger cities in China have signs in Chinese characters in addition to Latin alphabet “Pinyin” version of the characters, which makes getting around the country a little bit easier for Westerner. Be aware though that these attempts are sometimes just completely horrendous and misleading. For instance, be prepared to see signs for the “hoilet” (toilet) or signs that make absolutely no sense like “please take googcare burn” or “take leave belonging for theft.”
Needless to say, there are several other quirks that make China special. Do not let this list discourage you however, from experiencing China yourself. I absolutely LOVE China and would move there if I could. My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy that I love such a strange country so much, but there are so many amazing things about this place that it trumps my list of Unexpected Things to Expect in China.