Overall: China (Culture Shock)

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The Food: The food in China is phenomenal, especially compared to Chinese food back home. It’s gorgeous and a lot less heavy than when you order your favorite Chinese take-away. While it can be difficult to choose your food (because almost all of the menus are only in Mandarin!) whatever we ended up with was always amazing. And there are tons of Buddhist restaurants that serve veggie food. We’ve had some really great dishes. Lots of restaurants in big cities do some fabulous mock-meat dishes. For example, we had amazing BBQ spare ribs in Shanghai and a really authentic tasting Peking duck in Beijing. We especially enjoyed all the different types of dumplings in Beijing, but our most favorite dish of all was the Chinese cabbage. It was a simple dish of cabbage, garlic, chili peppers, and soy sauce; and it was available at almost every restaurant, if you could convey what you wanted to the non-english speaking staff.

The People: Chinese people are more interested in traveling foreigners than any other group of people I’ve ever met. They are so curious about everything you’re doing, where you’re going and your personal life that sometimes you are grateful they’re English skills aren’t that wonderful or you’d be talking all night instead of sleeping on the train. On a good day, you love the people with their curious stares and lack of common communication skills and when they take your book from you and laugh in surprise when they realize it’s in English. But on a bad day, when you’ve been walking for a mile with your 20 kg backpack and it’s almost dark and you can’t find your hostel, and they are staring and pointing and speaking loudly about you and you get to your hostel and no one understands that you need toilet paper, then not so much. But saying that, we really did generally like the people. They were friendly, eager to meet you, interested in where you were from, and quick to tell you “Obama and Michael Jackson!” (thumbs up) when you declare that you are megwuo, American.

The West: The West of China is really gorgeous and completely different from the East of China which is just huge Chinese city after huge Chinese city, all full with well over a five million people a piece. The west is slow and mountainous. There are places that can actually be considered “towns” and you don’t need a map. It’s home to really nice natural attractions like Tiger Leaping Gorge and can really see the land begin to spread out before you as it is in Tibet.

The Hostels: Chinese hostels are brilliant. They have been well-decorated and are smooth operations that are well-run. They almost always have air-condition and hot water and are almost always under 5 USD a bed. A lot of times, they have bars and pool tables attached and even offer cool activities like dumpling making classes for free.

Pandas: Come on, who doesn’t like pandas?

Beer Street: The beer on beer street in Qingdao is brilliant. There are actually a variety, such as a wheat, a stout and a lager, which is pretty unheard of in Asia. You can get pitchers for really cheap and the whole street has a crazy beer theme, even the benches are shaped like beer bottles.

Massages: Probably the most painful massage I have ever had, but Chinese massage parlors will leave you feeling ninety times better the next morning. They’re open all night and for 3 dollars, it’s a fun activity to do with friends after the bars close.

Sleeper trains: Aside from a couple of bad experiences with dirty sheets on the sleeper trains, they are generally a blessing. They’re air-conditioned, fast and efficient for covering the huge distances of a country as big as China. You get on, eat your dinner, play some cards, go to bed by 8 and wake up at your destination. It doesn’t get easier than that.

Lack of Touts: China has no touts. Not like in Southeast Asia. Nobody stands at the train or bus station waiting for foreigners to get off so they can harass them into taking their tuk-tuk or going to their hotel. It’s very peaceful actually.

Ability to Travel Anywhere: Now after visiting China, I could honestly travel anywhere now. The language barrier is vast, the lack of English signs or menus huge and the city lay-outs are often confusing with old businesses and restaurants closing and opening faster than any guidebook can keep up. You have to have everything written in Mandarin to show any cab driver or train station attendant. People have walked into poles on the street because they were staring at us hard. It’s hot. It’s dirty. There are more people than you can even imagine, but we breezed right into Vietnam and every other country in SE Asia without a single shred of culture shock after China. It feels good to be able to think outside the box and communicate non-verbally to get what you need.


Food: You know we loved the food, but we did run into a few hiccups. As mentioned before, we came across very few English menus. We tried our best (with our small dog-eared Mandarin phrasebook) to order veggies, but sometimes got eggplant smothered in pork. Also, while there were many regional specialties, we did get tired of some of the staple dishes we relied on, like egg fried rice and cucumbers covered in vinegar. But, we never got sick of the fried cabbage! There wasn’t a lot of Western food done well, aside from the horrific fast-food chains on every corner.

The Toilets: Our first encounter with squat toilets. If you’ve never experienced them, you are in luck. They are nothing more than a porcelain hole in the ground (if you are in the city), or even worse a small trough that you squat over with 2 feet high patricians separating you from the squatting lady next to you. And then it gets better, like at rest stops where there is in fact no toilet, but just a dirt hole under someone’s house/roadside shack. It’s not pretty or fun.

Communications: It felt like NO ONE spoke English, and it drove us crazy! Not only could we not communicate with them verbally, it was also difficult to get the point across using body language as well. Like the universal signs for “menu” and “check please”. They just don’t seem to get it.

Government Censorship: We had heard bad things about the communist government in China blocking sites like MSNBC, pornsites, youtube, and blogging sites like wordpress, but were shocked when a few days after we arrived, they decided to block Facebook as well. We’re never for censorship, and it was annoying that they made it so hard for us to keep in touch with our friends and keep up with our blog.

Train Stations: In China, the train stations are manic and dirty. Buying a ticket is confusing, once again with no English signage or ticket sellers. We usually had to get some one from our hostel to write down the date, time, and destination in Mandarin characters, so we could just show some one at the station who would eventually figure out that we needed a ticket.

Chinese Cities: They all kind of started running together. Yes, of course, Shanghai and Beijing have their own shining moments, but in general Chinese cities were not that impressive. Even small cities (population: one million or under) looked the same: big concrete buildings, lots of concrete, a park, a Mao statue, KFC and McDonalds.

The cleanliness factor: China is hands-down the absolute filthiest place I have ever been. There is spit on the street, in the subway cars and on buses. People literally spit right next to your foot while making a sound that can only be described as a whir of an espresso machine as your only warning. We tried swimming in Qingdao, what Lonely Planet humourously calls “The Chinese Riviera” and came up with nothing but plastic bags, coke bottles, and other debris. People throw their napkins and shrimp shells on the ground, even if we’re eating outdoors. Chopsticks wrappers? Just chuck ‘em over your shoulder. Babies are pooing on the street, people are eating up endangered species and you couldn’t pay me enough money to put my backpack down on the train station floor. That last example is when you know just how dirty it is, because I look for any excuse to take my 30 pound bag off.

China’s constant construction: If I had to think of one noise to describe China, it wouldn’t be chanting monks or the sizzle of the street vendors on the corner, it would be more like a jackhammer or chainsaw. China is constantly re-vamping its cities, in its effort to become more “Western” and present itself as a world power contender. What does this mean for the traveler aside from a lot of noise? Your guidebook, unless published the month you visit, is wrong. Not just a little wrong, but horribly wrong. A business had changed hands 3 times by the time we tried to find that little gem of a veggie restaurant in Shanghai. Streets have changed names or in the case of hutongs, have disappeared altogether. It is confusing to say the least.

Weird but fun facts:

After Childbirth Rule: People in China generally tend to be pretty superstitious, but this one takes the cake in this modern era. After a woman has a baby, she is expected to have a resting period of 30 days. Sounds great, right? Well, it’s not so great because she is not allowed to get out of bed for anything except to use the bathroom. That means no bathing, no reading, no TV, no internet, no taking care of your new baby (the grandma is supposed to do that) Almost every Chinese family we met says it is an important part of chidbirth still. All we can think, is that it probably helps with the one child per family rule: Women don’t want to have to go through that again, and their spouses don’t want to have to sleep near someone who hasn’t bathed in 30 days again.

Baby Butts: Most, if not all the Chinese babies we saw (under the age of 4) were wearing “split pants”. We’ve shown pictures of this before, but it is basically a regular pair of paints with a slit from the front of the crotch to the back, so the baby can squat and pee or poo anywhere. We were constantly afraid of sitting down, even in the subway. One time we saw a baby pee right in a seat in the train station. The parents took the baby when their train was called, then another woman came and set her shopping bag right in it. Gross!

Armpits: It seems the ladies of China are not too fond of the razor. Or maybe, armpit hair is sexy. Whatever the reason, most (no need to generalize, these are just our experiences) girls we saw sporting the sleeveless look (it was August and super hot, so a lot of them) had never shaved their armpits. It was a little shocking at first, because the women dress so girly with lots of bows, ruffles, and lace, and then they reach up to put the luggage in the overhead, and wow, there is a lot of hair.

Swimming: we rarely saw people swimming, even in towns with beaches. As it turns out, since most of the country is inland, no one ever learns to swim. It’s just not an important skill.

Rubber Gloves: People don’t like to get their hands dirty when eating. So instead of turning to knife and fork to eat their pizza and chicken wings like the Europeans do, they like to eat it the American way, but with rubber gloves. They have boxes of them handy at KFC and Pizza Hut. It makes the whole process look a little sterile.

Keeping Cool: On a hot day, you’ll see a lot of skin, but not from the ladies. The men in China like to roll their shirts up to just below the nipple (sometimes not quite so high) We don’t know why they don this midriff look, but it seems to be a national way to stay cool on hot summer days. Maybe it makes them look cool too.

6 Responses to “Overall: China (Culture Shock)”

  1. 1 lil b February 2, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    the weird but fun facts are hysterical!! i just found myself laughing out loud at the last pic!! haha!! also the baby butt part was hard to imagine and makes them NOT so cute anymore..however there are some cheap chinese beds at hostelsclub.com if you’re lookin

  2. 2 lesley July 28, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I can identify with pretty much all of this – esp the difficulties getting veggi food (they just don’t get the fact that picking the veg out of a meaty dish isn’t the same). As for the hacking and spitting – don’t get me started – and the rolled up mens shirts (what a turn off). But don’t forget the inappropriate questions and intense physical contact. Still I love coming to china for work (I am in beijing now).

  3. 3 atwoki December 23, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    the busy butt scenerio is for real. its some funny stuff for sure.

  1. 1 Overall: China (Culture Shock) « Catch Us If You Can | Shanghai EXPO 2010 Trackback on February 2, 2010 at 10:44 am
  2. 2 Overall: China (Culture Shock) « Catch Us If You Can | China Today Trackback on February 2, 2010 at 8:40 pm
  3. 3 Gydresources.com Trackback on January 11, 2011 at 4:11 am

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