Traveling To China Or Are Thinking about It? Want To Know What It Is Really Like?

I am currently in China. All I can say is that you can't quantify another culture in a text box like this. If you want to know about China... GO! What I can tell you about is what to expect when you get there...
If you come from an industrialized "Western" country these might be your biggest shockers (as they were for me)...
1. People can and do drink the tap water but I, my stomach, and my traveling companions would highly recommend that you don't. There are little bodegas EVERYWHERE that basically sell the exact same things… so picking up a bottle of water is not difficult.
2. Don't expect clean food, clean kitchens, clean eating utensils, clean bathrooms, clean tables, clean taxies, busses, hospitals, streets, air, ... you get my point? The bigger the city the more likely you are to find clean amenities (I have spent a lot of time in the "boonies" so forgive me if I sound biased). Also don’t expect soap or tissue (in the bathrooms, restaurants, doctors’ offices, etc.). DO expect people to defecate in the streets (children and adults alike) and everywhere else (parking lots, subways, gas stations, staircases … many times within close proximity to a restroom!!!). Poverty was the most striking thing to me. So many people I saw lived in absolute poverty and squalor… it was heart wrenching. Garbage was everywhere and oftentimes on fire… If you saw a nook or cranny, chances are there’s garbage stuffed in it – perhaps because there was not any obvious waste-management system in place that I could see. Stray dogs were everywhere and raw sewage could be smelled daily.
3. The majority of people I have spent my time around have had an average level of education somewhere around middle school (by their own admission). That is not to say that China is deprived of an intelligencia... you are just not likely to find them walking around on the street.
4. Politics in China is a strange mix of biased historical interpretation and propaganda (that is not to say politics in general is not muddled...). If you wish to talk politics with anyone, don’t expect to do it in public or get into any real debates. All of my discussions of politics (e.g., Chairman Mao, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet) have ended in illogical rants OBVIOUSLY influenced by state sponsored propaganda. Expect a great deal of irrational hate/prejudice towards Japan/Japanese and Malaysians/Malaysia. One unprovoked statement about Japan was as follows “Japan is America’s bitch”. It was after this statement that I gave up on engaging in any political discussions with people who were not professors.
5. Expect a bad TV viewing experience (though I don’t watch TV to begin with, it was helpful to practice my Chinese) with shows that are, of course, propagandic in nature. Shows range from bad jokes, bad plot lines/twists, bad acting, bad humor, bad everything (B TV…). Not like it’s not expected anywhere else on the planet… but expect biased news reporting and blatant pro gov. propaganda. Massive censorship (I suspect part of the reason TV (and movies) is so bad) in everything you read, watch, hear (and say) and expect a strange internet experience if you are incapable of using Chinese websites. The majority of bad guys in a myriad of TV shows and movies were Japanese or connected to the Japanese in some manner.

Aug 2, 2014 7:03 AM
Comments · 16

18. China has a long history of making alcohol but drinking is not very big in China. You can drink anywhere people can smoke but the beer is often times no better than the cheapest American/German brands. Microbrews are also lost on Chinese culture. Baijiu is the main “liquor” of choice and has a distinct flavor; it can be very good. Beer in the city I am staying in (near Xi an) is very weak (less than 5% abv), but it is cheap and easy to find. Some locals will make seasonal homemade liquors if you are able to get your hands on them and they are GREAT!
19. Face (mianzi) is very important in China, as is (despite a century+ of hard work by a number of intellectuals) Confucius. You probably won’t feel very tall in China but you will feel a bit awkward when children and young adults stare at you and yell laowai (to me pejorative and rude but to the vast majority of the world an acceptable term for foreigners), often times over and over while their parents just stare at you.

20. Lastly, There are many little difference from how beds are made and kept, to how and when people eat, to air-conditioning units, water heaters, toilets, counterfeit goods, the manners of waitresses and waiters, car safety-belts, and on and on and on. I am so happy to have had all of these experiences and I would highly recommend to anyone that they visit China for the experience.

August 2, 2014

15. China does not have a sophisticated ice cream culture (big letdown for cookie dough lovers, not a big deal for vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry lovers… tea lovers too, yes they have a green tea flavor for just about everything you can think of).
16. People will stair at you! Don’t let it get to you if you come from a “no staring/eye contact” culture! Privacy is not very important in China. If a doc tells you to drop your pants in front of a group of strangers of all ages or an open door/window… just pray it isn’t cold. Women are treated with a bit more privacy through – again from my experience. That is not to say that there is no privacy… just be prepared for a level of privacy that you may not be used to. For example a doctor and I had a talk about a rather personal matter in front of a group of gawking locals. Nothing I could do.

August 2, 2014

10. Bribery, nepotism, and favoritism is rampant. Train station workers sold early access to train platforms so people could get a better seat. Basically, if you know the right people or are in the right situation you can buy anything in China – though I am sure this is true in any country, it’s just very easy and obvious in China.
11. You can buy some interesting medications over the counter. For example, when I got a cold people told me to take amoxicillin… and these places had 3 brands of the stuff. But no Vicodin or OxyContin or other good stuff.
12. Cigarettes are everywhere… If you don’t like second hand smoke, don’t go to China. People will smoke anywhere humanly possible - though I didn’t see any smokers in the hospital it still smelled like someone was/had been smoking.
13. Prostitution may not be “strictly legal” but it is everywhere and advertisement for it can be found everywhere – even in front of secondary schools.
14. Professors are treated poorly. Quack doctors are everywhere. Healthcare is cheap, relatively speaking. Dental hygiene is not a major concern in China – sometimes understandably so. Teachers are often under-educated in their fields – I would say doctors too but again I spent a great deal of time outside of major cities.

August 2, 2014

7. Traffic is crazy and in a strange way refreshing as you can drive pretty much any way you want including driving on the wrong side of the road, driving backwards anywhere, ignoring any form of traffic signal, and just doing almost anything you wanted, but at the same time the average speed for city driving was less than 40 miles an hour. Then again I had a taxi and a bus run cars off the road when driving down the wrong side of the road because they wanted to pass one of many extremely overloaded rickshaws on the two lane road, or because they didn’t want to stop at a red light… in front of cops! Black cars (heiche) are like gypsy cabs but they are privet citizens who just pick up strangers and take them wherever for a fee. Don’t take them unless you really need to, but I never had a problem with the heiche – they were usually cleaner then the taxies and structurally safer than the rickshaws. Yes I saw lots of accidents, some fatal, so make sure you have great insurance if you plan on driving (a dash cam would not be a bad idea). J-walking is like breathing… no one (not pedestrians, cops, or cars) cares about crosswalks.
8. I didn’t mess with cops but I have not been in any country where the people fully trusted their police. My impression was that the Chinese police were no different from the massive amount of scrawny, lazy, (often times unnecessary and obviously poorly paid) security guards that are everywhere and seem to outnumber the police by a ridiculous number. They might not look intimidating but don’t mess with any of them because any member of the crowd is liable to aid the uniform any way they can and yes that means violently. Public shaming is very common but fist-fighting and worse did not appear to be a big problem while I was in China. Every fight worthy dispute I saw was stopped by the crowed before it started.
9. Traffic does not stop for pedestrians, cops, or ambulances.

August 2, 2014

6. Expect over emotional and illogical responses to almost every negative event you can imagine. The women mostly (in my experience, but this also applies to a lively exchange of ideas with many male friends as well) rely on their emotions for everything and disregard “Western” logic in almost every capacity. Explaining logical fallacies or highlighting their own contradictions was a waste of time, for me. People will often tell you that “you think too much” or “don’t think so much”. Consumerism is rampant (though China has a long material history of consumerism so I wasn’t too surprised at this one) but you can bargain for just about everything. In my experience, people are generally very greedy and care only about themselves and family. You won’t have trouble asking for directions but that’s about the extent of friendliness I experienced from complete strangers. Aside from a myriad of standard “who’s the foreigner” questions, I had very nice and pleasant experiences with many strangers, mostly on or near trains. But, for example, people don’t really care about chivalry. People race towards open seats on trains and busses and rarely yield them to anyone. And forming a line is an art that has not yet taken its hold of Chinese people… Expect people to cut in front of you in very imaginative ways.

August 2, 2014
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