When I first started travel blogging, I wrote a list of ten things that I had learned about China while I was living in and teaching English there. Since creating that list, I thought of ten more things I’ve learned about China. Okay, there’s probably more like one hundred things that I’ve learned from living in China, but I think I’ll stick to lists of ten things.
And here goes:
1. The numbers written on the road actually mean something.
Do you need a maid, an electrician, or a plumber? You may have better luck calling one of the numbers on the street and asking what services they provide. The streets are a constant billboards for telephone numbers of people providing services. And as fast as workers are writing the numbers, other people are coming around to paint over the numbers.
2. You have to bring your own toilet paper to the bathroom.
After living in China for nine months, the bathrooms never ceased to amaze me. From no running water to no doors, I really lowered my standards on bathrooms. The two things I hope to find in a Chinese bathroom: toilet paper and soap. Unfortunately, you will rarely find either. So, tissues and hand sanitizer became an addition to my purse.
3. The pollution really is THAT bad.
I recently read an article claiming that spending one day in Beijing was the equivalent of smoking twenty-one cigarettes. While I cannot speak to its validity, I really wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. I remember being sick for half of my time in China and feeling like my skin was dirty whenever I left home.
4. Chinese people use the word “brother” and “sister” to mean a cousin.
During the “one child policy”, a lot of children grew up without biological brothers and sisters. Still Chinese families are incredibly close, so the term “brother” and “sister” also refers to what a western person would describe as their cousin. It’s my understanding that there is no word for “cousin” in the Chinese language.
5. Tea is no joke in China.
The Chinese take their tea very seriously. While teaching in China, I rarely saw my students without tea. Whether a soul-crushing winter morning or a sweat-inducing summer afternoon, my students could be spotted sipping their tea. And it wasn’t just my students. The teachers, the shop workers, and those sharing small spaces on public transportation with me were sipping away too.
6. Don’t ever write a Chinese person’s name in red.
Although red is generally a lucky color in Chinese culture, it is bad juju to write a person’s name in red in China. This is because the Chinese traditionally wrote the name of their decreased in red on their gravestones.
7. A lot of products are made in China, but that doesn’t mean you can buy those products in China.
I had high hopes of buying Christmas presents for Aussie on the Road while we were living together in China, but my hopes were quickly crushed when I learned that even though a lot of products are made in China, it doesn’t mean that you can order those products on the Internet to be sent to places in China.
8. It’s acceptable and common to tell people that they are “fat”.
In western society, you would never think of calling a family member or a friend fat, but it’s common practice in China. For example, I’ve caught more than one of my students calling one their classmates fat. And the strange part, we would barely consider them overweight in western culture. I’ve also been told that this isn’t considered offensive because it means that the person cares about you and is concerned with your health.
9. When a man and woman marry, it is assumed that the woman will live with the man’s family, helping to take care of them and support them.
It’s a foreign, antiquated idea to most westerners, but there are still plenty of countries that follow this mentality. When a man and woman marry, the woman moves to become part of the husband’s family (or the opposite in Sri Lanka). After speaking with many Chinese people about this, I’ve more recently learned that it tends to cause a lot of problems between the wife and the mother-in-law. But still, it’s the norm.
10. Personal space. What is that?
When I moved to China, I knew that I would have trouble adjusting to Chinese culture. I knew the language barrier would be difficult to break. I knew adjusting to the food would be less than pleasant. And I knew that I would be fighting for space. Although China is a large country, the major cities are crowded. There are no have personal space “rules” in China. In fact, it’s a rare day when I didn’t get shouldered or elbowed walking down the streets of China.
What do you think?
Have you ever lived in or visited China? Do you agree with the ten more things I’ve learned about China?