Our 4 weeks in China have been great, the experience has been unforgettable and we’ve seen some of the most famous places on earth and enjoyed scenic spots that have taken our breath away! It has been quite a culture shock though and many things have differed to what we were expecting. Read on and find out what has surprised us the most..
This has to go first as it’s the most shocking. Even after 4 weeks it still makes me cringe when a big splat of spit lands beside me! It seems perfectly normal, and acceptable, for the Chinese to spit everywhere. You will not be able to walk down a street for more than 1 minute before you see someone hocking up phlegm and spitting it wherever they fancy. It also seems the norm for them to spit inside the subway and in malls so nowhere is safe from flying saliva, beware!
2) How the internet is locked down
Before reaching China we had heard that the likes of Google, Facebook and YouTube were blocked. No problem we thought, we’ll just use a proxy to access what we need. How wrong could we be! Nothing works, they are obviously very hot on blocking the latest servers and the only way to gain access seemed to be via a VPN, but even then many VPN sites are blocked.
No Facebook is fine with us, but no Google has been such a pain as we really rely on Google Maps, Google Drive and YouTube on our travels. You can of course use Bing and Yahoo but if you want to reach a non Chinese website, you best put the kettle on as pages take an age to load. Get a VPN before you get here!
How do they squat down so low? It’s really impressive! All over China we’ve seen local townspeople squatted down watching the world go by. Getting their bum almost to the floor whilst leaning over their knees seems the customary way to sit for hours on end. I can manage about 1 minute before my muscles spasm out!
This also means that unless you’re in a hotel, your likely to have to use squat Pan toilets in most public places. I still can’t get used to these things, are you supposed to take everything on your bottom half off? Why is there never any toilet paper or soap? If you like having a door on your cubical you may also be disappointed on some occasions!
4) How different it is to Japan
Japan was our first taste of Asia and being the naive pair that we are we assumed China would be very similar. We thought the culture and customs would mirror each other, how wrong could we be! The difference is like chalk and cheese, other than the shared use of chopsticks, everything else differs.
I don’t think we encountered a single rude person in Japan, from the people serving us McDonalds to those in hotel receptions, everyone greeted you like you were best friends. Not to tarnish the whole of China with the same brush, but generally speaking, weve found the Chinese people to lack this same service with a smile! Tickets and food are often chucked at us and not many people smile or make eye contact.
It’s also pretty common to be barged out the way and pushed in front of in queues. I guess with 1.3bn people here though, you can forget having your personal space!
5) The beauty
Being the most populated place on the planet, China is often thought of as busy, loud and hectic. Roads are crammed with mopeds and cities are known for their the high pollution. For these reasons I was expecting our time in China to be manic and non stop, and to a degree it has been, but on the other hand we’ve seen some unexpected beauty.
Outside of the hustle and bustle of the major cities, China can actually be quite tranquil and scenic, there’s huge amounts if green space and not everywhere is densely populated. We were lucky enough to visit Guilin which had some of the most beautiful places we’ve seen in all our travels.
6) Feeling like I have 2 heads
It’s starting to get really annoying how many people stare at me over here! I feel like a freak amongst what feels like crowds of 99.9% Chinese. I’m not quite sure why they stare so much, perhaps they rarely see westerners? Or is it my darker skin? As I know thats undesirable here. Either way, everybody stares and when you look back they just carry on.
It doesn’t stop at staring though, 4 or 5 people have actually come over and asked for photos! Some want selfies and others want to play get in a photo with us, it’s quite weird! This feels quite awkward but they seem so ecstatic to get a photo it’s hard to say no.
Being one of the global economic leaders, I was expecting parts of China to be quite expensive. However, even in the big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, hotels have been under £30 a night, a meal for 2 is often under £10 and transport by bus and subway cost pennies per journey.
As you would expect from China, the clothes are also very cheap. You can pick up things at crazy prices at markets and it’s not uncommon to haggle the price down from say £15 to £3, they really do just take what they can get if you wall away!
8) Difference in lifestyle
One thing that we did notice was the stark contrast in living styles between the people in cities and those Just outside who live in villages or smaller towns.
It seems quite normal for different cultures from different villages to uphold their traditions through the generations. There are a number of minority groups in China, each with very fascinating customs and ways of life. One group in particular do not cut their hair until they marry! It’s nice to see that these traditions have been maintained and gives us tourists a good idea of what life might have been like hundreds if years ago in China.
Even in the towns just outside the large cities you’ll see people making a living out of shacks on the side of the road. They’ll sit their all day trying to sell fruit. But when you get into the cities, the way if life isn’t far off what we’re used to, with the exception of millions of mopeds!
9) Moped mayhem
Which leads me nicely on to the traffic in China! I was expecting it to be busy but the mayhem over here is something else! It’s crazy how they drive, constant beeping, swerving cutting people up. Mopeds are everywhere and weave in and out of traffic without a care in the world, or a helmet!
It was quite a shock being a pedestrian as well as where we come from a Green man at a crossing means we go and the cars stop. Not here though! It’s a free for all, you have to cross whilst the cars come at you and they really don’t stop even when their lights are red so be careful, and quick!
10) Lack of English spoken
Unfortunately we can’t speak Mandarin, although it would have been a massive help as the number if people who speak English here is few and far between. We found this a little surprising especially in places like hotels and tourist centers. Even on paid for tours we’ve been on the ‘English speaking’ tour guides don’t translate information into English.
We’ve often had to get by with elaborate sign language and a lot of pointing. At one hotel we spent 30 minutes with 4 receptionists trying to check us in. They were all on their phones trying to use translation apps, which don’t seem to work very well when translating between English and Mandarin! 🙂