When you go to a country culturally so different with an open mind, the things you come across can be part of the fun of traveling. From north to south, the Chinese showed me some generosity but also challenged my sense of what is “normal”. So here I present you 17 hilarious facts about the Chinese.
1 – Chinese STARE a lot at white and black people!
On the bus in Shangri-La, a man sits at a 90º angle to turn his head another 90º back to stare at me and my friend for like 90% of the journey. It was rather uncomfortable, since we were sitting right behind him. This happened twice actually.
On the subway in Chengdu, a 2 year old girl started crying when she saw us. Was she scared?! The parents were laughing and pointing at us, as if to say: They don’t bite. See?! They are smiling…
Another little girl, not older than 5, lets out a “WOW” when she sees us. My friend, her parents and I burst out laughing at her spontaneity and she was rather embarrassed after, but super cute.
In general we were noticed when we walked into restaurants, shops, bus… This is because some Chinese have never seen a white or a black person before. It was certainly more common in areas not so touristy, but also in the touristy attractions of big cities, where Chinese from remote towns come to visit.
2 – Chinese shout ‘HELLOU!!’ at westerners wherever we go.
They might not speak English and ‘Hello’ is probably the only word they know, but they still raise their voice and lift their hand to greet us. They can catch you unexpectedly: the bus driver driving by; a family in their balcony, the vendors at the market, the children playing in the street, the men playing board games in their garden while we cycle near their house, the guy in their motorbike driving in the opposite direction…
I met a couple of westerners living in China that after a while are annoyed at this constant shouting. The Chinese are curious about us and sometimes I did feel that they were happy we were visiting their country. After I came home I learnt the Chinese proverb from the philosopher Confucius that means: ”To have friends come from afar is happiness, is it not?” So yeah, they were just happy we were there. So don’t be shy, reply back Ni Hao!
3 – You will get your photo taken wether you want it or not!
We all know the Chinese are famous for taking photographs of everything and everyone with everything. The first time I was asked to take a photo, I extended my arm to the camera, happy to photograph the Chinese family together. To my surprise, instead they posed next to me! Ohw right…! Then they took turns, so all the family got a shot with us, they even fought to decide who would stand in between me and my friend and then they did individual photos too. There is a frenzy that makes them switch so quickly, as if we were going to escape anytime. So in a couple of minutes we got like 100 photos taken, until we clearly had to say goodbye. Situations like this happened on a daily basis for the entire 3 weeks.
I never said ‘no’ to anyone that would ask to take a photo of me, whether it was in Chinese, in mimics or little English, I appreciated that they have asked. But there is this only one occasion that I covered my face with the map I was studying. A man, in a photo-pose-ready position, sneakily crab-walked to get as close as he could to the beast (aka me), while his wife pressed the camera button dozen times. I only noticed because he actually bumped into me!
Those who are too shy to ask, will take sneaky photos of you in action, eating, fixing you trousers or picking your nose. At times they were authentic paparazzi.
Once while on the train, a Chinese must have told the others that there were “white girls” in compartment 3. Because when the train stopped, a group of Chinese walked by our door, camera ready, snap and walk and another snap and walk and another snap and walk and another…
So yes, it felt like being famous.
4 – No tan line, thank you!
Chinese definition of beauty does not include a tan line. They want to be as white as possible and that is why they idolize the white western world. Proof of that are the Sun protection lotions that are anything from 70+ to 130+ protection against Ultra Violets rays. I have only been to a small beach in Hong Kong (where the above photo was taken), so I can’t comment on the Chinese fashion for bathing suits, but if it is sunny you will certainly find men and women carrying an umbrella for protection.
5 – Spitting on the floor
The Chinese believe that whatever “wants” to come out of the body, has to do it immediately, so with that comes the spit!
A noisy collection of secretions from the deep corners of the lungs are heard before it all comes out onto the floor in a single move. I have seen it done at train stations, inside the train and even in restaurants. The owners didn’t look bothered by it.
In some big cities, the government has created campaigns of health awareness to stop this practice by implementing a £5 fine to whoever gets caught doing it. Apparently it did reduce the amount of spit, but not completely and like I said, only in some big cities.
6 – Lack of the gene “sense of queue”
If there aren’t barriers marking a queue, there is no queue at all. You might be the next buying the tickets for the attraction, but another Chinese will appear from nowhere and shout something in Chinese at the man behind the counter. You think he is just asking for information, so you let him, next thing you notice he is actually buying the tickets before you. The man behind the counter knew you were next, but he won’t stand up for you. I wonder if “next” is even a word in the Chinese dictionary?!
So I had to learn the hard way! I became more aware of lateral approaches, the way I stand now occupies more space and in position ready to make a move. If one comes and starts talking, I talk at the same time and give him/her the stare and the gesture “me first”. Usually this worked.
Even in public toilets, a few times I had to “fight” for my cubicle, holding the door at the same time and stare.
The Chinese weren’t up for a fight after that. Nobody complains when someone jumps the queue. Nobody moans (at least I didn’t notice any body language demonstrating as such), nobody cares.
From my experience, I noticed that this lack of gene was more predominant in the older generations, 40+. There is hope for the youthful ones.
7 – Public toilets without a door
Like many other Asian countries, the toilets are squat style. Up to here all expected. What I didn’t expect was a “no doors toilets”. Sometimes there were divisions / partitions, but older toilets, like the ones at petrol stations and in some parks, divisions between squatting spaces were inexistent. Toilets were made to provide a whole social event, where the old lady attempts to start a conversation while on it.
In toilets with partitions, a trench was shared among all the “cubicles”, with only one flush at the top end that is suppose to flush all the others together. The person on the last toilet gets to observe it all pass by underneath.
I realized it is hard to break the old habits when I noticed that older generation of Chinese women wouldn’t close the door, even when one was present.
8 – Children pee and poo in public areas
At the top of a mountain, the parents stand proudly around their son while he squats and pee on the walking path, not in the woods, which is 1 metre away.
In Chengdu, a big, modern and relatively clean city, a mother catches the poo of her child, like people clean after their dogs.
Despite the toilets available everywhere. Children up to the age of 4/5 years old pee and poo in public areas. The nappies are a relatively new and fancy accessory. Some parents still use the odd cloth or nothing at all. Nothing means having the trousers of the toddler cut from back to front. No pants. Bare skin. So yes, their child is free to squat and do it pretty much anywhere they go. My friend actually felt the pee splashes on her legs while sitting in the subway.
No wonder you never see the Chinese sitting on the floor, not even at train stations when your train is 2 hours delayed and there are no seats available.
So, my advice, observe the locals, I mean, not the children, but the adults, if no one is sitting on the floor, it might be because people spit, pee or even worse…
9 – “Mr President, can I have a baby?”
If a couple wants a baby, they must ask for the government’s approval first. This is all part of the family planning policy. The number of babies has been restricted for over 30 years now. Up to November 2015, Chinese couples living in mainland China were only allowed to have one baby. If it was a girl, they could try for a second. Minorities were not affected by this law. This was a measure to control the numbers of the Chinese population, that accordingly to Song Jian, a top Chinese official, it represented a huge risk for the environment and the Chinese economy. Since November 2015, they can now have 2, still under government approval.
10 – Chinese cuisine: prawn crackers please?!
Prawn crackers were nowhere to be seen on restaurants menus and they didn’t bring it as a starter to our meals, never!
Needless to say that when I got back home after 3 weeks in China, I was “pregnantly” craving prawn crackers. Thankfully the Chinese take away was only a short drive away.
After a quick online search I came to conclusion that I wasn’t the only western traveller frustrated with this! Prawn crackers do not exist in China. Yes, you read it well, sadly. It is a westernized “Chinese” food.
Also, sweet and sour chicken is not that popular and the only time we found it, the chicken was served with bones.
On the other hand I discovered the real and authentic Chinese cuisine. To my surprise, some regions like the big city of Chengdu, food was too spicy for my taste buds. I had to learn how to ask in Chinese is it spicy?. Sometimes this was understood as “I want spicy” other times “I don’t like spicy” but most times it wasn’t understood at all.
Whenever possible we would use a restaurant with pictures on the wall. However, at times we were deceived by the images. Tofu looks like chicken and beef doesn’t taste like beef.
On a few occasions we had other customers helping us out to order. There was always a sign of relief in the employees faces that I will never forget.
Some food was rather interesting! I ate the smallest prawns (with head and all that) and vegetables that were actually flowers. I saw a restaurant advertising monkey brain; in the market scorpions and grasshoppers on sticks ready to grill. But there was a lot more that stayed unknown due to language barrier and I longed to have a guide with me to explain what was this all about.
But some food I wish I could find in my local Chinese take away. The vast variety of noodle soups and hot pots will be greatly missed.
11 – My name is Yun Bao but call me Precious Cloud
The Chinese have names really hard to pronounce for the western world. Therefore most opt to choose an English name for academic or business reasons. It can be anything they want from a word they like – “Journey” “Cookie”; or the translation of their own name – “Yes”; or an actual English name.
The impossibility of having access to English websites makes this decision a bit harder. So depending on the TV trends that are on in China, some Chinese choose to be called Gandalf….Snow White… Tarzan…
There are even a couple of websites that help the Chinese choose their English name. This is particularly popular for those who are in the international business.
12 – Country names in Chinese
Some countries names were created to sound like the way we know it. So Chinese characters were put together to recreate the sound. When we look at the actual meaning of each character, the country name can be funny. For example:
Portugal (葡萄牙), reads pú-tao-ya, wich means ‘grape teeth’.
Spain /España (西班牙), reads xi-ban-ya, wich means ‘western class teeth’.
England (英格兰), reads ying-gé-lan, means ‘english grid orchid’.
France (法国), reads fa-guo, means ‘law country’.
Canada (加拿大), reads jia-na-da, means ‘plus take big’
Chile (智利), reads zhi-li, means ‘wisdom profit’.
United Sates (美国), reads mei-guo, means ‘nice country’.
Vietnam (越南), reads yue-nan, means ‘more south’.
Well, this whole thing left me fascinated!
13 – The APP that does it all, but doesn’t wash your dishes yet.
WECHAT! It is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Youtube, Google and bank account all at once. It pays the bills, it is used to transfer money to your friends, to pay for your massage or your hostel. It also books your taxi, tells you the weather and the traffic situation. You can hire services that your friends used and recommend, such as the dog hairdresser or the electrician.
No, it still doesn’t clean your house. But certainly helps you to find a maid.
Anyone I met in China asked me if I have Wechat. Without it, you are certainly excluded from social life in China.
Just know, Chinese internet is greatly controlled by a strong firewall. Unless you use a good VPN, the access to social media I mentioned above is denied.
14 – Traffic, 2 lanes car fit 3 cars
Cities are overcrowded, traffic is overrun and beeping is a must. So much beeping, at times it felt like being at a wedding parade. As time went by, we started differentiating the ones that warn of danger (usually long, louder ones) from the ones that warn of presence (snappy, quirky ones).
The Chinese developed an extraordinary way to turn hard shoulders into new lanes. Overtake cars in curves, for that just keep the hand on the horn. When a car comes in the opposite direction, somehow the 2 lanes road fits 3 cars (I lost count how many times I felt my body shrinking, as if it would help fit in between). Cars have priority over pedestrians and every driver behaves like they have priority over every other car. Needless to say the zebra crossings’ purpose is for decoration only.
My friend says in India they have no rules on the road but they all know what they are doing. I think in China, rules exist to be bypassed.
15 – I’m stuck in traffic for 2 hours now, but I will be there in 5min.
The Chinese no longer need to miss important meetings because of traffic jam. No, they didn’t invent cars that can fly yet. There is an agency who offers a double to seat in traffic for the client. All he needs to do is to make a phone call, tell them where he is and wait. Soon enough a motorbike comes in his rescue with two passengers: one to seat in his car for him and another to take him to his destination. Brilliant, isn’t it?!
16 – Bus stops at petrol stations with passengers on board
The title says it all! I have experienced both: long distance and the city buses. Hilarious!
17 – English signs don’t necessarily mean people speak English.
The sign says ‘Bicycles Rental’ in English, but none of the employees speaks English. Same in restaurants: the title of the menu might be in English, but the menu itself is in Chinese.
Safe to say, some establishments use the English for decoration only! But bear in mind, the Chinese are very patriotic.