There are lots of ways in which China amazes people. It is one of the few places left, especially in the rural areas, where westernization has actually not occurred to the extent that it has in several other areas of the world. To most tourists, there are numerous aspects of China that will certainly be unexpected, and sometimes offensive. After four years of living in China, things that initially caused me to cringe, now barely phase me. Here are a few things that might shock you too.


Many people know that China has a big problem with pollution. Chinese cities dominate lists of the world’s most contaminated cities. Nevertheless, World Health Organization stats show that there are cities in several various other nations that are currently worse, especially Iran, India, and Pakistan.

Yet China is trying to clean things up. The roadways are full of electric scooters and bikes, recycling is widespread. Leave an item of cardboard next to a trash can and it will vanish within the hour. Throughout cities and smaller towns, cash is paid out on the basis of weight for any recyclable materials.

I think with time, the scenario will certainly improve. I tell all my students that their generation is the one that can fix this problem and I genuinely believe they will!

Personal space or lack thereof!

There are over 1.4 billion people in China and over 177 cities have a more than one million. Unfortunately, with this many people, your personal space bubble is much smaller than in America or the UK. Don’t be surprised if you are pushed and bumped into several times per day.

Hopping on buses, hailing a taxi, boarding metros, can all be stressful experiences for tourists. It’s every man for himself. During the morning and evening rush on public transportation, if you don’t push, you won’t get anywhere. Some call it disrespect. I call it survival!


In my opinion, this is the most disgusting habit in China. Many Chinese noisily clear their throats and spit regularly both inside and outside. I have seen not only my well-dressed coworkers, male and female, but also people who look like country bumpkins hocking a loogie often and with great gusto. I realize that some Chinese think that it is more healthy to cough up the gunk in their lungs but I really wish they wouldn’t do it in public. There have been some public information campaigns to try to curb this dirty habit but lots of people, especially older people, still do it.


It used to be that anyone could almost anywhere in the US. Most cities in China are still like this. I still discover taxis so filled with the driver’s cigarette smoke that I can hardly take a breath. However, don’t be afraid to ask a taxi drivers to put out their cigarette. Even in restaurants, don’t expect to discover many non-smoking areas. However, you will not see many, Chinese women smoking in public because it’s considered unladylike.


Split pants

If you’re new to China, you may wonder what’s with all the bare-bottomed children out in public. Rather than using diapers, babies and toddlers have pants that are split in the crotch as well as behind. This gives them the capability to poop and pee just about anywhere at anytime. And they do! When they have to go, they go. Moms, dads, and grandparents just pick up their child and hold them over flower pots, spots of grapss, as well as nearly anything else that you can think of, both indoors and also outdoors. For foreigners, the responses vary from shock to total disgust.

Squatty potties

Yep, western-style toilets can be hard to find in China. Chinese assume it is unhygienic to use a seat that another person’s bottom has rested on. Instead they prefer squat toilets, a porcelain-surrounded hole in the floor. You put one foot on each side, lower your pants just the right about, and squat carefully, hopefully without loosing your balance. It’s kind of like what you do when camping, but you do it in the bathroom of your home.

In nice hotels in China, you can find western toilets but don’t expect to find them in places like MacDonald’s or KFC. However, the one restaurant that I usually can find a tidy western bathroom is Starbucks.

Lastly, always bring your own tissue paper. Most Chinese bathrooms do not have any toilet paper. Even our school washrooms don’t.

Food and restaurants


I did not include this because the food tastes bad. On the contrary, most of the food here is the tastiest you’ll consume anywhere on the globe. However, there are some very weird foods such as donkey, snake, dog meat, cat meat, numerous bugs, bull penis, rooster testicles and stinky tofu.

As for alcohol, a lot of the beers are great, but are a bit lower on alcohol compared to the typical North American beer. Where you lose on strength, you win on price. A lot of beer and wine is extremely economical.

The national drink is Baijou, translated as white wine but white lightning is a lot more like it! It is made from sorghum, is about 55% proof, and tastes fouler than anything I’ve ever tasted. Chinese males drink it like water at company lunches and dinners. Like smoking, drinking is less common for women because it’s considered unladylike.

Chinese characters

I admire anyone who can read or write Chinese. It is an art compared to our basic 26 letters of the alphabet. Nevertheless, it’s not so lovely when you are searching for something to eat in a menu without pictures or looking for shampoo or conditioner and the bottles look the same.

Most languages I can comprehend a bit. I could look at a French or Spanish menu and get a general idea of what they say. However, that’s not the case with Chinese. My suggestions is to eat at restaurants with photos in their menus or go with a Chinese friend to translate.


If you explore beyong Beijing or Shanghai, it is not uncommon to be stared at. Westerners are still rare in numerous areas of the nation. If you have blonde hair or if you’re black, you might be asked by strangers if they can have their photo taken with you. It’s fun to attempt to strike up a conversation with some of these curious gawkers. A pleasant smile back will go a lon way in easing an occasionally awkward situation.

Driving and traffic

Few foreigners own cards in China because of the terrible traffic and hoops you must jump through to get a license. Also, you can’t use your foreign driver’s license in China so don’t try to rent a car. However, the majority of taxis don’t have seatbelts and also the drivers often ignore traffic laws so much that you’ll be praying that you avoid a crash.

In conclusion, when in China, try to just go with the flow. Learn to embrace or laugh at the cultural differences but watch where you step!  It’s an incredible country that will fill you with wonderful memories and stories to tell!