China is home to over 1.3 billion people. When we were invited to visit the world’s most populous country we were pretty damn excited! Vic had never been before so I was excited to see her reactions to China…it can have an interesting effect on people.
The prospect of seeing the pandas, checking out weird, wonderful and spicy food and of course being in the thick of city life in Chengdu in the Sichuan region had us pumped to jump on the plane and celebrate Christmas over there. Vic was particularly excited at the prospect of a cold Christmas…me, not so much! But hey, I was sure it would be awesome no matter what.
With a country that’s jam-packed full of people that is so very different to much of the western world, it’s no surprise that China can evoke polarizing feelings in people, both good and bad.
If you’re thinking of a trip to China or maybe you’ve spent some time there already, we hope our 14 things we loved and hated about China will give you a bit of insight into this incredible country.
14 Things We Loved and Hated About China
#1 [LOVED] Uniquely Different from the Western World
Whether we like it or not, multinational companies have homogenized the world. These days you’ll find offerings like McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Nike, 7/11, Coca Cola, Red Bull, Starbucks and the like everywhere on the planet.
China is no different, but that’s not what we loved.
The good news about visiting China is that along with all the usual stuff, you’ll also experience a whole bunch of things that you’ve never seen before.
China is old. Real old. You’ll be walking around buildings and temples (and in our case irrigation systems) that have all been standing there for 2,000 + years. The country is steeped in history and it’s an awe-inspiring feeling to get lost in both the old and the new.
#2 [HATED] Spitting
Just like camels, Chinese people like to spit.
This can be quite confronting, especially when you first arrive. It’s not all the globs of spit on the ground that bother me (even though it’s disgusting) as much as hearing people hock up a loogie does. The hocking sound is what totally grosses me out!
When I experience a different culture, I imagine myself in their shoes and think how does this make sense. My belief system as to whether it’s right or wrong simply comes down to how I’ve been conditioned. For example, Western culture has been conditioned to believe a pig is tasty to eat, but not a cute golden retriever puppy. It all comes down to have you perceive things.
I’m guessing with the spitting, it saves tissue paper so better for the environment. That’s a positive! Plus think about what the Chinese think when they see us Aussies blow their nose in a tissue and keep it their pocket. That probably seems really gross to them!
#3 [LOVED] No Social Media
This day and age we’re constantly plugged into social media. It was a surprising relief when we couldn’t access Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Google and all the rest, due to the Chinese Governments’ firewall restrictions.
What does a firewall mean? For everyone who isn’t a techy nerd, it basically means the government has restricted what sites you can access. Just like most Aussie workplaces do.
We did however work out a way to get our social media fix if we needed to. There’s a sneaky workaround. Jump onto the Apple App Store and download one of the hundreds of VPN apps. Once you log into the VPN on your phone (or computer) you’ll be plugged into the online world outside of China.
The app we used was ArkVPN. You can access the basic package for free. Or for a small fee you can up your minutes. We splashed out and purchased a month of unlimited VPN connectivity for a whopping $2. Hey big spender!!
#4 [HATED] No Nappies Required
I’ve put this down as hated, but really it should come under ‘amused’!
The majority of parents in China don’t put nappies on their kids. Instead toddlers have a gaping hole in their pants so when they have the urge to pee or poo, they just squat whenever the urge kicks in, their pants open and they’re good to go.
I’ll admit, the first time I saw this it spun me out!
But just like the whole spitting thing, it’s pretty smart when you think about it. Nappies are expensive, they’re not great for the environment, and we all know kids don’t enjoy sitting in a dirty nappy. Who would enjoy sitting in their own crap?! Plus I’m guessing it would have to help with toilet training too. The Chinese may actually be on to something here!
The part that irks me though is the cleanliness factor. No one wants to be standing in poo or piss. Especially someone else’s.
#5 [LOVED] WeChat
WeChat is massive in China! It’s basically a free messaging app similar to Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger…but way better! Why? Because you can translate your conversations from Chinese into English!
How it works: Our Chinese buddies write us messages in Chinese. We hit the translate button and can instantly see their message in English! Beauty!
If you’re heading to Asia this app is a must!
#6 [HATED] Pollution
In a recent article published by Bloomberg.com states that 4,000 people every single day die from air pollution in China. That’s unbelievable! It’s hard to even comprehend.
I mean seriously, WTF are we doing to our world?
It’s easy to turn a blind eye to these issues from the comfort of my Sydney home, where I have access to clean air and water. But when you land in China, it’s smack bang in your face and you can’t ignore it. When we started our descent in Guangzhou the air was so hazy I asked Vic “Do you think its air pollution or fog?” Turned out it was pollution.
Some people may think that China should clean up their act, but we all play a role in this. Most items in our homes, our clothes, our much-loved technology, the majority of these things are ALL made in China. The crap that we buy that we don’t need all play a significant role. Food for thought.
#7 [LOVED] Chinese Kids
Chinese babies and toddlers may just be the cutest in the world! Their chubby little faces poking out of their winter coats, so rugged up they look like mini Michelin men, was off the Richter scale cute. Vic was cooing over literally every single baby we saw.
They had an interesting reaction to us too. In fact most of the kids we saw on the trip did. In most of the spots we visited we were the only Caucasian tourists walking around the place. As a result we got a bunch of attention, people took photos, the lot.
With Vic’s white blonde hair and blue eyes she must have looked like a bit of an alien to the little ones. Their shocked and confused reaction was so adorable!
I had to double check Vic’s luggage before we left, just to make sure she wasn’t trying to smuggle a Chinese baby home with us.
#8 [HATED] Serious Lack of Personal Space
I’m an Aussie. I live in one of the biggest countries on the planet with one of the smallest populations to boot. We love our space and we get totally weirded out if people stand too close to us.
The Chinese have a completely different concept of personal space, the closer the better for these guys. It’s pretty easy to understand why. I mentioned their 1.3 billion strong population!? Compared to our mere 27 million you can see why Aussies find this situation a bit confronting.
In China, it’s totally normal to stand literally on top of someone in a queue, in fact, they will likely just shove you out of the way altogether. I prefer a good half-meter between me and the person next to me. You can imagine how close I came to cracking it in public places in China.
#9 [LOVED] Christmas in China
As the Chinese don’t celebrate Christmas we were expecting it to be a bit of a non-event over there. How wrong we were!
It looked like Christmas had exploded in China! Christmas trees everywhere, twinkly lights lining the streets, Santas, reindeer, some seriously impressive gingerbread houses (more like mansions!). Needless to say we were blown away that China goes all out at Christmas time!
With Christmas carols playing everywhere we went coupled with it being only 3 degrees outside made for a seriously festive trip. Vic was particularly happy, as she hadn’t had a cold Christmas for 6 years!
#10 [HATED] Vegetarian? What’s That?
The Chinese love their meat. They’re known as the country that will eat pretty much anything that moves. From sharks to donkeys, monkeys to turtles, and not forgetting our beloved pet dogs, if it has a heartbeat it’s probably on the menu in China.
You can imagine how perplexed our Chinese mates were when we told them that we were vegetarian. Many questions ensued.
“What kind of vegetarian are you?” The kind that doesn’t eat meat.
“Do you eat pork?” No
“Do you eat chicken?” No
“What about fish?” No
“Can you eat meat?” Erm, no.
And so it went on…for the whole trip! This concept of vegetarianism just isn’t a ‘thing’ in China.
One day we were even served up a whole chicken sitting in a bath of soup and instructed that we could eat the soup because that part was vegetarian. Lol.
Don’t worry; we did manage to find vegetarian food to eat. Mainly plain white rice with greens but one day we were even served up a whole plate of cauliflower! Pretty boring, but it did the trick.
#11 [LOVED] Driving. No Lanes Required.
Just like most Asian countries, the roads in China are a free for all. There’s something about the lack of apparent driving rules that always appeals to me. Maybe it’s my inner ‘boy racer’ feeling the urge to get behind the wheel and break some road rules!
I love how the drivers are not constrained by lanes and have the freedom to drive wherever they want. You’ll even see motorbikes drive along the footpaths so they don’t have to wait in that pesky traffic.
And don’t worry about stopping for pedestrians; they’ll just have to dive out of the way! It is actually illegal to stop for pedestrians in China. Wow.
#12 [LOVED] Traffic Light Count Down
During our travels we’ve seen the countdown clock on traffic lights before but mainly to show pedestrians how many seconds they have left to safely cross the road. In China they’ve taken it up a notch. They’ve installed the countdown on the actual traffic lights to show drivers how many seconds they’ve got left to drive through a green light.
Vic loved it so much; she’d already read a story on this phenomenon back in Australia so was excited to see it in action. Apparently Korea first implemented it on the red lights to minimize road rage. Showing drivers how many seconds they had left to wait for the light to go green allegedly alleviates the rage. So China decided to adopt this awesome idea too. Except they didn’t stop at the red lights, they added it to the green lights too.
Guess what happens as a result?
Yep, you’ve got it. Drivers hoon through the last few seconds of the green light to prevent having to stop at the red lights. I totally reckon Sydney should adopt this one! Every time I’m sitting at a red light I’d love to know how many seconds it’s going to take until I’ve got a green light! Who’s with me?!
#13 [HATED] Pedestrian Crossings
You’re literally taking your life in your own hands when crossing one of the many multilane roads in China. In fact, crossing any road is dangerous. Even if you cross at the marked pedestrian crossing, it’s still crazy.
Unless there’s police presence around, you’ll see cars drive straight through red lights so if you think they are going to stop for pedestrians, you’re out of luck!
Very few drivers will slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing and they definitely don’t make an effort to swerve round you. If you want to get to the other side, follow the locals. If they cross, you cross. Don’t dilly-dally!
#14 [LOVED] Toilet Options
Whenever I’m travelling in Asia, I always expect squat toilets. Let’s face it, not many westerners actually enjoy using squat toilets.
There’s always some confusion about which way you’re meant to face and trying to avoid the inevitable pee splashes is just gross!
The last time I visited China there were only a handful of western toilets. This time round I was happy to see they’ve multiplied significantly. Most places we visited this time had at least one western toilet, always marked with a disabled or elderly sign. With my many injuries this suited me just fine so I was a happy camper!
And that’s a wrap, there you have the 14 things we loved and hated about China. If you’re thinking about heading to China, we’d totally recommend the experience. Just take a truckload of patience and be prepared to have your eyes opened to some interesting experiences while you’re there!
Got an interesting travel experience from China? Comment below!
Wanna see the most cutest pandas in the world? Check this out!
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