China Trippin’: 8 Culture Shockers (Part 3 of 3)

toy planes

Traveling and living in Asia has been shockingly familiar and mundane. When I moved to South Korea in February 2013, it was my first time ever to an Asian country. I feared the unknown and concocted all sorts of scary life-on-the-other-side-of-the-world stories in my head. After landing in Incheon’s international airport, I quickly realized how modern and fast-paced Korea was, and my travels to Japan and China would prove the same – in a disappointing and, yet, comforting way.

So here are eight jaw-dropping moments I experienced while in China.

1. Beware, be mindful of spittle

One of my first introductions to Chinese culture was while waiting on my friend in the Shanghai airport. Sitting in a row of chairs next to me were a group of other Asian travelers. They spoke jovially – excited about their trip to Shanghai, I presume. As a couple of them squatted down, adjusting their luggage, a man dressed in shabby clothes and grungy grooming spit a huge slugger from deep in the back of his throat onto the floor beside them. Shocked and disgusted would be an accurate description of my reaction, and it’d be something I’d have to get used to during my four-day stay. Indoors, on the subway, and in shopping malls there would either be wads of spit residuals, or the sound of “Hhhuck-Ppuh!” witnessed in action as the shiny, slimy wetness that is saliva ejected onto the ground.

SideNote{{{I recently read an article about this cultural aspect of China and how much of a turn-off it is for Western tourists. In the article, an expert on culture concluded that countries should withhold their own cultural practices and not bend or negate nonthreatening behaviors negatively perceived by other countries, for those differences are what make a country’s culture its own. Although I still consider spitting a vile behavior, I do agree with the expert. However, Chinese tourists visiting Western countries are now being pressed for their perceived bad habits of spitting while abroad, and China is considering making it a law for Chinese tourists.}}}

customs house

2. They don’t even spare a square

To all the Seinfeld fans out there, you already know where I’m going with this. There is no toilet paper at public places in Shanghai (like malls) or Beijing, unless it’s a high-trafficked tourist area (like The Great Wall). I noticed this in South Korea as well. Often, bathrooms will not have tissue or soap. (And that’s where the glorious creation of paper soap comes in handy! Or hand sanitizer if you’re into that, but, sometimes, soap is preferred.) Or, if there is tissue in Korea’s public restrooms, it’s placed in a central location, so don’t forget to grab a handful before heading for the stall. But while in China, be ready to shake, shake, shake your booty dry! Maybe it’ll be the first time you decide to give twerking a try. (Just kidding – This is a No Twerking Zone, relax.)

 3. Watch your bag/ck

My friend I visited, who is a China native, constantly made me aware of my belongings. It’s common knowledge to protect your personals when traveling, especially when you’re traveling as a tourist in a foreign country. But after living in Korea for so long, I needed to be reminded. Korea’s a pretty safe place. People – foreigners – leave their cars unlocked often, and people are hardworking and honest. As a non-tipping country, if you even try to give them extra money for their services, your money is returned with insistence. In China, my friend was constantly haggling vendors for lower prices, warning me that they try to cheat foreigners. She was aggressive. I was impressed.

motor bike in the city

4. Loud and Proud

My first subway ride in China was next to a woman who constantly disturbed the peace with her overzealous responses to the person on the other end of her cell phone. Her roaring laughter, abrasive tone, and hand gesturing rode with me and that packed subway car for 30 minutes of an hour’s ride, at least. In Korea, it’s rude to be loud while riding on subways and buses. (But I’ll confess, get a group of foreigners riding together and speaking quietly becomes more of a suggestion than a practice.) In Japan, it’s preferred to not speak at all when riding public transportation.

subway card

crowded subway

5. Taxi! Taxi! Taxi?

I’m not from a big city. Where I’m from, unless you’re downtown at night, the only way you’re getting a taxi is by calling one to pick you up ahead of time. But my travels to New York and Chicago, even Korea, have proved that my taxi game is on point. However, nothing prepared me for being passed up by taxis – repeatedly – in Shanghai and Beijing for at least half an hour on several occasions. My friend was just as astounded as I was. They tend to practice this prejudice during late nights when they’re needed the most. But I can’t say it was racially driven, there were individuals, groups of women or men, couples, all being passed by or picked up at the taxi drivers’ discretion. As far as I’m concerned, Chinese taxi drivers are on the list… (What list, you ask? Well, it rhymes with spit!)

bike in the hall
Maybe we should have had one of these to avoid our taxi debacle.

6. What the government doesn’t know…

We had just finished a delicious meal at a hot pot restaurant. My friend paid and asked for the receipt. She gave it a glance, and then barked something to the server in Chinese. They went back and forth for a while before we finally left. I asked her what was the problem? She said the receipt they gave her was from another restaurant. Apparently, it’s an underhanded policy many restaurants use to avoid taxation. *Scheming.*


7. Where’s the beef, you dirty rat?

Have you ever eaten rat? If you have had street food in Shanghai, there’s a reasonable chance you have. Some street vendors are hoodwinked by wholesalers, and buy rat meat instead of beef. So take this as your warning: Proceed with awareness when eating street food in China.

8. Kindness and relativity, actually, is all around us

It’s easy to judge another country for their cultural differences, but, honestly, everyone is raised with their own personal beliefs that comes, first, from family, then race and/or culture, and, finally, their local (city/state) and national environment – each one differing from the next. So before you gasp, and point the finger, remember that we are all “same, but different.” Here are a couple of articles on how some foreigners view the U.S.A., and their first impressions: America Through Foreign Eyes and 16 People On Things They Couldn’t Believe About America Until They Moved Here.


the house and clouds



red walk

China, by far, has been the country that has given me the biggest, most memorable culture shock. What country or city gave you the culture shock you’ll always remember?


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