Top 9 Things About China that shocked us

by Sharon -- November 7, 2009


Immediately after crossing the border from Macau to mainland China, Jason and I noticed that we were in Kansas no longer.  In Hong Kong and Macau, many of the people spoke at least some English, always enough to communicate with us.  Since we entered mainland China on Tuesday night, however, we have been experiencing many new and unexpected surprises just within the past few days.

Now that we are Chinese locals (locals that neither speak the language nor know their way around) I would like to share a list of the top nine things about China and their culture that would shock any American tourist.

1. People here S-T-A-R-E… They stare at tourists like crazy!  Yes, if you spell the word “stare” out loud, it might give you a glimpse into just how much emphasis needs to be on this word.  I assume it is a culture thing in addition to the fact that they are just curious to look at us (most likely just Jason, and then they look at me and wonder where we’re from), but the staring is so bad here that it really upset me the first day.  When they see us, they double take, say something to their friends, and then stare directly at us and continue to stare as we walk by.  In America we are institutionalized to take staring as a rude behavior, but here it’s just commonplace.  We’ve been here for a few days in Guangzhou, and I now get somewhat shocked when someone doesn’t stare at us.  To be fair, I am traveling with a “Gwei-lo” (the white devil, in Chinese slang) and white people are not nearly as common here in Guangzhou as they are in Hong Kong.  One group of teenagers even took a picture of Jason as we walked by…no joke.  I felt like a gorilla at the San Diego Zoo.

2. Nose-picking in public is widely accepted and performed. When I say nose-picking, I mean actually sticking your finger up there, clearly moving it around your nostril, looking at your fingers for boogers, then flicking it on the ground.  We sat in front of a couple on the ferry today and in mid-conversation the girlfriend dug for gold for a good ten seconds, found a nugget, and flicked it away while her boyfriend watched.  I guess if you’ve got a bat in the cave might as well shoo it out?

3. Hawking out phlegm onto the ground, even inside subway terminals, is normal. You know when you are getting over a cold and you have that phlegm in the back of your throat that you need to get out?  You know that terribly loud noise you have to make to get the phlegm up into your mouth from your throat?  Multiply that noise by two and imagine hearing and seeing it everywhere in public, then spitting it on the ground in front of you.  Just thinking about it makes me nauseous.  We met a girl here from the UK who was unfortunately on the opposite end of the spit.

4. Men are openly intimate with each other even if they are just friends. We have seen many boys and men holding hands, lying down together in a park, squatting on the ground in a semi-embrace, etc.  While straight males in America see this behavior as “gay”, in China it is a normal act of friendship.

5. When you receive the check at a restaurant, the waiters will hover over you until you give them the payment. This makes it very awkward for the customer.  I have yet to figure out the reason for this.

6. Driving here is crazy! People drive in between lanes and get really close to other cars (let alone the fact that people on bikes drive in between them on major streets like it’s nothing).  I believe this is because drivers have the right of way in China, rather than pedestrians doing whatever they want in America.

7. Things here are CHEAP! To prove this point, I will tell you that every meal we have had here in Guangzhou has been around $3-$10 for both of us.  They have markets and stores that come alive at night with thousands of people roaming the streets for $6 jeans and $7 leather shoes.  It is tempting to buy things here for dirt cheap to sell in America.

8. Many people here see Jason and I, say hello in English, then get extremely excited when we say hello back. It is actually very endearing to see this because you can tell they are happy to be using their English to communicate with us Americans.  The cutest is when little kids see Jason and actually gasp, then say hello and giggle.

9. Though we don’t speak a lick of Chinese, everyone we have encountered here is very friendly and helpful. In restaurants and sometimes stores we are usually approached by a nice staff member with either an english menu or some help in deciphering the Chinese symbols.

All this being said, we have not yet encountered any major difficulties getting around Guangzhou.  Our main method of figuring things out is looking up the Chinese characters for what we are looking for, and then looking for those characters.  Not very innovative, but effective so far.  In restaurants, we sometimes don’t know what we are ordering, but so far we have yet to be disappointed.

Random Thought of the Day: Since I wrote this post, Jason and I visited the Guangzhou Safari Park/Zoo where we were approached by a nice young man from Beijing who asked if his girlfriend could take a picture with us.  Like Disney characters at Disneyland we posed with the girl in between us.

Be awesome and help us share:

21 Responses to “Top 9 Things About China that shocked us”

  1. Completely enjoyed your latest blog. Very funny, Sharon, and visual! Sounds like you are somewhat celebrities. The pics on FB are great.
    Enjoy your stay in Haikou.
    Love Mom

  2. I will send them as soon as i get your address. funny shayron!! if that little boy was a girl that is me forty plus years ago! it would be amazing to see white person that time! that little boy make me smile! holding hands and shoulders between friends are common in korea too. it was a big shock for me when i came to u.s. that it is prohibited. it took me some time to get use to that. enjoy everything! God bless and protect both of you!!

  3. Hi Jason and Sharon. I’ve just read your latest post about you guys being stared at and other things that you are not used to.
    Let me tell you that when I was growing up in Korea in the 50’s and early 60’s, seeing the site of yellow haired, blue or green eyed Yankees were a sight to behold. Yes, there were many American military vehicles zipping around the streets of Korea, but seldom we neighborhood Korean boys had a chance to see them up close. But when we did see them up close, we are always amazed by their yellow hair, big eyes, long noses, and their tallness. When these guys hand us a chocolate bar or a toy, it really made our day. So, don’t let it bother you that they are gazing at you. They are probably just admiring the way you guys look, especially Jason.
    As for nose-picking and spitting in public, get used to it. It is very common practice all over Asia. As I was growing up in Korea we all didn’t think nothing of it (although it really grosses me out now). Even now days, if you happen to go to the back rooms of Chinese restaurants in America, you sometimes see them nose picking and spitting into trash cans.
    As for same sex intimacy in friendship, it is common occurrence all over China and Korea. It is a sign of their deep friendship.
    Enjoy your journeys and be safe.


  4. Hi Sharon and Jason,
    Just reading about that picking nose business grossed me out. Even that spitting. Sounds like over all the journey is going well and God is protecting you both. Be safe and keep writing. It’s good to hear from you both.

    God Bless


  5. Hey Sharon, I love your post. I must say that I was also very surprised with the male intimacy while I was in India a couple years ago. Seeing men holding hands in public was refreshing and it seems as though this is reflected across Asia, which I didn’t know. Very interesting.

    Sounds like you’re having a great time. Look forward to reading more about your adventures.

    Erik Brown

  6. 1. I loved your post and read it out load to Cole and his dad.

    2. I love that your parents understand what you are going through

    3. That picture is great. Jason is more of an attraction than the animal in the back ground.

    4. I miss you a lot and wish you were here… or I was there.

  7. How funny!!..(and somewhat gross). I think I just laughed for 10 min and it’s so nice you guys keep us all updated :) :) Sounds like quite the amussing adventure~! <33

  8. Sharon -
    You make me smile :) I love how your writing reads exactly how you would say it to me in person. It makes me miss you more!!!

  9. Sharon, when I read this I actually spit some soda on my monitor while busting out in laughter! Next time someone spits near you, spit back!!

    Ivy and I hope you’re having a good time and we think about you everyday.


  10. next time they ask you to pose, do the peace symbol that is so famous amongst azn touristz.

  11. Hi Sharon,

    Grandma, Antie Patty and myself were going through you photos today. You look great! Looks like ASIA is growing on you. Lucky that you have the opportunity to travel the journey while you are strong. Look forward to seeing the rest of the pictures. Take care and be safe!

    Vallejo town

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  14. I love the STARE picture. Apparently Jason is more interesting to the little boy than the giraffe:)

  15. […] gave China a Top Nine list, so it’s only fair to give the same honor to Vietnam.  Granted, the change between China and […]

  16. How’s the pollution? That’s something I can’t get over.

  17. Hi Sharon and Jason,

    Life like writing. Real fun to read ! :) :) :). Thank you.

  18. Hi Sharon and Jason, I know your website from the “Advence” magazine that published in Taiwan. I just read some of your posts, and like them a lot!
    Keep going and good luck on everything!

  19. […] - The Top 9 Things about China that Shocked Us – This was one of my first posts and also the first time I truly felt that what I was writing […]

  20. No.3 happens A LOT in Korea, especially for men.

  21. I’m really surprised that you encountered a lot of staring in Guangzhou. They have huge international import and export fairs there, so a lot of them are used to seeing foreigners now. Out in the country though, you’ll still get a lot of curious onlookers.

    Also, why is it that Americans always seem so surprised when they go to China and find out that-surprise! They speak Chinese and not English?!

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