5 Reasons Why China is Fucking Mental (For A Westerner)

5 Reasons Why China is Fucking Mental (For A Westerner)

China is a surreal place. I think what I experienced is commonly referred to as ‘Culture Shock’. And I was shocked. Many times. I also loved it and have written another article about all the reasons why China is great. But this is not that article! Unlike practical things you can prepare for, the things I talk about here are just things you have to accept.

Don’t take this as a deterrent on going to China as that is totally not the intention!

I really enjoyed my time there and would recommend it to anyone. I guess it’s just nice to know these things in advance sometimes. A destination isn’t always frills and pretty Instagram shots, but that’s ok. A little dose of shock is good for all of us every once in a while…

5 reasons why China is Fucking Mental (For A Westerner) - www.thedancingcircustraveller.com

THE GREAT WALL of China on a bright sunny day

5 reasons why china is fucking mental

Here we go…

1. Spitting

So, spitting is as common as breathing in China. People spit everywhere: in the street, waiting at bus stops and even on the bus. In one horrifying instance someone actually spat on the floor INSIDE of the hostel common room we were staying in. Not cool.

And to clarify, it’s not just ‘a bit of spit’. I am talking individuals hocking up some deathly substance from the very pit of their lungs in an extended barrage of loud and repellent snorting; not unlike the summoning of a demon, before spitting the abomination out, wherever they happen to be.

This sounds dramatic and it probably is, I just really, really don’t like phlegm. So much so that in Beijing, I ended up completely losing the plot and curling up in a ball with my hands over my ears after a particularly unpleasant series of spitting episodes.

 James seemed to be able to tune it out. I unfortunately couldn’t unhear the grossness and the sounds drew my eyes however much I tried to avert them.

If spitting really grosses you out like me, I’m afraid to say this is just something you have to get over as it really is everywhere in China. Although slightly less prevalent in the south.

2. Eating Loudly

This is in a similar vein to the spitting thing and also something that really got to me during my time in China. It’s not uncommon for people to slurp their drinks and noodles and/or burp in public places. Many eating habits that are considered rude in the west were fairly widespread.

I actually witnessed a man spit a piece of gristle onto the floor of a restaurant. In full view of everyone. And it honestly put me off my dinner.

Again, you’ll struggle to get away from this, so you’ll have to pretend it’s not happening. Or invest in some ear plugs and blinkers. (lol joke, don’t actually do that if you don’t wanna look like a psycho).

It isn’t as widespread as the spitting though and again, much less prevalent in the south.

3. Pushing / Skipping the Line

Call me a crazy Brit, but I do enjoy a nice organised line. It’s an easy, sensible system that ensures everyone gets what they need or where they want to be. All in an orderly and above all fair manner.

This is a concept that many Chinese people blatantly disregard. Think the London Undergound on steroids.  

I have had the following experiences whilst trying to engage in some simple queuing.

People bypassing the line completely (as if it wasn’t there and this group of people were just chilling here for no particular reason)

Someone Literally placing themselves in front of me (and acting as if this is totally normal and not a rude thing to do at all)

Being pushed into when there is nowhere to physically go (so basically getting crushed into whatever wall/person/vehicle happens to be in front of me)

And, my ultimate favourite: people using weaponised roller suitcases and children (yes, pushchairs with actual children in them) to forcibly wedge themselves a few more cm to the front of the queue rather than just wait for their turn.

It’s stressful and exhausting to say the least.

The way I’ve deal with this, is just embrace it. I try not to get too frustrated by it because, A. you cannot win this war of etiquette and, B. you will eventually reach the start of the queue one way or another anyway, so there’s not much point.

On the plus side, I’ve used this as an opportunity to practice my ‘assertiveness’. I’m now proud to say I am very skilled at kicking roller suitcase out of the way before they bruise up my ankles. FYI, I DO NOT use this technique on the pushchairs, obviously.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t universal! I’ve had the pleasure of participating in some perfectly functional queues with some very polite people! I think the ‘every man for himself’ attitude of train stations and tourist attractions might have something to do with this.

4. Taking Pictures / Staring

As you may well know, China is full to the brim with beautiful UNESCO heritage sites, awesome towering skyscrapers and frankly, wonders of the world (Great Wall of China I’m looking at you).

But sometimes you’ll find that the greatest tourist attraction is actually you!

There are very few foreigners in China. Well, there’s actually quite a lot, but there’s a LOT more Chinese (naturally). Even in big cities like Beijing, where there are high numbers of tourists, we rarely saw any other westerners. So, you can imagine that, for many Chinese citizens, Caucasian foreigners are a bit of a rarity.

Cue some rather awkward moments!

Staring…

It was not uncommon to be stared at. And I’m not talking about subtly giving someone a side eye as they walk past you. I am talking about outright, open mouth staring. Even when you have clearly noticed them. It just turns into a staring contest you absolutely will not win. Additionally, don’t be surprised if people shout “Hello!” at you in the street and then burst into fits of giggling when you respond.

And if you didn’t know the term for foreigner in Chinese before you go, you will after a few days there. I must have heard “Laowai” being uttered a million times followed by wide eyes, sniggering or even pointing. James actually had someone stop next to his seat on the bus, openly point at him and loudly announce to the whole bus in astonishment “Laowai!”. It can be uncomfortable to begin with and I certainly didn’t appreciate it, but you do eventually get used to it.

Being asked to take photos…

Something I don’t think I will ever get used to, is being asked to have my photo taken. Clearly some Chinese people will want to document this great meeting with a westerner, and show it off to various friends, family, followers on WeChat etc. I get it, we’re a novelty, and it’s a fun little rarity to see a foreigner in China, but it is so weird!

Whilst it did make me feel a little bit like a Rockstar, we rarely said yes to these requests as it didn’t quite sit right with us (Would you do it to an ethnic minority in central London or downtown NYC? No, thought not.)

Don’t be afraid of saying no if you’re uncomfortable with it! Everyone who asked us was very polite and graciously accepted refusals with a smile.

Do be aware though, that some people will take pictures without your permission. I firmly believe this does not come from a bad place and instead is because they are nervous to approach you or are unconfident in their English.

We did have a particularly unpleasant experience involving being chased around The Summer Palace by a pack of school children trying to slyly take photos of us, however that was absolutely an anomaly. In that instance we just removed ourselves from the situation and that really is all you can do.

Be polite, be respectful and just try to deal with it. If anything, you come away feeling like a bit of a celebrity which is always nice and no real harm done!

5. Crossing the Road

Crossing the road is like playing a gigantic game of Chicken. The first few days in Harbin I felt like I was going to die every time I crossed the road.

In England, the light goes green and you cross the road free of cars, motorbikes, heavy duty transport lorries etc…

…In China, from an outsiders perspective, the rules of the road appear to be entirely optional. I’ve witnessed drivers jumping traffic lights, U-turns in the middle of very busy intersections and even someone driving the WRONG WAY down a multi-lane highway and actually having the nerve to BEEP at oncoming traffic.

The locals have my utmost respect for being able to walk into a busy road (green man green by the way!) and successfully manoeuvre through a stream of oncoming cars completely unharmed.

It took some practice but after carefully following what the locals do, we became somewhat proficient at dodging traffic. The key is confidence. I found that if you step into the road with conviction most cars will stop for you or failing that will just change lanes to avoid you without slowing down. Scary, but eventually you get used to it.

Obviously, I am NOT condoning simply walking into traffic willy-nilly. Please exercise common sense, make sure the cars are going slowly enough and the road is relatively safe. If in doubt, follow a local!

To be fair, most of the above scenarios took place in Harbin. Beijing was still a bit scary but the road crossings gradually improved as we travelled further south.

However, scooters will do whatever the hell they want, all over the country. They can be found driving on the pavement, in parks and even the wrong way down the road. Many of them are also electric and therefore completely fucking silent so you have to keep an eye out if you don’t want to get run over!

So, there it is, the 5 reasons why China is fucking mental (for a westerner) and what caused me some serious culture shock!

5 reasons why China is Fucking Mental (For A Westerner) - www.thedancingcircustraveller.com

Scorpians on sticks and various other crazy stuff. Culture shock

5 reasons why china is fucking mental

I’ve also written an article on the 5 things I Love About China. Plus, I’ll be updating my Travel Diary with the cities I visited during my month in this country. You can see that here over the coming weeks.

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