31 August 2010

What I have learned living in China after 1 year

To commemorate my one year of living in China, I am writing the top 50 things I've learned about China and its culture. And yes, this list encompasses mostly weird stuff, because I don't want to bore you. Also, these are my general impressions and please don't get offended by my massive stereotyping.

This is the good and the bad, people! (and the just plain weird.) No hold backs!

1) Chinese people will do anything for you (and I mean literally anything) if you are a good friend to them. It's one of those, "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." Or they will do most anything for you if you are their really good friend's friend.

Let me give you an example. One of my good friends, Shizhang, who I met in Utah has his family living in Shanghai. When I first came to Shanghai, I was scared, confused, and a little freaked out. I have my comfort zone you know. Well, Shizhang's mother took me right under her wing and treated me like her daughter. Actually she calls me her American daughter now. She tutored me in Chinese for free for 4 whole months until her mom got sick. She cooked me food. She took me shopping. Helped me buy a phone and a bike. The list goes on. I love her so much.

When I was staying in my good friend, Lu's hometown in Mudanjiang, my brother and I really wanted to visit Harbin because that's where the world famous ice festival happens. We didn't know anyone there and we were a little scared to deal with the possibilities of getting ripped off and exploited but Lu's dad made a phone call to his good friend in Harbin and arranged for him to take us around the city for free. He drove us to multiple locations and even took us out to eat and refused all money we offered to him. He was so sweet and wanted nothing in return but to help out his friend. Thank you Uncle Zhou!
I have many more examples including so many Chinese friends. But we'll move on.

2) Chinese people worry about every last cent. Yes, they will argue over the smallest amounts of money. Every yuan means the world to them. However, if you are their friend they will insist on paying for dinner and taxi rides etc and won't take no for an answer.

3) Chinese people love rules. Even if the rules don't make sense or get in the way of good business, they will follow those rules to a T. (Unless they are taxi drivers)

4) Chinese people often like to think in "we." I don't get many conversations with my students that start with "I." It's always, "Mrs. Dewey, we think..." I always have to correct them and say "You mean, you think..." It drives me crazy.

5) Chinese women love to wear crazy clothes that look like costumes. And yet they are so adorable with their giant bows in their hair and their crazy tall shoulder pads. They wear things that I could never get away with wearing, but they seem to look so cute and doll-like. I just want to pinch their cheeks.

6) Shanghai women love mini skirts. Even in the winter. They will wear the tiniest little skirt you ever did see and then wear warm stockings underneath. I'm pretty sure they will freeze for the sake of fashion.

7) Chinese children like to push. I have received whiplash on many occasions.

8) Chinese children love this little goat cartoon character. The show is called:

"Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf"

They have backpacks, toys, everything. I don't think they watch anything else. Really. Oh and they love the expo mascot, Haibao.

9) Chinese men love to spit on the sidewalk. It's like a rain cloud sometimes trying to pass all the spitting men. No, it's like dodging bullets.

10) As long as you can speak decent Chinese, you can usually endear people to you and get the price you want.

11) Most Chinese people are terrified of dogs. (Even scared of little ol' Sophie)

12) Chinese people love poodles and pekingese dogs. That's all I ever see.

13) Chinese like putting little booties on their dog's feet. It's all the rage. Every dog seems to have them in the winter. Chinese dogs also have the latest fashions and usually all wear chic clothes.

14) Chinese people are very impressed if you speak any Chinese at all and will over compliment you, making you feel like a 100 bucks even if you just know "Ni hao."

15) Chinese people often don't like minorities. I'm talking about Chinese minorities. They all look Chinese to me but they can always tell.

16) Don't follow art students to a coffee shop to help them practice their English. (I haven't done this, but it's scam that will make you lose lots of money.)

17) Chinese people don't like eating cheese. If you do find cheese, it will cost a fortune to acquire. Chinese people don't eat cheese flavored Cheetos. They have tons of Cheetos but they are all weird flavors like garlic chicken flavor etc...

18) Lays potato chips are awesome in China. Especially blueberry flavor and kiwi flavor.

19) Squid jerky is pretty much the most awesome thing ever.

20) You need to pay for grocery bags. They don't come free. Oh, and no refills on soda drinks at McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. If you ask for more than one ketchup packet, they give you a look.

21) Sometimes scooter riders will purposely aim for a foreigner to claim you jumped out at them and then get a big settlement from the accident. Even if they have just a bruise, they will often milk it.

22) Chinese people love to eat with their mouth open. I actually like it. Don't know why.

23) Chinese people don't have individual meals. You just order a bunch and share. Everyone's chopsticks touch everyone else's food.

24) If you're a blonde, you will get harassed daily for pictures. Dying my hair brown was the best thing I could have done.

25) Chinese people will say it how it is. If you're fat, they'll let you know and ask you why you insist on being so fat.

26) Chinese women don't have much of a butt, so good luck finding jeans that will not expose your crack.

27) Nail polish remover is really hard to find. Yet, nail polish is everywhere including the side of the road. I will never understand.

28) Shampoos like pantene pro-v will put their shampoo in the same box as body wash but make it look like conditioner. So if you can't read the label then you end up putting body wash that looks exactly like conditioner in your hair. Conditioner is mostly sold separately from the shampoo and is generally harder to find.

29) Chinese television is pretty lame. You can only see good stuff if you watch satellite or the internet. Otherwise, you get "war era" dramas reflecting the Mao era, filmed in 60 frames per second.

30) Chinese grandmas love love love their grandchild. Their whole life revolves around their grandchild. The parents will work and often hardly see their child and the grandparent will be the sole care-taker of that child. The grandmother's life consists of taichi in the morning and taking care of the grandchild for the rest of the day.

31) Chinese babies don't wear diapers. They have splits in their pants and when they have to go, the grandparent will hold them over the grass. Some have trained the baby by whistling. This is a signal that it's ok to pee now.

32) Chinese people will often have the cheapest apt on the market and the lowest paying salary, but gosh darn it, they will have the most expensive cell phone on the market.

33) Survival of the biggest. First trucks, then vans, then cars/taxis, then scooters, then bikers, then pedestrians. Pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain. It's like mission impossible trying to cross the street even when the green walky guy lights up. Oh no. You still have to play a real life version of "Frogger."

34) Every Chinese child will undoubtedly point a finger at a foreigner and say in Chinese "foreigner."

35) The 3 questions a taxi driver will ask you upon entering their vehicle: "1) Where are you from? 2) How long have you lived in China? 3) What's your age? (In that exact order).

36) Age is not a personal thing like it is in America. You will be asked your age by anyone for no reason at all. And that goes for salary and the cost of apt etc ...

37) Chinese children (especially girls in pigtails) are the most adorable things you will ever encounter.

38) Chinese will sleep anywhere and everywhere. In fact, take a look at this site for an example:

39) Chinese people love rock hard mattresses. It's good for their back or something. They also like warm water. Ice water is thought as ludicrous and terrible for your health.

40) Green tea. Every Chinese person will give you a full length lecture on the health benefits of drinking green tea in an earnest attempt to get you to drink green tea. The way they talk about it, you'd swear it was magic potion or something.

41) Obama is kind of huge here. You can buy Obama pillows, Obama flipflops, Obama backpacks. You name it, you can find Obama's face on it. Oh, and there is a new dance club called "Obama"

This is from my friend Heather's blog. It was so good, I had to repost it:
Can you read the writing on these flip flops?
It says OBAMA The Savior of the World Economy.

42) Chinese pharmacies are awesome. I've been able to get a lot of drugs over the counter for things I would always need a prescription for in America (like acne medicine etc...)

43) Chinese hospitals smell like ancient Chinese medicine: herbs, roots, sticks, tea, and have no soap in the bathrooms.

44) Chinese hospitals see patients super fast. There are so many doctors that you never wait long. They always take your word for it and hook you up with tons of medicine.

45) Copies are big here. You want a Louis Vuitton bag that looks exactly like the original? You got it for 5 bucks. You want Iron Man II dvd even though it's still in theatres? You got that too, except some copies have them speaking in Russian with German subtitles. Do you want a nice laptop from a man on the street who clearly stole it that afternoon from some guy in the metro, you can get that too. (Though I wouldn't do that. Who could live with that?)

46) Chinese people respect the elderly. They respect their heritage and they are in general, really respectful to their parents. I wish some American teenagers could learn a thing or two from Chinese teenagers.

47) Chinese people eat lots of fish and chicken with tons of bones. They'll either eat the bones or put the whole thing in the mouth, chew for a while and then spit all the bones out at once on their plate. They have some serious talent.

48) Chinese people are really friendly. They are also very helpful if you have questions. They generally love foreigners and are quite intrigued by them.

49) Chinese food is really cheap. 8 steamed dumplings in a basket for only 44¢!

50) Chinese people always have great hair. It's just natural for them. Beautiful shiny, black hair that always behaves even in the most terrible humid weather. Ramsey always says that they look like they just walked out of a shampoo commercial shoot.

uh, yeah the list could go on. This is just the stuff on the top of my head. Maybe I'll write a new list in another year!

And despite the fact I'm in one of the weirdest countries ever, I have fallen in love with the country. I love China!


  1. Great post, Ness! Glad I got to experience some of these first-hand with you. You forgot an important one tho: Chinese people listen to the WORST MUSIC EVER. :)

  2. A lot of these cultural ideas have trickled down to Vietnam. I would say about 25% of them.

  3. gratons mum9/11/10, 1:31 AM

    ahhh a great trip down main street ! for those of us not so fortunate to be there in your shoes. thank you for sharing ! with us in Canada

  4. No, Jeremy, in spite of the atrocious songs you heard in Shanghai, the worst music ever is Argentinian cumbia. It's quite literally what the damned souls in hell are tortured with day in and day out over an infernal loudspeaker. It will melt your brain and have you clawing at your ears.