Today I read part 1 of the Forbes China Tracker Blog article Weird Things That People Get Used to in China (a translation of a Chinese article on NetEase).  I suppose it is about things that Chinese people get used to, but since I’m leaving soon (countdown: 4 days), I figured I’d write one based on the things I’ve learned over the past two and a half years.  Here is my own part 1, in no particular order.

1. Making friends with people I’d have nothing to do with back home

I live in Shenyang, it’s not exactly overflowing with expats like Beijing or Shanghai, so I really can’t be choosey when it comes to hanging out with fellow interlopers.  The people I hang out with here are definitely not the same kind of people I’d choose to hang out with if I was in America, in fact, I’d go out of my way to not talk to (and probably make fun of) them.  There are so many people that I’ve met that look like total douchebags (by my own standards) that are super nice and totally cool.  China has made me realize what a total asshole I am when I superficially judge people in America (though it’s not like I plan to change any time soon).

2. The world is your bathroom

I went to a pretty big party school (let’s gooooo Mountaineers) so it’s not like I’ve never seen anyone peeing in public before.  My friend Ryan once told me that he never touched anything on our campus because someone else has probably pissed on it, including him (this is a dude that drunkenly relieved himself on the total gym in our living room at one point).  But Chinese people really have no shame when it comes time to pee.  I see people, even women, pissing all the time, practically everywhere.  And I’m not going to lie, I’ve done it more than a few times after I’ve been drinking or in the woods but never in the street at mid-day.  I guess many people are just brought up like that.  Most kids don’t seem to have diapers, just some pants with a slit from the crotch to the top of the butt and parents just let them go, almost wherever they please.  When I first saw 2 Girls 1 Cup, I told myself “Well, this has got to be the one and only time I will see poop being dispensed by a butt hole.”  I was so wrong.

3. KTV

Where I’m from, karaoke is just a one-night-of-the-week thing that some bars have, it’s not the thing to do all the time.  So when I came to China, the sheer number of KTV joints and the amount of people that absolutely love going to them totally surprised me.  I even get totally confused looks when I tell people I don’t like to sing.  That said, I love a good night out at KTV, though my friends who have to listen to me sing probably have a different opinion.

3a. English KTV songs

I also had no idea there were so many English songs that were internationally popular, yet were never hits in the US.  Even if a pop song isn’t number 1 in The States, I figured I’d at least be aware of it, I used to work for a music magazine, after all.  “Big Big World” by Emilia is a good example.  Before I came to China, I had never heard that song.  Now it’s one of my go-to jams when I sing at KTV.  Also, who knew Westlife was so popular?  Not me.  Did you know they covered “More Than Words” by Extreme?  Every time I see the song on the list, I queue it up, only to be disappointed by some lame pop version, instead of the awesome, original, hair-metal version.

4. The NBA

When young Chinese guys ask me about the NBA, they’re always surprised and confused when I say I don’t follow it.  I mean, I know who Michael Jordan is, but other than the fact that Magic Johnson has AIDS and Yao Ming is Chinese, my b-ball knowledge is limited to NBA Jam for Sega Genesis (and I always played as Will Smith).  But dudes love basketball here.  It was surprising to learn that a country of people who are stereotyped for being so short would love a sport that is traditionally reserved for the tallest dudes and Muggsy Bogues (he’s on NBA Jam).

5. Rice is essential

I see rice as a filler.  It’s like bread at an Italian restaurant, it’s good, but the main course is much better.  There are so many great Chinese dishes and when you eat out, you always order a ton of food.  Why fill yourself with rice when you could be eating something that actually has a taste?  I’ve eaten with Chinese people that have actually gotten angry and refused to eat because the rice isn’t there yet, despite the fact that all the real dishes are already on the table.  This is something I don’t think I’ll ever wrap my head around.

6. Train toilets

There’s something about the sound of the train tracks speeding by that really inhibits my bodily functions.  I know it’s safe, but there’s something about standing or squatting over what is essentially an open whole in the floor going at 120km/hr over gravel that makes me uneasy.  I always invision a rock bouncing up and colliding with a place that no rock should I’ve collide.


  1. I actually got used to spitting. In Beijing I heard it all the time, though it took me many months to not wince each time. Unhelpful was getting spat on from a bus, and while going up dormitory stairs. Winter is best, when the spit freezes and ceases to be spit, or so I tell myself.

    I did not get used to toilets in China. The dorm ones were Ok, but while traveling it never ceased to amaze me how low a level of sanitation I could find. The very bottom was in Datong, Shanxi Province, where I was told to hop a stone fence and go anywhere in the field. Luckily I did this during the day. Landmines from cows and humans dotted the field such that I thought I was in the world’s largest game of “Twister”, and the field was more brown than green. At least there was good air circulation.

    Maybe it is a local tradition, but at most Chinese dinners I’ve attended people eat all the dishes that arrive at the table. Only at the end the rice will arrive, in order to stuff you sufficiently and leave no stomach section unbloated.

    Note that here in Toronto, Canada, Chinese kids still piss any and everywhere. They don’t wear slit pants, thankfully. I’ve had to correct a couple of mothers that it was inappropriate to dump curbside, and that police would be dispatched. She was shocked.

    I hope reverse culture shock won’t kill you.

  2. Great post Jarrod, and hit the nail with all of them — except I agree with Don Tai that I’ve found I’m usually the impatient one for rice at the table, not because I particularly love rice, but just that it feels weird to eat saucy/oily food without a bed of something underneath it.

    I asked once why rice always comes so late and was told it was a “face” thing. Whether it’s true or not, the logic was that when out at a dinner with a bunch of Chinese, the presumption is the big man at the table will pick up the tab, and it would look cheap to try and get everyone to fill up on rice first.

  3. At first I’d agree with point one; I’ve made lots of friends here of people I never would have back home. But I’ve met almost as many who are even douchier than I first expected. It seems some of these a-holes have traveled here because no one would put up or be friends with them back home, where ever that may be.

  4. @ Tonytony – Your point is so good. I’ve worked and do work with people here who are probably some of the biggest douches in the world and they’re here just because no one can put up with them. I actually got called “a gay jew” (I’m neither) by a colleague who meant it as like the worst insult he could think of. How do people like that still exist?

    @ Don Tai – I was going to put spitting on part 2. I’m only going back to North America for a couple weeks, then I head to Saudi Arabia. The culture shock there might kill me. Other things there might also kill me.

  5. @Jarrod – I don’t often comment on articles, and you may be the first author to comment-back, so I thought I’d continue on your points:

    2. We’ve all answered nature’s call in nature at some point (I worked in the far north of my country and have BM-ed while watching a family of caribou migrating), but you’re right: bum-holes-a-plenty. I watched a mother opposite me on an overnight train (hard seats) spread her spawn’s cheeks to evacuate from 3 feet up, spent the rest of the trip avoiding the results. And I think you could expand this category to: “Naked people (genitals) where there ought not be any”. While shopping I passed a man standing on a bridge, all but naked save for his fish-net undies (they weren’t doing their job).

    3. GD KTV. I’m not a singer and don’t enjoy singing unless drunk, or in the car or shower. Even when I participate with my Chinese family I feel like a monkey doing tricks at a Chinese zoo.

    4. My (male) students love NBA and NBA stars. I try to remind them that these “Athletes” are making more in a month than they’ll likely see in their lifetimes…And that Kobe cheated on his wife with a teenager.

    5. As for the rice, it is very healthy and nutritious, but bland I agree. As a child at home rice would be a side-dish, but here they usually eat it at the end, to fill up, while I’d rather stuff myself with cow stomach or fried pork fat.

    6. Ah, trains. I prefer to see the tracks flying by as I desperately try to avoid filling my bunched-up pants, rather than having that toilet back up and overflow into the seating compartments.

  6. Get used to it. This is cultural difference, don’t judge the whole world from the States or the westerns view, although I agree with most of the things except for the rice and train toilets part.

    If you think you are still suffering so 2 options next – go back to your home country to live better, or go to India to stay worse =)


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  8. Agreed with Jerry totally. Those low class donkeys get out China if their only pleasure is to laugh at their host, go back to their homeland to live better if they’ve got any chances, p*** off.

  9. I had bronchitis my first month in China. Needless to say I learned to spit with the best of them.

    Also: spitting out animal bones onto the table. Or your plate. Or anywhere. When I moved home some friends bought me a chicken dinner once and only once. I totally forgot how unacceptable it is to hawk your bones on the table until I looked up from spitting a piece of leg to see the horrified looks on everyone’s faces…

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