Any Westerner’s first visit to China’s gonna be met with shock. Simply put Chinese society is fairly chaotic, especially when compared to orderly Asian societies like Hong Kong and Singapore.
Books and school had taught me that the most important feature of ancient Chinese life (when Confucianism was strong) was the concept of yielding to one another, to nature and even the way of the Universe. The death of this notion is nowhere more obvious than in modern Chinese traffic. If a Chinese car, motorcycle or person has even a remote chance of making it, they’re going for it, and it’s up to you to get out of the way.
Traffic’s only the beginning. If you’re thinking of coming to China, here’s a list of the other ways your Western sentimentalities will be shocked:
•Staring (outside of the most major cities) at foreigners is likely the first thing you’ll notice. China’s only been open to the world for about the last 40 years, so you’ll be served up as a visual barbeque. It’s usually not a hostile stare, but one that’s so consistent you can feel it cutting through you core. Don’t even try to stare back, because they won’t budge.
•Spitting is out of control. The street, supermarkets, restaurants, elevators, hotel lobbies and busses are all fair game for a deep, lung-hackin’ loogy. Prepare to hear peoples’ attempts to pull their lungs out their nasal cavities when hockiin’ a loog.
•The volume of Chinese voices is never regulated for others. And they can be damn LOUD when they feel the need. Bring earplugs for long bus and train rides!
•Random HELLO’s! and picture-taking are probably the most common interaction between foreigners and Chinese. I’ll admit that I thought it was kind of endearing at first, but now I try bolt any other direction of these annoyances. I guess what really turned me off was all the sneaky picture-taking when my head was turned the other way.
•Chaos in “lines” is another blaring feature of life in China. There’s no discernible concept of let’s stand in line and give each other space, particularly in bus and train lines where you’ll be mercilessly pushed and shoved (even by old ladies) if you aren’t ready. Best advice: sharpen your elbows and unleash a fury when it’s time to go.
•Sanitation’s on a whole ‘nother level in China. Here it’s ok to throw your trash on the ground or take a piss in the street. You’ll probably even see a baby or two dumping out a load while the parent holds their assless chaps over the gutter. Also try not to be surprised the first time someone sneezes directly on you.
•Polution will be a major concern for any foreign traveler to China. The air quality of many Chinese cities is actually hazardous to human health. Besides being overused in several regions, water is reportedly causing serious health problems for local Chinese residents. Finally soil erosion has reached such a severe level in Manchuria (the Northeastern region) that it could ultimately eliminate agricultural prospects in the region forever. China’s at a turning point whereby it could become a world leader in environmental policy, but if the Chinese Communist Party continues running its current course it could wind up facing environmental disasters on a scale never seen before.
•Violence, to end on a sort of positive note, is pretty minimal in China. It’s more common to see people shouting horrific obscenities at full volume (and remember, they are LOUD) than to actually see a fight. And in my experience if they start swinging, expect to see the type of punches that cats throw at each other. It seems like violence has found its home as a mantelpiece under drinking. Turning down a drink is unthinkably embarrassing, so expect to see hordes of Chinese men rolling around in their own piles of baijiu (a common, absurdly fowl-smelling rice liquor) at 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights.
Hopefully this little list can help prospective Sino travelers. Once you’ve dealt with the initial shock of these behaviors they start to become funny in a bewildering sort of way.