One year in China. Let's do this!

7 Weird Things about China that No Longer Freak Me Out

Culture shock.

It’s a thing that everyone has to deal with when they move to a new place.  For a few months, everything seems odd and peculiar and hilarious and out of this world.  Nothing is the same as home, and you end up throwing your hands up in the air in frustration and confusion at an alarming rate.  Then, this moment happens where your hands stay by your side more than they are up in the air, and things don’t seem to phase you as much as they used to do at the beginning.  The weirdest moment comes when you realize you have not only accepted the culture without knowing it, but that you have taken on some of the cultural norms of the country.

I didn’t realize I had done this until my good friend came to visit.  She had never been to China before and knew the “New York” version of me, a version that spoke English to salespeople and hadn’t yet developed an addiction for all things red bean flavored.

After her departure, I began to think more in depth about what no longer baffled me, and came up with this list of “7 Weird Things about China that No Longer Freak Me Out.”

1.  You should never look up when you are crossing the street: If you look up, you might as well accept that you have just lost the real-life game of Frogger.  Not to say that NOT looking up means you are NOT paying attention.  Anything but, my friends.  You need to be very much aware of what is happening around you by looking at the feet of those coming towards you or the bike tires spinning right before they swerve to the left to dodge you.  But if you look up, they will assume you have given in, and you will not make it across the intersection.  So keep those eyes down.

2. Just because they are shouting, doesn’t mean they are angry: “WHAT just happened?” My friend looked absolutely flabbergasted.  I had just asked a bus driver where the transportation to the water town was.  I had read the bus to Zhujiajiao was on this street, but couldn’t see a bus headed there anywhere.  After a polite conversation, I found out it was the yellow bus behind us.  From an outsider perspective, it looked like we were all very angry.  No, no.  Perfectly content.  So keep in mind – it may look like the two elderly Chinese women want to cut each others’ faces off while they scream at each other, but they are probably having the time of their lives discussing the Western delicacies they consumed at KFC the night before or what cute little outfit they each bought for their grandson the day before.

3. Chinese cell phones are obscenely large: My friend began to ask me about iPhone culture in Shanghai.  As we began to study peoples’ phones, it really registered the monstrous phones people are lugging around?  Why not just carry your Mac around?  Or even better, a projector so that you can Wechat with your friends on a 15 foot screen?  And don’t worry – it doesn’t matter whether your phone is tiny or massive, there will be a disgustingly cute iPhone case you can buy on Taobao for 4 kuai to match every outfit you own in your wardrobe.

4. Americans are perceived as lazy slobs: We were riding the subway and an advertisement for an American cookie came on the TV.  Two adorably cute eight year old blonde children came dancing on the screen.  However, they weren’t just any children.  Rather, their bodies had been Photoshopped so their heads were sticking out of massive butter cookies and their legs from the knee cap down stuck out of the cookies.  So they were dancing cookies.  When people think of America, they also think of our finest cuisine – KFC, McDonalds, and Dairy Queen.  Finally, when they advertise souvenirs at shops in water towns and decide to write words in English to attract the foreign American customers, they know this will get our attention and get us to open up our wallets.  Cringe.

I mock.  Yet I still took a picture of it.

I mock. Yet I still took a picture of it.

5. There are, like, a lot of Chinese people here: At first, it freaked me out how much people stared at me because I am white.  Yes, they take pictures of me when I’m in a super touristy area.  Yes, they point at me and say “FOREIGNER” quite loudly in Chinese.  I had always assumed it was because of my ginger hair and blue eyes.  But then, when my friend was in town, she exclaimed at one point, “I’VE NEVER SEEN SO MANY CHINESE PEOPLE IN MY LIFE!”  Now, don’t laugh.  I mean, sure I did when she first said that.  But then I thought about it – after spending four years in New York which is literally the melting pot of the world and everyone has a different color of skin and is from a different place and speaks a different language, it is quite peculiar to have such a concentration of homogeneity.

6. The Shanghainese march to the beat of their own drum: Where else will you see people karaoke-ing in the parks with the volume on full or dancing salsa to 1950s Chinese music with their friends and hubbies in the parks each afternoon?  And that morning walk around the block?  I will do that in my pajamas thank you very much.  As for my school outfit, I will wear that backpack that is made to look like a duck and even has an orange plastic beak protruding from it.  Quack.  My friend was shocked at how much the Chinese just didn’t mind what others thought about them for anything.  I had become numb to this phenomenon, but after paying attention to it again for another week, I think it is awesome, hilarious, and too perfect.

'Who needs to follow the rules?  Staying out of the roped off areas and following museum protocol is for losers.  This will be a darn good photo if I stand right underneath the sculpture, and I paid to come into this museum - oh wait, the ticket was free, but that is BESIDE the point - so I will do what I want.' - The inner monologue of this Chinese man while taking pictures for 15 minutes in this exact spot

‘Who needs to follow the rules? Staying out of the roped off areas and following museum protocol is for losers. This will be a darn good photo if I stand right underneath the sculpture, and I paid to come into this museum – oh wait, the ticket was free, but that is BESIDE the point – so I will do what I want.’ – The inner monologue of this Chinese man while taking pictures for 15 minutes in this exact spot

7. This country is pretty freaking awesome: For all the things that are written in the newspapers, the pollution, and the sometimes aggravating aspects of every day life, I have come to love this place.  It is weird, and different, and odd.  But each day is an exciting adventure, and as I am about to head off to my next adventure in Europe for a month, I am so glad to have taken full advantage of this city over the last six months, and can’t wait to come back in February to experience it all over again.


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Categorised in: Chinaland, Shanghai Stories

5 Responses »

  1. Haha! I remember having that funny sensation of feeling in a tsunami wave of people a few years ago. It was just a normal Sunday afternoon walking down the street, but wow there were lots of people – and this was in Kunming, a ‘small’ city by comparison. =) I didn’t think of it that much at the time but I remember my boyfriend being very bothered by it, being a Scandinavian (read less used to so many people). Since that day though, I often look back and think of life in the sea.

    Funny to think of it, but the last time I felt overwhelmed by people was in New York the year before last, having stayed at a BNB in Hell’s kitchen for a week. It was just too crowded for me – the slow walking – the stench of sweat – I wasn’t used to people that close anymore.

    Thanks for this, you brought back many memories!

    • Ahh Kunming – want to go there so badly! I’m sure it’s quite the shock in comparison to Shanghai though. Sounds like you got the worst of New York – you will have to go back sometime when it’s not the middle of summer and not so packed. It’s easily one of my favorite places in the world, and it makes me sad to think people have anything but the best memories when they think of that city!

      • I still enjoyed it. don’t worry about that! It was very cool! I even had some friends who lived there show me around. But New York is so hyped upit is difficult to live up to the expectations =)

      • It’s always the best when you have friends to show you around their hometown – then you get the real experience. Give NY another go – I spent four years at university there and sure, there were some ups and downs, but overall, it’s a great place and it will grow on you! Be sure to stray away from the super touristy areas next time and visit places like the Village and the Hudson River Park and The Highline – do that and you will get a more calm, serene, authentic look at the city.

      • Did the Village, and I loooooooved the High Line… Don’t remember Hudson River Park. =) I will be back one day – but so much more of the world to see first!

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