Including Macau, Hong Kong and Tibet, we’ve spent almost a month and a half in China.  Along the way, we’ve observed many things that were different from our preconceptions of China and others that seemed just downright odd.  In no particular order, here’s a list of a few of them:

  • Items You Will Not Receive When Sitting Down at a Chinese Restaurant:
    • Napkins – Either the Chinese are the most careful eaters in the world, always inserting each bite into their mouth flawlessly, or they have a lot of dirty shirt sleeves.
    • Water – At home, we’re used to downing glass after glass of free water at any restaurant.  This is not the case here, where it seems as if the Chinese drink little, if any, fluids while eating.
    • Rice and Soy Sauce – Judging from restaurants back home, you would assume that these two are staples of the Chinese diet.  However, rice is rarely served in most restaurants that we’ve seen.  To get soy sauce (assuming they have it, which is rarer than you would think), you have to make a special request.
  • Spitting
    • You may have heard rumours that a lot of Chinese people spit in public.  We’re here to confirm that those rumours are 100% true.  Male or female, old or young, rural or urban — there seem to be no boundaries to letting the phlegm fly.  The Chinese are aware of Westerners’ discomfort with this habit, and have even started a campaign to hopefully eradicate the practice prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  We wish them luck!
  • Items Not Often Found in a Chinese Restroom:
    • Soap
    • Paper Towels
    • Toilet Paper
    • Western-Style Toilets

 We quickly learned to always come armed with our own soap and t.p.

  • Lines
    • Simply put, they don’t exist.  No matter what you’re in line for – a train ticket, an ATM machine, anything – there’s a good chance you will be elbowed by a tiny Chinese woman aiming to get in front of you.
  • Mattresses
    • A Chinese woman we met told us that many Chinese people believe that hard mattresses promote healthy bones.  If that’s the case, the Chinese have the strongest bones on the planet. 
  • Split Pants
    • Upon our arrival in China, we noticed a unique component of many toddlers’ pants.  They seemed to be split up the back.  Upon further observation, we came to understand that this feature was a way for parents to save money on diapers and save time spent on taking bathroom breaks.  In one swift movement, the child is free to relieve him or herself wherever and whenever the need arises.  We’ve witnessed this phenomenon in Tiananmen Square, on sidewalks, in parks, in trash cans and in the middle of the street.  Privacy and sanitation seem to be of no concern.

We’d love to see a similar list prepared by a Chinese tourist visiting America for the first time.  We’re sure it wouldn’t be pretty.