To foreigners, China is known for its Great Wall, its amazing food, and its giant population. Those on the inside, however, know that China is much more complex than that! Plenty of fascinating and hilarious experiences have resulted from tourists attempting to decode what makes this country so uniquely special. While some of their customs may seem odd to the average American (toddlers without diapers, a market to promote relatives for marriage, and rubbing blonde hair for luck) they are all parts of the vast and diverse culture that makes China so interesting to travel. Read on for the hilarious cultural situations that travelers have experienced while adventuring through China!
58. Stick Out Like A Sore Thumb
I made a small child on a train cry because I was white. The mother kept trying to calm her down by saying things like “she’s just like us, but her eyes, nose, skin, just grew up different. Look, she’s even reading Chinese.”
57. One Way To Make Friends
I am a very normal looking female American. Dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, five foot five. When I was in Beijing people kept walking up behind me and then their friend would take a picture of us. At first I was like what is going on?!? Then I finally got someone to tell me that a lot of Beijing tourists are people from the country making a big trip to the city, and have never seen a white person in real life. So after that when someone would try to sneak up behind me I would just smile and use some sort of sign language to say let’s just take the picture together! So there are about 20 random Chinese country people with pictures of me like we are best friends at random spots around Beijing.
56. Cute Nickname
I remember being at a factory in Zhongshan one day. I’m sitting chatting to one of the engineers there (through a translator) and I realise that for the last 30 seconds or so this guy has just been stroking my arm hair, while maintaining the conversation perfectly.
I just looked down and burst out laughing and he kind of smiled like a shy teenage girl. It was hilarious and awkward at the same time. He was just fascinated by it.
I also get called “Golden Monkey” by the owner of this factory. She’ll run up and greet me with a big smile, and scream with joy “YESSSS THE GOLDEN MONKEY HAS COME BACK TO SEE ME!” China can be pretty surreal.
55. Like A Ghost
I was in Hong Kong for work. I’m a 5’10” pale pale PALE mix of French and Scottish and on the larger side. I made it a point to ride the HK subway for my adventures (it puts American subways to shame) and I feel a tug on my cargo shorts… I look down to see a little girl looking up at me with a desperate look of concern, and she says something in Cantonese to me (I know ZERO besides hello and thank you) and her mom who is sitting across from me starts giggling. She says to me (in surprisingly good English) “She asked why you’re so pale, are you sick?” We both had a laugh about it and I just smiled and sat next to this little girl as she’s just staring into my soul unable to figure out why I was so white. It was pretty adorable. As I was getting off on my stop the little girl yelled after me and the mom said “She said Goodbye and she hopes you feel better!” Then I realized I need a tan as there were like 5 Australian guys near us that didn’t concern this girl at all.
54. Pool Party Dress Code
My family and I went there during the summer when I was 15, and it was really hot. So with nothing else planned for the day, we decided to hop in our hotel’s pool for a while. I was in there for all of 10 seconds before a hotel employee yelled and motioned for me to get out. When I did, he kept motioning towards my swim trunks and saying something that I couldn’t understand. He eventually led me over to the hotel’s gift shop.
Turns out, males were only allowed in the pool if they were were wearing a speedo. It was literally listed as one of their rules on the sign in the shop. Supposedly it was more hygenic. He had a whole rack of them that he tried to get me to choose from, but the whole thing was really weird for me so I noped on outta there. My dad and I sat it out while the rest of the family swam. Not all the hotels we stayed at over there had that rule, but I know at least one other did. Maybe that’s common outside of the US, but it was really weird for me at the time.
53. Slide To Safety.
My sister and her husband went on their honeymoon in China for six weeks. They went to a brand new hotel in the outskirts of Shanghai. It was so new that it was still under construction. My sister has anxiety about a few things, and fire is one of them, so she had her husband ask the concierge where the fire escape was on their floor since he speaks Mandarin. The man at the desk told them that in case of fire, there was a window at the end of the hall with a rope outside that you slide down. The only issue was that they were staying on the eighth floor.
52. Jungle Gym
Gyms in China are hilarious.
Guys deadlifting 135lbs thinking they are breaking some world record while screaming obnoxiously, banging weights. Banging weights is a privilege
Guy on the treadmill having a call with his friend on speaker — very, very loudly
Some lady was video calling and “vlogging” her halfhearted workout — obnoxiously loud like her microphone is broken
That one weirdo who wears jeans and thinks he needs to show everyone how loudly he can slap a boxing bag…
51. How Refreshing
50. How Touching
49. Give Them The Chair
I’d like to think of myself as a pretty decent bloke, I seldom go to clubs (4 times in my China life), never get inebriated (kidney problems), and keep good friends (foreign and Chinese).
The vast majority of my China experience has been pleasant with no problems. However, there have been some instances where the locals have tried to start something with me or the people I’m with for no reason other than we were foreign or with foreigners.
For instance, one time I was eating with friends at a local street BBQ place. Nothing special going on. A fairly large group of Chinese guys at another table invited one of us over; my friend politely refused saying he’s with his buddies at the moment but will come over in a minute. The Chinese guys get angry, start yelling at “foreigners”, one of them pulls a knife, a chair gets thrown at us. We leave quickly.
Of course, this crap could happen in any country. This is not a ‘China’ problem. But what is a problem is that the powers-that-be often use foreigners a scapegoats or release valve for domestic problems. The local population buys into it and this causes a problem.
48. Illegal Border Crossing
47. The Chinese FBI
I was heading out of my hotel to get some food when a black van drives by on the street. The door opens, two people jump out, grab me, and pull me into the van.
They start talking to me in Chinese. My Chinese is bad, but I make do. they ask me who I am, where I’m from, what I’m doing here. I tell them I’m a student here visiting family. They ask to see my student ID, ask me to speak some english, ask me where I live, etc. Then they let me go.
It turns out someone at the hotel said that we were criminals from the U.S. bringing illegal substances into China. So the Chinese FBI or whatever they are just came by and picked me up off the street. It was all very strange.
I hope that whoever reported me to the police saying I’m a dealer got in trouble for that. If I hadn’t had those items on me, or if my parents weren’t around to bail me out, I could be in Chinese Guantanamo right now.
46. Must Be Some Soft Coat
I was walking along in Nanjing back to my hostel. I looked around and couldn’t help but notice that in every direction I could only see two people other than myself and my girlfriend. Can’t imagine how often that happens. Anyway, these two other people are about a block ahead of me waiting at the bus stop and they’re older — probably in their 70s.
I keep walking toward the bus stop as it was on our path back. As I get closer, I notice one of the men get out of his squat stance and stand upright, all the while staring right at me. I didn’t think much of it and just kept walking along the side path. As I approach, the man starts walking backwards (facing one direction, walking the complete opposite) toward me. I stopped paying attention to him for a second and looked away. When I looked forward again the guy was mid-backward-stride and timed his walking perfectly so that we would collide!!
We hit and I noticed he felt my white fleece jacket (trying to be inconspicuous) and then proceeded to briskly run back to the bus stop and squat.
Did that really happen?!
I asked my girlfriend, “Hey…Did you just see that?!”
Her: See what?
Me: That guy! He just ran into me and touched my clothes!
Her: Uh, no I didn’t see anything.
Me: How didn’t you!? That guy just walked 40 feet from where he was standing just to collide with me.
It was like I was in the twilight zone.
Up the road, I looked back at the man who hit me and he was squatting and still staring at me.
45. I Hate To Love America
I was on my way home from dinner at about 8:30 in Beijing (Wudaokou area). I took the public bus home and my destination was about a mile or less from where I hopped on. It was cold, so I was wearing a knit hat that had the British flag and under it read “London”.
I hopped on the bus and sat toward the middle-back. The bus was totally silent until about 30 seconds in someone from the back said something inaudibly. I looked back and the guy who had spoken was staring out the window. Ok, whatever, I thought and continued on with the bus ride.
About 20 seconds after that initial outburst, the same thing happens and I look back to find the guy looking at me but then glaring back out the window when I stared back. OK, whatever, I thought.
About a minute later I feel a presence standing on my left side. I ignore it, but think, Jesus, this bus has plenty of seats. Don’t they get personal space?! Finally the presence says,
“Hey where are you from? Australia?”
Me: No, I’m actually American, I just got this hat as a gift. Where are you from?
Him: (Laughs) I’m from the country your country is messing up.
Me: I have no idea…
Him: I’m from Afghanistan and YOU CAN TELL YOUR PRESIDENT TO GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY!!!
I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to think. He was yelling so loud that the Chinese on the bus were now all staring in my direction. I just let the guy vent at the top of his lungs.
Eventually, after a few minutes of this stuff I looked up and said, “You do realize that I don’t support the war in Afghanistan or Iraq and I don’t have any power to end the war.” I got up, made my way to the exit and (wouldn’t you know it) he said he was getting off too because it was his stop. Great, he’s going to try to fight me.
He kept on with his loud anti-American tirade after we were off the bus and standing at the bus stop. I looked around and there weren’t many people on the streets. The fact that this GUY was getting inches from my face made me explode. I never hit a boiling point until this night.
While he was yelling at me I yelled over him and said, “SHUT UP! Do you realize if I had one more ounce of patriotism in me I would have beat you on the bus when you started in on your rant!?” He suddenly gets calm and I can see on his face that he knows I could take him in a fight if that’s what it was going to come to.
He starts apologizing and completely changes his tone. All of a sudden, he starts talking about how he wants to experience Thanksgiving, Christmas, and enjoy the holiday sales in American malls/shops. Furthermore, he points out a sign with Christian Bale advertising his Nanjing movie and goes on about tons of American movies that I’ve never even seen.
My jaw was almost on the floor. This guy starts beef with me, berates America, and then finally admits that he loves everything about America in the end.
44. Gate Crashers
I was in the Beijing subway with my girlfriend. We are leaving the station, and we were alone except for two ladies checking heir bags for tickets by the gates.
Only one gate on our side was an exit, so we went one at a time. My girlfriend went first and one of the ladies quickly broke off and followed her through without paying.
I can predict the second lady will follow me too to save herself a couple bucks, but this is NOT how subway etiquette works (I know, I know… but I’m fresh off the boat). As I scan my ticket, she follows me and I stop dead in my tracks past the door. She bumps into me, and as she does the gates close in front of her. I turn and greet her with a smile.
The look of horror, spite, and confusion… how dare this foreigner deny me my chance to save money?! She starts cussing me (I caught a few things about my mother). I just smile at her, show her my railcard, and point at the swipe area indicating how to use it.
43. A Farewell To Arms
42. You’re In The Entourage
When I was living in Zhongshan last year, me and my cousin were wandering around the city one night when we heard loud music on the waterfront. We decided to check it out for the fun of it. It ended up being a club, so we walked in and sat down at a table with drinks we brought in.
Suddenly I felt a hand hitting my shoulder. Thinking we were getting kicked out for whatever reason, I jumped up and turned around to see a smiling Jamaican man. He introduced himself and we talked for a bit. He said he would be right back. He got up on stage and started rapping, pretty well actually. After he finished he invited us to the VIP area on the second floor where he continued to give us endless free drinks and kept inviting girls up to hang out.
I was a bit nervous at this point because I thought it might be a scam but he just ended up being a real cool guy. We even met the owners of the club and they offered us DJ jobs which we had to decline.
41. Nice Work If You Can Get It
I was employed in China as an investment banker who just flew in from Wall Street to this small finance company run by a Canadian Chinese immigrant. I wasn’t allowed to speak Chinese, just sit in a meeting room listening to provincial village “nongmin” type entrepreuners who would come in to describe their project and request funds.
The Canadian Chinese guy would use me to show off his English skills and also to legitimize his business by having a western finance connection. I was paid pretty well for basically being a mascot, but I got canned after a few months in favour of an older-looking guy.
40. Getting A Leg Up
39. Party Trail
I made the mistake of going to Harbin two years ago. I didn’t have tickets back and the trains were all sold out. I kept going up to the station and asking about tickets until they eventually had some and they were very cheap. I was riding rom Harbin to Beijing.
The train was this slapped together mess with only hard seats and standing space. The trip is normally 10-15hrs (I think) but it took our train 23hrs. I had a hard seat and no space.
The guy sitting opposite to me was a toothless man and his wife couldn’t stop munching seeds and spitting. Our seats were facing each other and our knees were touching. The seats weren’t quite wide enough for 2 people, yet that’s what we had. The rest of the train was filled with people on the ground. I was lucky.
Anyway, we are facing each other and he keeps staring at me until I said hi. Then he offered me a cigarette, which I denied numerous times. Eventually he busts out a deck of cards and teaches me this game. That’s when the yelling and the betting started.
Guys came from all over that train to play cards on my lap and have their go at the white boy. I eventually lost a bunch of money, ate snack after snack, and made pals with these migrant workers.
38. Ho Ho, There
37. Home For Arrest
36. A Horrifying (Literal) Rush Of Realization
I lived in China for a few years. I was on one of my first bus rides, and we went down a slight hill and I felt something warm rush over my feet. I learned the hard way that day that many babies/toddlers don’t wear diapers, and just have slits in the crotch of their pants. When they have to go, be it on the street, in a store, or on a bus, they just crouch down and let it flow.
35. It Speaks!
34. Don’t Cross That Line
The craziest thing happened this morning at Construction Bank. I arrive about 15 minutes before opening and there are two people in front of me. I stand behind them. More people show up and spontaneously a line of about 10-15 people develops. Keep in mind there are no railings or ropes or anything. Just a natural, orderly line.
One guy comes up and stands at the front, to the right of the line and the lady in front of me tells him to line up. Then I tell him to line up. He asks, “Why should I?” Now everyone in line is suddenly confronting him. Finally, he does go to the back. When the door opened no one pushed and we all got tickets according to our position.
I swear, true story from just this morning. I was so surprised I was messaging people to let them share in my joyful confusion. Usually people don’t line up so well in China!
33. He Won’t Be Making Waffles
Someone attacked a donkey with a hammer in the street. I was just going to get my hair cut, and on my way I saw a donkey tied up in the road. Quite novel, I thought. I bought it a carrot and fed it. My Chinese friend said it was probably there “to bring the restaurant luck.” I was skeptical but we went on our way.
On the way back, I notice the donkey had been blindfolded. Then a guy with a hammer, a regular hammer, appeared, wound back, and slammed it on the head. The donkey dropped like a stone. My Chinese friend didn’t know what to say.
32. Crushed Row Of ATM Patrons
I’m waiting to use an ATM and I’m standing about 5 feet behind the person using it like any normal American would.
Another person walks up and stands directly behind the guy using it. Then another. Then another. Then another. Bumper-to-bumper, no space between them.
I am now sixth in line for the ATM.
31. Real-Life Tinder Market
I visited Shanghai, and I stumbled into the Marriage Market.
There were hundreds of elderly parents with flyers with photos and resumes of their unmarried adult children milling about, trying to arrange matches. It was like seeing the floor of a busy stock exchange.
30. A Foot For A Foot: Cab Driver v. Cyclist
I once had a friend who had traveled to China with her family who told me a story where they were at a café one afternoon and were watching the cars on the street nearby. There was a driver of a car who rear-ended a guy on a bicycle and knocked him off.
There was a big clamoring around the scene until a crowd of people took ahold of the car driver. The bicycle driver jumped into the car and drove over the foot of the car driver as the crowd held him into place. The bike driver (who just drove over the one guy’s foot) got out of the car, thanked the crowd and pushed his bike away. The car driver (who just got his foot ran over) limped back to the car and drove away.
29. Earning A Career Through Table Tennis
I worked it is an IT manager for a college in Nanjing. My boss, who was Chinese, got his job because he was an excellent table tennis player. He knew nothing about computers but acted like he did to save face. He also made the same amount per month as me, but within a month was driving a new BMW, and was wearing a Rolex. Lots of kickbacks and corruption there.
28. Making Up The New Years Holiday
I worked in Shanghai. My colleagues told me I had to work through the weekend to make up for the two days off at New Years. I laughed. They were serious.
27. A Casual Stroll With A Pet Duck
In Shenzhen, I saw a woman taking her duck for a walk on a leash. Apparently this is universal, but at the time I had not seen it before.
26. A Sketchy Police Bribe In A Taxi Cab
I used to travel to China 4 times per year for several years for business.
I got into a taxi to go from a bus station in Zigong to a hotel. Right after picking us up, the taxi driver stops and lets a policeman come sit in the front seat. They proceed to discuss how much it would cost to get the driver’s friend out of police detention. The policeman calls his supervisor at the police station to negotiate the amount while getting a finder’s fee himself for facilitating the transaction. I wasn’t surprised by the corruption but rather by how open it was.
Since I am ethnically Chinese, they probably thought I was a local and can be ignored.
25. Little Kids Can Go Anywhere
I traveled to China this past May, and I was shocked at the number of little kids who don’t wear diapers, and that they go to the bathroom right in the street or wherever they happen to be. We were in the Forbidden City on a very crowded day, and a little girl squatted down and urinated right in the middle of a crowd. Everyone acted like it was normal, and then people proceeded to walk through the puddle…
We also watched two men get into a fist fight in the middle of a crowded street because they had road rage. My teacher points it out like “Hey look! Those guys are getting into a fight!” like it was some sort of spectacle.
24. A Unique Diagnosis
My wife works in an international language school there with a lot of Chinese students. Two stories that stick out.
There was this teenage girl whose family was absurdly wealthy to the point that this girl had never done a single thing for herself. She got kicked out of her host family’s house after a few incidents like trying to cook raw chicken in the toaster. The worst thing though was her lack of awareness about feminine hygiene. She, honest to god, had maids/nannies that would insert a feminine product for her, so she didn’t know how.
She asked her host mother to do it and refused to just be taught how to do it herself. When her underwear got sullied, she hand washed them and laid them on a white leather couch to dry, leaving diluted red stains on the sofa. My favorite part is that this girl with the education level of a 10-year-old was under the impression she’d return to China in 2 years as a medical doctor.
The other story I remember was a man in his 30’s who had that psychological tick where you compulsively pull your hair out. He had the most bizarre baldness pattern because he actually couldn’t stop himself from just plucking his own hairs. The school being worried about this, asked him if he’d been to a doctor. He said that he had in China, and the doctor in China told him that he was bald because he was feeling guilty about something and that caused his hair to stay just below his scalp. If he found out what he was guilty about and confessed, his hair would grow back. This was not an herbalist or a homeopath. This was an actual medical doctor in a hospital.
23. A Hilarious Makeshift Ski Slope
I stayed with many families of varying economic statuses while I was there. I made a comment about how much I enjoyed skiing at home to the wealthiest family I stayed with, and they decided to take me skiing.
The whole place felt like someone tried to describe skiing to them over the phone and they built the place based on that.
Notably: The place was set up so that the bunny hill with the magic carpet was on the bottom, the easiest run and rope tow was above it, and the “real skiing” was a lift above that. But that meant every single person who wanted to go to higher difficulty slopes had to go through the magic carpet first, and the rope tow too. I’ve never seen such a disorder mess, especially one that was trying to pass as a line.
When I finally made it up to the terrain park, it was the weirdest one I’ve ever seen. The moguls were roughly the dimensions of snowmen. The jumps were misshapen and one had a toddler playing on top of it, while his mother, who was wearing high heeled boots, watched from the side. It was like they had no idea they’re on a ski hill.
22. A Strange Buffet Of Hearts, Legs, And Brains
We got enough food to have a filling breakfast for four adults with plenty left over for ten yuan, or $1.67
I ate an entire pigeon, including its brain. I had cow lung, brain, heart, kidney… Weirdest dish I think was frog stir fry. This wasn’t frog legs, this was just frogs cut in half and stir fried with a lot of szechuan seasoning. I also had silkworm cocoons, just living silkworms in the process of metamorphosis that you fry in some sesame oil. They tasted like prebuttered lobster honestly.
21. Consistently Mistaken For Harry Potter
Everyone thought my 14-year-old son was Daniel Radcliffe, even though he was 5’9″ with very curly hair. This was when one of the Deathly Hallows movies was playing in Shanghai, and there were posters and stuff up in a lot of places. Every so often, people would walk up to him, point and yell “Hally Pottah!!”
20. Fascination With Body Hair
The locals crowded around my significant other to gaze in wonder at his hairy arms. When he undid a couple of shirt buttons they went nuts!
19. A Side-Splitting Attempt At Western Christmas
Anytime you go into a bar in China and there is another white person there you inevitably make eye contact and eventually will talk. I met an Irish dude who had just come in from a more remote part of China. The hotel he stayed at tried to make the westerners there feel at home for Christmas (it was December). He knew they had it a bit wrong when the Christmas tree in the lobby had a Star of David on top.
18. Funny Reminders To Evacuate The Escalator
I went to a mall in Wuxi, and at the top and bottom of all the escalators were these meme faces (Obama, Jackie Chan, various rage cartoons) and Chinese words. My girlfriend informed me that these were signs to watch your step getting on/off the escalators as, apparently, lots of people get sucked in and disappear.
17. Beyond The Limit Of Eavesdropping
I’ve lived in the expat community in China for about 16 years. Ten or so years ago, one of my mom’s Scandinavian friends was talking on the phone in her native language. After the person on the other end hung up, they heard a Chinese person on the phone saying “next time, please speak English or Chinese.”
16. A Scary-Smiled Stranger And An Epic Terracotta Tomb
There was a beggar near the Shanghai waterfront that looked so scary, one of my fellow travelers cried. He looked like he had been in a chemical accident of some sort wherein his skin and bones melted into this deformed blob of weird proportions. The worse part was he had a smile on his face- permanently.
There was also the lady that shoved me and cut in line at McDonald’s. I was kind of taken back because she was so rude. My tour guide told me Chinese people hate Americans.
15. The Myth Of Lucky Blonde Hair
I went when I was little, about 5 or 6 years old, and I barely remember it, but apparently, everywhere I went, crowds would surround me and touch my head…
Apparently touching blonde hair was good luck or something.
14. A Super Strange, Pointless Game
I was on exchange at a high school in China and the kids decided to show me this game called aluba (ah-luba)?
This consisted of the boys in the class ganging up on a single kid and hoisting him in the air whilst spreading his legs apart. They then would run with the kid, still in the air with his legs open, at full speed into the side of a door so the kid would get his lower parts smashed into oblivion.
The weirdest part is there were no hard feelings after. The kid just stood up and acted as if this was just a normal occurrence.
13. A Short-Lived, Semi-Clever Tourist Scam
I was in China and I was outside a tourist attraction. A woman dressed in a uniform was standing by the entrance telling all the cars that were passing by that you needed to pay money to go to a big part of the attraction. However, that part of the attraction was actually free and the woman wasn’t an employee of the attraction at all.
She was just a random person who was misinforming people and collecting free money. She was taking advantage of some tourists’ lack of knowledge of the attraction. Tour buses and tour guides who knew the attraction was free would just go right past her.
12. Attempt To Repopulate Pigeons Gone Terribly Wrong
My friend told me a story about his hometown. They’re a smaller city that wanted to show some sophistication by introducing pigeons to their city ecosystem (a very European flair). So they imported a bunch of pigeons and set them loose. Unfortunately, not a month later, the city stopped their initiative in shame because the locals managed to capture and eat all of the pigeons they had tried to introduce.
11. A Creative Ploy By A Tourist-Tricking Con-Man
My sister and I took the train from Chengdu to Leshan to see the giant Buddha. We had to use the bathroom when we got on the train and when we arrived the station wasn’t completed and there were no bathrooms. After a 25 minute bus ride to the park with the Buddha, we were close to bursting. I asked an old lady for directions to the bathroom and when my sister and I arrived there was an old man with a little table selling soap, toilet paper and feminine products set up in front of the facilities. As I walked by (I had soap and TP in my bag) his frail arm shot up and blocked my way.
“What?!” I said in mandarin. He simply held out his hand. I asked how much and he said “5 jiao.” which is the equivalent of like 75 cents U.S. I dig the coin out of my bag, tossed it on to his table and darted in to use the worst restroom I personally visited in China. I came out just as a tour bus of Chinese people pulled up. They filed in without interruption. I glared at the old man and said “Really?!” He simply grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
10. The Ultimate “Put It On My Tab” Move
It was my first time in Beijing in 2010 and I went to a restaurant with a local. She invited me so I didn’t check whether I had enough cash. The place was huge and looked fairly classy, not a small family-run place in a hutong.
So when we finished and the bill came it was about 350rmb iirc, and apparently, the girl had only like 180. I was like oh no, oh no, oh no what’s going to happen now but she kept completely calm going like “um well I don’t know” which didn’t make me feel any better.
She tried to call a friend that she knew who lived somewhat close to the restaurant but she couldn’t reach her. I could throw in about 50 but that was about it. So she talked to the waitress for a while, gave her all we had and then we left. I was so confused. I asked what happened and the girl told me she could just bring the rest of the money another day.
I was completely stunned; usually, China is very competitive, people try to rip you off if you don’t pay close attention to many places. And here we were, getting away like this? The best part was when I asked her if the waitress wrote down her name and address or something, and she said: “yeah she got my last name”… like, just the last name, in a country where I feel like there are only about 10 surnames and they all sound like gong, dong, li, Zhang…
9. Ticket To Ride
I was waiting for a cab in the pouring rain for a good 35 minutes. Cab finally rolls over and stops in front of me. Just my luck: three occupants are in the cab and I patiently wait as they pay their fare and exit — and it’s still pouring rain. I was running errands for a bit in the village before the rain started, but that’s just a tangent.
Anyway, I begin to step into the cab and then I notice that some girl and her friend are DASHING toward me from the opposite side of the road. Odd, but I begin to sit before she approaches me with her friend lurking behind her and holds the cab door and asks me if she and her friend could take the cab.
To be frank, I might have considered her request if it wasn’t so impossible to find a cab when it’s raining, not to mention the fact that my girlfriend was waiting on me at home. So I straight up told her, “No.”
Typically in a situation like this you’d expect the other person to maybe sulk and walk away for another cab. But no. Fate had something else in mind for me. The girl starts cursing at me, saying the usual gibberish, you know the drill. But she doesn’t stop there.
Nope. Right as I sat down in my seat (the door is still open) she starts kicking me. Yes, KICKING my legs shins and shin! Granted my ego hurt more than my legs, but still.
I’m thunderstruck for a second or two and just sit there coming to terms with the fact that this girl decided to assault me because I didn’t give up a cab that I had been waiting for. It’s not like I stole it while someone else held the door open!
Anyway, I try closing the door three times; she prevented me from closing so she could continue kicking me. And yes I did stand up to confront her (verbally). This was the first time in my life I was tempted to be violent period. I know I’d be defending myself by hitting her back, but I’m a non-confrontational type of guy not to mention who knows what would happen to me in China.
It wasn’t until I pulled out my phone when I sat back down to snap her photo that she tried to slam the door on me while my foot was sticking out of the door. Female cabbie was going on about how crazy that girl was.
Oh, and her friend just stood there, arms crossed with her poker face and never a peep from her mouth, watching along with the small crowd that was encircling ground zero.
8. Feed The Animals
I used to live in China (I’m an American), so I could write a volume of books on this subject. This is probably my favorite story.
I was traveling during a national holiday once (big mistake) and decided to take a sixteen hour train. The trains are always packed but this was just ridiculous. We were completely crammed in like a pile of neat bricks. Being a white guy with long hair and a beard I clearly stuck out, even in this crammed sardine can. An extremely polite Chinese teenager, which is not uncommon at all for foreigners, begged me to take his seat. It was a sixteen hour ride and seats were basically treated like rare pearls. I refused until his iron willpower defeated my own. As soon as I sat the entire crowd of people in my vicinity turned and looked down at me. Stared actually. For hours. They were mesmerized by my alien attributes. They talked openly in Chinese about how strange I was probably guessing a creature like me couldn’t possibly understand their human language. I felt like an exhibit in a zoo. All of a sudden out of nowhere a hand reaches out of the crowd holding a banana. I was actually famished, and realizing the food cart would never make it through the throng, I thankfully took the fruit. As soon as I peeled it and took a bite I heard a wave of murmurs and gasps. I looked up from my delicious banana smiling and noticed everyone else was smiling back at me. I only caught one word that was repeated several times through several separate conversations. I kept hearing “hou zi”.
Hou zi means monkey.
7. Forced To Get Squeaky Clean
Not me but my brother.
He was invited to a wedding out in rural China and due to his white skin became more important than the bride. He literally lived the rural life, constant photos because people not from main cities literally have never seen white people before. My brother spoke only English at the time, so communication was merely be charades.
But there is one story that is my absolute favorite. Due to being out in rural China, if you want a shower you have to go to the public showers. First time he went, it was just the guys from the Chinese family he was staying with. Next time, it was essentially every male who lived nearby. They were fascinated. My brother is usually super shy, but he figured he was in the middle of nowhere so he was cool with all these Chinese males checking him out.
BUT THAT’S NOT THE BEST PART! Oh no, not yet. Well there was a concrete slab in the middle of the shower, which the owner started getting wet and scrubbing. My brother ignored it, too busy being side eyed by Asian men, but then the owner grunted at him and started pointing at the slab, using limited communication to tell him to get on the slab. So my brother, naked as the day he was born, the only white guy for miles, usually so shy and self conscious, climbed on and proceeded to be scrubbed by some old Chinese man, while a large audience watched in awe.
6. Instant Celebrity Status
I was traveling with a group in China right before the Beijing Olympics. I’m a 6′ tall black dude, and according to our tour guide, black people are incredibly rare to see in China. (This is relevant for the story)
So on the day that we were going to see the great wall, I just happened to be wearing a football jersey (American football) I brought with me. Apparently being, relatively tall, black and wearing sports apparel is enough for some Chinese people to think that you are a professional athlete.
We get to the great wall and start walking around (it’s much steeper than you would think and some parts are pretty difficult to walk) when I’m quickly swarmed by tons of Chinese people who want to take a picture with me. I’m normally very reserved and quite the introvert, but as the crowd around me started to grow I just decided to go with it.
So I smiled, took pictures and signed autographs to my hearts content. That is until I was asked to leave because the group around me was getting so large it was blocking the entire span of the wall and people couldn’t get past.
A similar thing happened few weeks later when I was flying into Shanghai and was walking through the airport wearing sunglasses and a backpack and a few people thought I was Kanye West.
5. Laws Of Attraction
We visited the Forbidden City on a business trip. My colleague is a petite blonde woman and I’m a 6′ 220lb white guy. We noticed pretty quickly that a lot of people were taking really awkward selfies. It became obvious they were trying to politely take pictures of us.
Once we acknowledged it and told them it was OK, it was like a dam had burst. We were at one of their biggest cultural attractions and getting pics with us was suddenly a priority for dozens of people.
The oddest bit for me was when they started to move in really close to my face with their phones. Turns out they wanted pictures of my blue eyes.
The counter effect was when we were at the Great Wall. A group of Chinese soldiers was there on a tour or something. They looked like young kids from farming villages in poorly fitting military uniforms on their first pass.
They were terrified of being too close to me. Any place I would walk the whole herd of 25 would orbit away from me to keep a 50′ distance. My guide for the day walked over and asked them about it. Turns out they had been warned to not fraternize with any foreigners during their visit.
4. Gambling Debts Always Get Paid
I have lived in China for 13 years. The craziest thing to happen to me would have to be when we had to give up our home to a Chinese Crime Lord.
We were renting a home in Shanghai. It was worth about $15million (not that we could ever buy it) but rent wasn’t too bad. Anyways our landlady was this great and ambitious woman who had built herself up as a pretty successful land owner in China. Unfortunately as per Chinese tradition she had to be married and her husband was an absolute deadbeat. He spent all his time gambling illegally. He eventually racked up a debt of over 10 million RMB (over 1million usd) and borrowed money from the Chinese mob to pay it off. A smart move on the mobs part because they were probably the ones running the gambling in the first place and knew this guy owned a lot of property through his wife.
One day out of the blue our land lord tells us (with some muscle behind her, probably to prompt her rather than scare us as she looked pretty disheveled) that we have 24 hours to move. The mob had shown up demanding their money and when she didnt have it agreed to take the house instead (a pretty good profit for them if you ask me). We talked to the mob guys and explained that we didn’t have anything to do with this and asked if we could have more time. They were pretty nice about it and understood and after calling what must have been their HQ, they agreed to give us 4 days. The next day the mob boss showed up to look around our house to see what he had acquired. He was a tall but average looking Chinese man in his late 40’s to mid 50’s wearing a long brown leather coat. He had 4 shorter but far more muscular armed body guards who were dressed entirely in black. And his wife was there wearing a red dress (she was insanely beautiful, a solid 10, uniquely tall for an asian woman as well).
He was very friendly and shook all our hands apologizing for inconveniencing us. He was the only one that spoke, his bodyguards just watched us all very carefully and his wife smiled but didn’t comment. It was pretty surreal. He looked so normal but definitely had a pretty intimidating aura about him (mostly in the way he walked and talked– like he literally owned the place–well actually at this point he did haha). Anyways he liked the house, thanked us in nearly perfect English for giving him a tour and our hospitality, and left. 3 days later we had moved out. We kept in touch with our lan lady but her husband disappeared. It was pretty heavily implied that he had gone into hiding but been caught and killed. So that was interesting. I have a ton of stories from China but that was one of the more memorable ones.
3. Billy With The Good Rice
I traveled to China last year with my partner, who was teaching in Beijing. We decided we wanted to ride camels in the Gobi desert. Getting to Mongolia was way too expensive and a hassle for our time schedule, so we ended up taking an overnight train to Zhongwei, which is JUST up against the desert. Lonely Planet recommended one guy, Billy , in the guidebook for this camel excursion. So we hire Billy, he drives us out to this random place and a local farmer walks up with three camels for our overnight trek into the desert. Billy hands the farmer some cash (not nearly enough, we think) and we get on the camels and go with this guy who speaks no English and probably speaks a dialect of Mandarin.
Anyway, off we go. It’s hot. It’s full of dunes. It’s cool. Billy has warned us that dinner will be simple, backcountry fair (Billy is not with us, by the way. Fucking Billy). No problem, we backpack a lot, we can dig it.
We stop for camp and the guy builds a fire and puts white rice in a pan. We watch, waiting for the salt, the pepper, the veggies, the something. But nope. We got served plain, white rice for dinner. And some apples that tasted like soap. And this weird pickled thing that tasted like . . . goodness knows. We’re not picky eaters. We are adventurous eaters. But this was the. worst. We also got these weird processed meat sticks that looked, smelled, and I guess tasted like dog food. Billy had given us beer, though, and that probably had more nutritional value than the white rice. so we drank that.
The next day, we had ramen for breakfast (would have been better for all the meals) and trekked back to the town. I swear Billy was keeping his overhead like zero. He was profiting off of being a Chinese guy who spoke English and who somehow got Lonely Planet (and don’t even get me started on those guys and their terrible advice in China) to list him in his book. I think he paid the farmer a pittance of the $300 or so we paid him. We tipped the farmer generously before Billy picked us up. And Billy probably paid next to nothing for the rice.
So that’s the story of how we got ripped off by Billy in China.
But on that same trip, when we were hanging out in Zhongwei one evening, as the only westerners (and an interracial couple at that) we were sitting having dinner. And a group of women out for a girl’s night paid for our dinner and insisted on taking us for karaoke. They spoke no English and got a young kid who spoke English to ask us. We played Chinese drinking games, sang in English while they sang in Mandarin, and had the best time.
China can be exciting in all the worst and best ways.
2. Stay Healthy Or Suffer
I’ve lived in China off and on for four years and have tons of stories.
Since we’ve gotten here, we’ve been sick. All of us, a lot. We just hit our 5 month mark the other day and: I’ve been sick with a cold 3 times, had a crazy mystery dizzy illness for about 2 weeks, and am just getting over some sort of week long tummy bug. Brandon has had 2 colds, bronchitis, and the flu. Jude has had 3 colds as well… We generally don’t go to the doctor when sick.
If you are wondering why we don’t go to the doctor, let me try to explain. Whenever one of us gets sick the medical staff in China says “Oh, yeah, the weather isn’t great right now.” They said that in January in the cold with no heat, they said that in March and April in moderate weather, and they said that in May when it was getting into the 90’s. No one will acknowledge that a cold is caused by a virus. I hate to say that my good friend Wing’s idea of what causes a cold doesn’t inspire me to go to her doctors. When her daughter caught a cold, Wing told me it was from swimming. I talked to her about it and told her it wasn’t possible to get a cold from swimming, but her logic was infallible. If you go swimming and start coughing later that night, it has to be from the swimming. One of the other reasons we don’t like the doctors here is because they are overly fond of using IV’s. Any time you go to a hospital they have a huge area dedicated to people sitting around in plastic lawn chairs with IV bags hooked up above them. For the longest time I had no idea what was in them…Wing would just say it was medicine. Recently I talked to one of the foreigners we know and he had been sick for quite some time. He said he went in for the IV and they gave him an entire bottle of Robitussin through it.
1. A Wild Throwdown With An Elderly Woman
I traveled to China about a decade ago, sometime not long before the Olympics, and remember a scene standing in line at the Beijing train station. I remember people on big microphones telling everyone to remain calm, stand in line, and be civil.
I was queuing for a ticket purchase in a ridiculously long line at the ticket booth. In front of me, a younger woman tried to sidle her way and cut in line in front of an older woman. The old woman started getting angry at the cutter. They started screaming at each other and out of nowhere the old woman dropped her shopping bags and went into a melee fury on the line cutter. I’ll never forget her viciously attacking this lady in a split second. When the crowd decided to intervene the young woman came out of the pile torn to shreds and wounded severely all over.
The old woman just picked up her bags and got right back in line.