8 Incredible Differences I Encountered While Traveling in China

I am still in shock that I got to travel halfway around the world and immerse myself in a culture that is so different from my own.  Who would’ve thought that little ole me would’ve ever had the courage to go to China and take my kiddos along?  A little over a year ago it wasn’t even a destination on my radar, but when your friends get transferred there for work you have to take advantage of the opportunity, right?

Going into this, I didn’t really know what I would encounter in terms of cultural differences.  I knew China was a communist nation and a developing country, but other than that I didn’t have many expectations.  But, boy were my eyes opened!  Here’s a list of the 8 ways China was so different than my life back home in America (and keep in mind that there’s no judgment in my list – simply a report):

1) Social media is prohibited.

That’s right.  No Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  Heck, even Google isn’t allowed.  I have gmail for my email service and even that didn’t work since it’s linked to Google.  Although it was fantastic to disconnect, I was disappointed that I couldn’t even check in with my family and friends back home or send pictures of our adventures.  And to be “told” what I couldn’t do was a bit off-putting.  I know…I’m spoiled.

2) Drinking water is scarce.

Just like other developing countries, you can’t get a drink of water out of the faucet (or in my case, out of the refrigerator tap).  For someone who’s used to drinking 75 ounces of water a day, this was really difficult for me.  I’m so used to going to the fridge every few hours to fill up my water bottle, but that is just not an option there.  You have to buy bottled water, and often times we were places that didn’t sell it.  So I had to be very careful with the water I did have so I didn’t run out.  I could tell I was dehydrated by day 2 and it lasted until we came home.  I had 50 ounces within the first 2 hours of arriving at our doorstep if that tells you anything.  Again, I’m spoiled and I know it.

3) The restrooms are, let me just say, different.

Using the restroom was definitely an experience. I was afraid my daughter was never going to use the bathroom while we were out and about, but she was a trooper and eventually just jumped right in with the locals.  So let me show you what an average public toilet looks like in China.

toiletYep, just a hole in the ground.  You’d think aiming wouldn’t be that hard, but it took some skill.  And the fact that this one had toilet paper was a huge plus.  Toilet paper and soap were seldom supplied (napkins were non-existent as well).  Believe me, my OCD was in full effect – good thing I took tons of hand sanitizer and travel tissues.   One time we had to make an emergency stop at a gas station for my daughter.  When I thought the women’s was out of order, I took a quick peek in the men’s to see if she could use it.  That was an unfortunate idea – I got to see a man squatting (so you know what he was doing….).  Awesome.

What do you think of this picture?  I cracked up when I saw this on one of the stall doors.

toilet sign

4) The traffic might be crazier than New York City.

So you know how we wait for a left turn arrow or turn left across traffic when there’s a break in the flow?  Yeah, it doesn’t really happen that way in China.  If you get a green light, you just go, even if cars are coming straight at you.  You just turn into the mass of traffic and pray the people coming toward you will stop.  And sometimes cars didn’t stop at red lights; they just kept on driving right through it.  The driving lanes were kind of optional too.  Cars would drive half in one lane, half in another, or they’d pass on the shoulder. And the honking!  I heard a honk every couple of seconds.  Our driver told us there was a “language” for the honks.  One long honk meant to get out of the way!  Two short ones meant thank you.   My hubby drove in England on the other side of the road, and I thought that was pretty adventurous.  There’s no way I’d try to drive myself around or want him to drive in China though – my heart might stop. And that leads me to my next difference.

5) Having a driver and maid/cook is very common.

Need to go somewhere?  Just call up the driver.  24 hours a day, 7 days a week many families have drivers that are at their beck and call.  That didn’t take long to get used to.  Each evening we told our driver, Mr. Ren, what time to pick us up the next morning.  Most of the things we wanted to see were an hour away, but we just relaxed and talked while he battled the traffic.  Then when we got to our destination, we told him where and when to pick us up.  Pretty nice, huh?

Our friends also had something called and Ayi (eye-EEE).  She would come for a few hours each day to pick up, do some laundry, cook dinner, and do dishes.  Wow, that would sure come in handy!  But it’s almost normal there.  Wouldn’t you like someone to come in and help you every day?  I’m sure it would be triple the salary here in the states.

6) Bartering occurs almost daily.

Good grief!  I’m not one to shy away from bartering.  My hubby and I have done it many times in Europe when we were looking to buy paintings from street painters.  But generally that’s the only time we did it.  In China, almost everything can be bartered for.  We bartered for soccer jerseys, a sweatshirt for my daughter, an iPhone case, a stuffed panda bear, a dragon/turtle with ancient Chinese writing on it (don’t ask…my son got hooked on it for his souvenir) and t-shirts.  When we came off the Great Wall of China, I went to buy drinks and guess what?  I totally paid more than my friend who bought drinks right before us.  I didn’t think that was something to barter for.  It was fun to barter at first, but then I just wanted to say, “Just tell me the price without all the back and forth!”  It kind of got exhausting.  I didn’t like wondering if I got the best deal or if they were trying to cheat me (or vice versa).  I’m glad most things are fixed prices here.

7) Their religious beliefs are fascinating.

You can’t go far in China without running into some type of temple.  One of my favorite places in all of Beijing was called the Lama Temple.  It was actually a collection of Buddhist temples with different statues in each one.  Some had Buddha(s) in them – some had large Buddhas and some had super small ones), and some had guardian warriors.  There was a lot of talk about good fortune, good luck, praying to the past, present and future, and ridding oneself of desires.  They would burn 3 sticks of incense while they bowed and prayed to Buddha. I witnessed this act almost every day I was in Beijing.  While it was very different than my Christian views, it was extremely interesting to learn about their beliefs.


Praying to Buddha.

8) It is SO very crowded.

Yes, I knew their population is way higher than anything I ever experienced.  But to see the rows and rows of highrise buildings one after the other made you realize just how many people live within a small space.  We don’t even realize the luxuries we have with the amount of space and privacy we get.  I know this picture isn’t fantastic since I shot it through the car window, but it gives you a glimpse of what I saw…and the buildings went on for miles like this.


The buildings were never ending.


Even though the culture in China is very different from what I’m used to, I felt very blessed to be able to experience all the new foods, ways of communicating, dressing, dancing, and worshipping.  It opened my eyes to more than just my own world and allowed me to see the beauty in something that was so different.  It’s an experience I will never forget.

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