Observations From China

To anyone who has traveled to China, or is familiar with Chinese culture, these things may not be unusual. However, we saw some things while in China that we thought were noteworthy. We spent time in Beijing (northern China), Nanning and Guilin (south central), and Guangzhou (southeast), and most of these things applied everywhere.

• Smoking everywhere

The United States has really cleaned up in the last decade or so. In contrast, people smoke all over the place in China. On the way in and out of bathrooms, you’d pass multiple people with lit cigarettes in their hands. In restaurants, you’d have people smoking at tables, right under “No Smoking” signs.

• Light switches generally flip down to turn lights on

Maybe this only bothers my slight OCD, but I thought it was strange. Also, the light switches for the bathrooms were always outside of the bathroom door, not inside.

• Traffic is out of control

This is one you’ve probably heard of, but it’s all true. There is no regard for lanes. Often the lanes on a two-lane road were wide, and I figured this is because you’d often have three lanes of moving traffic due to people passing and weaving all the time. In dense areas, if you need to merge into road, or just generally get somewhere else on the road, you simply move in that direction and fit into whatever spot people make. Also, in Nanning and Guilin, there were TONS of scooters. There was as much road space for scooters as there was for cars/buses. There are parking lots where you can park for 1 yuan per day, and the WalMart parking lot was very unique.


The scooter lot at WalMart.

The scooter lot at WalMart.

One of many public lots for scooters

One of many public lots for scooters

 Here’s a little video shot in Nanning. It’s a little blurry after a while, but it gives a glimpse of what the scooters are like.

• Lines don’t matter

People move through China just like the cars. Lines are not respected, so just expect people to bust in. People also don’t ease up to let you into a moving swarm of people, so you just have to start moving into the line and it all just works out.

• Everything seemed to be configured for right-handed people

Most people wouldn’t notice this, but I certainly did. I feel like there were multiple ways this manifested itself, but the one that appeared most often (every morning at breakfast) was the food serving utensils.

Serving utensils were always set up this way. Super annoying to a left-handed person.

Serving utensils were always set up this way. Super annoying to a left-handed person.

• Fog (or… smog??)

Everywhere we were in China, there was a haze. Upon arrival in Guangzhou, our guide told us he apologized for the fog, and he *assured* us it was fog, not smog. I’m a little doubtful of that, but I do think there are times when it’s clearer than what we saw.

• Access to the open internet is terrible

The internet was not stable in any of the hotels we stayed in. Maybe it was stable, and it was just that the Chinese government locks it down. We had two VPN services that we would use. Sometimes one would work, sometimes another would work. And sometimes one would work on the iPad while another worked on the laptop. Since being back I have read that China has put more preventative measures in place to block VPN access. As a side-note… baidu.com (China’s equivalent of Google) always loaded reliably.


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