David Smith

Updated November 16, 2018
By David Smith

Old Chinese man carrying vegetables

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit a new place? Maybe even a new country?

Oftentimes, it is easy to forget that not every other place looks just like, or works just like, how things do at home. Even something as simple as McDonald’s might disappear when you travel abroad.

So, while going overseas to teach or do an internship is really exciting, it is natural to feel a bit nervous as you ponder on what unexpected encounters await you.

China, in particular, is full of such encounters, some of which you might find quite quirky while others might seem a bit daunting at first.

Here are five of the most unexpected things you will encounter in China.

1. You will find some Western culture in China

There are several aspects of Chinese culture that do not come close to reflecting Western culture, but there are also some aspects that are similar.

This is actually one of the best things about going to China; you get to experience a new culture while still enjoying some of the creature comforts from back home.

Although it might not be exactly what you are used to, you will be able to find restaurants and other activities that will remind you a lot of home. For example, in most cities in China you’ll be able to find a decent steak restaurant where you can eat your meal in absolute comfort with a knife and fork.

You can find steak and knife and fork in China.

You can find Western culture in China like eating steak with a knife and fork.

2. Chinese people might want to take a picture with you

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be famous? Well, as a foreigner in China, you might just find out.

Believe it or not, countless Chinese people have gone their entire lives without seeing many foreigners. This is especially common if they are tourists from a small village visiting a larger Chinese city. So, if you are a foreigner, just be prepared to have your photo taken.


Since they are seeing a foreigner for the first time, they are anxious to document their experience and will not ask permission to do so either.

But, if you are an Asian foreigner, you might be asked to take the picture rather than be in it as they might assume you are the Chinese tour guide rather than a tourist yourself!

3. They love branding

From Apple logos in their shaved head to a fake Michael Kors purse, the Chinese love a good brand – real or fake – as long as it is famous.

In China, they perceive wearing brands as being of a higher status, so they represent them well. But, if you really want to see something unexpected, be on the lookout for those who mash two or even three brands together.

You might come across a Coach-Apple product or a Burberry-Nike product! Now, wouldn’t that be something to write home about?


4. The near-death street crossing experiences

You have probably seen a few people jaywalk in your life. It's especially common in big cities like New York or Los Angeles. Typically though, vehicles are on the lookout for pedestrians.

In China, a green light means you can cross, but keep an eye out for those cars that will still run you over – despite how safe you think it is.

They – cars, motorcycles and bikes – tend to just use red lights as a suggestion to stop, so even though you might have the right of way, you still might have a car blaze through the red light right in your direction.

Busy street crossing in Shanghai China.

Red traffic lights are more a 'suggestion' in China.

Always check both ways before you walk and while you walk… or run.

5. The public bathrooms are very public indeed

You are probably used to the typical bathroom experience: you walk into a room and there are a few stalls with toilet paper.

You either wait your turn if they are all full or go into your respective stall if one is empty. So, in fact, our public bathrooms are still quite private – they are just public because it is in a public place, not your home.

However, in China, their bathrooms earn every sense of the word ‘public’.

Unless you are in a more Westernized city, you may get to experience a bathroom with no stalls and no toilet paper. It is literally just a room with a few toilets lined up.

An old public toilet without privacy in China.

An old public toilet in China.

And, you are expected to bring your own toilet paper. So, if you have an upset stomach, you might want to stay at home for the day!

Experience China in all its glory

So, while some of these occurrences might be humorous and others might be a bit overwhelming, it is all a part of truly experiencing China.

Just think of all the stories you will be able to return home with! From the overly public bathrooms to the little bits of home along the way, it is all what a true intercultural experience is like.

What were the most unexpected things you encountered on your first trip to China? Share your stories with us in the comments!

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