Top 10 "interesting" experiences

By Chase Warrington (
Updated: 2007-07-06 14:36

Beijing is an interesting place to visit, especially as the city gears up for the Olympics. There are plenty of sights to see, like the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, and the Summer Palace just to name a few.
There is no doubt that next year, when people from around the world arrive in the Chinese capital, they will be impressed. But what types of things will shock them? What will westerners, who come to Asia for the first time, consider rude or socially awkward? What will westerners experience for the first time in Beijing?

I have created a list, from a westerner's point of view, of the top 10 most "interesting" first experiences in China.

10. People squatting on the side of the street. I still cannot understand how this is comfortable, because I don't think my knees will support me in this stance. But the Chinese love to squat, so maybe we should give it a try.

9. It is quite common to see men standing outside with their shirts rolled up, exposing their torso. At first sight a westerner might think this is a joke, but they will soon realize that this is part of everyday life in Beijing.

8. Dining in China is different for a few reasons, one of which is table manners. In western countries we are taught to never bring yourself to your food, but to bring the food to you. In China, it is perfectly acceptable (or so it seems) to bring the bowl to your mouth to eat. We may think it is rude in our countries, but when in China, do as the Chinese do.

7. One thing that has been really difficult to get used to is the fact that it is okay to spit in public, and let everyone know you are doing it in the process. Any foreigner who has been here for longer than a day will tell you that it is somewhat disgusting to hear someone getting everything in their mouth together so that they can get it out. I'm sure we have all done it before, but publicly and shamelessly, probably not.

6. Attentive service in China is normal and I have definitely appreciated it -- in restaurants. When I am out shopping, I don't want to be followed by a salesperson as I browse the racks. Chinese salespeople think they need to persuade you to buy something, whereas in a western country they will provide help when service is requested.

5. Standing in line for a bus, subway, or anything for that matter, can be exhausting in China. It always seems to be a race to get there first so don't expect anyone to hold the door for you, or let you go before them. I think most people coming to China for the first time will adapt to this quickly, but they may be a little shocked at first.

4. It seems normal in China to spit bones from fish or meat back onto the table. While eating in a western country it is rarely acceptable to take food out of your mouth. If something doesn't taste good, sometimes we will bring a napkin to our mouth (although very discreetly) and spit it out into the napkin. It may be a little difficult to get used to at first, but when you think about it, it looks better than putting it back on your plate.

3. The first time I saw a baby wearing the split bottom pants I thought it was cute. The first time I saw why they wore the split bottom pants I was appalled. I was in the Summer Palace and there was a baby beside me squatting and using the bathroom through the hole. We are used to diapers, plain and simple.

2. Riding in a cab in China can be stressful enough, so I can't even begin to imagine driving here. It seems perfectly acceptable to have two cars in one lane, or to merge into another lane without checking your blind spot. To me, being able to turn right on a red light means it's okay if nobody is coming. In China it seems that turning right on a red means I am turning right and you should yield to me. Where I come from, if you turn out in front of another car and they have to touch their brakes, you can get a ticket. I have seen few accidents in China, and everyone is so aggressive that it is expected from other drivers.

1. And the number one most "interesting" experience in China is using a squat toilet for the first time. I guess we just figure that sitting is easier than squatting (although this may be the reason for number 10 on this list). Westerners arriving in Asia for the first time will have trouble getting used to this, but when they finally do it, they will realize that it really isn't that bad.


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