I did my research before I visited China.
So I thought I was well prepared for what I should expect.
But this is China we’re talking about.
You never know what to expect.
So here’s my list of 23 unexpected things to know before visiting China.
1 – ENTER THE COUNTRY WITH A VPN.
If you want to access any Social Media or Google related sites you’ll need a VPN.
But you need to install it before you enter the country.
Some VPN’s are blocked in China.
So you have to do some research on VPN’s that actually work over there.
ExpressVPN is the one I used and apparently it’s the best one for China.
I heard VyprVPN is also really good in China too.
2 – ALWAYS HAVE YOUR PASSPORT WITH YOU.
You don’t need to carry it because you’ll be stopped on the streets or anything like that.
But some attractions you visit might ask to see it before they sell you a ticket.
And all train stations will need to check it if you’re buying a train ticket.
China likes to keep tabs on everyone.
So they want to know who’s going where and when.
3 – EVERY VEHICLE WILL RUN YOU OVER.
In China the biggest vehicle wins.
And people are smaller than all vehicles.
So don’t test your luck.
Crossing the road in China is a risky game, even if you have the right of way through a crosswalk.
Always watch the cars around you.
I saw plenty of cars go through red lights and come barreling at me without any hesitation to tap on the brakes.
I mentioned this to some of my couchsurfing hosts and they told me something even crazier.
“If you get hit by a car in China, the driver might actually drive over you again.
Because it’ll be cheaper for them to pay for your funeral than to pay for your medical bills.”
So keep that in mind when you’re crossing streets in China.
4 – SIDEWALKS AREN’T JUST FOR PEOPLE.
If there was ever a time where I was almost hit by a motorcycle it was while I was walking on a sidewalk.
I actually had someone drive up behind me and honk.
And I could tell it wasn’t one of those “Hey I’m just letting you know I’m behind you” honks.
It was a “get out of my way” honk.
The road right next to us was completely open, but how dare ME be in his way on the SIDEWALK.
5 – DON’T ASSUME PEOPLE ARE BEING RUDE TO YOU.
When you experience rudeness in China(within a matter of minutes) don’t think it’s only directed to you.
“Manners” in China are basically to be rude to everyone.
It’s just the way things are there.
If your country had to deal with 1.3 billion people, instead of millions, I’m sure people wouldn’t be that nice either.
The funniest rudeness in China are the old women entering a subway train.
They’ll push and shove ANYONE to get to a seat first.
They don’t want to be standing for the ride, so they’ll fight for that seat.
6 – SPITTING AND BLOWING SNOT ROCKETS.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the constant spitting in China.
It’s something to be aware of when you’re walking around a bunch of people on a sidewalk.
But prepare yourself for the snot rockets.
That’s when your reflexes really need to be at their peak performance.
Without a doubt, the grossest shit I saw in China was the amount of snot rockets people would blow onto the ground.
Here’s a nice story to gross you out: One time I saw a guy shoot snot into his hand and then fling it onto the ground.
Make sure you packed your hand sanitizer.
Another time I was on a 90 minute bus ride and a woman kept sticking her head out the window to spit.
She was doing this about every 20-30 seconds for the ENTIRE bus ride.
When I finally got off the bus it looked like a wet dog shook itself off right next to the bus.
7 – ALWAYS CARRY TISSUES WITH YOU.
Don’t carry these tissue to offer it to snot blowing locals.
They won’t use it.
Carry the tissues for yourself.
Because many places don’t have toilet paper in their restrooms.
Your hostel and hotels most likely will.
But restaurants and rest areas will probably not have any.
You can purchase small packets of tissues at shops all over the country, so you’re never too far from any.
Just make sure you have them on you when the chilies kick in and you have to sprint to the nearest toilet.
8 – BE PREPARED FOR SQUAT TOILETS.
Keeping on the topic of restrooms.
Don’t expect everywhere to have western toilets.
I was pleasantly surprised that there were more western toilets than I expected.
But I still came across a lot of squat toilets.
9 – REAL CHINESE FOOD IS SPICY(and sometimes too oily).
I was quite pleased to learn that real Chinese food is full of spices.
Most dishes have a reasonable amount of spice that really brings out the flavor.
But other dishes brought the spice level up that I don’t think most foreigners could handle it.
Luckily for me I have a high spice tolerance.
I was able to hang with the spiciest of dishes.
I impressed quite a few locals.
One thing me and the locals weren’t too fond of was the oiliness of certain meals.
You usually only have to worry about that with noodle dishes.
Some locals told me they’ll only eat certain meals once a week because they don’t want to consume too much oily food.
The Oily and Spicy food of China is another reason why #7 is so important.
10 – MOST RESTAURANTS DON’T HAVE ENGLISH MENUS.
I came across this one a lot.
But lucky for us non-Character readers a lot of restaurants have pictures of their dishes on the wall.
Those were the places I mostly went to.
I’d just walk in, point at something on the wall, and then it’d arrive.
No exchange of words. Very simple.
11 – MORE PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH THAN YOU EXPECT.
Now don’t go there thinking everyone speaks English.
Far from it.
There’s not nearly as many English speakers as Thailand or Malaysia.
But there were more than I expected and it was surprising.
English is a mandatory class in the schools there.
So some people might know basic English.
On more than one occasion I had a person walk up to me on the street and have a 10 minute conversation with me.
For no other reason than to just practice their English.
12 – SAY GOODBYE TO PERSONAL SPACE.
China is a crowded place.
So it makes sense that tourist attractions and public transportation can get crowded.
But I didn’t expect people to shove selfie sticks in my face and take pictures.
That was unexpected.
Sometimes the lack of personal space can be funny.
If you’re blonde or a redhead you might have some people that want to touch your hair.
And they are not shy about walking up to you and doing that.
Once on a train, I had a family of 5 completely turned around in their seats looking over their head rests staring at me.
That was weird.
13 – CHINESE CAN COUNT TO 10 ON ONE HAND.
It’s actually quite cool.
I learned it before I arrived and it definitely helped when I was at a market and food didn’t have a price tag.
I only knew how to say 1-3 in Chinese.
So whenever something was more I’d use my hands for it.
Some locals were quite impressed that I knew what 9 was on one hand.
14 – CHEAP DELICIOUS FRUIT EVERYWHERE.
I was in Japan before I went to China.
And in Japan almost all the fruit is imported, so it’s really expensive.
The only reasonably priced fruit was apples and bananas.
But when I went to China there was cheap fruit EVERYWHERE.
There was also a lot of fruit I had never seen before either.
So I had to try them all.
Most of the fruit I had in China was cheap.
But I bought some grapes from one market and they were really expensive.
So maybe stay away from the grapes.
And indulge in their mangosteens, lychees, and longan instead.
15 – THE DREADED CHINESE SMOG.
I heard the horror stories of Chinese smog and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
The night I arrived in Beijing it was thick.
I could see it hanging around the street lights.
There was even a guy on the subway wearing a gas mask that looked similar to Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.
But then I woke the next morning and it was gone for the entire week I was in the city.
The only other place I experienced bad smog was in Chengdu.
But as soon as I was outside of the city it was gone.
Most of my time in China the skies were nice and blue.
I was suprised by the lack of smog.
Sometimes it’s thicker during certain times of the year.
So I must have been very lucky for the 2 months I was there.
16 – TRAIN STATIONS ARE A PAIN IN THE ASS.
Traveling around China was actually easier than I expected.
Their train system is also completely amazing and on par with the bullet trains of Japan.
But the train station set-up and functionality was a pain in the ass every time.
Just know you should probably arrive at a train station 2 hours before your trains departure.
17 – THERE’S SECURITY EVERYWHERE.
When you go to any airport, train station, bus station, or even the sidewalks around Tianamen Square you will have your luggage scanned.
There’s also security walking around everywhere.
China doesn’t like to have civil unrest, so they’re always watching.
18 – SOME OF THE MOST IMPRESSIVE MOUNTAINS.
I thought Switzerland had amazing mountains and then I saw China’s.
I was blown by some of the mountain ranges China has.
They make Switzerland’s look tiny.
China also has great hikes through some of these mountain ranges.
So if you love mountains China is a great place to visit.
19 – DOWNLOAD WECHAT.
Since China has all social media blocked they created their own(that they can monitor).
It’s named WeChat.
WeChat is the most popular social app in China.
It’s a multi-app too.
You can use it like Instagram, GrubHub, WhatsApp, ApplePay, and more.
More people in China will have WeChat than they will WhatsApp.
So if you want to stay in touch with people you meet in China WeChat is the way to go.
20 – WIFI PASSWORDS ARE ALL THE SAME.
Not everywhere, obviously.
But a lot of restaurants have the same Wifi password.
If you’re at a place that has Free Wifi always try 88888888.
Apparently 8 is a lucky number in China.
And everyone wants to have luck, so a lot of the Wifi passwords are the number 8 eight times.
21 – CHINESE PEOPLE LOVE TO DANCE.
You’ll see it everywhere.
Parks are a very common area for groups of older women to be dancing around.
But you’ll still see it in any open area.
Sometimes at night there will be couples dancing together.
The places I saw it most where in Xi’an and Chengdu.
22 – NAME BRANDS ARE FAKE.
This one isn’t unexpected, it’s just much more rampant than I thought.
Almost every single name brand item you see for sale at street markets is completely fake.
Your best chance of finding legit name brand items are in the malls.
But even then you can’t be too sure.
You’ll even see “Apple” Stores in some Chinese cities, but they are not real Apple stores.
China really doesn’t care about Intellectual Property Laws.
So, shop at your own risk.
A lot of Chinese will actually travel to Hong Kong and go shopping in those malls for real name brand items.
That way they know for sure the stuff is legit.
23 – CHINA HAS THE GREATEST ICE CREAM BAR EVER.
I have no idea what the name of it, but I added some photos.
I had one almost every day I was in China.
The one with plain chocolate core is the best.
Hopefully this list helps you prepare for what you might expect when you travel to China.
And I’m sure while you’re there you might experience 23 other things that should be on this list.
China is a very interesting place with a lot of things that people from the western world might find odd.
But that’s part of what makes China such a fascinating country to visit.
What are some of the unexpected things you noticed when you were visiting China?
Let me know in the comments below.
My name is Jeremiah and I'm a photographer from Arizona.
I'm always in search of picturesque landscapes and adrenaline pumping adventure.
Follow me as I show you What and What Not to do when visiting new places in search of Cheap Travel and Cheap Thrills.
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