Even when it makes you uncomfortable, culture shock is a huge learning experience. Challenging everything I’ve been taught to think and believe is one of my favorite parts of traveling. Last year, when I was 18, I took all of my savings and booked a ticket to China. I guess I was livin’ that Shut Up and Go life even before being a part of the community. After leaving Chicago for a visit to China, I realized that life there is very different compared to the USA. Here are a few moments from my time in China that shocked me a bit.
Internet Restrictions (VPNs)
No Instagram? No Snapchat? Yep, that’s right. China’s government restricts access to most social media platforms. WeChat is China’s version of Facebook. Don’t worry though, you can always download a VPN to fulfil your social media needs. VPNs are able to get around the internet restrictions so that you can use whatever apps/websites you want. It is a pain but helps if you want to keep in touch with friends and family while in China. I was able to post pictures on Insta throughout my trip! Unfortunately, different VPNs do get shut down occasionally, so be careful with which one you choose!
The Bathroom Situation
This was definitely one of the hardest things to keep an open mind about, but I got over it quickly. I stayed with my cousin and his fianceé in Shanghai for the majority of my time in China. It was tight with three people living in a small apartment because it was composed of only one room with a bedroom to the side. The “bathroom” was not an actual room. There was just a swinging door with a toilet inside and the shower was in the middle of the kitchen. Oh, and the glass was see-through as well. One of the hotels we stayed in had a similar bathroom situation. You have to learn to adapt to anything when you travel, so I would wait until everyone was asleep and shower in the dark to ensure no one would accidentally look.
Squat toilets were super common in public restrooms. I did not have a problem with this at all. Actually, I think it is more sanitary in comparison to our public bathrooms in the US. Plus, squats are a good workout! In Beijing, there were toilets with no doors on them. This made me uncomfortable, and I avoided them at all costs.
I picked up a new life-skill while in China – using chopsticks! It took a lot of trial and error (and locals pointing and laughing at me), but now *I think* I have mastered the art. Now every time I go to a Chinese restaurant, I am eager to show off my chopstick abilities. Somehow, chopsticks are now easier for me than eating spaghetti with a fork.
The food was actually amazing! There are so many different cuisines by region of the country. Luckily, my guides, Matt and Yiting, were the best and introduced me to food from each region. My favorite meal in China was still Yiting’s cooking though! Something to keep in mind is that most meat dishes are not over-processed and include all parts of the animal. This is good because at least nothing is going to waste, but it is something to get used to. Despite not being able to try scorpion or Peking duck because I am a pescatarian, I was able to try lotus, bamboo, and many other foods I had never tried before. Oh, and almost all milk in the country was soy-based (thank you for that, China, sincerely, a lactose-intolerant). Another realization I had was that all fried rice, in my opinion, is the same. The fried rice I ate in China was pretty similar to that fried rice at Panda Express, shockingly.
Yes indeed, you’re hearing this right. Parents from around Shanghai gather at a park where they play matchmaker for their adult children. They put descriptions of their kids’ job, appearance, and sometimes a photo on an umbrella. There’s even an international section.
Live Tinder for parents?
China is the cutest! There are public parks all over Shanghai. These are little escapes from city-life full of green plants, flowers, and some statues. There are always a ton of old people dancing to music in the park and it is truly adorable. Groups of people practice Tai chi there as well. Old people have it so good in China! I want to grow old in one of these parks where I can start off my day with some Tai chi and end it dancing!
Foreigner. This is your new title while you’re in China. You might get stares because the locals can sense a Laowai from a mile away. At common tourist attractions such as the Forbidden City, my cousin and I had several people grab us by the arm and take selfies with us using their selfie sticks. We were so caught off guard, but it was funny.
Cats, cats EVERYWHERE
You won’t see any squirrels, but there are plenty of cats! Shanghai, specifically, had a ton of cats everywhere. You will probably hear them screeching at night too, I was not even aware that was a thing.
I’m a dog person, but one of my favorite experiences in China has to do with cats. I’ll explain… I was on my own one day exploring Shanghai, and I came across a bunch of kittens! It was raining, and I felt bad because there was this one baby cat that was soaking wet and crying at the top of his lungs. He was tiny and could barely walk, so I sat down next to him and put my umbrella over him as a cover from the rain. He stopped crying. Then, I thought, “I bet he’s cold”, so I picked him up and put him in my lap until he dried off a little. Eventually, a man came to feed the cats, so I found a dry spot for the kitten and set him down next to the food. Then he started crying more after I put him on the ground. He walked back and tried to follow me. He crawled back to me and sat on my shoe so I couldn’t leave. Eventually, I had to part with the kitten. It was such a heartbreaking and heartwarming experience at the same time.
Disclaimer: it is probably not smart to touch stray cats, but sometimes you just can’t help it.
Wow, writing this made me realize how much I miss China, even the little quirks. I can’t wait to visit again one day!
Have you ever visited a country and experienced culture shock? Tell us in the comments!