Recently I listed 10 signs that you have lived in China too long. Initially strange things that I’m now used to after living here for 5 years. But what about the opposite end of the spectrum? What about the common things in China that I will never get used to? The things I can say I downright hate? Here are 5….
This is by FAR the worst thing about living in China and it’s something that bothers me more and more. I used to be able to ignore when someone hocks a loogie but now I visibly flinch and recoil when I hear that old familiar hhhhhhhhoooooooooaaaaa-aaaaa-ccccckkkk followed by a spitting sound.
Then there is the pee and the poop to deal with. Many kids don’t wear diapers, but little split-open pants to let their bums air out. So they just pee and poop wherever. And I mean wherever. I’ve seen kids pooping in the aisles of Walmart, right next to diners eating outdoors (I’ve been the diners), in the middle of a entrance in a busy business, and just about any place you can think of. Some of the more modern thinking parents dangle their kids of garbage bins as they’re defecating, but even that is few and far between. And it’s not gonna change anytime soon, as the recent peegate scandal proves. Chinese are proud of their ability of using every public space as a toilet, health and hygiene be damned.
Also, there are a lot of nose pickers here in China. How many? Well, when I conceived writing this blog post I thought to myself “I better keep an eye out for someone picking their nose to take a picture of.” Within the next 4 hours I had two such opportunities. TWO! And this was at my school, where the students tend to have a little higher level of hygiene (they don’t spit or pee on the streets…that often.)
Aside from the nose picking out in public, everybody sneezes without covering their mouths, and they cough all over everything and then when I get a cold they tell me it’s because “the weather is changeable” and because I “didn’t wear enough clothes.”
“No you little germ carriers, it’s because in the last 10 minutes I had 3 people sneeze on me, I walked through a puddle of piss and spit and that one student was picking her nose before handing in a paper,” is what I really, really want to say.
No cold water
I’ve said before that I’ve grown accustomed to hot water in restaurants and actually like it. And it’s true.
However, that being said, I can’t get used to the inability to get cold drinks here. Even on blazing hot summer days, with temps in the 100’s, the “ice drinks” are served with just a few ice cubes and most restaurants with a self-serve drink machine (like Subway) don’t even have ice in the machines. Have you ever seen a soda machine without the middle ice thing? Well, I have. Way too often. And sometimes places with ice, like convenience stores, run out and don’t bother restocking. And when you ask for extra ice in your milk tea you get maybe 10 tiny cubes instead of 8. It’s maddening. MADDENING.
If you want an exercise in humility, go clothes shopping in China. The largest ladies shoe size is usually a 7.5 or 8 (average american woman is an 8.5). What is considered average in America is freakishly, outlandishly large in china that clerks actually burst out laughing when I ask for it. “No woman has feet that big!” they say laughing. Errrr…
The only solution is to buy online (which is a crap shoot over if it will actually fit) or go to an international chain like H&M. The only problem with that is they stock only the XS and S sizes. It’s very hard to find a medium or large even in the big chains. Even at Walmart sizes are “chinese-ified” and XL is equal to America’s medium. Psychologically, buying XL underwear is a very humiliating thing.
And if you understand Chinese the experience is only enhanced by the number of clerks talking about you and commenting on everything you pick up. “She’s too fat for that,” is a comment I’ve heard way too many times for my comfort.
And international shops aren’t better. The other day I was shopping at Uniqlo and was buying a tank top for a Chinese friend. As I was checking out the woman asked me if I had double-checked all the sizes. I said I did. “You can’t return this item if the size is wrong,” she said holding up the tank top. “ok, no problem,” I said.
“So, do you like this size? Do you want to change it?” I shook my head. “Because you can’t return it once you buy it.” She continued down this path making these comments 5 times! “Bitch, you want my money or not?!” was what I felt like shouting at her. (But, you know, I’m too nice to actually say it.)
Being Stared At
Pretty much every foreigner hates this one (unless they are raging egomaniacs that like the unearned attention). In my school I can deal with it. At this point the restaurants and most of the students are used to seeing foreigners. But, outside my school, like in town or another place, it’s non-stop, constant staring.
When I recently went to Chinawood, it was the worst. People ran up to us, often singling me (with my bright blond hair) out for a picture. At one point we were in line and parents were kinda sneaking their kids up to stand next to me to take a “stealth” picture. There’s nothing more humiliating then a big family all laughing and talking about you.
I deal with it, but I never get used to it.
Random Acts of Rudeness
As I was writing this article, I took a break to go to the store. I’m taking the escalator up, and there is an older woman, at the top, just standing there. She kinda looks like she’s waiting for someone in a very nonchalant, non-worried manner, but there was no one behind me, and she stood right in the middle on the metal plate where the escalator ended. And she didn’t move when people reached the top. We all had to kinda squeeze by her to walk into the store. WTF, lady?!
People are doing all these little rude things all the time. China doesn’t have a culture of paying attention to others and doing helpful things like holding open doors, or giving an old person your seat on the bus. In fact it’s almost like they willfully ignore other people and as a result you get things like one person on the steps in a bus talking to another person at the door, both unwilling to budge as you try to enter the bus. Or, in a store when you are looking at a shelf of items and someone squeezes in right in front of you blocking your entire view. Or someone entering a building right in front of you and slamming the door in your face. This constant lack or respect for people can, at time be freeing (I am now a master elbower and can fight my way onto any bus) but mostly it just sets off a Bad China Day.
These are things I’ll never get used to or like no matter how long I live here.
I can relate. 🙂 While there are many things I like about Shanghai, my husband and I are with you on the “when someone hocks a loogie but now I visibly flinch and recoil when I hear that old familiar hhhhhhhhoooooooooaaaaa-aaaaa-ccccckkkk followed by a spitting sound.” My husband gets really nervous and look around in horror. :O! My husband may know the language but he has a tougher time to adapt than I do. I’ve said this before, he has way more culture shock in China than in the US. Me? I had bronchitis too many times I can count due to the pollution. I went to the doctor and he said that was the cause. It doesn’t help I have asthma. I would get an asthma attack and almost collapse on the sidewalk. I do wear a mask when I go out. 🙂 My husband also now has asthma attacks and he never had one since childhood.
I usually don’t get people to comment on my weight because so many locals here in Shanghai are much bigger than me, so…they truly can’t say much. I still should lose weight I’ve gained, though. xD
Geez, that’s scary about the asthma attacks. I didn’t come to China with any sort of respiratory problems, but I’m sure I have some now. I was doing a yoga DVD today and the lady said “take a deep breath in,” and I started hacking like crazy. (And I don;t have a cold or anything right now.) But then again, I can’t tell what is a result of talking loud while teaching, which does hurt my throat and my scratchy throat makes me cough more often, and what is pollution.
As for the hygiene, have you noticed ear picking? I just heard it’s the reason many Chinese men keep one fingernail long… Please, tell me I’m wrong! You kinda opened my eyes when it gets to catching cold, it never occured to me that all the kids with snot hanging down and their hawking parents have anything to do with it…
Is shopping for clothes really such a challenge for you? You don’t strike me as one of those giant lumbering laowais as you don’t look much bigger than the Chinese people around you in your photos.
Regarding the long finger nail on the pinky finger, it’s actually kept out of a superstitious belief that it protects the man from devious, unscrupulous people (i.e. 防小人). But yes, being the eminently practical people that they are, Chinese men also use the pinky nail to pick their ears. You won’t see this on the younger generation of Chinese men, though.
Yeah, e-phoenix. I’m a solid medium in america, and only 5’5″ I’m pretty average height even in china, but my body is just built so differently. I have a small waist, bigger hips, and medium thighs. Clothes for chinese people all have a small waist and just go straight down from there. So I have to buy mens pants which are way too long (and way too big in the waist) just to get them over my hips. I guess it’s more a distribution of weight than a major size difference. But I have never been able to buy female pants in China, even at the major chains. I always have to buy mens pants.
And regarding ear picking I don’t see it so much. One of my students had a little metal picking tool on his keychain and one class he was going to town (and then digging into his friends ear after) which grossed me out. (He kindly offered to do mine to, haha.)
I’ve seen the long pinky also used as a nose picker. My little hairdresser sometimes has a long pinky but he says it’s for parting hair, and I’ve seen other hairdressers do it too.
Haha… Your student actually offered to pick your ears?!
BTW (you probably know this already), ear picks actually don’t work well for white (and black) people because the earwax of white people is moist with more of a waxy texture. Which is why white people typically use a cotton swab to clean the ears. The earwax of Asian people is dry and flaky, so people in countries like China, Korea and Japan use ear picks.
Next time a student offers to pick your ears, you can politely decline by explaining that your earwax is not suited for picking. 🙂
Actually E-phoenix, I had no idea of the different kinds of earwax! Thats good to know. But if someone offers to pick my ears again I’ll probably just look disgusted cover my ears and run away mockingly scared like I did last time. 🙂
Yes agree with your 5 above and I have another one to add, it falls under hygiene – sanitary pads (sorry) in public WC, they are left open in full view for everyone to see, I know public places don’t have sanitary bins but even so I don’t understand why the used pads can’t be folded/wrapped and disposed off. Actually it even happens in my work place, sanitary pads thrown into the waste bin in full view.