Before I came here I read loads of guide books. You know the sort of thing “An Ex-Pat’s guide to China”, “Living in China, the facts”. Well some of them are useful but there are a list of things that are grossly simplistic, half true or just downright wrong. Here are 5.

1. Buses. “Take taxis not buses. Buses are hot, smelly, crowded and downright dangerous. And watch your wallet”. I paraphrase but only a little. 

The buses in my neck of the woods are great. I’ve been on a few now and they don’t smell, the air con is good and I’ve never been on a bus anywhere near as crowded as the London Underground at rush hour. Plus they’re fun because they bounce about a bit but that’s the speed bumps.  I suppose what might put some people off is that the drivers are constantly honking their horns. But that’s a Chinese thing not just bus drivers. And I’ve now learnt that the connotation is different. It’s not so much “get out of my way you bastard” more “Hi guys, here I am ! Do you like my bus/car/scooter/bicycle ?”

And best of all, every journey costs 1¥ however far you go. That’s about 10p in old money. Oh and I’d trust my wallet not getting nicked on a Chinese bus any day to an English one. 

2. “Before you come to China stock up on anti-perspirant and soap. If not you’ll probably have to go to Beijing or Guanzho to get some”. 

Er……..about 300 yards from my dorm (we call them dorms) there is a little shop that sells anti-perspirant and three different kinds of soap. My favourite smells like Imperial Leather. 

3. “Never ever EVER stick your chopsticks vertically into your rice. You see that’s a sign of death in Chinese Culture”. 

Ooh er missis. Well I’ve done what we Sociology types call “Field Experiments”. Admittedly the field is hardly typical being a university campus but nobody seems to give a bugger. That last bit is a technical phrase of course. 

4.  “Be sure to be punctual for appointments in China.  Otherwise Chinese people will get a tad irritated”

This is an interesting one because again, according to my admittedly small scale research, the truth seems to be the perfect inverse of the proposition. 

5. “Chinese people will constantly stare at you and say hello. They will want your picture. It’s VERY irritating. Not so much in Beijing or Shanghai but in the more rural areas…….”

Well, I live in the sticks and very very occasionally I’m stared at. I smile, say hello and they say hello back. That’s not too awful is it ? ………Although to be fair one night I was sitting at a bar drinking Tsingdao and contemplating the meaning of life when an arm appeared in front of me and wrapped itself round my neck !! The gentleman concerned then produced his camera in his other hand and took a selfie. I think he might have had too much Tsingdao but it’s difficult to imagine that. You’d drown in it before you got drunk on it. 

8 thoughts on “5 things most of the Guide books and blogs get wrong about China ”

  1. Nicely put. So much of the travel guide stuff I read was patronising and rather self satisfied.

      1. I will think on it. The two that come immediately to mind is the advise not to eat street food and the observations that children regularly crap in the streets.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Welcome back to China – this is a good list!

    1. You’re right the travel books made buses sound so scary that I actually never rode one.

    2. I picked up “Fa” deodorant with no issues. It was a throwback style with a glass container and a roller ball, which was great. My only precaution in this category was to take a new bottle of make-up foundation as I have a super fair complexion, but I saw more than one store with a full range of shades so this was unnecessary.

    However, I would recommend to bring a stash of an item if you’re attached to a particular brand; but overall, the Chinese use everything we use in the west!

    3. I read that too, but took a different strategy by carefully watching others; I never saw a Chinese person do it.

    4. Totally agree, westerners seem more uptight about time than Chinese – at least socially.

    5. I noticed many staring and a few who took a surreptitious photo, but nothing close to the point of annoying in the selfie department. What a funny guy you met at the bar!

  3. Deodorant and sunscreen have always been pretty hard for me to find in China. Even when I do find them, they can have surprise ingredients like skin whiteners or random irritants. Soap’s never been a problem, Chinese people need to wash too!

    The advice about being punctual (HAHAHAHA) and avoiding buses almost seems like a joke on new expats, though.

  4. OMG Meg – there are products with skin whiteners? Do you know the ingredient name for that? I suppose the good news is that I really don’t think I can get any whiter than I already am. LOL

    Mark, happy to share Alaskan weather with you. Am wearing a heavy sweater today in the mountains, for a final trip before classes resume next week.

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