Lessons from China

September 25, 2011 Tessa Bradford 10 comments

China is crazy, chaotic, and confusing. But once you spend a bit of time here it starts to make a little bit more sense.

A few things for you to keep in mind if you ever head over:

  • Use your elbows! People don’t stand in lines, they push. And if you don’t push back then you will miss your subway, spend ten minutes trying to get on the escalator, and never get to the counter to pay.
  • Spitting is normal. I have a rough time with this one. But see that professional, well-dressed woman strutting in her high heels? Don’t be shocked when she suddenly hocks a loogie and spits it on the street.
  • Watch out for cars! Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way, and traffic laws are more like traffic suggestions, so just because the lights say it’s your turn does NOT mean that it’s your turn. Your best bet is to just be aware which direction traffic should be coming from, wait for a gap, and dart across the lane. Take it lane by lane till you get to the other side. If you’re unfortunate enough to not be paying attention, expect a “gentle nudge” from the oncoming bus, and for them to lay on their horn until you move along.
  • Bargain hard. You can get things for ridiculously cheap prices, but you need to be willing to piss off the salesperson or have someone laugh in your face at your price suggestions. This is a skill I have not mastered; I still rely on people who can speak a lot more Chinese than me. And if something is already cheap, then there’s a catch.
  •  Be patient. If you need to get something done, plan to have it take you the rest of the day. Especially if it has anything to do with a bureaucratic system in any way, shape, or form. And when you’ve been standing in line for two hours and the guy at the counter leisurely goes to take his seventh smoke break, take a deep breath. You’ve still got three more hours until it’s your turn, and then you will have the wrong paperwork and need to start the process over again tomorrow anyways.
  • Check out the side streets. In the busier areas where they see Westerners all day long no one is going to have patience when you butcher a sentence in Chinese, but go down a few streets to the fully-Chinese areas, walk into a restaurant and watch the waiter light up and happily help you with a menu, and sometimes you’ll go down a few deserted alleyways and suddenly stumble into your new favorite place to eat.

10 Comments on “Lessons from China

  1. It’s funny how quickly pushing in becomes second nature after a while here isn’t it? You notice the difference if you travel from HongKong to the mainland. I always said I wanted to take Chinese people onto the metro in HK to show the how much better it works when you wait for people to get off the train before you push your way on.

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