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Our 10 observations of China

Our 10 observations of China

After nearly 2 months travelling around China, we pulled together our 10 memorable observations:

#1 Better out then in!

A common sound and sight to witness, especially from Chinese men: a loud, deep snort of phlegm followed by a dramatic expulsion of said substance from the body, pretty much anywhere in public.

It was quite hard to capture this impulsively, but we managed to get this sweet old man in action:

We put this down to cultural differences.  In Europe, we’re brought up to be ashamed of bodily fluids so we hide it and swallow it.  We found that the Chinese however believe that keeping it in will make them sick and prefer to expel it and just spit it out.

#2 Easy access trousers for baby boys

This is kind of cute but absolutely disgusting at the same time.  We commonly saw little baby Chinese boys wearing open “easy access” shorts exposing their bottoms:

Easy access shorts for baby Chinese boys

Easy access shorts for baby Chinese boys

At Shanghai’s main train station, we noticed the real practical purpose of these shorts: one couple with their baby boy stopped in the middle of the busy, public hallway gate area for their sun to squat down, wee on the floor, get up and move on to catch their train!  Take care on those slippery Chinese surfaces people!!

Baby Chinese boys with open easy access shorts

We noticed that baby Chinese boys were dressed with these easy access shorts exposing their naked bottoms!

#3 Public exercising and dancing outdoors

We try to keep fit whilst travelling by finding a local park wherever we go for morning circuit exercises or some form of cardiovascular work out.

We found that in almost every public green space in China, there would also be people working out.

In Jingshan Park in Beijing, we noticed these boys practising their boxing, despite the numbers of tourists around:

The elderly in particular would meet in the morning to practice Tai Chi together.  This might be more reflective of the lower retirement ages of China (currently 60 for men and 50 for most women).

This one lady at Dali’s Yuer Park had her sword to hand and was just incredible to watch:

The most touching was noticing groups of people of all ages meeting at certain points of the day randomly just to dance with each other, like this group of people in Pingyao:

#4 Pollution and face masks

China is crazy big with many many people, with 20% of the world’s population.  But this brings a lot of pollution, covering big cities with a haze of smog.  The beautiful financial skyline line for example is almost hidden behind the pollution haze:

The haze of pollution covering the Shanghai skyline

The pollution haze covering the skyline of Shanghai’s beautiful financial district

We learnt that the pollution in China is particularly bad in Winter time when there is little or no wind to blow it away and the face masks are worn more frequently:

Wearing a face mask on the motorbike in Beijing

Rocking the face mask on the motorbike in Beijing

Some people tend to go a bit over the top with the face masks – we frequently saw a few enthusiastic wearers in the cleaner mountain towns like Dali (2,400 metres above sea level) and Shangri-La (3,200 metres above sea level).

These particular girls made us chuckle as they spent a long time trying to get this selfie perfect:

Face mask selfie in Beijing

“Gotta take a selfie!” – face masks selfie in Beijing. What’s the point?!!!

#5 Plastic bottles collected by the elderly

A common sad sight to see when travelling is plastic waste.  In China however, the government has a clever initiative in place to minimise plastic bottles wastage.  People (usually the elderly) collect the plastic bottles found anywhere and can exchange this for money, keeping the country that little bit cleaner:

Elderly lady collecting plastic bottles at Beijing's Forbidden City

An elderly lady collecting plastic bottles from the bins at Beijing’s Forbidden City

An old man searching for and collecting plastic bottles in Beijing's Lama Temple keeping the city clean

An old man searching for and collecting plastic bottles in Beijing’s Lama Temple

#6 Free public toilets are everywhere in China!

Free public toilets are in China what vending machines are to Japan – they are everywhere!

However, unlike anywhere else we have been, these toilets are free to use.

Free public toilet in Beijing - a common sight in China

Free public toilet in Beijing – a common sight in China

A free public toilet sign in Dali

A free public toilet sign in Dali

We noticed that there would be a free public toilet even in the more remote mountain areas like in the villages in the Lonji rice terraces:

Free public toilet in the remote mountain villages around the Lonji rice terraces

Free public toilet in the more remotes areas of China – here in the remote mountain villages around the Lonji rice terraces

#7 One child policy

We always knew China had a one child per family policy (the “Family Planning Policy” was introduced in 1979).  But we didn’t actually realise it was still in place and strictly enforced!

Government propaganda attempting to promote the benefits of the One Child Policy legislation

Government propaganda attempting to promote the benefits of the One Child Policy legislation

One of our friends in Beijing, Leox Woo, is a second born.  He told us that it is quite hard for family who have a second child.  The parents have to pay a hefty fine to the government called a “social maintenance fee” based on their city’s average annual post-tax income.  This obviously varies greatly between each city/area in China.

If the fine is not paid, then it means the second “black” child cannot obtain a household-registration document (“hukou”), which brings basic rights such as education.

Our Chinese friend Leox Woo, a second born, posing at the Summer Palace in Beijing

Our Chinese friend Leox Woo, a second born, posing at the Summer Palace in Beijing, who taught us a lot about China’s One Child Policy

But apparently the One Child Policy is to be laxed slowly.  For example, a couple who marry who are from no sibling families, can now have a second child for free.

#8 Dramatic glamorous hats

Hats are popular in China with both sexes.

For men we noticed hats with brand names were more popular, especially these “Ronaldino” hats:

Ronaldino hats sold in Dali, popular with Chinese men

Ronaldino hats sold in Dali, popular with Chinese men

Ok – so this observation was really more of an excuse for us to buy and show off these gorgeous hats which are sold and worn everywhere:

Purchasing beautiful Chinese hats in Pingyao

Showing off our beautiful new hats for our friend’s wedding

Sebastien got a bit upset when he realised he couldn’t quite fit his new hat and bag into his backpack:

Sebastien upset that he can't fit all his shopping items into his backpack - Dali in Yunnan Province

Sebastien upset that he can’t fit all his shopping items into his backpack

#9 Shrink wrapped cups and cutlery in restaurants

In almost every restaurant we ate in (whether a small one down a back alley, or a larger more frequented one), we noticed all cutlery and cups came wrapped in shrink wrapped plastic on the tables:

Restaurant cutlery and cups wrapped before use

Restaurant cutlery and cups wrapped before use

Cutlery and cups covered in shrink wrapped plastic in almost all restaurants in China

Cutlery and cups covered in shrink wrapped plastic in almost all restaurants in China

#10 Airport style security in most public places

Whenever we took a metro ride in any city in China, or entered a train station, or any tourist/sightseeing attraction, we had to first queue before entering and place our bags into airport X ray like machines then go through X ray scanners and usually be patted down.

This is a scene from Kunming’s main train station:

Airport style security at most of China's public buildings

Airport style security at Kunming train station

BONUS: the Chinese love having a photo with us foreigners

Our final and favourite observations about China was the enthusiasm Chinese people have towards Westerners.  Chinese tourists travelling around China in particular liked having their photo taken with us.  We obviously loved it and were always more than happy to oblige.

Posing at Beijing's Forbidden City with these excited Chinese school boys

Posing at Beijing’s Forbidden City with these excited Chinese school boys

Stefan however was strict in some cases and would only allow himself to be photographed on condition he could pose with the very dramatic sunglasses of some of the Chinese girls:

Stefan posing at Beijing's Summer Palace with these two young girls

Stefan posing at Beijing’s Summer Palace with these two young girls

Posing with these two Chinese girls at Suzhou's Jordan Gardens

Posing with these two Chinese girls at Suzhou’s Jordan Gardens

Posing near Xingping Village with this enthusiastic Chinese lady

Posing near Xingping Village with this enthusiastic Chinese lady

And it wasn’t just the young, it as all ages who wanted to have their photo taken with the foreigners:

Posing with this excited family at Xi'An's Terracotta Army statues

Posing with this excited family at Xi’An’s Terracotta Army statues

Posing with this son and mother in Xi'An

Posing with this son and mother in Xi’An

Posing with this young Chinese student in Xi'An

Posing with this young Chinese student in Xi’An

For more, watch our China travel video as we ate our way from Beijing in the North all the way to the south via Pingyao, Xi’An, Shanghai, Yangshuo through to Shangri-La:

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  1. hmm .. its awesome to c u both so close to eachother n exploring new things …
    god bless n hv a lovely life full of happiness 🙂

    • Thanks Zaroon and same to you 🙂

  2. Ha ha, this has made me chuckle. There is a lot of stuff in here we had noticed/come across in China. Although I’ve get to come across the hats… Will have to keep my eye out for them now!

    • Thanks Helen! The hats are awesome. We bought those blue/pink ones but had to eventually give them up as they were so awkward to carry in our backpacks!!

  3. Very perceptive observations! Some of the characeristics are also prevalent in other East Asian countries, such as the wearing of face masks in Japan and Korea (not only against pollution but also as protection against cold and flu bugs). When I first visited China in the 1980s there was a lot of spitting in public, but when I was there more recently, there was less (did you notice much spitting?). Concerning the one-child policy I was speaking last weekend with a Chinese friend from Beijing, who is the youngest of 3 children, and he told me that his parents had to pay a fine, so its possible to have more than one child, but it costs! looking forward to your Nepalese observations!

    • Thanks Wilfrid! Lots of spitting in China and also in Nepal.

      Another way around this law to get around it is to try to get a different nationality to Chinese – but this must also cost a lot and take a lot of effort.

  4. Two questions thank you please:

    1. Why the shrink-wrapped crockery? Just an ultra-hygiene thing?

    2. What are the vending machines you referred to in Japan?

    • Queen Kong you are hilarious! The ultra hygiene thing I guess applies in China which is reassuring no?

      In Japan vending machines are popular and found everywhere – literally everywhere:

      Would have thought the boxing video would have appealed to you most Kong no? He he he

  5. Ah split crotch pants! Both baby girls and boys use them for potty training. I’ve been seeing them less frequently in cities lately; however, they are all over the place in more rural areas. The kids do learn fast though!

    Did you ever see bowls with a plastic bag inside so that washing wasn’t necessary? Kind of goes along with your comment about the shrink wrapped bowls/plates/etc.

    Also, the one Child Policy has recently been relaxed. Now couples who are only children themselves can have two children. It is strictly informed though!

    • Thanks for your comment Elizabeth! Didn’t see the bowls with plastic bags inside! Fascinating….

  6. It’s a great article. it leaves me thinking a lot.

    China used to be a country that values good manner a lot, and it still is. but too many people’s behavior just make an disapproval to our efforts. but actually, spitting in public is considered as an uncivilized behavior , just as rolling up one’s top in the public .. but yes, we think it’s better out than in, but many of us wont spit it out in the public. we use a Tempo or go find somewhere we can spit or, just swallow…

    and the funny shrink plastic bags, it appeals less in Canton.. Cantonese have a weird habit , lots of restaurants sever hot tea in advanced, and before the food is served, customers will wash all the cups and cutlery by themselves ! Although they know the tableware has been well cleaned . lol

    As for the one child policy, it’s a pretty heavy topic for me, because my family ,especially my mom suffered a lot from it. but we can’t talk too much about it, because it’s police and China is a single-party country. whats more, after my graduation from CUC ,i may take up a job ,which is indirectly serving the government or the Party, so i cant say too much passive words about it.. that’s kinda pathetic.. but it keeps me thinking.

    and other phenomena make me think a lot as well.. i think China is a funny country, funny good and funny bad. that’s why i wanna go out and see the world. (another reason is there are more cute guys out there lol)

    • Leox thanks for your comment. The spitting…oh my god come to Nepal – EVERYONE does it, especially the women LOL!

      • OMG! i think it’s really gross…
        When i first came to beijing, it was winter.. and i saw some phlegm freezing on the street! it took me few days to gain the courage to walk on that street again..
        it’s really really disgusting! 🙁

  7. The fact that kids are allowed to poo and wee in the streets is something I cannot fully understand, I know it’s a completely different culture from our western one, but why?

    • I know right?!!!!

  8. I found your 11 observations interesting and experienced many of them myself, during my month-long visit to China.

    Interestingly, I found that the One Child Rule did not apply to China’s 55 minorities. I found that farming families also had some flexibility. Also, as was mentioned, the richer Chinese can violate the rule and pay a fine. I understand that the PRC has been struggling over this rule and, while they have not done away with it, they recently relaxed it some. I also read that, with their booming economy, they are starting to run out of workers, and that is the reason.

    I was there in September of 2013 and saw almost no spitting. I also saw only one parent holding their child in a squatting position over the curb, while the child was taking a dump. Personally, my body took exception to the squat toilets, at least my muscles did. I have been told by my doctor that that is actually a better position in which to defecate, BUT my muscles think he has gotten into his denatured alcohol once too often.

    • Hilarious! Thanks for your comment Pleddie. It wasn’t so much the spitting but more the noise you make before to get the phlegm from your chest/throat into your mouth. There was a LOT of that everywhere we found!! I’ve also heard that a lot about squatting being a healthier way to pooh then sitting on a toilet seat. At least it’s more hygenic (you don’t need to clean a public toilet seat/lay out a ring of loo paper before using it!)

  9. Hi, guys, Found your blog as it featured in today.
    Enjoying your blog. Very interesting. Thank you and keep up the good job. ^^
    Just one thing I can’t help myself to point out in regards of spitting in China.
    I am originally from S. Korea where people also used to spit on the public back in 60’s and 70’s but
    nobody does that nowadays. It will take time and will happen too in China one day, I hope.
    One disgusting thing that Western people do that without shame is blowing their nose (quite loudly) especially at the dinner table. I get so put off by this that sometimes I stop eating. Most of Asian do it very discretely or leave the table to do it at least as they know it is a gross dinner etiquette.
    Anyway, happy travelling.

    • Yikes! No one I know blows their nose at the table? That’s disgusting 🙁

      • Good. ^^. Surely our friends of Dorothy wouldn’t do that gross thing.
        Maybe it is not for Europeans and only for those English, Australian and American thing!
        Worst thing is that these people keep that dirty handkerchief or tissue inside their sleeve for reuse. Yuk!

        • Growing up in England I never saw that!

  10. I’ve never been to that part of the world but it looks amazing and hopefully after reading this I’ll be a bit more prepared if I do haha

    • Thanks Maria

  11. I saw lots of comments above have corrected the one child policy/spitting thing etc.
    just one more correction…for the cleaners…
    i was originally from Shanghai and I live in Australia with my partner. As far as I know, the senior are not assigned by the government to collect the plastic bottles and sell for $. In fact, they volunteer… There are two reasons…
    1) In order to understand it…we need to look back, 40 or 30 years ago, China was still backward and wasn’t superpower in the economy, and most families were a bit frugal. Although the life quality has been improved heaps, it’s hard for those group of people, who have been living in that lifestyle for ages, to change their mind set…
    2) In Chinese culture, parents are sacrificing. They want to give everything to their children. They would rather keep their frugal life, collect the plastic bottle and sell for $ in order to save $ for their children…

    • Thanks for that Rob 🙂


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