While you’re living and teaching in China, you’ll have a lot of amazing experiences.
You’ll adapt yourself to a culture that’s very different to your own, and see sites you always dreamed of seeing in real life. You’ll eat amazing food and meet people who change the way you think and see the world.
You’ll also experience some very weird things in China as well.
The strangest thing about the weird experiences you’ll have is that they’ll be completely normal to the locals. You’ll probably be the only one staring in surprise or horror!
But don’t let that stop you from trying them (some of them anyway).
1. Eat brains (and other organs)
If it’s part of an animal and edible, then they probably eat it in China.
No matter what restaurants you go to in China, you will see strange things on the menu in full colour.
Liver. Pancreas. Stomach. Brains. Entire frogs stretched out on a rack and fried.
Pig brains soup.
There is no end to the strange meats that you will encounter in China. Just don’t let your squeamishness get in the way of a great experience.
Eating a hot pot complete with brains in a small restaurant in China was probably one of the most memorable eating experiences I had.
I probably wouldn’t eat that hot pot again, just because the thought turns my stomach now, but at the time it was actually really delicious.
2. Walk into the bank past a machine gun
There’s nothing quite like the first time you walk into a bank in China.
At the front door, in full military uniform with a grim expression, the guard will usually have a machine gun slung across his front.
For people from most Western countries, who only see guns on the television, this is a terrifying sight. But it’s very common in China.
I don’t really understand why the guards in banks are so heavily and obviously armed. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of crime in China.
In fact, while you’re living there you’ll walk home at 3 am after a night out and feel perfectly safe.
Seeing guns in banks isn’t something you’ll really get used to. Every time you have to walk past one of these heavily armed men you’ll probably feel uneasy, and hope that the safety’s on.
It’s just one of the weird realities of living in China that you learn to accept.
3. Do everything on your phone
If you’re living in the bigger cities in China, only the small, family-run restaurants will have menus.
The others will have a small board on the table with a barcode that you can scan using WeChat, the most essential app in China.
After you scan the barcode, the menu will come up on your phone.
And don’t even think about paying for your meal with a card. Most places only have a machine that scans the barcode on your phone and takes the payment directly out of your account.
Paying for food on your phone is one of the weird things you will do in China.
For people from Western countries, this level of technology seems futuristic.
In fact, if you come from Australia like I do, it seems almost impossible. But China is in love with technology and it floods every part of their lives.
To a Chinese person, a mobile phone is the most essential piece of equipment, and it’s almost impossible to do anything without it. This means that charging your phone every night is essential, just to ensure that you don’t run out of charge when you need it the most.
4. Take photos with strangers
A foreigner living in China, particularly in the smaller cities where they don’t get a lot of tourists, is quite literally a celebrity. People will therefore treat you as one.
This means that they’ll walk up to you in the street and shout hello before running away.
It also means that people will point and stare as you walk past. And the brave locals will ask you to take a photo with them.
This actually happens often enough that you’ll get used to it.
Strangers will want to take a photo of you.
You’ll see a group of people giggling and pointing. One of them will take out their camera and keep looking over at you, and you’ll sigh and prepare yourself to smile on command.
This mini celebrity status is harmless and takes up very little time, so you’ll probably find yourself indulging it. But it’s still a little weird.
5. Sing karaoke everywhere
Karaoke (or KTV) is a very popular pastime in China. This obsession has even moved into shopping centres.
In a lot of the big shops they have small booths, about the size of a telephone booth, where you can sit on a chair and sing into a microphone while you read the song words off the small computer screen.
The booth is soundproofed, so it doesn’t disturb the rest of the customers in the shopping centre.
But seeing people using it while I was getting my groceries was probably one of the strangest moments of my life.
Even if you can’t find a karaoke booth, you will find KTV buildings everywhere. They’re so popular that they seem to outnumber the fast food shops.
KTV is everywhere in China.
Once you get friendly with some locals, you’ll inevitably end up singing karaoke there.
6. Experience European architecture
You might think of China as being fairly cut off from the rest of the world until recently, but one look at some of the architecture will teach you differently.
In some streets in the biggest cities, like Shanghai, you would swear that you were in Europe.
You will see European architecture in China.
Walking along the streets you’ll see Greek-inspired columns, fat little cherubs, and grey stone that could have come from almost any European city. The French Concession is one of Shanghai's prettiest areas.
These buildings are a surprising little remnant of China’s history. And when you’ve been overseas for a while, they can even be a little comforting because they’re a reminder of more familiar places and sights.
7. Climb rickety stairs down a mountain
There are lots of amazing, famous mountains in China (including a few in Fuzhou where I taught English).
Most of them are stunningly beautiful and offer views across the countryside that you just can’t get anywhere else. And most of them don’t offer even a nod to safety.
While living in China, I went on a weekend trip to Lushan, a mountain a few hours away from Fuzhou.
The guide promised me monkeys, and this was the only reason I got out of the bus at all! But what I got was narrow stone stairs twisting around the side of a mountain, no railing, and a long, long fall to the bottom.
A mountain walkway without railings in China.
I heard later from a friend back home who was originally from the area that a few people die every year climbing down those stairs. I could believe it. The fall would have been… devastating.
As an added bonus, I have a phobia against heights. So I only just stopped myself from scooting down the stairs on my butt.
I still have nightmares about it. It was one of the weirdest, and the most dangerous things I did in China.
And it’s probably the only one that I regret.
What weird things have you done in China?