China is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, whether you're traveling or teaching there.
But like any country, it has its problems.
Here’s an honest appraisal of some of the things foreigners find difficult dealing with when visiting China.
It's what I call the seven deadly sins of China!
Despite government campaigns encouraging people to be more 'civilized', for many Chinese men spitting in public is virtually a national pastime.
Particularly in the dry and dusty cities, the sound of someone noisily drawing up phlegm and depositing it on the street is commonplace.
The culprits don’t care where they do it, either. You could be sitting in a taxi and the driver winds the window down mid-journey to clear their throat.
To describe this experience as unpleasant would be an understatement!
Spitting is one of the few things that foreigners never really get used to in China, even expats who've been there for years.
(Want to know more? Check out this interesting blog on why Chinese people spit.)
2. Squat toilets
Unless you've got your own private loo, going to the bathroom in China isn't for the faint hearted.
Even in the major cities, you’ll find more squat toilets than traditional Western toilets.
Squat toilets are supposed to be good for your digestive system because they put you in a more natural position.
But when you’ve grown up in a Western country, they can be very difficult to use and may end up being your nemesis!
This is the cleanest squat toilet I've ever come across (I couldn't show you a dirty one!).
Remember to always carry tissues with you, as they're generally not provided.
When you're done, toss the tissues in the bin provided (if you flush them, you'll probably block the plumbing).
This gives Chinese bathrooms a smell that you'll never forget!
3. Pollution and littering
Environmental degradation is widespread across China, despite strong government efforts to improve in recent times.
While air quality may now be better in the bigger cities like Beijing, there are reports that other regions in China are moving backwards.
Rapid development comes at a cost and China is bearing the brunt of it.
Sadly, face masks are a necessity in many Chinese cities.
Littering is also a big problem in China. People unashamedly drop litter on the street, in parks and gardens, even out their car windows while they’re driving.
Many Chinese people don't care about the environment. They believe it’s not their responsibility.
Instead, the prevailing mindset is that someone else (beneath them) will clean up their mess.
It may be a long time before we see a significant shift in thinking.
China is full of bustling markets with a wide range of clothes, homewares, toys and souvenirs. That’s great, right?
Well, yes and no.
Although China is a bargain-shopper’s paradise, you’ll rarely see a price on anything.
That’s because Chinese people are accustomed to the age-old practice of bargaining. It’s practically part of their DNA.
You'll have to bargain for goods while in China.
As a foreigner, you’ll be offered a 'special' price – so special, in fact, that it could be inflated by two or three times the local price!
To get a good price, you’ll need to think and act like a Chinese person. This means slashing their offer in half or not budging from a price that you think is fair.
Never accept the first price you’re given, particularly in the tourist areas. You can learn some other tips for bargaining in China too.
If you're the kind of person who shudders at the thought of haggling, stick to malls and department stores in China where prices are fixed.
5. Learning the language
Learning Mandarin Chinese is hard.
It’s hard to speak it, it's hard to write it, and it's hard to read it.
Learning Chinese is really difficult.
Mandarin is a tonal language, which even the bravest language-learners struggle to grapple with.
Although there are only four tones, the difference between each is subtle and getting it wrong can render your entire sentence meaningless.
Writing in Mandarin is equally challenging. This is due to the non-Romanized script and lack of alphabet.
There are literally thousands of Chinese characters, and to learn and retain them all requires a razor-sharp memory and countless hours of practice.
Sure, you’ll be able to get by with a few Mandarin Chinese expressions and knowing the numbers, but you’re probably never going to master the language.
(The good news for would-be teachers in China is that you don't have to know any Mandarin to get a job.)
China is the most populous country on earth.
No matter where you go, there will be people. And lots of them!
Some of the most crowded places in China include the beaches in Shenzhen and the Shanghai Metro at rush hour.
On Chinese public holidays, especially during the Lunar New Year, crowds are at their worst. Large train stations are particularly manic as people make their way home to see their family.
You can't escape the crowds in China.
The only place where you might be able to get some peace and quiet – and this really depends on your location – is within the confines of your apartment or hotel.
Some foreigners revel in the hustle and bustle, but most I know struggle.
If you’re in China long term, for example as an English teacher, you’ll get used to it because you have to!
Unless you’re inside the international terminal of a major Chinese airport, the concept of lining up doesn’t exist in China.
Whether you’re at the supermarket, cinema or bus stop, it’s a classic case of every man and woman for themselves.
And there’s no such thing as a discreet queue-jump – Chinese people will openly cut right in front of you.
The longer you stay in China, the more you’ll get used to it. You might even start to beat the locals at their own game!
Still, it’s a pet peeve for many a foreigner visiting or working in China.
Have I missed anything? Is there an eighth deadly sin? I'd love to hear what you think!