Don’t Freak Out in China When…

Carrie_Teaching Abroad

Ha! I’ve been going through some of my old papers, journal entries and emails from my three years spent in North East China. I came across this list of gems that was sent to me by my boss, David, and I thought I’d share it with you. I’ve added to it over the years.

It would take ages to explain everything to you, so if you’re not sure or feeling inquisitive about any, please feel free to comment. The following is a list of things I experienced while teaching English in Changchun between 2003-2005.

Don’t freak out when…

  • you wash your clothes for the first time and your rinse water is black
  • you blow your nose and your snot is black (coal is used in China and the air is full of smoke)
  •  your water is turned off
  • you can’t flush your toilet
  • someone of the same gender holds your hand or asks you to dance ( these are signs of friendship)
  • people in crowds get up close and personal (Our sense of space is different from theirs)
  • everyone cuts in front of you in line or you get pushed out of the way
  • people rummage through your grocery cart while you are shopping
  • people randomly shout out, “Hallo!” and then giggle
  • cars, buses, bikes and mule carts do not wait for you to cross the street. Pedestrians do not have the right of way here.
  • you end up driving with a taxi driver who seems to have a death wish
  • people put food on your plate
  • your empty or near empty glass is refilled to the brim
  • someone wants to touch your hair or the hair on your arms and legs
  • people call you fat to your face
  • people stare
  • you can’t find clothes that fit
  • someone asks you how much money you make
  • someone raises your sweater or shirt to see if you are wearing enough warm clothes
  • you are greeted at the door by family members in long underwear
  • you get on the train and realize everyone is in their long underwear
  • people smoke in the hospitals in China
  • you visit a doctor in the hospital and your examination room is full of strangers and other medical people
  • the doctors ask you to lie on the table, pull your shirt up, pull your pants down and give a stool sample with 20-30 people watching you
  • the person in front of you spits a big wad of phlegm on the ground
  • someone farts or burps in public
  • you are staying in a nice hotel and in the middle of the night, you get a phone call asking if you need anything special like a massage or a glass of water
  • you experience overt corruption like bribes to police officers or ticket sellers
  • you take the train and everyone uses the bottom bunks, sometimes yours, as the common sitting area
  • the stairway leading up to your apartment is filled with bicycles, trash, vegetables and other assorted pieces of junk
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READ:  Peggy Teaches Chinese (8 & 9): Telling Time

Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. I'm an experienced businesswoman and have worked in many leadership positions. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. I started writing about my health journey in 2009 after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, which came with other massive health issues. These diagnoses were the start of my journey as a health advocate and patient leader. Since then, My Several Worlds has been recognized worldwide as a top site for chronic illness by WEGO Health and Healthline. Twitter @globetrotteri Instagram at I also have a dedicated page for My Several Worlds at Each IG feed features different content.

20 thoughts on “Don’t Freak Out in China When…


    (August 25, 2008 - 7:18 pm)

    – your beer is served warm along side a glass of ice
    – dinner guests arrive 15-20 minutes early
    – clerks run out from their store to encourage you to come into their shop
    – you can see the head and the eyes of the animal that was cooked for you
    – you don’t really know what you’re eating
    – your change is haphazardly dropped in front of you on the counter
    – people read your magazine over your shoulder on the bus/subway
    – you are stared at constantly, for no real reason what so ever

    michelle G

    (August 25, 2008 - 7:24 pm)

    oh you forgot all the random chinese guys who try to hook up with you when you go to a night club or walk down the street.

    the homeless people who are not so homeless. I never once saw any of them on the street after 6pm

    everyone thinks you are american

    where your bill gets stuck to your door

    you pay more at the market then your chinese friends

    but in good news,

    I did find clothing that actually fit me(me being 5’3 and 105 lbs, the wonderful seamstress who make amazing clothes, the really cool shopping districts, also I made some great friends who I still talk to today. 🙂

    michelle G

    (August 25, 2008 - 7:27 pm)

    I forgot an accident is like a real show stopper, your car breaks down, in 10 sec flat you got a crowd of gawkers.

    the people on the street that come up to you and ask to be your friend


    (August 26, 2008 - 12:33 am)

    I guess it shouldn’t be surprising how many of these apply to Taiwan as well, although it’s fun to note the differences. Climate is an interesting factor. No one in Taiwan has ever checked to see if I’m wearing enough warm clothes, but I have had several people use their own bare hands to wipe sweat off my forehead! In the end, though, both behaviors are related to the lack of concern for personal space. Same idea, different weather.


    (August 26, 2008 - 9:06 am)

    – The most hideous clothing you buy is revered as handsome by Chinese coworkers.
    – Men follow you into washrooms to see if the rumors about foreigners are true.
    – You realize no smoking signs are a polite suggestion.
    – Questions you consider very important are answered with, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
    – At the first sign of illness you begin to wonder if something is wrong with your chi.

    – DVDs, DVDs, and more DVDs.


    (August 26, 2008 - 10:02 am)

    hahahahaha I’m freaking out only reading it!
    I’ll try to remember this when I get to Asia.


    (August 26, 2008 - 4:16 pm)


    I love your first one. We never did get the restaurant staff downstairs to understand why we wanted cold beer in the winter time. We had to go down and clear out the fridge ourselves if we were having friends over to visit. Crazee!


    (August 26, 2008 - 4:17 pm)

    Ha Michelle.

    The comments are turning out to be as good as the post. I’d forgotten about the bills being glued to the doors. That’s a good one. And yes, I made some amazing friends. I want to go back!


    (August 26, 2008 - 4:21 pm)


    Oh yuck. TG! I haven’t had anyone wipe my face. I don’t know what I’d do if someone tried that.

    I always got a kick out of my Chinese tutor. Every October she would listen to the radio for an announcement from the government to let people know to start wearing their winter clothes. Then she’d call me to tell me to dress warm and every class after that, she’d be pulling up my pant legs to see if I had on regular cotton longjohns or heavy Chinese mao-kouzi.


    (August 26, 2008 - 4:22 pm)


    Those are great additions. You’re the reigning expert now as you’re the only one of any of these commentators still in China. These were observations from three years ago. I’d be interested to know if the list is still accurate.


    (August 26, 2008 - 4:24 pm)

    When you get to Asia, I’ll be looking for your additions! It’s great though. I loved every second I was in China and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


    (August 27, 2008 - 5:05 am)

    -You try to return a DVD because it’s in German, and the vendor continues to insist that it’s English.

    -People compliment your Chinese language abilities after you utter two words. Then they return to speaking to you in broken English.

    -The air conditioning in the office gets turned off in October even though it’s still 90F and humid outside for another month.

    -You see fried rat on a menu.


    (August 27, 2008 - 2:55 pm)

    Ha! Matt,
    Thanks for commenting. This list keeps getting better and better. I can relate to everything everyone has added here, especially your first point. 🙂

    michelle G

    (August 27, 2008 - 8:23 pm)

    where Teachers day is widely celebrated, I have received flowers, good luck charms, chocolats, candy and hand made crafts.


    (August 28, 2008 - 4:04 pm)

    Do we even have a Teacher’s Day back in Canada? I can’t recall.

    MJ Klein

    (January 29, 2009 - 9:17 am)

    people don’t listen to you when you say “no” – they just say “nevermind” and continue with what they are pushing on you.


    (July 28, 2009 - 3:52 am)

    You have never been the Real China, You may find the Toilet in some Small city, country side is really Terrifc

    -No paper prepared.
    -sayiing no in China means “yes” in some case..if someone ask you to eat more, if you say No, they would think you would not like the foods,


      (July 31, 2009 - 2:37 pm)

      Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


    (July 28, 2009 - 3:58 am)

    LV is so popular in China, especially in beijing or shanghai, but you can know that is fake one,, so everyone you see may bring LV bags..

    shopping in silk market is crazy,, they ask you the price more than 400 or 500 RMB per shirt, it cost only 45,,


    (November 2, 2017 - 4:09 pm)

    Very useful and pretty scary information. I’ve been twice in Guangzhou for the Trade Fair. In Bejing and Shanghai as well.
    Felt like Gulliver in the country of the midgets. Wherever you go you have to bargain. Not knowing the language is a disaster. China develops in hours,but rural area is in the Stone age!
    Their social system is socialism. No church attendance, no religious discussions. Their Moto is “Use the foreigner”. Any way, I had a great time and almost 10 years business
    transactions down South and up North China.
    In short – I would like to reborn in China. !
    Good Luck

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