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Eight Most Culturally Shocking things to prepare for in Beijing

There are bound to be many challenges when moving abroad. Moving from the US to China, I mentally prepared myself for a very different life. China has the longest continuous civilization in all history spanning 3,500 years! It's no surprise that the Chinese have evolved in their ways and do things a bit differently than the wild west. And here's where I come in. My name is Maya Bernstein. I am from Los Angeles, California. I live and work in Beijing, China. Allow me to prepare you for what you're about to see for yourself in Beijing.


Presenting eight of the most culturally shocking things I have seen in China:


#1- Cleansing- aka The Spitting

It's not quite your average quick spit. It's a lot more involved. It begins in the mind, then the stomach, to the throat, to mouth, and then, "CHWAT," onto the floor. The sounds that come from the deed can be extremely unnerving, especially if you're about to take a bite from your plate of dumplings. But for those preparing to settle here, worry not. Spitting in China has gotten a lot better in recent years. China has placed measures to put a stop to it by issuing fines to people who do it.

#2 Squat toilets

insert appropriate photo


One reason I love Beijing is because of its abundant amount of public restrooms. The worst thing, especially while traveling out and about, is having to go. It's never fun having to convince the nearest café that you'll pay $5 for a water bottle in exchange for using their bowls. Beijing has got public toilets everywhere. However, there's one catch-- some are squat toilets. You don't sit on these toilets. You squat! Make sure to practice the right amount of yoga before your flight over to Beijing because, depending on the bathroom type, it might come in handy! Oh, and there's rarely any toilet paper! So, make sure you pack enough in your bag to last for your day of exploration.

#3 Hot water served in restaurants

This one doesn't involve as much yoga. Regular tap water isn't safe in many countries, and China is one of them. Don't drink water from the tap. At restaurants, don't expect the ordinary complimentary glass of iced water. Instead, restaurants will serve you hot water, I mean, even in summer. I usually pay the extra 2-3 RMB for a bottle of ice-cold water and call it a day.


#4 The stares/ people taking photos

Imagine walking down the street, and everyone is staring at you, babies included. The cameras start clicking and snapping pictures of you as you chow down your noodles. People in China seem to get excited, sometimes a bit confused, at the sight of a westerner. You will finally understand how it feels to be a famous person walking the red carpet. In the beginning, it can be a bit exciting. It makes you feel special! Like a star! After living in Beijing for some time, you end up getting used to it. I don't even notice the stares anymore. It's just another day. And hey, when the stares stop, sometimes it makes you feel less unique. So, enjoy it while it lasts!


#5 Baby butts

You will notice a baby's butt somewhere in your community's garden, and I mean, you will see their bare butts. Babies in China often wear split pants that expose their butts. They wear these in place of diapers. Split pants allow the babies to go when they want to. I'd say being a baby isn't a bad life in Beijing.

#6 Street traffic

If you've never been to Asia, you know that crossing the street will take some getting used to. It doesn't matter if the light is green for you. Look left, right, up, and down. Cyclists & e-bike riders often don't stop at a red light, even if you cross right in front of them! When you come to China, you will need to re-learn the rules you learned at a young age on how to cross the street. My big tip of advice, walk with the locals! They will teach you. If you see a local begin crossing a road, that's your cue. You have got your street crossing guardian. 


#7 Blind masseuse

Who doesn't love a nice body massage, especially after a long day of walking and sightseeing? There are many massage parlors in Beijing. However, don't be alarmed when you see that some have masseurs they call blind masseurs. It's a thing. Blind masseurs are more sensitive in touch. They can better sense and feel where the tension is in the body. When I first learned about this, I went from skepticism to "sign me up" in about one minute.


#8 Meat in vegetarian dishes

Okay, this one is directed to vegans and vegetarians. The positive is that Beijing has endless options for amazing vegetarian/vegan-friendly food. However, prepare to triple check there is no meat in the dish. Even if it says something like "plain tofu" on the menu. Many vegetable and tofu dishes have bits of meat in them. It's for flavor. Be specific and ask for no beef, pork, chicken, or eggs. Whatever you don't eat, name it. It only takes a minute, and in the end, you will be happy to receive your meatless dish.


Living and teaching abroad in a country with a vastly different culture can be exciting and beautiful. Instead of rolling my eyes on the cultural differences, I observe, learn, and appreciate the contrast.

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