1. You can buy almost anything in China.
Need a Valentine’s rose with panties folded up in the middle of the flower? Taobao. Need an oboe? Taobao. Need a Doraemon wedding tea set for a wedding tea ceremony? Taobao. Need 5000 personalised corporate pens with diamonds embedded in the barrel and your company name engraved in it? Taobao. Don’t understand Mandarin? Baopals! There are literally translators working at Baopals who will talk to Taobao sellers for you and ensure you can shop with confidence! Taobao is often touted as “Chinese eBay” but that’s not entirely true. Taobao sells literally everything and it’s all brand new.
2. There are no launderettes.
I never saw a coin-operated launderette anywhere in China. But everyone knows someone who can do your laundry or ironing for you and they’ll give you her WeChat so you can connect.
3. Milk is the next big fad diet.
They put milk in almost everything in China! Even sorbet! The “translate” function on WeChat will help if you’re dairy free, but it’s a LOT easier to just learn the Chinese character for milk (or anything else you’re allergic to) and scan the packet for it. Milk is seen as the next big thing over there, and if it comes from Australia or New Zealand, Chinese shoppers will pay top price for it.
4. You can fit a lot of stuff on the back of a bike.
Here are some stellar examples of this from Xi’an:
5. Everything is caused by “heatiness” or “coldness”.
Chinese medicine boils down to two things: Hot and cold. If you’re ill, you have an excess of either one or the other (or both, if you have bipolar). I lost a baby once and got taken to a traditional Chinese hospital, where I was told in all serious by a qualified doctor that I’d eaten too much cold food.
6. They have their own type of sushi.
If you’re a fan of sushi, you’ll know sushi is actually the name of the type of rice. China grows its own, which is called Jilin rice, because it comes from Jilin province, which borders North Korea. It’s identical to sushi rice and a fraction of the price in China. I got 10kg of Jilin rice as a free gift for spending over 700RMB ($70) on groceries once. That would be like $30 for 10kg sushi rice in the UK, so getting it free with $70 of shopping seemed crazy, but that’s how cheap it is. And I really liked cooking with it.
7. Pregnant women are treated like queens
It’s probably a hangup from the now-defunct one child policy (now a two-child policy), but pregnant women and new mothers are treated with great care. Old ladies stop elbowing you in the ribs in crowded areas, men give up their seats on the metro, airports let you sit in the priority seats and the doctors expect you to rest. You also get a legal minimum of 6 months maternity leave from work and they legally have to give you your job back when you return. And everyone stops to adore a baby! There are entire shopping centres just for children like Coco City in Changzhou.
8. Eggs boiled in tea make a great breakfast.
The first time I saw it I was like whaaaat? Why waste good tea? But somehow it delicately infuses the egg with tea flavour and makes such a nice start to the day.
9. Umbrellas have two uses
Many Chinese women don’t like getting a suntan because they want to look refined (and not agricultural) so they use their umbrellas on hot days to keep the sun off them when they’re walking down the street.
10. Family is everything
This stems from the Confucianism on which China’s society still functions, even if 60% of the population are now atheist. Confucianism is a “humanist religion” which believes in no God, but which values hierarchy and prosocial values, especially respect for ancestors (including living ones, e.g. your parents, aunts etc). This is so ingrained into Chinese culture that you will almost never hear anyone in China criticizing their parents or going against their family’s wishes. Conversely, children are also precious, although this is sometimes expressed in ways we don’t understand very well in the west.
To sum up…
Culturally, China is difficult to pin into a box because it’s one huge country, with so many nuances across the different regions, but these are the things that sum it up for me!