China Throwback – Part 1 – habits

Stumbling across my old travel diary from my business/language exchange in Shanghai last summer reminded of some very interesting comparisons between our very (sometimes overly) polite British habits and Chinese habits. These are some habits to be aware of if travelling to China for the first time.
Spitting & Hauking
This habit I could not get used to and could not understand, until I looked into it. In Chinese medicine it is thought that mucus is a “toxin” and it needs to be spat out. I don’t think I will be taking this piece of Chinese culture home with me.
Mysterious rain & Smells
Walking down any street in warm sunshine then you feel a trickle of “rain” on your arm/head…where it comes from – A gutter? A drain? Certainly not the sky..its a mystery. And the smells. Most of Shanghai has a mixed smell of drains, food, rotten tatties, urine, spices and tumble dryers. Very hard to pinpoint one scent but that smell will always bring me back.
Sanitation & toilets
At the time I remember being quite horrified about the toilets on my first visit. The footprints on the western toilet because people don’t understand to sit on the seat. One of the most bizarre experiences at first. In time you just learn to hover/squat like everyone else. There is nothing like the fear of going out without a packet of tissues in case you need to go when there are no western toilets. My cousin always says “always take the offer of a clean toilet and cup of tea when asked…you never know when you will get the next offer”. I now completely understand this.
Manners and Etiquette
“ting bu dong” – literally translated to “Hear but don’t understand”. A commonly used phrase in its proper use when you genuinely don’t understand what someone has said but is used heavily by foreigners and Chinese when they want to avoid the conversation. I wonder – do I do this at home?
Getting on the metro in rush in Shanghai is similar to trying to repack your suitcase on the way home from your holidays…ramming in as much as possible then squeezing the doors (zip) shut while pushing in the last person (bikini)…with a stick. Very interesting experience, if you suffer from claustrophobia I would not recommend this.