Dog Eating, Bar Fighting, & Mini Skirting: The Inside Scoop on China

by Alexander Heyne · 18 comments

This is gonna be a fun one.

I realized that since living in China, I haven’t written much about it except for one post.

And I had such a bloody good time that I figured it’s worth sharing some awesome stories about life there as a foreign species called white man.

Since pretty much everything we hear about China in the west deals with horror stories, I think it’s pretty important to set some things straight, and clarify others.

So without further ado, I introduce:

The inside scoop on China.

First, some fun stuff

Ahh travel in China – the land of ancient history, kung fu, tea, mail order brides, nerdy white guys, and Taoism.  The place where everyone meditates and trains some sort of kung fu daily, where people discuss philosophy in the streets and businessmen all read Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

… If only that were true.

In fact, just about the only stereotypically story-book things that exist in modern China are the following:

  • Tai Chi (mostly old people, mostly 22 year old “masters”, lots of scam artists)
  • Tea. Everywhere.
  • … And lots of squirrely white guys (don’t know what that means? Picture a squirrel. Yeah, it’s awkward).
Things you don’t hear about:
  • Amazing food
  • Some of the most beautiful scenery on earth
  • Pollution that is bad, but not nearly as bad as you think
  • Women that wear high heels in all 4 seasons

A lot of the rest of the stuff is very romantic, old fashioned, story-tale junk that you don’t see anymore.  There’s a lot to love, and a lot you may hate about it.

But one thing is for sure: it’s one hell of an adventure to live or travel there.  Lemme give you the run down on some stuff you may or may not hate.

1. Manners don’t exist

This may be a touchy subject, and my western bias is definitely at work here, but: most mainland Chinese (by western standards) have god awful manners.

Assless-pants. An awesomely common sight even in Shanghai

Really.  Manners so bad my mom would have beaten the shit out of me in public.

Spitting inside restaurants, letting children urinate inside the brand new Beijing subway, grown men getting into fights as soon as they start drinking.  Yielding doesn’t exist. Old women will shove you out of the way in the grocery store.

There is absolutely no respect for other people if they are not part of your family, extended family, or contacts. If you aren’t family you aren’t shit.  And people act like it.

2. Lines don’t exist

Now this one’s hilarious.   The first time I went on a big solo adventure in China, I was heading from Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors, to Beijing, the capital of China.

I showed up plenty early to the railroad station alone and figured I’d have time to read a book while waiting at the station.

Boy was I wrong.  Turns out that there were 3,000 other Chinese trying to get into the train station.  And none of them lined up.  They pushed each other like a mob of special ed kids getting on a bus.  They shoved so hard I saw two women crying and cursing at the crowd they were injured so badly.

Turns out, this isn’t unusual at all.  This is pretty much the norm.  I’m proud to say that by the time I left I learned the ropes — and shoulder checked an elderly Chinese lady who tried to cut me in line and steal my Chinese medicine I just paid for.  Sucker.

3. Connections get you anything (anything), but beware

Here’s a very interesting facet of the Chinese: the concept of 关系 guan xi (loosely, connections) is what runs the country.

The swarm of people at the Xi'an Station

Since corruption, cheating, and stealing are all still extremely commonplace, knowing people is the best way to get things done.

I was once in Shanghai with a young guy who was born into the “millionaires” club, aka second generation rich.  He was young – mid to late 20s, spoke Japanese fluently, and had decent English.

“If we go into a club together, you pick any girl.  She’s yours.  I’ll have a wall of bodyguards surround you so you guys can dance and they’ll close the club for us,” he told us at dinner one night.  Awesome.  And scary.

The scary part of connections is that it works “eye-for-eye” style – you better be able to pay back every single tiny favor.  And the Chinese remember every single one.  So it might go like this:

< 10 years have elapsed >

“Remember that time [ 10 years ago ] when I picked up you and your girlfriend in the freezing cold?  Well, I’ve got to go to a conference for a week, would you mind watching my kids?”   That sucks.

There’s also a widely circulated word of mouth story in Beijing about a police sergeant’s son who was drunk driving and hit a family or a couple of kids on the highway and killed them.  He got off scott-free because of his daddy’s rank.

Chinese guan xi gets you anything, and out of anything.

4. Pollution sucks, but is not as bad as you think

Beijing has one of the worst reputations for being a polluted city.

Here’s the truth: it’s bad by western standards, but not nearly as bad as the papers in the west portray it.

Yes some days there is a burning nail polish remover smell.

And yes some days you can see pollution inside the buildings if the hallway is long enough.

And yes the Chinese organize their exercise days around the pollution.

But usually it’s just an L.A. haze or New York City kind of smell.

5. Poisoned, exotic, and chemically molested foods

Sometime around early 2011 when I was in Beijing, there was an exploding watermelon epidemic.

The Chinese news reports were claiming that watermelons were exploding and I quote “like land mines” because they were so pumped full of growth hormones.

And you know about the milk scare.

Well, if you ask Chinese what things not to eat, they’ll tell you: milk & watermelons.  They’re familiar with it.

Another fun one: a new scary thing popped up recently in China: a chemical (carcinogenic, naturally) that can *change* any meat to have the appearance and texture/taste of beef.  Creepy.

The health scares exist: just try not to get too worked up about it, know that the foods you eat on a daily basis probably will not get you sick, and regarding restaurants, use local presence as an indicator of whether or not they’re safe.

6. The year-round mini skirt / high heeled girl

First: Just as a confession/disclaimer: I’m not one of those “into Asian girls” guys.  I like that Indian, Latina, Asian, sort of look – but I’m not an anime watching asian-fetish kind of guy.

Having said that: China easily has some of the most beautiful women I’ve seen in my life. And In way higher numbers than I’ve ever seen in a club or bar in the United States. Lots of my male friends that lived in Beijing also agree.

And a lot of them dress like they are going to a club on a day to day basis.

Even in winter, women wear heels.

I’ve even seen women climbing some of the sacred (and most dangerous) mountains in China in high heels.  It’s madness.

(Women: thanks for suffering just for the sake of looking good)

Vanity is absolutely huge in Asia. Be forewarned.  It’s both good and bad, and the phrase in China for the extremely high-maintenance gold-digging kind of girl is a “Shanghai Girl.”

7. If you’re white, you might be an overnight celebrity

Ten or twenty years ago people were talking about how when you go to Asia you gain celebrity status instantly, with people (especially young girls) wanting to take pictures of you.

In my experience, this is totally still the reality today.  I’m not sure how or why exactly it’s like that, but I’d imagine it’s due to western media influence and the perception of beauty.

My other Asian friends (going all the way down Southeast Asia) even say where they live (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines) it’s the same.  A tall white American guy is a huge status symbol for a girl.

So my advice is this: Enjoy it. Be careful. And don’t be a prick. 

If you’re a white guy, you will probably have lots of girls & people coming up to take pictures with you.

You will probably have girls ask for your phone number.

You may have people come up to you asking if you want to model.

Enjoy the attention, don’t let it get to your head, realize that there may be a lot of gold digging girls, and otherwise just use it as an opportunity to make friends.

8. People will stare at you. A lot.

Picture time in the Forbidden City

Another thing that intrigues people but bothers others. Even in the big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, if you’re not at a foreigner university, you’ll have a lot of people staring at you.

In Beijing, the gym where I go to only has a couple foreigners, and every single time I get into the elevator (6 floors) there is some elderly Chinese looking right at my face totally captivated.

She looks at my face for a while, and then looks me up and down noting things about me. My shoes. My belt. My shirt.

The attention you get may or may not bother you.  But the feeling I had from all these experiences is that the Chinese simply are naive of the outside world, and any chance they get to see if first-hand, they’ll take.

9. Beware of face

Everyone knows about face in the west. You know, from those old Japanese swordsman movies.  The samurai has dishonored the master so he commits ritual suicide.

In China it’s also extremely important and underlies every facet of Chinese society, even in modern times.

Most of the time, it just works like this: talk up the accomplishments of others a lot, and be very humble when taking a compliment.

Sometimes, it’s a little more hostile:

On more than one occasion I’ve had Chinese offer me drinks while in a club, bar, or restaurant just trying to be friendly.  At the beginning it freaked me out – we don’t do that in the west unless you want something from someone, or are giving them a roofie-colada.

So, at the beginning, I politely refused.  One guy even resorted to speaking English, “I don’t want to have to kick your ass!”

He was drunk beyond belief and I had 6 guys with me, so it wasn’t exactly threatening, but it could’ve been.

It’s just important to know that face is one of the reasons some people won’t drop an argument or end up resorting to fist fights.. and there are plenty of those.

Party time

So, if you’re planning on traveling in China, being an expat in China, teaching English in China, or just going to China to study kung fu, you already have an exhausting guide of things to prepare for.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim September 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm

I LIIIIIIIKE !!!! totally true buddy ;)
that’s a nice one !!!


Craig November 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Well, fuck me eh? I have been in Thailand and other Asian countries but avoided China where now it appears I shouldn’t have….thankyou !


afheyne November 4, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Amen, China is not a place to be missed if you are looking to have a ridiculous amount of fun!



Sarah Li Cain March 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm

haha the non-existent lines are SO true. I once *ahem* threw this lady’s apples all across the supermarket floor because she cut in front of me. Not one of my proudest moments, and I swore I will never stoop to that level again.


Alexander Heyne March 23, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Hahahha I literally shoulder checked an elderly chinese lady because she cut in front of me in the line for chinese medicine. She looked at me like she was gonna swing, then kinda did the “respect” look. “Aight, this whiteboy figured us out.”


Sarah Li Cain March 23, 2013 at 8:02 pm

I have to say old ladies have my respect in China. You have to wonder why they’re not MORE aggressive since they did survive the Mao regime and all that jazz.

Lauren Hesterman August 21, 2013 at 11:07 am

I came to your site via your “3 Lies” article that appears to be making rounds on Facebook and 1) thanks, I totally resonate with your perspective on life and career, being of the same generation as yourself and 2) I’m currently living in China (with two young kids and a husband) and quite enjoyed your rendition of life here (having nearly been mowed down by a motorbike while crossing the road – at a traffic light, at the correct time – holding the hands of two small children, today).


Alexander Heyne August 21, 2013 at 11:49 am

Hey Lauren,

Thanks for stopping by! Haha and how are you liking life in China?

– Alex


Katy August 23, 2013 at 2:31 am

Super late reply but I just stumbled upon this and I love it! When I went to China (during June), it was really hot and humid and along with the pollution, I felt like I was covered in a layer of grime every time I stepped outside. But nevertheless, China was one of my favorite places to visit because of it’s history. And you are right, mainlanders really have HORRIBLE manners– I know it’s a bad stereotype but I live in Vancouver where there are A LOT of us Chinese people and when we encounter someone with bad banners, we automatically assume they are from the mainland and not Hong Kong.


Alexander Heyne August 23, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Hey Katy,

Hahah yeah in Taiwan they pretty much hate mainlanders, and if it’s obvious that someone is being rude or not following the rules, they always just assume they’re from the mainland.

China is definitely a beautiful country though. IT’s pretty amazing, the scenery, the culture, the sheer size. Very special place. The pollution really blows.. that could use some fixing.

Sweet website name by the way hahah.


Guill March 25, 2014 at 5:04 am

Unfortunately things haven’t changed much about manners! I’ve been living in Macau for 6 years now and in the past years we’re (Macau and Hong Kong) having been invaded by mainlanders. Could have been nothing wrong with that, but they’re really trashing the places daily. A lot have apartments here now, so you can except spits in the elevator when you head for work in the morning. Locals take a newspaper and a bottle of water when they bring their dogs out, mainlanders just shits in the alleys, sometimes even in shopping malls. I’m a pretty open guy, I’ve traveled a lot and seen a lot, but this is harder and harder to take on a daily basis, when women keep shouting in the corridor at 3 in the morning. When you’re traveling, it’s fun and you move on. When it’s daily, it really makes me consider moving. And the biggest issue is, they never learn, they don’t get it.


Alexander Heyne March 25, 2014 at 11:27 am

Hahah yep Guill. It can be tough !


Luis October 26, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Man, i want to move to china just by reading your stuff, i have one question if i get a job and stay more than 90 days can somehow the goverment return me to my country? im from mexico

greetings, keep the good work


Chase March 30, 2015 at 10:14 pm

One-hundred percent spot on portrayal of China. I’ve been compiling a list of these for my own blogging purposes, but I couldn’t have said it better myself.


Alexander Heyne April 10, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Hah, thanks Chase.


AsianGal September 25, 2015 at 12:38 am

I’m from Southeast Asia. Malaysia to be exact. I’ve never seen anybody asking a random white dude on the street to take a picture here (that’s silly). I have seen this many times in China though. You don’t even need to be a handsome young, white dude either. Even an old fat, white person (man or woman) gets that celebrity status you’re talking about. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, young girls asking an old, nerdy, fat white man to take a picture, while a young and handsome black guy being ignored completely.

I gotta say in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore, it’s not as obvious as it is in China. But people here do have that stereotypical view of white people: white people are rich, modern, ideal. And because of that everybody would jump on the opportunity to marry a white person, even if that white person is a wrinkly old daddy with no money. I’ve seen this many times too. One of my sister’s friend who is 27 is married to a white man in his late 60’s. He has a grownup son who’s older than her too. It’s so sad to see. I hate it. I really hate this way of thinking. Especially when those white people who probably have nothing going on for them back home are taking advantage of their instant celebrity status here in Asia. My advice to them is, don’t be a dick.


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