There’s a lot about China I love, and even many Chinese customs I’d love to see in my own country. Then are also aspects of life here which I don’t particularly like but can understand the cultural, historical, or practical reason behind. And then there are the things about life here that defy explanation.


1. Taxi shift change

In the two provincial capitals we’ve lived in, taxis change drivers every day around 5-7 p.m. During that time, it becomes nigh on impossible to get a cab and you will stand there waving down taxi after taxi in vain until 7:30 rolls around. We’ve heard from friends it’s the same in many cities in China. Why do they need to change drivers during the absolute peak demand time for taxis? Why every single blessed driver and cab at once? Give me ten minutes and I can solve this for you.

2. Food scams that require huge amounts of time, effort, and skill

I’m not talking about melamine in baby formula or crooked corporate types taking bribes to deceive people on a grand scale. I’m talking about individual vendors who carefully drain eggs through pinholes and refill the shells with water, then sell them as real eggs to unsuspecting shoppers. Or who drape real fish skin over a rice-flour form to sell as an actual fish. That takes some talent, folks. But, why don’t you use your powers for good? Might I suggest an Etsy shop?

3. The price of shampoo

Even the cheapest, awfullest brands are pricey here. WHY??

4. Tiny spaces for foreign names on forms

China gets multiple millions of foreign tourists per year, not to mention all the laowai coming in on work and student visas, and this has been going on for a while. You’d think by now they would have realized that the tiny little 3-character space they provide on documents like immigration forms and foreigner health exam forms is not big enough for the vast majority of foreign names. And they often want your FULL NAME, as it appears on your passport. “Elizabeth Alexandra Harrin…oh, never mind. I’ll just go by ‘Liz.’.”

5. Bad English at international chains

At least part of those foreign tourists, workers, and students are native English speakers. You would think brands like Burger King and Marriott would hire somebody to check over their English menus, ads, signs, and other materials. Even people who mix up their, they’re and there would easily catch mistakes like this one:


It should be “Panda Eats Shoots and Leaves,” yeah?

6. Separate trash cans for recycling and “unrecycling”


First of all, major kudos for actually having trash receptacles available for the public to use. That is a big step up. Even if the public paid attention and 1) threw their trash into them and 2) put the trash in the appropriate side, it’s all in vain because the garbage collectors dump both sides out into the same pile to sweep up into their cart.

7. Turning a blind nose to pilots smoking during flights

Yes, all the passengers can smell it. The bullet-proof super-locked door does not keep smoke in the cockpit. Captain, as a friend, can I tell you something? If you really cannot make it through a one-hour flight without lighting up, you need to either cut back on your number of smokes per day, or find a different profession. I’m looking at you, China Eastern.

8. Holiday make-up days

For those of you unfamiliar with this practice, I’ll give an example. Schools and businesses will be closed Thursday, September 15 and  Friday, September 16 for Mid-Autumn Festival this year. Hooray! A four-day weekend, right? Not quite. Everyone will have to report for duty on Sunday, September 18 for a full day of work and school to make up for one of the days they missed. This policy comes from the famous treatise “How to Suck All the Joy out of Getting a Day Off and Pretty Much Make it Feel Like There Wasn’t a Holiday At All.” No foreigner can understand these “make-up” days, or, as The Beijinger puts it, “Hideous, soul-crushing weekend work days.”

9. Paying extra for buses with A/C that don’t turn on the A/C

When the sun is super-intense here in the Mile High City (oops, I mean, City of Eternal Spring), I am usually very happy when a bus pulls up to my stop with a glorious snowflake icon on its sign. Although it means an extra 1 kuai for bus fare, it means air conditioning!! But so often, I get on and realize the driver has not (and will not) turn on the A/C. Or even worse, I get on a bus that has its air-con going (or heater in the winter) and find that the passengers have opened the windows for better airflow. Oh well. It’s probably good for my qi.

10. Allowing small dogs in supermarkets and malls

Security guards and employees will freak out if someone tries to bring a medium or large dog into their establishments, but if it’s something like a chihuahua or miniature poodle, they seem to be fine with their owners carrying them right in. This leads to some weird situations. I’ve seen off-leash dogs trotting down the aisle of a supermarket. I’ve seen little dogs pooping in the middle of malls. Don’t worry, their owners are right there, waiting for the dog to finish so they can pick up the poo and wipe the dog’s bum. I’m a dog lover, but this is all past my limit.

11. Combo sidewalk/scooter land/tree planters/market/parking lot

I’m not a traffic engineer or city planner, but there has got to be a better solution than routing all two-wheeled traffic onto the sidewalk, which also hosts tree planters that everyone has to dodge around. Can we not put the trees on the inside of the thoroughfare instead of the middle? Can we have the scooter lane on the street? It only exacerbates things when vendors set up their ground cloths or carts in the middle of it all, and/or some parking attendant is directing cars to park on the sidewalk. Which means pedestrians walking in the street, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! Or, just another night in China.

12. Left turn arrows while pedestrians have green light

Crossing a major intersection as a pedestrian already gets my adrenaline pumping. It’s that much worse when the only time I get a green light to walk straight across is the same time oncoming traffic gets a green arrow to turn through the crosswalk. And most motorists seem to try their hardest to speed up and cut off pedestrians rather than yielding to them. Can we maybe not have pedestrians and cars competing for turf? Spoiler alert: the cars win.

13. Stretchy toilet paper

It’s like trying to tear off a section of yoga pants.

Your turn! What about China (or any other country) is a mystery to you?


Get my next post sent right to you.

50 Signs You’re an American Expat in China

13 Careers Living in China Prepares You For

Sorry, Stephen Colbert, but I am America