china

Semi-recently, my grandma came to vacation in Canada for a while. After her vacation was over, we needed to escort her back to China (because she has knee problems and doesn’t walk too well). My parents came up with the brilliant idea of sending me and my brother. See, both of us have lived most of our lives in Canada. My brother barely even understands Chinese, and I really only speak my town’s dialect. While we bumbled through our trip, we noticed some things that are distinctly different from Canada.

1. Sidewalks are made for parking.

The sidewalks are super wide. Like, as wide as the road here in Canada. And everyone parks on them. Pedestrians walk around the cars or simply on the road. Furthermore, the parking isn’t a single row. People park in double rows, completely cutting off the inner cars’ exit routes. When I asked my cousin’s husband, “Why does everyone park like that? What if that guy needs to leave?” he replied, “Who cares? That’s his problem.” That viewpoint is shared by most people. Including the guys who are stuck. Huh. (By the way, is there a specific English word for “cousin’s husband”?)

2. There is never free parking.

If you want a parking space near your home, you have to pay your apartment manager for it.  If you park on the street, you pay for parking in the form of a fine. Even if you’re a paying customer at a mall, you have to pay for parking.

3. It only costs $4 Canadian to take a taxi for 30 minutes.

It costs less to take the taxi than to park your car. The taxis are everywhere, but, since everyone’s taking them, hailing one down isn’t always easy (there’s an app that makes it easier). Their fee starts at ¥9.30 (approx. $1.80 CAD) and goes up by next to nothing per kilometre. Here in Vancouver, the cab fees start at $9 and go up by practically $0.10 every five metres. A five-minute drive in Vancouver cost me over $20.

Apparently, if you’re a tourist, the cabbies will often take you for a long detour, to get more money out of you. Still, it doesn’t add up to much. The unfortunate part is, a lot of taxi drivers smoke in the car, and technically you’re not allowed to complain because (I think) it’s not illegal or even frowned upon.

4. There is incessant honking.

People honk when you drive too slow. People honk when they’re passing pedestrians on the road. People honk sometimes merely as a greeting. When I told one of my cousins that in Canada, people rarely honk at all, he was flabbergasted. “How do they communicate?” he spluttered. I shrugged and said, “I guess they just follow the road signs.” He looked at me as if I were crazy.

I rarely spotted stop signs in China. Even when they were present, people didn’t stop. I saw a cop watch some guy run a stop sign at 50km/h without so much as blinking. (In Canada, I watched a cop give a woman a fine because she slowed to a crawl but didn’t completely stop at the sign.)  In China, I learned to cross the road whenever there was a gap because cars don’t yield for pedestrians. Be careful if you’re visiting!

5. The best food is found in questionable tents in alleyways. But be careful where you eat.

The best wontons I have ever had were found in a shady, dimly-lit tent in a back alleyway. Seriously. They were cheap too. We ate a lot of great food in shady tents on the street. I think we only stopped at one or two restaurants with a visible health certification by the door. Apparently, even in official, non-tent restaurants, a health certification isn’t mandatory. The thing is, you need to know which shady tents and small restaurants are safe to eat from. According to my relatives, some places use “gutter oil” to cook. It’s exactly what it sounds like: oil they scooped up from the gutters. Gross.

We were also warned not to buy jelly in China. People apparently go into dumpsters to find old shoe leather that they manage to stew into jelly. Ugh.

6. A lot of restaurants don’t have menus.

Instead, when you walk in, they’ll have photos of food or the ingredients to food. You stand there and they send someone to follow you through the display, taking your order. It’s kind of cool. You get to go through tanks of living seafood and pick out your favourite fish. Squeamish people beware: some higher-class restaurants will also have live insects–because they’re a delicacy.

7. China really needs one of those 90-degree rulers.

Nothing was level there. Stairs were all somewhat angled. Ledges had cracks. Tiled sidewalks had loose pieces, ready to tip you over.

8. People will shove you aside instead of saying “excuse me”.

During our two-week trip, we didn’t hear a single person say “excuse me”. Then again, in Mandarin, it’s kind of annoying to say. The shorter version is “rangkai”, which is rather rude and simply translates to “move aside”. The more polite version is “qing rang yi xia”, which is really only polite if your tone is soft. If your tone is sharp and hurried, it’s still rude. You could make it more polite by adding a “sorry” to the front, but that’s three syllables by itself, and makes the phrase too long and impractical for everyday use.

Another thing we found weird is that people just dash up escalators willy-nilly. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in Canada, people stand to the right, and those who want to walk go to the left. My brother and I lined up on the right side of an escalator in China and people gave us weird looks as they shoved past us.

9. There were absolutely no homeless people.

Actually, even the people collecting garbage on the street wore brand-name items. Granted, they were probably fake, but still.

10. Teachers are like gods.

If your teacher doesn’t like you, she can place you in a seat far from the board. If your teacher doesn’t like you, she can dock marks for very little reason. If your teacher doesn’t like you, you tell your parents to give them gifts. You stay behind to do them favours after school. You wash their car, carry their papers, and clean the chalkboard, in the hopes that you can gain some slim advantage in class and do well enough in the national exam to get into high school. And then comes the next national exam, to get into university.

I was really shocked when my cousin told me this. He even said that one of his teachers enjoyed smacking students with rulers if they weren’t paying attention in class, and everyone was cool with it. To me, this feels like something from a different century. I still remember one of my high school teachers getting fired for calling us colourful names.

Did you find any of these weird? What are some weird things you noticed while travelling?

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