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In the last year, I’ve spent more time in China than probably the past 2 decades combined. Some of this time was spent as a tourist and some as a Beijinger returning to my childhood home. Either way, I feel like I’ve gained a much deeper understanding and appreciation for my birth country.


I feel like China gets a bad rep in the travelsphere. A lot of people are either scared to go or have no interest in visiting at all. Traveling to China can be quite a culture shock. It can seem like such an advanced society and yet so socially backwards. I can even admit that a lot of aspects of China intimidate me.


Even after all my trips there, I’m still learning about this country and how I fit into it now as a kid grown up in America. Some of these lessons will apply to other travelers hoping to visit China as well, while some are more personal.


Squat toilets are not as scary as I thought (but I still try to avoid them)


I’m not sure why every time I get on this subject, it becomes a huge rambling soliloquy, but okay moving on.


There is nothing else in the world like Chinese hospitality


I may be a bit biased, but I truly believe now that Chinese people are some of the most generous people in the world.


They are genuinely happy to show a visitor around, even if it’s really going out of the way for them, and will insist on paying for absolutely everything. This could be expected with family, but what about when it’s not family?


When D’s dad connected us with one of his friends (Charley) in Shanghai, we decided to meet up for a cup of coffee. We also met Tom, Charley’s best friend and a local Shanghainese.


When Tom heard that we were in town for a month, he immediately offered all sorts of help and even offered to take us around to some sites out of town. Even though he was a complete stranger just five minutes ago!


And right before we left Shanghai, Tom invited us out again for a “send-off” dinner of hotpot. It really touches me when almost complete strangers put in this kind of effort to make a couple of travelers feel welcomed.


Want service in restaurants? Then learn to be rude


Maybe I never noticed this before (or forgot), I first noticed when my aunt and uncle took us out to eat, and whenever we needed something (more water, another plate, the bill, etc.), my uncle will yell “fu wu yuan!” really loud and someone will scurry over.


This is the one Chinese custom that I just can NOT get used to! I’m so used to trying to catch the waiter’s eye and giving a polite little wave to indicate that I need something. Ha! Good luck trying this in China! You’ll be sitting there for an eternity.


The waitstaff in China are not trained to occasionally come around to see if you need anything else, but are trained to respond to aggressive calls for service. But the America-raised in me just can not do this! So I always end up just sitting there forever, staring down a waiter until he happens to glance my direction.


Family is everything


Family is important here. In American culture, I find that it’s very much a “take care of yourself” kind of mentality. Kids are usually independent at 18 or after college, new parents take on the full responsibility of raising a baby, and the elderly are often consigned to nursing homes or retirement communities.


But in China, it’s common to rely on family members for help. Grandparents often sacrifice a relaxing retirement by helping care for the grand-kids while the parents are at work. It’s not uncommon for kids to be raised by grandparents. And in turn, the children care for their parents when they get old. It’s also not uncommon for the elderly to live with their children.


Confession: I’ve always thought that I didn’t want kids. But being here in China, I see how nice it is to have your children be there for you in your old age. My aunt and uncle frequently come around to my grandma’s and are always just a phone call away if she ever needs anything. Even with my grandpa gone now, she’ll never be truly alone. I think it’s really nice. When I’m old, I don’t think I’d want to be alone with no loved ones.


Mahjong is really fun and addictive


You guys, if you weren’t convinced that I’m turning into an old person in my last post, I have a new hobby to talk of. Yes, it’s mahjong, and yes, it’s really really fun.


I see a country where family is prioritised above all, where the elderly is respected, where the sense of community is strong, and where there is genuine kindness in its people. And I hope you, as a visitor, can look past what you see on the surface and discover a beautiful country.