There are certain obvious things that you will only see in the People’s Republic of China. These include the Great Wall of China, the giant panda in its native habitat, and the epic skyline of the megacity Shanghai. But all that is to be expected, much as one expects to see the Statue of Liberty in New York or the Tower of London in…London. Today we’re going to look at a few slightly more subtle, strange, and often unexpected sights that you will only see in China, and not because they are physically rooted to the ground there, but because they are the result of Chinese cultural provenance.
Like any land with a long history, Chinese culture is distinct from that of any other nation on earth. There are myriad aspects of Chinese arts, cuisine, attire, and architecture that are quintessentially Chinese and that, to the eyes of a foreigner, look…well…weird. Give my regards to the concept of cultural relativism, but here are fifteen strange things you will only see in China. (And for the record, I’m well aware there are a plethora of inarguably odd aspects of American culture as well. Like the state of Florida, for example, writ large.)
15. The Super “Hot” Facekini
If you have visited any beaches or swimming pools in China in the past decade, you may well have seen people wearing one of the latest trendy Chinese fashion accessories, the facekini. These terrifying hood/mask combinations are really nothing more than balaclavas made from stretchy swimsuit material that have (somehow) been marketed as fashionable. They are primarily worn to protect the skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays and to prevent tanning, which Chinese women in particular avoid like the plague. They can also protect a swimmer against jelly fish stings and against any chance that I will approach within a hundred feet.
14. Roasted Insect Snacktime
To be fair, eating insects is entirely common in many countries around the world, and in fact many bugs (I’m aware scorpions are technically arachnids, no need to point that out) are nutritious and described as quite tasty. They are also an eco-friendly food source. But… still gross. Few if any nations can match China for the diversity and the sheer volume of insects consumed, though. Visit a food market in an average Chinese city, and you can find beetles, cicadas, scorpions, crickets and oh so much more roasted up and ready for you to chow down. Or to nope the hell on past and grab some fried rice and pork.
13. The Most Crowded Beaches Ever
China is far and away the most populous nation on earth, with more than 1.4 billion people living there. But it’s also one of the largest countries on the planet, and it has thousands of miles of coast line, so you might not expect to see a beach so crowded as this one despite the massive population. This is Shenzhen City’s wildly popular Dameisha Beach Park. Located in south China’s Guangdong Province, the beach has on occasion attracted more than 130,000 visitors… on a single day. This and similar images help illustrate two things. One, China is indeed a populous country. And two, the Chinese have a very different concept of personal space than most westerners.
12. Abandoned Cities
China is home to a number of so-called ghost cities, though these cities are more haunting than haunted. That’s because almost no one ever lived in them, thus a dearth of undead spirits left to wander between worlds. Or… something. Anyway, here we see a picture of Ordos, one of the largest and most famous ghost cities in China. Built to house an expected influx of hundreds of thousands of people drawn to the nation’s barren north during a mini boom, only a small percentage of the new housing and commercial real estate was ever occupied. While the city is not true abandoned, it’s so sparsely populated compared to its potential that it certainly feels that way. And Ordos is emblematic of many other towns and cities around the country.
11. The High Fashion Pyjama
Older people in China have long worn simple, comfortable attire that looks to Western eyes not unlike pyjamas. But in recent years actual sleepwear has entered the Chinese sartorial mainstream, with fashion designers cranking out designer pyjamas and Chinese of all ages strutting down sidewalks in comfy pants and tops that just a little while back would have been reserved for trips between the bedroom, couch, and the refrigerator. While plenty of Americans can be seen lumbering around in sweat pants and baggy hoodies (or in genuine pyjamas), here the look is still considered slovenly by most; in China, it’s fresh, baby.
10. Blatant Copyright Infringement
In Chinese culture, honesty and rule following are not at all treated the same as they are in many parts of the world. Being a good cheater or a successful swindler is not seen as a source of shame, but indeed as a badge of honor. Thus it’s not much surprise that international copyright law is not treated with such respect. Or any at all. This Sunbucks Coffee shop is only one of a thousand such examples of a blatant brand ripoff that is on proud and prominent display in China.
9. Wildly Overloaded Trucks
Seeing how much stuff you can load onto the back of a single truck almost seems to be a national pastime in China. There was the infamous image of the flatbed truck carrying six other flatbed trucks which eventually flipped off a bridge, but more often than not these overloaded vehicles must make it to their destinations, because scenes like this pop up again and again. Here we see a truck loaded with dozens of heavy sacks of something or other that looks like it’s about three seconds away from rolling over, collapsing, or both.
8. Crocodiles for Sale at Walmart as Food
Let’s take this one step by step, shall we? First, yes, Walmart, that quintessentially American institution has setup shop (or mega shop, that is) in China. Indeed there are more than 100 Walmart locations in the country. Second, in many Chinese Walmarts, you can buy a crocodile. And third, said creature is sold as a foodstuff. Crocodile meat might not be common in America (alligator, though, you can easily find) but in China it is common enough to not turn a head. Except mine. And probably yours.
7. The Nail House: Homes That Stayed Put
This will probably come as a surprise to those of you who think of the Chinese government as authoritarian and controlling (which in many ways it is — free speech, amiright?), but in China, it is quite difficult to force homeowners to vacate a property even if the residence impedes the progress of major construction. There is no established concept of eminent domain, in other words. Thus you have the phenomenon called the Nail House, which is a residence that had to be worked around as a building project progressed. The result is often diverted highways, modern city blocks in which an ancient home perches amidst high-rises, and so forth.
6. The Color Red
Everywhere you go in China, you will see the color red. Red apples are prized for their hue, not their taste. Red lanterns are lighted at every festival. Ancient temples and palaces and modern homes alike are often painted red. And so forth. This is not due to the association with the color red and the communist party, strong though that link has been throughout history, but rather because red is considered a color signifying good luck and good fortune, and the more of it that’s around, the better life will be. Or so it’s thought, anyway.
5. The Red Panda
OK, to this Chinese native isn’t so much strange as it is almost insultingly cute. Red pandas, which bear no actual close relation to pandas, are so unique that they are not only a distinct species but are in fact in their own family of animals. They look kind of like a cross between a raccoon, a cat, a fox, and an anime character. The range of the red panda is almost entirely limited to southern China, though some can be found in Nepal. With only an estimated 10,000 red pandas living in the wild, this charming creature is currently listed as endangered.
4. Strange Stuff Passed Off as Medicine
I’m sure I’m kicking a hornets nest here, but for my money (and wellbeing) I’ll trust evidence-based western medicine over remedies that predate the development of antibiotics, not to mention the invention of diagnostic tools like the MRI or even the basic microscope. But for tens of millions of Chinese, Traditional Chinese Medicine is seen as the best way to maintain health and wellness. Some of the most commonly used “medicines” are made up of things like dried, ground up seahorse, bear bile, human placentas, and other lunacy. Listen, if you’re into alternative medicine, that’s fine (for you, not for me), but do yourself a favor and at least research it deeply before you put your wellbeing in the hands of its practitioners.
3. Napping Is a National Treasure
Even as the classic Spanish siesta has largely been relegated to the past, in China, the nap is alive and well. You will see Chinese people from all walks of life taking naps with regularity — from the field hand to the Communist party official to the factory worker to the businessman — and often in very public places. The wellspring of the Chinese nap is almost surely the same as the aforementioned Spanish siesta, with farmers from generations past vacating the fields during the hottest part of the day. But today the nap is seen as a semi-spiritual practice that allows one to rebalance their chi (or energy) and keep on with a productive day.
2. Wildly Overloaded Bicycles
When they’re not busy putting about five times the safe operating load on the back of a truck, quite often Chinese men and women can be found pedaling along on a bicycle carrying more weight than most of us would be comfortable securing in the bed of a Ford F-150. The man pedaling a bicycle-drawn cart in this image looks to have enough merchandise to stock an entire store along for the ride. One has to hope his trip doesn’t involve any steep hills; it’s hard to gauge which would be worse, an impossible uphill slog or a downhill disaster.
1. Vastly Different Hours of Daylight
China has one time zone. That’s right, this country that is about the same size as the continental United States and that spans five geographical time zones as recognized by the international community is all on the same time zone, which they call Beijing Standard Time. So when the sun is just rising in Shanghai on China’s far east coast (which it does at around 5:40 AM in September, for reference) the city of, say, Kashgar in the far west of the country can still expect a full three hours of darkness until their own sunrise, which takes place at about 8:40 in the early autumn. Does not… make… sense.
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