It’s the first thing you’re going to have to deal with living when anywhere outside of your home country. When living abroad you might find some behaviors that shock you, but be wary not to condemn them just because they are unfamiliar to you. This is their culture, and the only way to get over culture shock is to accept the new and the strange.
The most shocking aspect of living in China, at least for me, is the sanitary conditions. And by sanitary conditions, I’m speaking mainly about going to the bathroom.
Most toilets in China are called what are known as “squat toilets”, basically a hole in the ground you squat over to do your business. If you’re lucky it’ll be porcelain. Outside of the city, it’s likely to be dirt.
Being that it’s pretty hard to mask the smell of what are basically wells of human excrement, you can usually find a public bathroom pretty easily in China—not with your eyes, but with your nose. In addition, toilet paper in China does not get thrown in the toilet after use, but rather it gets tossed in the garbage can. Whether this is to protect the environment or simply another societal difference, I don’t know…but yeah, it’s still kinda gross.
But even more unsightly than all of the above, I have witnessed first-hand, many a time, instances of parents encouraging their children to do their business right in the middle of the road. One time while waiting in line at the train station I saw little boy peeing right on the platform with his father right behind him patting him on the back. Another time, I was exiting the doors of my favorite coffee shop when suddenly I was confronted by a little girl bending over to go number two on the sidewalk. Even right on campus one time I saw two grandparents spreading their grandson’s pudgy legs so all the passers-by can get a good, unwanted look at his junk. Diapers are so uncommon and expensive for a lot of Chinese families that many Chinese children actually wear little slits in the bottom of their pants so that when nature calls they just squat wherever they are and do their do.
Now, bathroom talk is kinda funny, but where am I going with all this?
You have to know that although there is so much to love about Beijing, the ancient landmarks, the vibrant nightlife, the incredibly inexpensive and delicious food, Beijing is not a resort destination like Paris or Milan. The air can be heavily polluted on some days, and there are quite a few places in this city that smell like sour milk hooked up with rotting meat and gave birth to some strange form of raw sewage. But it’s too easy, and a little unfair, to observe these things and say “China is so dirty”, or “Beijing is such a smelly place”. I mean, don’t large portions of Manhattan stink on a daily basis? And haven’t you ever walked into a public restroom in America and then decided that you’d rather hold it in until you got home?
When you’re living abroad, it is all too easy to see something you don’t like and attribute it to the country on the whole. If you’re driving in Chicago (which I don’t recommend you ever do) and a taxi driver cuts you off, you might say “that guy is a jerk” (or some other kind of expletive inappropriate for this blog post), or maybe you might say that all taxi drivers are jerks, but I highly doubt you’d say “Ugh, Americans are such impatient lunatics!”
If you’re reading this post and planning on living abroad, just remember not everything is going to be sunshine and roses. When you see some strange behaviors on the street that might make you want to throw up the dumplings you had for breakfast, just be aware that this might only be the behavior of one guy, or a couple people, or just this one city. And even if it is a behavior of the whole culture in general, it is still not necessarily wrong, or gross, or unacceptable, it’s just different. And that’s what living abroad is all about, absorbing the new and the strange in other cultures.
So once you get over this initial culture shock, go ahead and pee anywhere you want! …But actually though, please don’t.
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<p>Louis is a Junior at Penn State studying Chinese and Political Science. He has traveled outside the US many times and enjoys writing about his personal struggles and triumphs abroad. Louis hopes that through reading his blog posts, readers can catch a much more raw and personal glimpse of foreign cultures than anything they can get from a classroom or watching TV. <em>Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.</em></p>