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12 Surprising Things I’ve Learned About China In My First 12 Days

We made it to China! It’s been a crazy whirlwind, but we are here and loving it! Suzhou is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen–it’s like they put a huge city right in the middle of Central Park. There are gardens, fountains, canals, weeping willow trees, and bronze statues everywhere you look. The streets are immaculate, and every day, you see people pruning hedges and sweeping the streets and sidewalks. At night, there are colorful lights all over, which reflect off the lake, canals, fountains, and even wet streets to create an almost surreal effect. Just gorgeous.

So in my whopping 12 days in China, I have learned quite a lot of Chinese words and phrases (immersion really does work). I’ve learned about requesting fapiao (receipts) and what to do in an emergency and how to hail a cab (yeah, I’d never done that before).

Nighttime near Jinji Lake

Here are 12 things I’ve learned about China in my short time here:

1. The people here are incredibly gracious. This is my favorite thing on my list! Chinese people–whether they are workers or just out strolling–have consistently gone out of their way to help us. They have carried things upstairs, helped teach us Chinese, gave me crackers, helped me buy the perfect hair straightener despite a serious language barrier, and on and on. They have made us feel welcome in their beautiful city, and we are so, so grateful for that.

2. Suzhou residents are fascinated with children, especially those with lighter skin and hair. We ate at Pizza Hut in a mall the other day, and our booth was beside a large glass wall that looked out into the mall. Our 7-year old son sat next to the window and had an audience as he ate. For whatever reason, people kept coming up to the window to look at him. He loved it and was all-too-happy to give them a show! When we walk on the streets, people will touch the boys’ hair or talk to them in Chinese. At a school party last night at a local restaurant, two blonde girls went outside and ended up posing with a family on the sidewalk. Our school had told us this would happen and to just go with it. We feel like celebrities!

Statues of children at play are all over!

3. It’s safe. This is a huge city of 11 million people, but crime here is very low. Say what you want about harsh Chinese punishment, but I love that I don’t have to worry about walking downtown by myself or allowing my boys to play outside without me by their side.

4. There are mosquitoes. Wow, are there mosquitoes! They are mainly a problem around dusk, but they are relentless at that time. In my 15 minutes outside tonight, I gained 10 new mosquito bites from my knees and down. I had a sweatshirt and capris on, so it could have been much worse were I not covered.

5. Bats, not birds. I’m not sure where all the birds are, but it is strange not hearing birdsong all day long. Bats are plentiful though, and I am thankful for their help with the mosquito population.

6. It rains! After living in Texas for 18 years, I have really enjoyed the prolonged periods of heavy, steady rain. Bring it!

On the bus and enjoying the rain!

7. E-bikes are everywhere. I worry more about being hit by an e-bike than by a car. E-bikes are very quiet; you can’t hear them coming AT ALL.

8. Squatty Potties aren’t THAT bad. Yes, there are western toilets. We have western toilets in our apartment and throughout our school. BUT. Out in public, you will be lucky to find a western toilet. Mostly, you will find squatty potties. If you’ve never used one of these, as I hadn’t until recently, you are missing out on an interesting experience! Before you think, “I could never use that,” be aware that it isn’t really all that difficult. Just remember to BYOTP–it isn’t usually provided in the squatty stalls. At least there is still a door–most of the time.

From a women’s restroom at a nice mall

9. Traffic is seriously crazy. I have no desire at all to drive here. There’s lots of horn-honking (not considered rude here; just letting drivers know you are there), lane weaving, making one’s own lane, middle-of-the-road-U-turns. Oh, and all traffic turning right does not have to stop, so be careful in crosswalks. Cabs, buses, trains, bikes, e-bikes, and walking…these are the way to go.

10. DVDs are CHEAP and plentiful (though many probably violate copyright). Moving to China? You really don’t need to pack DVDs. We just purchased 4 seasons of The Game of Thrones, Season 7 of The Big Bang Theory (not out for another month in the US), Mr. Peabody and Sherman (not available until October in the US), The Pirates of the Caribbean series, Seasons 1-3 of Grimm, and Seasons 1-2 of Once Upon A Time. The price? 10 RMB per disc ($1.63). WOW.

11. Probably no ice for your drink. I love lots of ice in my drinks, but for the most part, drinks are served cold without any ice. Bottled water is often served warm.

12. Baked goods contain less sugar. Despite bakeries on every corner, sugary items like cookies and cakes are far less sugary here than in the US. Maybe that’s why there are virtually no overweight people here! Bakery items are still delicious, but I have been craving sugar the past few days.

Want more updates on China? I’m posting daily on my FaceBook page–Mrs. Collazo’s Adventures in China. Give it a “like” and follow along!

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