3 Ways China Surprised Me

As my semester in China is coming to an end, I’ve been reflecting on my journey from the beginning to today. When I arrived, China didn’t quite defy my expectations or induce culture shock, but rather, I discovered some interesting surprises along the way.

1. The world revolves around smartphones.

All you need to survive in China is your smartphone (not applicable to tourists). This is one of the things I will miss the most. Useful smartphone applications in China are endless. For example, with WeChat, it’s an app that is an all-around platform for most purposes. I use it to pay for everything, from vending machines to public transportation to stores. I haven’t had a single instance in which WeChat Pay was not accepted. I use it as a messaging platform that also allows voice and video calls. I use it as a social media platform whenever I feel up to posting on WeChat Moments. I even use it to order food when I’m at restaurants. And what happens when you’re on low battery in such a smartphone dependent world? You can rent battery packs (available in stores, restaurants, etc.) for only 1 RMB/0.13 USD!

2. Their relationship with plastic waste varies.

It’s difficult to detail their general stance on environmental issues. At some stores, if you ask for a plastic bag (i.e. you didn’t bring your own reusable one), they charge you a few RMB for each plastic bag that you need. This encourages customers to be environmentally friendly and makes the store a few extra bucks. As you can see some establishments are trying to do their part when it comes to taking care of the environment, yet others are doing the opposite. At a lot of fast food chains and cafes, when you take a drink to go, they put your cup in its own little single use plastic bag with handles. The bags are recyclable, but I can’t help but wonder what the environmental impact is. To give you an idea of how large it may be, one of the chains that does this is KFC, the fast food chain with the biggest market share in China.

KFC Takeaway Drink

3. Cameras…EVERYWHERE.

China has the most security cameras in the world. Although you may be uncomfortable with the idea of so many cameras, it’s really quite beneficial (as long as you’re not up to anything nefarious of course). A friend of a friend had her wallet stolen during a weekend trip. Luckily, the police were able to quickly track the thief through the security cameras and get her wallet back to her.

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