How China Surprised Me

At "T-M&M" Square -- I have no idea how to spell the actual location.

Yesterday my family and I got home from an epic adventure to Beijing, China, to run the Great Wall Half Marathon.  The trip was ridiculously amazing -- I have to break it up into a few posts.

Finishing the Great Wall Half Marathon as a family.

To start, I had no idea what to expect about China.  I wanted to be surprised.

And I was.  

Here are a few things that defied my expectations...

Toilets are a Luxury

Right when our flight touched down at Beijing Airport, my sister and I walked into a bathroom.  When I stepped into a stall to do my business, I realized the stall was missing something... the toilet.  Instead, there was a hole in the ground.  The heck?  This was a bathroom at a large international airport that hosted the world at the 2008 Olympics -- shouldn't it have toilets?

Confused, I just stood there, staring at the hole.

"Psst, Christy!" I whispered loudly enough for my sister to hear, while attempting to squelch the title of stereotypically loud American.  "Does your stall have...." I couldn't believe I was asking this, "...a toilet?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Uhh, mine just has a hole in the ground."


I ended up opting out of the pop-a-squat hole in exchange for a turn at Christy's luxury throne this time around, but I would not be able to steer completely clear of Mr. Hole for long.


Apparently this flushable hole in the ground is the norm in China (yes -- for number one or number two), and that very few locations even have a sit-down toilet.  This, by the way, totally takes the relaxation out of going to the bathroom -- don't bring a magazine into a Chinese squatty potty.

The worst part (advanced apologies for the high nastiness factor of this paragraph) was that people just... well... can't aim, and usually a visit to Mr. Hole means standing in half an inch of other people's used-to-be orange juice, beer, or bottled water, while you struggle yourself not to be a floor content contributor.

This is far cleaner than any of the ones I saw -- you're welcome.

My sister was so revolted by Chinese public bathrooms that she pretty much stopped drinking liquids the whole week in order to avoid using any bathroom other than our hotel's.  And I've gotta hand it to her -- she miraculously managed to never have to face Mr. Hole. 

As for me, with a bladder the size of a postage stamp, I became unfortunately well acquainted with Mr. Hole, though we are not, and never will be, friends.

Red Light Means "Everyone GO!"

Beijing is packed with more people than can fit on their streets, but that doesn't prevent anyone from taking to them anyway.  Everywhere you look, there are scooters, bikes, cars, buses, and pedestrians.  Few people wear seatbelts or helmets, and some bikes and scooters are so packed with bags that they look like the sleigh on "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Wouldn't it be awesome if the Chinese could do this?

Intersections have traffic lights, but from my observations, a green light for one lane actually means "everyone in sight start moving at the same time in every direction possible -- the biggest or fastest wins!"

And pedestrians?  They do NOT have the right of way!  It blows my mind!  Literally, even if a "walk" sign is lit at a crosswalk, every kind of wheeled contraption is cutting through pedestrians with millimeters to spare.

The craziest part is -- no one crashes or hits anyone, and the Chinese are 100 percent unphased by this kind of sporadic and chaotic transportation culture.  They honk at each other frequently, but the horn is only tapped lightly to notify others around you that you're there, as opposed to the more colorful message attached to honking in the United States.  In China, there isn't road rage or yelling at each other -- it's just a cultural understanding that complete and constant chaos on the roads is not chaos at all.  The lack of order, since expected, is orderly.  Mind = blown.

Us tourists, on the other hand, gasped, held our breath, and covered our eyes on a regular basis everywhere the bus took us.  By the time our bus driver flipped his seventh u-turn at a red light in the middle of a busy intersection narrowly missing a signpost, rooftop, and a woman in a wheelchair, we stopped looking out the windows.

Pizza Hut is AMAZING

Ever had to put your name on a 30-minute wait list to be guided through glass doors, up a fancy staircase, and seated by a server holding leather-bound menus offering everything from shrimp cocktails to fancy wines -- at a friggin' Pizza Hut?

Waiting for our name to be called to eat at Pizza Hut in Beijing.

Not even kidding -- China's Pizza Hut makes the United State's pizza look like poopzza.  While admittedly our craving for "normal" food after eating a dozen Chinese meals in a row may have influenced our bias toward this China pizza experience slightly, I stand by the fact that I would have been impressed regardless.  The seven of us inhaled two large and deliciously cheesy pizzas in T-minus 60 seconds.  It was so yummy!

I never thought I'd be saying this, but if you visit China, you have to go to a Pizza Hut.  And to further amaze with unexpected advice, be sure to get there early so you can get your name on the wait list.

Foreigners are Celebrities

When we weren't running on the Great Wall, we spent much of our time exploring all the tourist-magnet hot spots in Beijing.  And just like how we Americans like to tour different parts of our own country, these Beijing tourist traps were stock full of Chinese from all other parts of China, complete with group guides leading with bright flags of different colors.

Our tour group consisted of runners from all over the world -- Iceland, Sweden, Trinidad, England, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Spain -- the list continues.  

Our tour group of Great Wall runners -- awesome people from all around the world.

Since we stuck out like a sore thumb in a sea of Chinese, as we walked around, often the Chinese would approach us and either ask to take a picture with us, or just stand in front of us and have their picture taken without asking.  It was hilarious.

Getting asked to have our picture taken.

Our three friends from Trinidad were often the only black people in sight, so they might as well have all been Lebron James.  

Chinese don't see black people very often, hahaha.

And anyone with blond hair was an instant camera target, too.  My family was frequently pulled into pictures just for looking like a bunch of white people, and the Chinese were so excited, it was completely endearing and we were happy to oblige. 

So much to write, and so little time!  Stay tuned for more adventures in China!


  1. Great post. I love China and its people...but I don't like Mr. Hole either. By the way, I ran into a very friendly Jessie and Disneyland. If it was you, thank you for making the experience memorable for me and my family!

  2. Hahaha! Fun read and a very accurate description of an american's experience in China.

  3. This was fun. I can't believe it's over! What an awesome experience.

    PS. Everytime I come to your blog I start singing "go go go Jo. go go go Jo. Jo. gogogogogogogo." And it remains in my head all day.


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