5 Common Expat Injuries in China

5 Common Expat Injuries in China
Apr 11, 2024 By Alastair Dickie , eChinacities.com

Foreigners have somewhat of a reputation for clumsiness in China. It’s such a universally-acknowledged fact that at one time video snippets of Westerners having accidents were shown between news bulletins on public transport, much to the merriment of local passengers. Once the initial confusion and vague outrage faded, I realised that foreigners are in fact incredibly accident-prone, especially in China. The litany of knocks, breaks, ailments and injuries accumulated by my circle of expat friends is truly alarming. Excluding digestive disagreements, simply for brevity’s sake, here are some of the most common expat injuries in China.

expat injuries in China

Slips, trips and tumbles
China is rather fond of floor tiling. Unfortunately, the twin evils of weather extremes and poor construction have combined to make tiles rather treacherous surfaces for walking. You’ll find pavement slabs and tiles jutting out at devious angles across any city in China, waiting to stub uninitiated expat toes and trip up entire expat bodies.

Moreover, whenever there is rain (and we get regular typhoons in South China) these already-slippery surfaces are coated with a slick of invisible water that makes walking all but impossible, especially for those who insist on donning the expat footwear of choice — flip-flops. I have seen friends trip, slip, fall, hospitalise themselves and even have to be repatriated thanks to China’s dodgy pavements.

Vehicular misadventures
Foreigners just aren’t cut out for China traffic. I’m still unsure where the blame should lie, but either way, we just don't seem to get it. The most common mishaps take place on the bus, when some overenthusiastic breaking by the driver precedes an intimate encounter with your nearest grabbable passenger. If there’s no passenger to cushion your fall, don’t worry. The metal poles will be happy to oblige.

Next are lower leg injuries inflicted by motorbikes; either on drivers, who burn their tender calves on the red-hot exhaust pipes; or on pedestrians, who get their shins clipped by people riding on the pavements. Walking down a street in China can sometimes feel like an intricate dance for survival.

Last but not least are the whiplash injuries caused by taxi rides. I’ve been told that it might be to do with the LPG fuel many cars use here, but a taxi journey in China can feel like a jerky ride on the waltzers. Many an expat can attest to a rather acute neck pain the morning after a jittery ride home from the club.

Massage parlour mishaps
Massages in China are awesome and cheap. Don't be fooled by the sniggering and sly winking; many massage parlours here are 100% legitimate. However, if you’ve never had a Chinese massage before, legitimate or not, you may be in for some surprises. Injuries most commonly occur after a misunderstanding between the masseur and the expat. It doesn’t help that the Chinese word for “want” sounds exactly like “ow!”

There is also a wide range of strange and unusual treatments you could inadvertently sign yourself up for. “Flaming suction cups on the back or a burning candle in your ear, sir?” Unless you’re Chinese is good or you’re an excellent non-verbal communicator, you may come away from your first Chinese massage with a decidedly unhappy ending. It all comes down to knowing your shūfu from your shāngtòng.

Rock-hard beds
When I was at university in China, I bought what I thought was a very nice bamboo rug for my dorm-room floor. A few days later one of my teachers came over, fixed me with the most quizzical of looks and asked why my mattress was on the floor. If you’ve ever stayed in a properly local Chinese hotel, you’ll probably already know this: the Chinese like their beds as hard as concrete slabs.

In fairness, the therapeutic benefits of hard beds are well documented. We Westerners, however, are soft and like our mattresses to be the same. Second to, "Where am I?", "My back hurts" is probably the most commonly-uttered phrase I’ve heard from fellow expats in the morning.

Height hazards
Usually the most embarrassing for Westerners and the most hilarious for Chinese are height-based injuries. Stereotypes are a touchy subject, but I think it’s fair to say that, on average, Chinese people are shorter than Westerners. Unfortunately, upon entering and exiting doorways and stairwells, we often forget this, to hugely comical effect.

After years of practice while riding public transport, a local person is likely to laugh very loud when seeing a 6ft 4in laowai make an erroneous judgement of a doorway's vertical clearance. Stereotypes work both ways, I suppose.

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Keywords: expat injuries in China


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