Aug 15, 2016 By Bo Brennan ,

You know, it is tough being so firmly nestled in our foreign, gilded roosts here in China. We eat our gluttonous towers of McDonald’s hamburgers and sub-par mayonnaise and corn covered pizza. We delicately spit our food into our napkins instead of on the table. We roll our eyes when children titter in delight at our foreignness. It’s all part of being an expat in China. However, it’s important, pengyous, to remember some of the baser pleasures that flourish in China. It’s okay to admit it, and, I’ll lead the way, for I am as guilty as anyone. So, let us descend from our ivory towers and embrace those guilty pleasures in China expats all secretly enjoy.

1) Ayis
I have to be honest, I was a hold out for a long time, but, eventually I caved, and now I embrace the concept of the ayi wholeheartedly. The siren lure of the ayi proved to be too, too strong. Our friends and family back home stand indignant over video chat on Skype; “Gnash-gnash, look how lazy and entitled you are, gnash-gnash,” goes the chorus like a shower of scornful confetti. Let’s be honest though, the only reasons we didn’t have ayis back in the motherland is because we couldn’t afford it. We come to China, a place of bountiful cheap labor, and soon we’re drowning in the flood of 50 year old Chinese women washing our underwear for 30 RMB an hour. No shame here.


2) Spittin’
The tranquil sounds of old men hocking up their pollution-encrusted phlegm from the bowels of their lungs sing tenderly to me on my walk to the metro every day. This, followed by the satisfying splash of gray-yellow snot hitting the pavement, is one of those China things everyone likes to write on their blog about. We just don’t do it in America or wherever the hell you might be from. It’s just not a thing, but now, it’s time to come clean everybody. We all do it here, and there is no sense in denying it. You have to get that stuff out somehow, right? Of course, most of us don’t do it in buildings or in the office or in people’s houses… but in the street, breathing in a toxic mixture of car exhaust and flagrant humanity, your only choice is to hock all that nonsense out.

3) Being Pushy
China is a jungle sometimes where only the strong survive and a critical part of that survival process is pushing old people—or anyone else for that matter—out of your way so you can pay for your beer at the Kedi. Say you’re in line and an ayi (not yours, of course) comes and swoops in and takes your sweet, tasty line spot you’ve been devoutly holding for several minutes. When I first came here, I would demurely step aside and figure that she was probably in a rush and that it didn’t matter too much. Now, I’m a shorter, angrier, whiter Tim Duncan blocking out a bombardment of impatient ayis coming at me from all angles. It doesn’t stop at your local Family Mart either. Take the metro for example: at first, I let it bother me that people came on the train before I was able to get out of the car, but now, I’m coming off the metro like I’m diving feet first into the mosh-pit at a Metallica concert, and, you have to admit, it’s even better when you barrel over an old person.

4) The Laowai Pecking Order
One of the simple joys of living in China is thinking condescending thoughts about foreigners who have lived here for less time that we have. I can hear the imaginary conversations with these A-holes now—“You’ve only been here three years? Pish-posh. I’ve been here for 47 days longer than you. You can’t even begin to fathom what I know about China.” We all do it, and you can count on it always being here, just like the baozilady serving up hot, delectable, steamed buns at 04:30 in the morning. So, enjoy it in the privacy of your own home, with your close friends or in the wonderful anonymity of expat website forums.  The key to this one is just keep it to yourself as much as possible, because nobody wants to be that annoying, old foreign dude at the bar who has been teaching elementary schools in China for 23 years and talking about how this new batch of foreigners totally don’t understand what it means to live in China. Don’t be that guy.

Chinese massage

5) Massages
The pièce de résistance of guilty pleasures in China is the humble, stress-atomizing massage. Harking back to the aforementioned note on the glut of people living in China, the supply of labor has driven the cost of a back rub down remarkably and thus allowing you, if you’re lucky enough, to solicit some sweet, sweet anmo action for less than the price of a good hamburger. It’s cheap and relaxing and wonderful and damn it feels good after a long day at work.
Now, at the risk of sounding crude, I am not unmindful of the abundance of “special” massages that has proliferated every hill and vale that grace the tangled insides of the Chinese borders. I’m not here to throw stones, my friends. I daresay that many people in the warm privacy of close, forgiving friendships would readily admit to visiting a “special” massage a time or two. Girls, even. Though tales of a female “special” massage parlor is like a Sasquatch or Yeti sighting; you hear tales whispered in dark, clandestine halls but no one has ever seen it with their own eyes. Maybe that would be a good idea for an article…


Now that we have sullied our hands in the basest, most ignoble trenches of expat rituals and acquired customs, it is time for all of us to ascend again to the dizzying heights of our lofty, presentable social norms and mores and pretend that we have no idea what I was just talking about. The doors are closed, and I’ll see you at the top. 

Related links
8 Bad Habits to Avoid Developing in China
Sticky Expat Etiquette: Dealing with Other Foreigners in China
Protect Yourself from AFS (Arrogant Foreigner Syndrome)

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Keywords: Guilty Pleasures in China China expats

35 Comments Add your comment



Man this is a horrible article....You don't speak for all foreigners. I don't spit, push and I rarely ever go to massage parlors...The pecking order thing is a joke right...I have been here a long time and I am not very proud of that statistic....Just say that you do these things...and stop putting us all under one umbrella... You are saying that Americans, Canadians, French, Saudi Arabians, Kenyans, Tunisians, Costa Ricans, Mexicans and every other culture in between think a -like? So you disregard all other cultures and practices? This article sucks, sorry.

May 21, 2013 10:20 Report Abuse



This article was a complete waste of time and poorly written as well. It would be nice to get meaningful stories as opposed to this composte.

May 21, 2013 10:41 Report Abuse



The writer sounds like they are probably a bit of an Ahole. Stop spitting and pushing, it is not hard to show some 'Etiquette' in the face none or is that just the American way, person that lumps us all together. Or to put it in the writers words "how this new batch of foreigners totally don’t understand what it means to live in China. Don’t be that guy."

May 21, 2013 12:19 Report Abuse



I totally agree...Useless articles just lists of things with descriptions, no prose or creativity.

May 22, 2013 09:57 Report Abuse



Am I the only one that thought that this article was completely tongue-in-cheek? Granted it's not "hard-hitting journalism", but I thought it was pretty funny, and I could relate to several of the items. People need to relax...

May 21, 2013 13:29 Report Abuse



No you're not the only one. I thought it was pretty humorous and tongue in cheek too. Many people seem to have adopted the Chinese way of criticizing everything, or hang on, is that a western custom? Not all things written about and listed need to apply to you but I can relate to a couple. Got a cold? I occasionally have a spit. I feel guilty about it but hey.....when in Rome..! I push back these days too. Survival of the fittest. I don't have an ayi but if I could find one around 28 years old I might consider it. I don't have massages but will soon. And the pecking order? Yeah I think it exists subconsciously but ruthallen's comments about that are pretty close to the mark as well.

May 21, 2013 20:41 Report Abuse



Some people do need to lighten up. I thought this article was pretty much on point and funny.

May 21, 2013 15:47 Report Abuse



Then you just might be a douchebag too

May 23, 2013 04:52 Report Abuse



Mmmmmm, well as an exapt, I'll respond this way: 1. Ayis for those of us who actually work are not a "guilty pleasure." They are essential to long-term life if you don't have family here. Chinese people have Granny and Granddad living with them or near them. That way Mom and Dad can both work full time jobs and there's someone there to clean, cook, shop, pay bills and innumerable banks that have no non-working hours hours, go to the police station to register and do whatever else and pick up the kids from school. If they don't have family living nearby, they hire ayis too. It's not a luxury for most busy people: it's a necessity you must budget for if you want to stay for a while and don't plan on living in a pigsty. 2. I don't spit, and I don't know any foreigner who does. 3. I'll grant you that one. If you're not pushy, you can't survive or get anything done. But I never run into or push the elderly, and again I don't know any foreigner who does. 4. This is an interesting point, but I think it has a lot more to do with how much a person has paid attention and how self-absorbed a person is than how long they've been here. I've been here 14 years–I know people who have been here almost twice as long and yet are stunned when something happens that is completely in keeping with Chinese culture to anyone who knows about it. I also know people who've been here half as long as I have who know as much or more than I do about China and the culture. The only really annoying expats are the ones who think knowing where a certain bar in Beijing or Shanghai is, or remembering when Beijing still had minibuses and only one subway line somehow qualifies as understanding China. 5. I hate being touched by strangers, and therefore have never had a massage. Of the 10 expats I can think of just right off the top of my head without trying, (all have been here 10+ years, so they know where to go and how to get things if they want) only 1 ever gets massages, and that only rarely. An interesting list, but seemingly it only applies to this author's particular little circle of friends.

May 21, 2013 15:58 Report Abuse



The author only pays his ayi 30RMB per hour? How stingy can you get!

May 21, 2013 18:46 Report Abuse



Great article! Very funny. Smoking: I would bet it is more with smoking than anything, smokers spit to get the flem out. Massages: Great, love it. Will miss being able to get an affordable massage in America. Pushing: Funny, obviously exaggerating about knocking down old ladies, chill out people. Pecking Order: Again, I think it is a subconscious thing, people want to think that they have achieved something in their time here that newbies haven't, but will in time.

May 21, 2013 21:23 Report Abuse



Oh YES. I admit to secretly indulging in pushing. There's a variety of them, the gentle push with a shopping cart to nudge people out of the way, the full body push squirm when someone tries to butt in front you in line, and the ramming speed push when people try and board/swarm a subway door before you're even close to getting off. When my mandarin is advanced enough, I just know I'm going to exult in being able to politely tell people off who do rude things like butting in line and giving horrible service. I can almost imagine the shocked looks on their faces... Oh it's going to be delicious!

May 22, 2013 05:53 Report Abuse



echinacities articles remind me of Listverse...because all these articles do is list things with brief descriptions...Who is in charge of creativity in this department? Why don't these people write about things that matter? wHat about racism and color discrimination in China, and how to remedy this situation....It seems most of these articles are for hipsters.... I remember 3 years ago going to a job fair and echinacities was looking for writers...I was attempting to talk with the lady at the booth because I was highly interested, that was until she met some guy she knew from long ago....They must have had some kind of connection because she totally ignored me after that...I had no hope in getting the job....She basically handed him the position in my face. Now I only come on here for jobs...the rest is just a sham...If you don't know anybody you are basically up sh-ts creek...Caucasians and Chinese are the only writers...I doubt if they have other writers with different perspectives than these two groups

May 22, 2013 09:56 Report Abuse



I agree with the more recent"choice" of topics. You'd think that the powers that be would have more clues as to topics of interest. Surely you don't have to be Einstein to figure out why so many articles receive so few comments. Lift your game Chinacities

May 22, 2013 12:08 Report Abuse



Spitting, rates only next to kids shitting in the streets through their split pants. The universal spitting in China is just gross.I was just about to punch this one guy out for turning around in a restaurant and spitting on the floor near us!Also got a pic of him smoking under a no smoking sign. My Chinese wife now in the non spitting country of Australia has always been disgusted with spitting Chinese. She relates a story of her manager constantly trying to get onto her, wining and dining her then on numerous occasions winding down the window of his limo to have his blood curdling spit. As she said imagine kissing that!!! Pushing, you have to become skilled at it. It's push or be pushed. After a short while of being a victim I became an instant responder. I guess it's the lack of personal space that is the main cause. Anyway it got my hackles up. Here's a bit of advice, develop "wings". Get those elbows out and experience the buzz of knocking over a few dashers and weavers , through the crowds that are China. Don't get me wrong, I love china, but sometimes you have to do what a man has to do.

May 22, 2013 12:03 Report Abuse



David, We need a rep system for comments like yours. A thumbs-up isn't sufficient.

May 22, 2013 14:31 Report Abuse



wings and a scrum. wait, pause, engage. The spitting thing is just nasty. How is it that one must do it. Is it actually a smoker thing and people use pollution as an excuse.

May 22, 2013 19:18 Report Abuse



Not sure what you mean . Rep system ? Enlighten me.

May 23, 2013 09:57 Report Abuse



I had a good piss on the street yesterday... not sure I agree with most this article tho

May 22, 2013 14:14 Report Abuse



I think it's safe to say that the write of this article must be in the minority. Are you the same foreigner who begs on the bus in CHangsha? Whatever you do or don't do, please go back home and leave this country. I am British. I know people spit in the UK, but not on this level. Needless to say, you are saying that all foreigners spit here. Of all the things they may do, I can defiantly say you are talking crap. I detest spitting as much as mosquitoes, so, I have proven you to be talking crap, and others who have posted comments here also show you up as someone who is talking crap. Travellers are generally better behaved than those who don't travel, I think, but you are definitely not a decent respectful traveler. For the record, I tell most people I have an influence over to not do such disgusting things.

May 22, 2013 14:19 Report Abuse



Funny article. And definitely don't be that old dude, until you're old. And then, you're that old dude whether you like it or not. Actually, talking about Metallica and mosh pits pretty much makes you an 'old dude'. Just keep pretending that you'll never be 'that old dude'. --an old dude.

May 22, 2013 22:00 Report Abuse



Memories: It was interesting going to large markets like Carefore or WalMart and have the employees treat one as a foreigner that should go to a smaller store and pay higher prices. Or going to a bank to transfer money and the next day going to computer store refusing to bargain. On leaving, another clerk asking, "Why did you not bargain?" "The banker next door told me he was leaving for a new position." Getting on a small minibus full of students by grabing the sides of the rear door to push in. The next stop the student getting on has to perform the same movement with everyone inside adjusting for one more sardine.

May 23, 2013 01:22 Report Abuse



Easily the worst best 'douchebag article' of the year. No, actually I don't spit phlegm and no its not a secret little desire. In fact, to this day I still maintain a rule about being the least 'pushy' as possible and probably to a fault. Only exceptions if I'm purposely blocking queue-jumper (I'm brutally 'pushy' with them on purpose). I don't consider hiring people to do jobs I cannot do a 'guilty pleasure' and I find it disturbing the author sees it that way. Massage is crucial to me due to back problems (real massive-surgery ones btw) but was especially disgusted at the 'wink-wink' about getting hand jobs for cash. Dude - DO NOT 'wink' at me about this. Real men don't pay for sex and believe this - I DO 'look down' on you for such a thing. Possibly more annoying is that most pathetic petty BS about who's the big champion know-it-all about China. Again, disturbs me you even consider that kind of small-man attitude a 'guilty pleasure' and not a 'secret shame'. But congrats on accidentally writing a powerful emotion-invoking article. The only problem is that it was the 'made me want to puke' douche-chill invoking kinds of emotions. Objectively speaking - it's also a reminder that we have too many ex-pats being little douchebags and possibly hurting our reputations in China.

May 23, 2013 04:48 Report Abuse



The only time I spit is when I'm in an alley and there's no one else around. And I don't push. I'm a civilized and cultured person. Also, I clean up after myself. This article is mighty presumptuous.

May 23, 2013 13:27 Report Abuse



You are the lowest of the ex-pat 'pecking order'. Just for thinking there is a 'pecking order' you get to be part of.

May 30, 2013 06:04 Report Abuse