china traffic

11 Surprising Things That Impressed Me About China

Before I set off for a year in China, I had certain expectations for what I would experience. I figured that the food would be delicious, the culture a bit shocking and the setting something that I would get used to once I spent a bit of time there. However, I realized that the things that impressed me most were both surprising and smaller than I would have expected.


I would never have thought that the pens for sale in China would be significant. But actually, it makes a whole lot of sense. Because Chinese characters are so small and delicate, the pens are made with an extra fine tip. The pens made for the perfect writing tool, and I even sent them home to friends as gifts who loved them just as much.

Photo Credit: Ali Express

Photo Credit: Ali Express


I don’t know why and I don’t know how but the peanuts in China are better than any peanuts I have ever tasted anywhere in the world. They were the perfect balance of crunch and flavor; tasting like garlic and spice. I would buy family sized bags of them and eat them at my desk in one sitting. I haven’t been able to find better peanuts since.




The squat toilets that are prevalent in China are objects of great anxiety for most foreigners. I won’t say that they particularly scared me, but I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with them. Once I got the technique down, I actually looked forward to the bathroom and found it to be more sanitary, convenient and enjoyable.

squat toilet

Club Music

I’ve have to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the music typically played in China. The love ballads aren’t my thing. However, I was thoroughly impressed by the bass heavy music that permeated the club scene. In most places, the music was even better than the clubs I experienced at home.


Photo Credit: What's on Sanya

Photo Credit: What’s on Sanya

The Train System

I traveled through Europe via the Euro rail system and experienced the Bullet Trains in Japan. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the mediocre, and I wasn’t expecting the Chinese train system to be on par with the better of them.

Photo Credit: Inhabitat

Photo Credit: Inhabitat

The Sweets

I was under the impression that most Chinese people prefer savory over sweet. What I found, however, was that not only do Chinese people love sweet foods but that they do them very well. The candy shops became some of my favorite places to frequent, and I spent a whole lot of time in the sweets section of the grocery store trying out as many different things as possible. One of my favorite flavors was taro, a purple sweet potato that could be found on many of dinner tables and as a primary flavor for ice creams, candies and pastries too!

Photo Credit: Save Money

Photo Credit: Save Money

The Driving

Drivers in China were extremely impressive. It all seemed chaotic at first; with cars driving on the sidewalks and hoards of motorbikes nearly running each other off the road. It turns out that the chaos of the roads actually make a whole lot of sense and the drivers are extremely talented individuals.

china traffic

Source QZ

The Street Food

I knew that I liked Chinese food, but the street food scene caught me by complete surprise. It seemed a bit sketchy, even unsanitary at first but it quickly became my “go-to” meal most days of the week. My favorite was the skewered veggies on the BBQ and fried rice and noodles on the streets after the bar can’t be beaten.


The Café Culture

Tea is huge in Chinese culture, and I wasn’t surprised at all to see hoards of tea shops packed onto every street. What did surprise me is the culture of coffee drinks, cute cafes and friends getting together to study over lattes. Coffee is relatively new to China, and they do it well.

Photo Credit: Coffeebi

Photo Credit: Coffeebi

The Authenticity

One thing that impressed me about China was how much it looked like what I thought it would. The architecture, decorations, and artwork are pretty spot on to what I imagined and I’m so happy that they are.

Photo Credit: PEM

Photo Credit: PEM

The Nature

I knew that Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai would be magnificently bustling cities but I wasn’t expecting the country’s natural setting to be so impressive. From Guilin to Wuyishan, the nature absolutely blew me away.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

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Shannon Ullman

Hey! I'm a published American travel blogger and teacher. My travel writing has been featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Matador Network and Thought Catalog. I spent over a year living and traveling around China while I taught English there. I have also visited dozens of other countries around the world.