The 8 Best and Worst (and Sometimes Hilarious) of my China Stories

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I lived overseas for a total of 4 years, and my life has changed so much since I first became a global citizen. My time in China was filled with some of the best memories I will ever have, but it also gave me some of the worst (and now hilarious) experiences that I’ll never forget.

This blog post is about some of those stories- both good and bad! It’s important to share all sides of your experience when you are abroad so others can learn from it!

So here are 8 China stories that I look back on fondly.

The Best (and Most Hilarious) of my China Stories

1. The Chinese Taxi Driver Who Didn’t Believe I was American

If you’ve never been to China, you should know that it is full of Asian faces. I mean, I’ve seen my fair share of Asians at events and such being Asian and all, but I was in culture shock when I first arrived; there are so many Asian faces. 

China stories: so many faces - a super long and tall escalator with so many Chinese people on it
The tallest escalators in a metro station in Wuhan

One winter break, my friends and I were traveling to Lijiang in western China. On one of our transits to a tourist area, we got the most skeptical taxi driver. 

I usually sat in the front as my language was a tad bit better than that of my friends. And this time I was trying to explain to this guy my family history and passport country (that was kind of the extent of my language knowledge at that point). 

China stories: Pafoua enjoying time with her friends
Christmas in Lijiang

He. Did. Not. Believe. Me. Every time I told him I was an American and detailed my Asian genealogy, he just kept believing I was Chinese — even with my broken Mandarin, and being with my “waiguo” (foreigner) friends. 

In the middle of his “you’re Chinese because you look like me” rant, he told us all about some special medicinal herb to take for fertility as well (none of us were looking to have babies). 

It was quite hilarious trying to understand him, getting him to understand me, and having everyone’s input on how we don’t actually don’t want this magical medicine. 

Lessons learned: Nodding and smiling would have worked, but hopefully, we were able to open his eyes to Asians who look Chinese but are American.

China stories: hanging out in Lijiang - the Black Dragon Pool
Black Dragon Pool – Lijiang, Yunnan, China

2. The Time Our Key Broke in China

About 3 months into our new life in China, my roommate and I were getting in late after shopping with some friends. We were 1 of 3 “family units” from our company who were placed in this particular neighborhood. And we were the newly hired living here. And our apartment was in the back. 

Any other day, we loved where we lived. 

China Stories: The stairwell of Pafoua's first apartment in Wuhan
The inside of our apartment complex

As we came in about 10 PM that evening, we climbed the 5 flights to our apartment, and as I tried to unlock our door, the key broke. Inside the lock. 

I had never broken a key before, so I didn’t really know what to do. And I was in a country where I spoke very little of the language. My roommate tried to see if she could pull the broken piece out but wasn’t successful. 

Luckily, I had become friends with the guard in the back of our complex and he was on duty that evening. Thank goodness! 

I walked down and tried pointing, miming, and very poorly explaining in Chinese that my key was broken and I couldn’t get in my apartment. He understood and called the locksmith to come help. 

We waited about 20 minutes and a Chinese man showed up with his toolbox. He also tried jiggling it to see if he could pry the broken piece out. No luck for him either. I could feel a little panic bubbling up at this point. 

China Stories: Pafoua's key that was broken and the Chinese locksmith who broke the handle off
The locksmith breaking into our home

But the locksmith had a plan in mind. He gestured for us to stand back and then proceeded to pull on the door handle… and breaks it off the door! He definitely opened our door for us, but we also no longer had a lock. 

He then gestured for us to go into the apartment and pulled out a brand new lock to install. Good thing he came prepared. He gave us the new key and we were done before midnight. 

Lessons Learned: Be friends with the guards in your apartment complex even if they ask every single time you come home if you are truly American. Breaking into Chinese apartments can be really easy if you have enough brute strength to break the door handles off. 

China stories: a silhouette of Wuhan
Wuhan at sunset

3. The Time We Sat for 2 Hours on a Bus for Donuts

In my early days of living in China, there weren’t a lot of options for western desserts, such as donuts. 

I had joined a team of teachers who were all on board to take the high school students at our school on a service trip. The leader had called for a meeting and made it quite enticing with a trip to get donuts. I was in! 

China stories: the view of traffic from atop a bus looking through the window
Early days of Wuhan traffic

We had to trek on the bus and a metro line to get to a pretty cool area. With donuts. In theory, the trip should have been around 40ish minutes, from walking to the bus, switching over to the metro, and then walking to this area. 

It took 2 hours on the bus. Wuhan, the city I was living in, was under construction at the time and the roads were all messed up, both literally and structurally. It was bumpy, all the cars were not following the lines, and there was just heavy traffic. 

We sat at the very back, with a step up, and watched as the bus inched its way to the metro station. 

Eons later, we finally made it to the donut shop and got delicious desserts! 

Lessons learned: I will go to great lengths for donuts! (And ice cream, too). 

China stories: a whole bunch of donuts behind the glass in Wuhan
Daylight Donuts

4. The Time We Accidentally Had 60 People Come Visit

The school I worked with partners with other people in the community to celebrate Easter and share the Good News. My roommate and I had said yes to hosting one such party at our apartment.

China stories: the inside of Pafoua's living room filled to the brim with people
Our first Easter party

We had partnered up with some friends who taught at the Chinese universities (we taught at the international K-12 school) who would bring their college students to celebrate and listen to the story.

They had ordered enough food for 30 people and we rearranged our tiny apartment to accommodate 30 people. Notice, I keep mentioning 30 people.

Well as I go down to the bus stop to meet one of my teacher friends and his group of Chinese college students, I was surprised to see about 30 people with him and he mentioned there were more on the way.

China stories: the inside of Pafoua's living room filled to the brim with people
Our very full living room

Usually, I say the more the merrier, but I was quite worried we wouldn’t have enough space or food to feed all the people! Our whole apartment was pretty small… like “our whole living room can fit into your bedroom” small.

There had apparently been a miscommunication where some of their students invited other Chinese students from the Chinese church to come, too. Well, all of them did show up and we had nearly 60 people!

The hallway was lined with shoes and we had people sitting on the floor, the couch, and even the tops of the couches. We had tons of people!

China stories: the hallway filled with shoes from Pafoua's party of 60
Our very full hall of shoes

Wanna know the craziest thing? Even with all the people, we had food leftover! If this wasn’t a story of “Jesus feeding the 5,000,” I don’t know what is.

Lessons learned: Trust God with the details. Just be open to when He moves.

The Worst (and Also Most Hilarious) of my China Stories

5. The Fellow Bus Mate Who Got Sick

I was headed home on the bus one day when the traffic was particularly heavy and the bus was trying to weave in and out of traffic. 

Usually, on a Chinese bus, you can either sit or stand. Or if you were on the bus the day I was, you are smushed up against other people and you don’t need help standing. 

China stories: men standing on a Chinese bus
The inside of a bus

I was standing middle-left ish of the bus and had a Chinese man up against the window behind me. It was hot and sweaty–thankfully the windows were wide open. 

I started hearing water dripping (more like a stream) behind me and was hoping that no one was peeing on the bus (yes, this happens in public) or accidentally pouring their water out. 

Unfortunately, it was much worse. The man by the open window behind me was vomiting out the window. I’m not even sure if it got onto the road or on a car… but he kept going, for about 2-3 more times! Maybe he got too hot, ate something bad, or was getting car sick. I’m not sure. 

Lessons learned: I’m not sure if there’s a lesson to be learned here. I’m just thankful he turned out the window and not into the bus full of people. Can you imagine? 

6. The Time I Got Packed into a Taxi with 4 Chinese Men

Over the Chinese New Year holiday, I usually travel with the high school students on a service trip; however, one year I decided to stay in China. I had just discovered that there were Hmong (also known as Miao Tzu in Mandarin) in an area of China, who were working on Bible translations and I wanted to go visit them.

This particular area that I was visiting is pretty remote compared to the 12 million population I was living in, so I had to take a train to catch a bus and then a taxi over to where I needed to be.

China stories: the Miao Tzu people Pafoua found when traveling solo
Miao people in Fenghuang

All the travel went pretty smooth overall until I got to where I needed to transfer to a bus. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the bus I needed. I found a travel-like vendor and I had learned enough Mandarin to ask how to get to where I needed to go, but my comprehension wasn’t quite where my speaking skills were.

I couldn’t understand the Chinese man I was talking to, and he understood that I’m a foreigner, so he just told me to sit and wait. I sat and waited in a dingy travel room with posters of riverboat tours and mountain trips.

Finally, another Chinese man shows up and he’s looking pretty well dressed for where we were. He gestured for me to follow him, so I do. We kept walking until we get to steps leading down to an underground garage and I see a black car already running and ready to go. He points for me to get in.

With no one else to confer with, I jump in the car. Well, try to at least. There were already 3 other Chinese men in the car, too! Neither of the guys in the back wanted the middle, so that’s what I get.

China stories: the beautiful city Pafoua visited when traveling solo in China

Just to be clear: I’m in a taxi (I think), squished between 2 Chinese men, without a clue of where I’m headed–or at least if this was where I needed to be to get to where I needed to go.

Thankfully none of the men were conversationalists and I miraculously stayed awake, probably due to being physically uncomfortable. The drive seemed to take forever.

Somehow, I end up to where I need to be. The driver points out where I needed to go and I, thankfully, find the people I was going to stay with.

Lessons learned: Me traveling solo is not good – I need a friend or an ear to bounce ideas off so I don’t get myself into trouble.

7. The Time I Got Stranded in the Shanghai Airport 

While working for the international school in China, my flights, visas, and other important documents were usually taken care of by our wonderful national (Chinese) staff. They’re great at finding the best flights going through the best airports to get us back to work.

After vacationing over a longer break with some friends, we were on our way back to Wuhan with a layover in Shanghai. Before leaving, I felt it in my gut that something wasn’t right with my flights because the normal routine of confirmation flights, checking-in, and all the good things didn’t happen.

But I just chalked it up to a glitch and it’ll all work out by the time it was time for me to fly back. So my friends and I land at the Shanghai Pudong airport and we get to the kiosk to check-in before heading out to security. Everyone’s seats and flights are checked and verified.

When I get to the kiosk, they can’t find my ticket. That’s when I knew that I should have trusted my gut instinct and should have double-checked my flight.

My friends were all very concerned and one of them was even willing to stay behind and make sure that my ticket was taken care of. But I knew that would cause even more trouble, so I just asked them to all go ahead and I’ll meet them if I could figure out what the issue was.

China stories: the city scape of Shanghai
Shanghai Skyline

Trying to stay calm, I called the wonderful Chinese staff member who usually takes care of our flights and asked her to look into it. For some reason, my name was in the system, but I just wasn’t given a ticket number or assigned a seat.

After many back and forth conversations (thank goodness for Chinese friends!), I was able to get on the next flight out without any additional costs. My friends were already gone at that point, I was so glad I wasn’t stranded overnight!

Lessons learned: Having national friends go to bat for you is a wonderful gift! Also, people get stranded when flights get messed up… not giving in to my panic really helped me stay cool and logical in that crazy time.

8. The Time We Trespassed Onto Someone’s Backyard in China

Biking became my new way of transportation after I moved to China. I biked to school, I biked home, I biked with my groceries… it was just the best way to get around.

Since getting my bike, one of my Chinese friends had recommended biking on the Wuhan Greenway, which is a miles-long bike path around a small lake in Wuhan. The path started in one area and ended up near our apartments.

China stories: a view of the Wuhan greenway with paved paths
Wuhan Greenway

One weekend, I convinced a couple of my friends to go on this bike ride with me to check out the Wuhan Greenway. Since they lived further away from the school, they didn’t bike as much as I did, so we thought it was a great opportunity for them to get their bikes out.

None of us really knew our way around town yet, but our Chinese friend had pinpointed the coordinates into my maps app, so we had hoped it would go smoothly. It didn’t.

We biked uphill and downhill and couldn’t seem to find the entrance to the greenway. When we finally found a paved path (it wasn’t the entrance), we got so excited we just decided to get on.

China stories: Pafoua and friends in the middle of nowhere with their bikes
Us trying to find the Greenway

At this point, we’re about 3 hours into this bike ride and my iPhone was at 10% with the maps app using up all the battery! We were lost. At one point we had considered leaving our bikes and trying to find a taxi, but there were no cars in this area.

We finally see some forms of life, and as we pull up, we see a line of fences with houses on the other side! Four hours in, we were done with biking. We could not find a way to the other side of the fence, but we did find an open fence… which led into someone’s backyard.

Praying we don’t get in trouble, we take our bikes through their backyard and onto the street beyond. We were only 5 minutes from our apartment! What a day!

Lessons learned: Biking is fun. Four hours of unintentional biking is not. Let’s just say no one really wanted to “go on a bike ride” with me again.

China stories: picture of man in a boat on serene waters in Wuhan
East Lake, Wuhan

Rounding Out My List of China Stories

In the end, it’s not about how many crazy stories you hear or tell. It’s all in your perspective and whether you can laugh at yourself. I hope that these tales have amused you as much as they’ve reminded me of my time living abroad.

If you have a crazy story of your own, please share it in the comments! And if not, let me know what you think about my 8 best and worst moments from living in China.

Which was your favorite? What is one thing that really surprised or shocked you when visiting China for the first time?

I have other memorable, sometimes funny short travel stories as well. If you laughed along with me, you might also like these:

I also have info on teaching English abroad:

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My Favorite Travel Tips + Resources

Here is a quick glance at all my go-to travel tips and resources that I use to plan every trip! For more information, check out my travel resources page.

  • Booking flights: I use Google Flights to check all routes and find the best flights. Then I compare them with Expedia (for reward points) and Skyscanner (for the lowest prices) before I book.
  • Accommodations: I love budget-friendly rentals or booking at a hotel where I can earn points. For hotels, I go through or book directly with Marriott (for points + rewards). When I travel internationally, I’ll book through Hostelworld for very budget-friendly stays. For vacation rentals, I usually look through Airbnb, but you could also use Vrbo. Expedia also has some great bundles for hotels, flights, and car rentals altogether.
  • Transportation: For travel in the United States, I love renting through Expedia with Enterprise or Thrifty. They have been consistent and provide the best customer service. For international travel, I’ll book through Rome2Rio or Eurail for trains or bus fares.
  • Travel Credit Card: I book all my travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) through my favorite travel credit card. I also use this card for everything on my trip including dining, excursions, and souvenirs. Apart from earning 5x more points towards free travel, there are amazing benefits: no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement (so I can book worry-free), fraud protection, emergency assistance – it’s really a great deal! Check it out here!
  • Vaccines and Medications: Check the CDC website for updates on necessary vaccines to enter a country, including updates on Covid-19 and recommended places to visit. I recommend getting all the vaccines you need before you go!
  • Tours + Experiences: I absolutely love my tours! Everything from eerie walking ghost tours to food tours, I’ll usually book something every trip either through Viator or GetYourGuide. I also love for very affordable tickets to theaters and other experiences in Europe.
  • What to Pack: I almost always travel by backpack. For products I like, check out my packing guide page for all the things I take with me on different trips.