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Danger to your health

China is hazardous to your health. A good friend of mine with the startup Nomiku recently took ill while working on production in Shenzhen and had this to say:

Ugh, just found out the meds I ate have lead in them from the doctor I visited today. China got me good, once again.

There are many kinds of ways China will kill your body. Let’s examine a few.

Traveler Issues

These are the problems that aren’t specific to China but rather are likely to befall anyone who travels to a foreign country. There’s diarrhea, flu, jet lag, and adjustment to climate (such as going from a colder region to the tropics). It’s hard to blame China specifically for these issues, but they do need to be mentioned.

Bad Food

Some food is fantastic. China definitely knows how to do things right if you happen upon the right restaurants. Unfortunately, sanitation standards aren’t very high, and it’s common to get food poisoning from street vendors. But it gets worse than that. The fakes about not just in electronics but in food as well. The recent scandals on gutter oil and fake pig ears have rocked China and disgusted the world, and those are the ones that got caught. There’s really no way of knowing your food is safe, so you just hope it’s been cooked long enough and your gut has the fortitude to take it.

Getting Run Over

This merits a whole heading. With motorcycles driving on the sidewalks, running lights constantly and driving in the wrong direction, and in general the whole of China only having a couple decades of driving experience, I sometimes wonder if I should be wearing a helmet while walking. The only safe place is the subway, because the trains have the least likelihood of being where the pedestrians are.


Manufacturing takes a toll on the environment, and in China there’s a lot of it. On many days it’s not unusual to only be able to see a block or two in the big cities. That’s a lot of particulate matter in your lungs, going to town on your respiratory system. And the awesome part is that there’s nowhere you can go to escape it. There’s no ‘breath of fresh air’ to be had. Running is harder, stairs are harder, and your lifespan is probably shorter every day you are there. On the plus side, it doesn’t feel like such a big city when you can only see a bubble two blocks wide.


I couldn’t think of a better name for this category. Besides watching out for the things that seem almost understandable, there’s a whole category of dangers that make no sense at all and make you wonder if China has some great conspiracy and everyone is involved. A friend had a massage, and it turned out that having ears cleaned is a common step in this service. Instead of using soft tipped things, they use a pointy stick, and they go deep. So deep that she was bleeding from her ears and a trip to the hospital revealed that her ear was scratched, but her eardrum was not damaged. Eastern medicine is another category of strange practices that are probably more placebo than solution because they didn’t work for a skeptic like me. The motivation behind this post is my friend being prescribed pills with lead. There may be some legitimate reason, in the same way that chemotherapy is legitimized, but I’m not quite ready to give China the benefit of the doubt here.

Hacks abound, too. The kind of hack that has high voltage lines taped to walls and heavy objects suspended precariously. It may work for now, but everything you see or use is a disaster waiting to happen.


One of the purposes of this blog is to inform engineers traveling to China about the things they are likely to expect. To summarize, expect to get sick, and expect to get hurt by something completely unexpected. China can mess you up, and will be unapologetic doing so.

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