Rules: I had expected that a country with an authoritarian government would be populated with people who are used to following rules and regulations. It seems that as long as you stay out of politics there is very little you can't do. Go ahead and smoke in front of the no smoking sign, only Andrew will ask you why you are smoking when the sign clearly says not to. Ride your bike over the bridge with the huge sign with the slash through the picture of a bike. And it is most definitely not a problem to pass a police car on the shoulder of the road while going double the speed limit.English: I expected more people to speak more English. There is usually someone around to help translate when it is necessary and if there is really a problem we can use the cell phone to call one of Brad's co-workers to translate, but your average waiter or salesperson does not speak English. When we were traveling before finding someone who spoke English was never a problem. I think this largely has to do with being on the tourist circuit. We did not have this problem in Beijing, but we were in an area heavily traveled by foreign tourists.
Clothes: Apart from costumed waiters at theme restraints and on tourist boats the only people I have seen wear "traditional" clothes are monks. People wear western style clothes and I have no problem finding any style I want from sweatpants to couture. What is different is the way people match their clothes. People's shirts are often very loud and flashy and women's shirts frequently have beads or sparkles. It's no problem to wear that orange shirt and purple pants together. In SE Asia it was more common to see people in traditional or at least partly traditional clothes.
Shoes: My comments on shoes are largely the same as clothes but bear special mention in that most Chinese women are slaves to fashion. There are tablets at the Great Wall with a quote from Mao stating, "You are not a man until you have climbed the great wall". What if you do it in high heels? You're probably not a man, but it's a feat I witnessed none the less.
Buildings: While the palaces and temples of Beijing are colorful they don't hold a candle to the flashy temples of Thailand. Though there is more splashes of color and intricate designs in the architecture surrounding Beijing the buildings elsewhere are more reminiscent of East Germany, utilitarian rectangles. Very functional, but not very pretty. Most of the newer buildings (which in Hangzhou is many) have more style with curves and key holes and other modern flair, but there is very little of what I would consider "Chinese" architecture.
Shopping: I was prepared to buy our daily goods at an open air market. There is no need, I simply walk a block to the local chain grocery store to get my everyday goods. If I want something exotic, like cereal or low fat milk, I just take the bus downtown to Carrefore (a French chain similar to Super-Walmart).
I'm surprised by how much my life is the same. Andrew goes to school and I work. In the evenings he plays with the neighbor kids before or after dinner. Brad goes to work every day. I go shopping for food and clothes. The biggest change is that we don't get to see our extended family regularly. Also, I feel really uninformed. We listed to radio streamed on the internet over breakfast and every now and then I checkout MSNBC online, but I don't get nearly as much US or international news and I can't understand the local news.