After living in China and teaching English for a little over a year, we learned a lot about Chinese customs and ways of life. We loved living there and since then have also enjoyed a month spent traveling Mongolia.
Even though these two fabulous countries are neighbours, they are light-years away from each other.
We’ve made some observations about Mongolia and have discovered many differences between the Chinese and Mongolian cultures, people and customs.
Here’s a list of a few differences that stood out for us:
1. Physical Appearance
A major contrast between the two countries is the appearance of the people. Chinese people tend to be quite small-framed, slight and short’ish.
The Mongolians are a hearty breed of people, the men are muscular and stocky, while the women are voluptuous and curvy. Also, the Mongolians have darker skin and aren’t as concerned with being fair-skinned, as Chinese people are.
2. Chinese Food is Much Better
We’re all about eating the local cuisine of a country we’re in and even though there are some seriously strange street-foods in China, that cuisine is one of our favourites!
During our time in China, we dined on dumplings, tofu dishes, fried pork, cold noodles, stir-fried rice, and much more.
Mongolian food is centered around meat and dairy, as that’s what the nomadic people on the steppe have at their disposal. It seems that Mongolians (in the countryside anyways) eat out of necessity rather than for enjoyment.
3. No Smoking in Mongolia
In China, it seems like every man smokes cigarettes. Whether in a restaurant, shop or on a bus, they all light up. In Mongolia, there are “no smoking” signs everywhere and the rules are obeyed.
4. English is More Widely Spoken in Mongolia
Apart from when we were in major cities like Beijing or Shanghai, English wasn’t readily spoken in China. Things are changing these days, however, with more and more Chinese people learning how to speak English — either in class, or online.
Travelling to China is more for the intrepid traveller, and it was great to try to learn Chinese and fit in with the local people. But, sometimes it’s nice to have people understand what you want and need (or what they want and need!).
5. Chinese People Have Their Own Sense of Fashion
The people in Ulan Bator (the only major city in Mongolia) dress quite trendy and have a very western sense of style. Out in the countryside, they don their traditional, beautiful, clothing.
The men and women of China have a very distinct, funky and fashionable style of dress, which makes them different from what we’re used to seeing in the west.
6. The Air Quality is Better in Mongolia
This goes without saying. There are about 1.5 billion people in China compared to only 3 million people in Mongolia. Travelling through Mongolia has definitely been a breath of fresh air.
7. China Has Many Cities
Mongolia only has one true city, Ulan Bator. The rest are considered small villages, called sums. Other than that, Mongolia is nothing but expansive, natural landscapes.
Compare that with the more than 800 cities in China — 65 of which have more than 1 million people. Because of these numbers, our experience in Mongolia was far more peaceful, and we enjoyed the less chaotic, less polluted country.
8. Mongolians Are Nomadic
Mongolians in the countryside live in gers and pack up their homes to move to greener pastures 2-4 times per year. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Mongolian culture and lifestyle.
9. Chinese People Eat Fish, Pork and Chicken
Mongolians do not.
While the Chinese enjoy lighter proteins like fish, pork and chicken, Mongolian people love their red meat! They typically eat sheep, goat, yak and horse. Hearty meats for hearty people, a must for keeping warm in the freezing cold winters.
Plus, these are the animals that are available to them.
10. Chinese People are Fascinated by Westerners
I can’t count the number of times we were the main attraction at a particular touristy site in China.
We had our photos taken numerous times while living and travelling there and almost caused a few car accidents because of people staring at us, rather than the road!
In Mongolia, they would give a quick glance at us and carry on about their business — no staring and definitely no photos.
Even though there are many, many differences between these two neighbouring countries, there are a few similarities that stand out as well:
1. For non-native speakers, both languages are extremely hard to pronounce and learn.
2. Buddhism is a prominent religion.
3. Mongolia and China have very family-oriented cultures.
4. Chinese and Mongolians are both extremely hospitable and friendly people.
We miss living in China so much! The experiences we had there were life-changing and unforgettable.
Even though it was hard to say goodbye, making the choice to travel to Mongolia after completing our teaching contract in China was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
We had a blast travelling through Mongolia for 30 days. The off the beaten path moments we had and the nomadic families and ways of life we encountered are some of our fondest memories, ever.
For more information on travelling to these two intriguing countries, check out our Backpacking Guide to China and our Guide to Backpacking Mongolia.
Have you ever been to China or Mongolia, or both?! What do you think of the culture and the people? Tell us below!
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