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15 Things I Wish I knew Before Living in China

Last Updated on February 18, 2023 by Unwana Akpan

15 Things I Wish I knew Before Living in China. Before getting ready to take a plane to Beijing to study abroad, I browsed the internet for information and read just about every blog I could find. But I still had many questions! I’ve lived in China for more over three years and have developed a ton of knowledge in that time.

15 Things I Wish I knew Before Living in China

1. Nobody hates you

I was well aware before traveling to China that there might be some hatred toward me as an American because our governments don’t always agree. Even while I occasionally hear complaints of American politics and culture, China is almost never the subject of criticism.

Whenever I mentioned that I was from the US, a conversation about NBA or American popular culture would immediately follow. They can ask what the typical salary is at home or how much a house costs per square meter. (If anyone has a thought-provoking response to it, please let me know.

In conclusion, nobody in China despises you because you are a foreigner. Before traveling to China, it will be useful to familiarize yourself with some common social norms there.

2. Chinese food in the US is great, but it’s even better in China!

My childhood obsession was Chinese food. Being from Seattle, we had some decent Chinese food. Interestingly, though, Chinese food does not include General Tso’s chicken, fortune cookies, or beef and broccoli.

The fact that tofu and eggplant were considered basics caught me off guard. Additionally, I had no idea that China has so many distinct regional cuisines, including Sichuan, Yunnan, Beijing, Hunan, Xinjiang, Tibetan, and Mongolian. I could go on and on.

Some of my favorite Chinese dishes would have never been consumed by me at home. For instance, I came to enjoy mapuo dofu, a soft tofu dish cooked in a spicy sauce with mouth-tingling jalapeño peppers. liang fen, a rice gelatin that was divided into bite-sized pieces and sprinkled with fresh herbs and spices like cilantro, was another of my faves.

3. Surgical masks aren’t very effective for fighting pollution

When I initially visited China four years ago, I had no clue the air pollution would be that awful. When I first came in China, I wasn’t sure how to safeguard myself from the smog and air pollution. Which mask should I put on? Do I wear it every day?

In China, it is best to wear a mask every day outside. While disposable surgical masks are great for reducing motion sickness on a crowded train, they are insufficient for protecting against air pollution.

So what must you do to protect yourself? Use a gas mask, I greatly prefer the white 3M construction masks even though that is a choice. You can buy them in bulk at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Amazon, and they’ll protect you.

4. Air purifiers are a must-have

On days with significant air pollution, it is advisable to stay indoors.

If you live and work in China, you should get a high-quality air purifier for your apartment and workplace. According to studies, even when it’s unclean outside, the majority of the time you spend indoors is usually just as polluted.

5. WeChat is everything

Invest in an unlocked smartphone when you come to China because WeChat will become your life.

WeChat is a well-known social messaging app that is similar to WhatsApp. In China, individuals primarily utilize WeChat for texting instead of standard text messaging. Voice messaging, a ton of animated emojis, and the ability to save your own gifs as stickers are all features of WeChat.

Additionally, you can set up your bank card in WeChat Wallet and SMS money to your friends. The software may be used to buy train and airline tickets as well.

In the event that you don’t have any cash with you, this is especially helpful. Even the modest, unassuming restaurant across the street from my apartment had a QR code you could scan to pay with WeChat!

6. Hot tea isn’t free at restaurants

I was shocked to discover that, unlike Chinese restaurants in the US, not every meal in China comes with free hot tea.

Not only do most restaurants not offer tea, but they also very infrequently do so! Even though it’s on the menu, the eatery frequently runs out of tea. Not all of the items on the menu are actually available, so I guess that’s another hint.

What then do they present to you in its place? Most restaurants frequently serve hot, boiling water even in the heat! Be warned that most restaurants won’t just offer you it; you generally have to ask for it. If you want cold water, you’ll have to buy a water bottle.

The price of tea in China astounded me as well. China is unquestionably the home of tea, but I didn’t realize it would be so pricey.

You might find moderately priced loose leaf tea substitutes at the grocery store. You can try tea and buy it in brick form when you visit a tea shop. However, it will always remain loose leaf and ingested on its own.

Bonus tip: Use your teeth to obstruct the tea leaves if you’re unsure of how to drink it without swallowing them!

7. Tampons are hard to find

If you may require tampons while traveling in China, it is best to bring some from home.

Despite being available at big box stores and online, they will cost more, and your favourite brand might not be.

Pads can be hard to come by in China. The majority of them lack the Always-like sleekness and are hefty.

For myself, I choose to get a Diva Cup in order to entirely avoid this problem. That was one of my wiser decisions as an expat!

8. Free VPNs will not cut it for internet usage

The first time I went to China, I used the free VPN offered by my institution to get beyond the country’s censorship. Even when it was working, my internet was terribly slow. It was incredibly difficult to do things like watch Netflix online or submit pictures to Facebook. When I returned a year later, I frequently had issues in connecting to my free VPN.

If you want to utilize websites and applications like Facebook, Google, Gmail, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Tinder, and others, you’ll need a VPN. An effective VPN normally costs $50 to $100 USD a year.

Due to my more than three years of residence in China, I am an expert in VPNs. I’ve tested six VPNs, except the free one offered by my school. Even if my favorites have changed over the years, here is a list of the best VPN services currently on the market.

9. Fitted sheets are not popular

I’ve always used fitted sheets, so when I discovered that China does not feel the same way I do about a bottom sheet that stays in place while you sleep, I was startled.

For myself, I was so worried about the lack of fitted sheets that I carried a set with me. However, neither Chinese food stores nor Walmart, TESCO, or Carrefour carry them. You can probably buy them online or maybe at IKEA. Having received a warning.

10. You can’t just “pick up” learning how to speak Chinese

Although I went to China to learn the language in the first place, I can’t tell you how many expats I’ve run into who think they can just pick it up while living abroad. Likely, you have never studied a language like Chinese. Because the grammar is so diverse and the tones and pronunciation are so difficult, it can take you years of study to even become proficient.

While you might be able to pick up enough Chinese to get by, taking classes is the only way to become fluent in the language. But don’t worry, there are lots of accessible private instructors and inexpensive Mandarin classes available across the country!

11. The government won’t jail you on a whim

Although I went to China to learn the language in the first place, I can’t tell you how many expats I’ve run into who think they can just pick it up while living abroad. Likely, you have never studied a language like Chinese. Because the grammar is so diverse and the tones and pronunciation are so difficult, it can take you years of study to even become proficient.

While you might be able to pick up enough Chinese to get by, taking classes is the only way to become fluent in the language. But don’t worry, there are numerous accessible private instructors and inexpensive Mandarin classes offered across the country.

Do you want to stay out of jail? Stealing and attacking drunken patrons in bars are not recommended. Holding a “Free Tibet” sign at Tiananmen Square is not permitted. Last but not least, keep in mind to register at the police station each time you enter the country again. This statement is made by the young woman who was in reality arrested for being late to register. (Oops.)

12. Coffee is expensive

Even while many of the foreign restaurants are merely relatively pricey, imported food and coffee are much more expensive than they are at home. Due to China’s tariffs, you should plan to pay up to two or three times the original price for products like coffee, cheese, peanut butter, and cereal. Every time I return from a trip home, I load a bag full with groceries and upscale goods.

Coffee is seen as a luxury item in China as well, and many coffee shops charge consumers accordingly. Compared to the $2.95 price tag I’m used to back in Seattle, I was shocked to see that a long coffee at Starbucks costs roughly $4.40. It’s hard not to experience sticker shock when you can have a full lunch for less than the price of your small coffee.

13. BYOS: Bring Your Own Sunscreen

Sunscreen is not commonly used in China. The bottle is typically very little and very pricey, though I ultimately found it in certain stores. Most Chinese people cover up in order to protect themselves from the sun’s damaging rays, but if you want to wear tank tops and shorts without lugging around a sun umbrella, you may want to carry sunscreen from home.

14. Street food isn’t scary, it’s actually delicious and fresh!

Eating street food won’t make you ill, even though food safety may be a major issue in China.

If there is a big line, there is a good chance that the food will be both flavorful and fresh. Don’t stress out too much about meat and fish either. After three years of living in China, the only food poisoning that sent me to the hospital included a bacon cheeseburger.

But drinking the water is dangerous. Sincerely, nobody does it, not even residents.

15. Don’t flush your toilet paper

Though I was aware of squat toilets, I never received any advice against flushing my toilet paper. Every toilet has a small basket next to it where you may put your used toilet paper. The piping systems in China aren’t made to handle non-organic waste, therefore if you flush your toilet paper too frequently, you can find that your toilet gets clogged.

Since many public restrooms lack toilet paper and soap, you should definitely bring some hand sanitizer from home and buy a small pack of tissues when you arrive there.

In Conclusion

Despite the fact that there are a lot of things I wish I had known before living in China, I think the intrigue of discovering something new every day has made my time here an adventure. The best advice I can give you is to go to China with an open mind. Due to its size and complexity, China’s culture and way of life are enjoyable to learn about!

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