Expat Life in China: live like a local in China

An American lady in China, exploring the local life

China is the kind of place that will change you forever. You’ll never see the world the same way once you’ve spent time there. But my first visit compared with my 5-year span of expat life there were vastly different. These tips will help you feel more at home while you’re there.

First, let’s talk food, the local Chinese food


Chinese food is not like the Westernized versions you order from your local takeout place. While there are some dishes that will look familiar when you’re in China, the majority of them won’t. It can be a bit strange at first but give it a taste and you’ll find new things to love about Chinese cuisine. I found sea cucumber to be gross, but other than that, I found things like you xiang rou si, a sweet pork dish, to be much better than I expected.

Next up, diversity


China is a really homogenous place. In big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, they’re used to seeing foreign (read: non-Chinese) faces, however in smaller cities, you might be stared at or even pointed at. Some people will even take your picture or ask to take one with you. It’s a little weird, but you’ll get used to it.

And while we’re talking diversity, when you’re out shopping at the supermarket or convenience store, there is a severe lack of it. In something as seemingly simple as candy bars, there are only a handful of different brands like Hershey’s and Dove. Prepare to do without as a lot of the things you like from home are quite possibly not available here. The good news though is a Hong Kong treat known as dan ta, an mini-pie-shaped egg tart, is awesome. Try it!

Be forewarned about bathrooms

Most public bathrooms have squatters instead of toilets. You’ll have to learn how to use one. You’ll be hard-pressed to find one that is clean and has soap at the sinks too, so carry your own tissues and hand sanitizer to keep this problem from plaguing you during your stay.

Celebrate the Chinese holidays with a local


Chinese culture definitely takes time to adjust to, but the Chinese holidays are something you’ll love. The fun vibe that takes over the entire country is infectious during Chinese New Year. It’s a holiday of merry celebrations, feasting and lots of fireworks (perhaps a bit too many of those popping off at all hours of the day and night, honestly). The best way to experience Chinese New Year, or any holiday really, is to enjoy it with a local, for example a Chinese friend.

The only downside to the holidays is the travel as on any holiday, everyone in the country has off. That means they’re all traveling. Plan ahead and expect delays. Want to see the landmarks? Do it another day unless you love big crowds. That goes for all holidays. While I loved Chinese New Year the most, The Mid-Autumn Festival is also nice. The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second biggest event on the Asian calendar.The Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival features the beautiful idea that we all see the same moon. It’s lots of eating (mooncakes) and drinking, much like any other holiday in China.

Chinese people are incredibly friendly


They’re also very curious about you and while it may be overwhelming with people coming up to you all the time, the majority of them are just trying to be kind. However, there is one thing you should avoid discussing with Chinese people: politics. You might meet some that are more liberal but as a general whole, they’re very loyal to their country and they don’t like to poke fun at it.

It’s the kind of change you need

There were many times I wanted to just run back home, but I’m glad I spent 5 years in China. It was life-changing and taught me how to be more patient with other people, how to embrace a culture that was completely different from my own, and how to do without or find creative ways to solve my problems. Despite the differences you’ll find in China, those pale in comparison to the positive impact it will have on your life. I also learned to cook Chinese food which I still do now that I’m home. And I still celebrate the Chinese holidays now that I’m back in America. I can’t imagine not incorporating a bit of China into my everyday life. It will always be a part of me.

Written by Jennifer Raskin from the U.S.A.


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