15 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Living in China as an American

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I combed the internet for research and read just about every blog I could find before getting ready to board an aircraft to Beijing to study abroad. But I still had a lot of queries! I’ve already been living in China for more than three years and have acquired a lot of expertise along the road.

I wish someone had told me these 15 things before I made the big move.

1. Nobody hates you

Since our leaders don’t always agree, I was well aware before moving to China that there would be some hostility toward me as an American. Even while I occasionally hear criticisms of American politics and society, criticisms of China practically never do.

Every time I announced that I was from the US, a discussion about American popular culture or the NBA would follow. They might inquire as to the typical wage earned back home or the price per square meter of a home. (If someone has an insightful response to that query, please share it with me.)

Bottom line — Nobody in China hates you for being American. However, it will be helpful to read up on common Chinese social customs before entering the country.

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

Chinese food was my obsession as a child. We had some decent Chinese food because I’m from Seattle. Surprisingly, though, General Tso’s chicken, fortune cookies, and beef and broccoli are nonexistent in China.

I was surprised to learn that tofu and eggplant were staples. I also didn’t realize there were so many different regional cuisines in China, including Sichuan, Yunnan, Beijing, Hunan, Xinjiang, Tibetan, and Mongolian. I could continue forever.

I would never have eaten some of my favorite Chinese meals at home. For instance, I developed a fondness for mapuo dofu, a soft tofu that is simmered in a hot sauce with tongue-numbing chili peppers. Another one of my favorites was liang fen, a rice gelatin that was cut into bite-sized pieces and coated in fresh herbs and spices like cilantro.

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

I had no idea how bad the air pollution would be when I first went to China four years ago. I wasn’t sure how to protect myself from the smog and air pollution when I first arrived in China. What mask shall I wear? Do I always wear it?

It is best to wear a mask every day outside in China. Disposable surgical masks are excellent for preventing sickness on a packed train, but they do not provide enough protection from air pollution.

So what do you need to do to safeguard yourself? the gas mask Although that is a choice, I much like the white 3M construction masks. At Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Amazon, you can purchase them in quantity and they’ll shield you from PM2.5.

4. Air purifiers are a must-have

It is wise to stay inside on days with heavy air pollution.

You should get a quality air purifier for your flat and office if you live and work in China. Studies have shown that while it’s dirty outside, it’s typically just as contaminated inside, where you spend the majority of your time.

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.

You may also set up your bank card in WeChat Wallet and send money to your friends by just texting them. Even tickets for trains and airplanes can be purchased using the app.

This is particularly useful if you don’t have any cash on you. Even the small, unassuming eatery across the street from my flat had a QR code that you could scan to make a WeChat payment!

6. Hot tea isn’t free at restaurants

I was astonished to learn that, unlike Chinese restaurants in the US, free hot tea does not accompany every meal in China.

The majority of restaurants not only don’t provide tea, but they also rarely include it! Even if tea is listed on the menu, the restaurant frequently doesn’t have any on hand. (I suppose that’s another hint: not all the items on the menu are truly available.)

What then do they offer you in place of tea? Even in the heat, most restaurants typically serve hot, boiling water! Be aware that you usually have to ask for it because most restaurants won’t just serve it to you. You’ll need to buy a water bottle if you want cold water.

I was shocked to learn how costly tea is in China as well! China is undoubtedly the Mecca of tea, but I didn’t anticipate it to be so expensive.

At the grocery store, you might be able to locate reasonably priced loose leaf tea alternatives. When you go to a tea shop, you can sample tea and purchase it in brick form. It will, however, always be loose leaf and consumed straight up.

Bonus advice: If you’re unsure of how to drink tea without ingesting the leaves, block them with your teeth!

7. Tampons are hard to find

It is better to pack tampons from home if you need them while traveling in China.

Although they can be purchased from large retailers or online, they will cost more, and your preferred brand might not be available.

In China, it can be difficult to find pads. The majority of them are bulky and lack the Always-like sleekness.

For me, I made the decision to buy a Diva Cup in order to completely prevent this issue. One of my better judgments as an expat was that one!

8. Free VPNs will not cut it for internet usage

I utilized my university’s free VPN to get around Chinese censorship the first time I visited China. My internet was incredibly slow even when it was functioning. It was nearly impossible to perform tasks like watching Netflix online or posting images to Facebook. A year later, when I went back, I frequently had trouble even getting my free VPN to connect.

You’ll need a VPN if you want to use services like Facebook, Google, Gmail, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Tinder, and others. A working VPN typically costs between $50 and $100 USD per year.

I’ve mastered VPNs thanks to my more than three years of living in China. Six VPNs, except the free one provided by my institution, have been tested by me. Here is a list of the top VPN services available right now, even though my preferences have evolved over the years.

9. Fitted sheets are not popular

Fitted sheets have been a staple in my life, so I was surprised to learn that China does not share my fondness for a bottom sheet that stays put while you sleep.

For myself, the absence of fitted sheets concerned me so badly that I brought a set from home. However, you won’t find them at Chinese food stores, not even at Walmart, TESCO, or Carrefour. I’m sure you can purchase them online or perhaps at IKEA. Having been forewarned.

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

Although I originally traveled to China to learn the language, I can’t tell you how many expats I’ve encountered who believe they can simply pick it up while living overseas. You probably haven’t learnt a language like Chinese before. It could take you years of study to even become proficient because the grammar is so different and the tones and pronunciation are so challenging.

While you might be able to pick up some survival Chinese, you’ll need to enroll in classes if you want to learn how to speak the language fluently. But don’t worry, there are many reasonably priced Mandarin lessons and private instructors available around the nation!

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

Although I originally traveled to China to learn the language, I can’t tell you how many expats I’ve encountered who believe they can simply pick it up while living overseas. You probably haven’t learnt a language like Chinese before. It could take you years of study to even become proficient because the grammar is so different and the tones and pronunciation are so challenging.

While you might be able to pick up some survival Chinese, you’ll need to enroll in classes if you want to learn how to speak the language fluently. But don’t worry, there are many reasonably priced Mandarin lessons and private instructors available around the nation.

Do you wish to avoid being arrested? Avoid stealing and fighting intoxicated people in bars. Don’t hold up a “Free Tibet” sign in Tiananmen Square. Last but not least, remember to register each time you re-enter the nation at the police station. This is coming from the young lady who was in fact detained for failing to register in a timely manner. (Oops.)

12. Coffee is expensive

Imported meals and coffee are significantly more expensive than they are at home, even though many of the foreign restaurants are just comparatively expensive. You should anticipate to spend up to two or three times the original price for goods like coffee, cheese, peanut butter, and cereal as a result of China’s tariffs. Every time I come back from a trip home, I pack a luggage full of food and luxurious products.

In China, coffee is also valued as a luxury, and many coffee shops charge customers accordingly. I was surprised to see that a long coffee at Starbucks costs about $4.40, which is far more expensive than the $2.95 price tag I’m accustomed to back in Seattle. When you can purchase a complete lunch for less than the cost of your little cappuccino, it’s difficult to avoid experiencing sticker shock.

13. BYOS: Bring Your Own Sunscreen

In China, sunscreen is not frequently used. Even though I eventually located it in certain stores, the bottle is usually very little and extremely expensive. The majority of Chinese people use clothing to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays, but if you want to wear tank tops and shorts without hauling around a sun umbrella, you might want to bring sunscreen from home.

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

Despite the fact that food safety might be a serious problem in China, eating street food won’t make you sick.

There’s a fair probability that the meal is both tasty and fresh if there’s a long line. Also, don’t worry too much about meat and seafood. I’ve been residing in China for three years, yet the single instance of food sickness that required hospitalization was a bacon cheeseburger.

But the water isn’t safe to drink. Sincerely, not even locals engage in it.

15. Don’t flush your toilet paper

I was aware of squat toilets, but nobody ever cautioned me about flushing my toilet paper. There is a tiny basket located next to every toilet where you may place your used paper. If you try flushing your toilet paper too many times in China, you can find that your toilet becomes clogged because the pipe systems there aren’t designed to handle non-organic waste.

You should certainly bring some hand sanitizer from home and buy a small pack of tissues when you get there since many public facilities lack toilet paper and soap.

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Even though there are many things I wish I had known before moving to China, I believe that the unexpectedness of learning something new every day has made my time here an adventure. Arriving in China with an open mind is the best advise I can give you. Discovering new facets of life and culture in China is fun because it is so big and complex!

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