China, What You Should Expect…

Sasha | May 6, 2011 | Comments (22)

China is a unique country full of surprises.  The culture is worlds apart from the culture we enjoy in the west, the attitudes are different, the ideals are different and what they decide to wear in the spring is different!  So it’s no surprise that when us foreigner’s come over we find ourselves not only culture shocked but also scratching our heads wondering what exactly we should expect in China.

Jacob of JLmade put it so eloquently on his blog: “The expat who lives in China and hopes to grow should have certain expectations.  Wherever you live and whatever you do, you should be expectant.” Now of course unless you’ve been in China for a while you will have no clue what to expect! So to help you out I put the question “What to expect in China” to some seasoned expats living all across China.  If you didn’t know what to expect before you will now!

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Freezing in Tropical China!

One of the things that will probably affect you if you live south of the Yangtze River is that buildings in winter are not required to be heated, unlike in the North. This doesn’t mean that the winters are mild. In Shanghai, all three universities I have worked in have been unheated (and two of them had no AC for the extremely hot, humid summer months). The students come to class wearing parkas, gloves, scarves, hats. Once when doing speaking tests for several hours, sitting at a desk, I lost all feeling in my feet. Also, while you are freezing in your coat indoors, there will be windows opened for ‘fresh air’.

Snow in Shanghai!!!

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You are bigger than you realise!

Clothing sizes are smaller, which can be a bit ego bruising.  If you are a medium to a large back home, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for here in an XXXXL– that is, if you can find it. I now own a pair of XXXXL trackpants bought from a Shanghai sports store (I’m normally a M/L). I have yet to find tights that reach past mid thigh. Shoes above a 38/39 (EU) or 8.5-9 (US) or 6.5/7 (UK) for women are nearly unheard of. I’m a US size 9 (UK 7) and have been laughed out of several shoe stores. So far, I’ve only been able to find shoes or clothes that fit in the fakes markets, which have ‘export’ sized goods. Bring clothes and shoes that fit, or go to a very affordable tailor/shoe maker when you get here.

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Mary Anne Oxendale is a Canadian EFL university instructor who has been living in Shanghai for just over two years.  She writes about all her adventures living in Shanghai on her blog ‘A Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai.’ Jump on over to Facebook and like her fanpage. Twitter @koangirl

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Say goodbye to lining up!

You’ll understand this after your first five minutes in China. Prepare yourself for tiny grandmothers elbowing their way past you to get that seat on the bus, or to beat you to the checkout stand at the supermarket. China is a country of 1.4 billion people, and it seems like half of them live in Shanghai, lining up is a luxury that isn’t always available. The best defense is a good offense, work with your expat pals to form a “great wall” when you are trying to accomplish any task where others could cut you off.

Is that what they call a line?

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Whose kid is sitting on my lap?

Seats on the bus/train/subway are a valuable resource. I have honestly had a parent put their son in my lap while I was riding the train because they were tired of holding them. No warning at all. Luckily the parent picked them back up after a few minutes. China is a crowded place, so plan on becoming close friends with everyone you climb on to the bus with.

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China’s East Coast Redefines “Hot”

The first time I arrived in Shanghai it was late July and close to 41C with high humidity. Stepping outside was like stepping into a sauna. You will sweat in ways you didn’t know were possible. On top of that, many of the schools outside of the biggest cities still lack air-conditioning. Bring clothes that can be washed daily, and drink plenty of water. Heat-stroke and dehydration are two of the major reasons foreigners end up in the hospitals here.

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What the hell happened to my new shirt?

If your new flat comes with a washing machine, get ready for your clothes to grow. Since most homes lack a dryer, the washing machine attempts to dry your clothes by spinning them as fast as it can, after which you hang them up outside. This results in everything slowly getting bigger.  It might seem like a small thing, but most of my favorite t-shirts have been irreparably stretched since my arrival. On the plus side, it really feels like you are losing weight.

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Tom has been living in China for 4 years, with experience from rural Guangxi to booming Nanjing. His blog, Seeing Red in China, attempts to provide a broad look at Chinese culture, current events, and just a touch of Chinese history. Tom currently works in a big hospital as well as working with a large Chinese Christian charity.

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We invented that:  From compasses to coffins

China has a very long history…and you’ll be reminded of it often.  Chinese people are very proud of their culture, its many years of history (anywhere from 3000 to 7000, depending on who you talk to, usually getting longer each time), and all its developments and inventions.  People will take every opportunity to remind you that your country is much younger and lacks the thousands of years of experience that China has.

...apparently they invented the first menu too!

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1001 Uses For…

Chopsticks.  If you can’t use them to eat a meal, start practicing before you come.  I suppose if all else fails, you can just choose to NOT break apart a pair of the pull-apart chopsticks as my dad did, causing the entire kitchen staff of the restaurant we were in to come out and stare, but that’s your decision.  Also, they can be used to fix anything, from a leaky toilet to electrical wiring (no lie, my apartment is probably half held together with chopsticks)!

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Am I planning to wear this tomorrow?

If you live here, there is approximately a 98% chance that your apartment will NOT have a dryer (OK, so I made up the statistic, but it is very unlikely).  Plan your laundry days accordingly, especially in winter.  There is little worse than having to go to work in your barely-heated workplace in January in still-damp jeans and sweaters.

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Under the influence

Chinese people, especially the men, can DRINK and they expect you to as well!  It doesn’t help that their national liquor is about as strong as gasoline, and that they don’t believe in sipping their drinks.  If you are at a meal where drinking is involved (which is about 87% of meals – again, I made up the statistic, but it’s A LOT), you’re going to either have to make up an excuse and abstain from the very start, or keep up with the toasts until the meal is over…and it’s time to go to KTV.

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Kelly Sandor is a teacher from small-town Canada who made her way to China for one year in 2004 and was then crazy enough to return in 2009.  She teaches oral English in Hebei province, has met and married a wonderful Chinese man, and is currently trying to plan their wedding!  You can read all about her adventures living in Hebei on her blog.  Twitter @kjsandor.

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Spitting isn’t just for ball games!
In China, you will see constant spitting on the streets. And it’s not just light spitting, it’s haulking up lougeys (spelling?). People of all ages, men and women, participate in this spitting culture. Even on trains or other indoor places, people casually spit on the floor. There is a perception that it is good for your health, but I can assure you its not good to look at.
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Freedom of Worship. Say what?
While China is a country without an official religion, it recognizes most popular religions, including Christianity. But one catch is that Church leaders need to be approved by communist China. That’s why there are underground churches that carry out religious services. However, being caught doing so can lead to serious consequences including jail time. Moreover, strict regulations on religion means reduced freedom of worship for the people of China.
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Thomas Aylmer has spent a year in Xi’an, China teaching English and plans to relocate to another part of China next year. He writes about his experiences on his blog. Twitter @tomschinablog
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And one more from me, Sasha the editor…
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Who needs locks on toilet doors!

Toilet doors were made for privacy right? They were designed so that no one can walk in on you doing your business.  In China even having a toilet door in a public toilet is a luxury in some places. But despite the toilet door being there, working and lockable for some reason (maybe the fact that toilet doors were once so uncommon) many Chinese women don’t see the need to lock the door.  On more than one occasion I have nearly waltz into the toilet stall right on top of someone squatting away.  But they didn’t seem to care, they weren’t ashamed, I was more embarrassed then them!
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Photos licensed under creative commons by: rduta, avlxyz
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Category: What to Expect

About Sasha: Sasha is a sassy Aussie lassie who is living it up as an expat in Shanghai. When she’s not teaching English or slaving away writing her next story she can be found scheming her next grand travel adventure, dancing up a storm at Shanghai’s hippest clubs and taking an uncountable number of photos of random things. View author profile.

Comments (22)

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  1. Kit Whelan says:

    Fascinating tips!! I’m definitely filing this post away for a future China trip! :)
    Kit Whelan recently posted..Colors &amp Light in Old San Juan Photo Collection

  2. I felt so identified ! I totally lived those situations when I was in China. Miss it so much, though.
    Adriana Perez Vieira recently posted..Mañana nublada- tarde soleada

  3. Michael says:

    So true about the cold and heat. Luckily I live in an apartment that has a unit that can do both. I didn’t know a single unit existed that can both spit out heat and cold. Oh during the winter months, my students would bring this heated pouch to class and charge it in class.

    • Sasha says:

      I spent the winter attached to my hot water bottle. I have one of those multifunction heater/ac but it was pretty crapolo over winter (I think it’s about to die). Those electric heat pouches are great, I was just too stingy to buy one! lol

  4. [...] In lieu of a full post this week (also, note the lateness of this post already), I want to direct you to an article I contributed to at Shanghai Novice.  The editor, Sasha, recently put out a call for foreigners in China to suggest some things newcomers could expect of the country.  Check it out here! [...]

  5. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  6. Dave says:

    Don’t forget about there not being toilet paper in nearly all of the public restrooms!

  7. hbo says:

    most of the things mentioned are true, that’s how china works. but in my opinion still apparent bias there.
    hbo recently posted..Why McDonalds favors Shenzhen in China

    • Sasha says:

      Thanks for your comment Hbo. I’m sorry that you feel this post is biased. However what this post aims to illustrate is the differences between China and the west from Westerner’s perspectives. These kind of views are not uncommon amongst the expat population in China.

  8. hooey says:

    I hate it when somebody makes a reference to China’s population to justify any problems, such as queueing habits. This is just ridiculuous – the population density in cities like Shanghai is actually lower than in Russia (where I come from). China’s population density is normal – they just have many, many cities.

    And what’s the deal about washing machines? Aren’t nearly all washing machines in the world, except in the US, dry clothes by spinning them? In Russia and many other countries nobody ever heard of such thing as a clothes dryer.

    • Sasha says:

      Thanks for your comment Hooey, though I have to disagree with a few things. I don’t think Tom was implying that the large population justifies the queuing habits or excuses any bad behaviour. What he is however saying is that it is one of the factors (not the reason) that contribute to the whole problem of queuing in China. In regards to the washing machine Americans do use the spin feature on washing machines, that is a pretty standard feature world wide. Really the overall point about the washing machines and indeed the whole post is how different China is to many western countries and what westerners particularly Americans, Canadians, Australian’s, Kiwi’s, English and more should expect when they move to China.

      • Matt says:

        Nice posts Sasha, I am also an Aussie, and we use dryers and Hills Hoist Cloths lines, the spin feature in china is faster by far.

        There is definitely a queuing issue in China, related to everyone’s need to be at the top to be #1, it can be seen in every part of the culture that I have experienced.

        I have noticed through travelling to China in many short bursts (1-3 months at a time over the last 5 years), that the roads are becoming safer each trip.

        Also I read your other posts, all very good and entertaining. Keep safe and well.

        • Sasha says:

          Thanks for the comment Matt, I’m glad your enjoying reading my posts! Comments like that make my day! :)
          I think your onto something with the roads improving even in my year and a half here I’ve noticed quite drastic improvements on many of the roads, makes me feel safer considering half the time there are no seat belts and if they are they don’t work properly!

  9. Awesome peice! I was windering, may I use this in my blog? Please get back to me asap. Thanks!
    Myra (Interactive Expat) recently posted..You Are What You Eat: Staying Healthy in China

  10. punky says:

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….
    punky recently posted..Dirt Bike Games Online

  11. bounts says:

    Oh during the winter months, my students would bring this heated pouch to class and charge it in class. | :P
    bounts recently posted..car parking games for girls

  12. megatron06 says:

    Really the overall point about the washing machines and indeed the whole post is how different China is to many western countries. | :P
    megatron06 recently posted..Cool Dirt Bike Games

  13. China Guy says:

    Thanks for the article! I’m in studying abroad in china learning the language and let me tell you, besides learning Chinese, you really need to get used to (and learn) the Chinese culture. Let’s put it this way, thing are just done differently here.

  14. [...] of how my husband and I met, and to play a part in an article that Shanghai Novice posted about some of the quirks that newcomers to China can expect. Quirks like…Koosh ball [...]

  15. Martin says:

    Your post amazed me! I am not the only one seeing this side of China. Fascinating post, thanks again.

    Martin

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