You think you know China but oh no, you are not even close

I’ve had this sit in my draft pile for over six months and have decided it’s either time to make it a post or scrap it. I’m intending to achieve the former but should this go down the drain… off to the bin it goes. (Although you all wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t posted it.) During my short six months in China, the native people continued to fascinate me (and still do). There’s a general saying among the international students: “TIC” which stands for ‘this is China’. It is used as an explanation for when anything goes wrong or we have a problem.  It just shows we’ve just accepted the frustrating situation or, basically, when whatever is happening does not make sense to us ‘”laowais” (foreigners) because the Chinese can be bonkers confusing, stubborn or just unorthodox.

We are informed numerous times by family, friends, blogging sites, year abroad posts that the Chinese are the opposite to us in every way. And most of the time this advice is not unfounded!

I am still baffled by their cultural habits and customs.

When I left I felt finally freed from a very long list of things:

the land of no google, needing to have a vpn to do anything, seeing or hearing people spitting in the street, being surrounded by those who don’t understand the concept of a ‘queue’ or how to talk at a normal volume, from the staring because I am a “laowai”, from a form of chinese paparazzi of which all photographers probably have photos of me pulling the most unflattering face ever, from being almost two clothes sizes bigger than you would back home, from the cravings of western food, from the lack of the concept ‘personal space’, from the challenging language barrier that is sometimes so rewarding or an utter fail, from not being able to read or guess what everything is on a menu and sometimes having unpleasant surprises, from the excitement when we come across another “laowai” who’s not part of our crew, from the awful snoring in hostel rooms, unfortunately from the land of many cheap things, but fortunately from the squat toilets that sometimes have no doors nor do women sometimes lock them if they do, from those who don’t seem to know what ‘headphones’ are on trains and planes, and from the general hustle and bustle of the ever-in-a-hurry life that leaves us saying one thing I mentioned before: TIC.

Yet despite everything; I love the land I called home for six months and I cannot wait to return once I’ve graduated and decided what I want to do with my life… Does loving China that make me crazy?

Not a chance. 😀

I find it amusing that people ask me (and many often ask me): “But why do you like it? What draws you to that land of chaos?”

The reason I am entertained by these questions is that I just don’t have a straight answer. Have you ever had a hobby or been somewhere where you just feel energised when you do it? It thrills you, puts a smile on your face even in some of the most frustrating moments, and you feel that you could never get bored? That’s how I feel about China. It’s a land that has ‘adventure’ scribbled all over it.

So, how does one adapt to the Chinese way of life?

Firstly, be a little psychologically prepared:

>> Imagine China is like marmite: it’s a love or hate thing when you first arrive.

>> Then imagine China is like an avocado or olives (basically a food we don’t like as kids but discover we do later on): China slowly grows on us as weeks start to pass until BAM. You find yourself saying you’re loving life and can’t get enough of it.

>> But every now and again it’s as if you get a sour grape and you’re wanting to catch the next flight outta there because ‘you don’t have to put up with this’.

>> But by the time you are actually getting on your flight home, it sucks. China has become your favourite thing and you find yourself in slight disbelief that this transformation has happened. It’s almost as if you’ve been in a relationship and you’re just exhausted but you love ’em. ❤

(Then again, have low expectations because it’ll make it easier to get used to it.)

1. Make the most of the opportunity to learn some basic Chinese because that will make your experience 300 times better than if you can’t communicate with the majority of the population. Even on campus at Ningbo, the high street stores were run by local Chinese and their english was very basic. I would recommend learning: numbers, fruit, meat (and the characters for this so you can at least pick stuff out on a menu) and basic verbs.


9b79615dcef5868025a99cabf8be53c1Source: pinterest

肉 – ròu: meat in general
牛肉 – niú ròu: beef
羊肉 – yáng ròu: pork
鸡肉 – jī ròu: chicken

It’s easy to find all of this online, and it will be so much easier once you’re having to learn and use it in real life situations!

2. You’re going to feel as if you’re being watched 90% of the time. No matter how hard you try to assimilate the culture, you will always appear alien to the eyes of the Chinese. This no longer happens much in big cities, but it’s quite a common phenomenon in rural areas where people are not used to meeting many foreigners (laowai). Be prepared to be stared at, followed around, lightly touched or asked to take photos with groups of strangers – but try to play along!

3. The best advice I’ve read is to just go with the flow, learn and copy how the locals do things and use that as a strength to making the most of any situation. As long as you keep your mind open to anything, remember the use of ‘TIC’, you’ll be as “happy as Larry”.


Good luck to anyone travelling or moving to China temporarily or for the long-haul. I’m rather jealous really…