20 Signs You’ve Been Living in China For Too Long

Let’s face it, I’ve been living in China for a really long time. Altogether, I’ve been here for about 3 years on and off. I studied abroad in Beijing and Xi’an for seven months, but I couldn’t stay away for more than a year. After graduation I taught English in the Chinese countryside, got my Master’s at a British university in Ningbo, and then moved to Beijing at the end of this summer. It’s been a wild ride to say the least!

It isn’t until I return home to the US (which FINALLY happened last month), or I meet people who are new to this fascinating country, that I realize how weird I’ve become. It’s a running joke that I’m basically Chinese at this point.

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If you think you or a friend have been living in China for too long, here are 20 warning signs to watch for:

Communist cups

1. You Drink Hot Water

Especially in the winter, or if you are sick.

I remember one time I had a really bad cold in China, and my roommate actually scolded me for drinking cold water. Wait… what?

Now I relish the hot water, and even ask for it at restaurants. If I’m sick, it’s all I drink. I even complained to my parents that the water in our fridge was too cold, and took to drinking out of the sink while I was home. Why would you want to drink cold water in the winter?!

Chinese horse statue

…and Confucian superstitions

2. You Believe in Chinese Medicine

I’m a believer! I drink banlangen tea whenever I feel like I’m starting to get sick. I actually prefer Chinese herbal medicines for minor stomach issues or to cure a sore throat. It’s less intense than western medicine, and it works!

I’m also a huge fan of Chinese cupping massages, as those of you who follow me on Snapchat probably already know. I’m going to do it every time my back hurts from now on!

Chinese platform shoes

FASHION.

3. You Prefer Squat Toilets

Trust me, if a toilet is going to be dirty, you’re going to want it to be a squat toilet. One of my main issues with Western public toilets is that Chinese people refuse to sit on them. Then you get all these women spraying their pee ALL OVER THE SEAT (and sometimes blood!!!!!!) because they don’t lift up the toilet seat.

If you’re going to try and pee without sitting down, at least lift up the toilet seat like a guy. Guys can aim and they still lift it up!

In my opinion, it’s much easier to squat over a squatty potty than a Western toilet. I really wish my office building’s public bathrooms would at least install one squat toilet so I wouldn’t have to deal with this mess every day.

Chinese water rolling balls

It’s my dream to go in one of these

4. You Dislike Dryers

What is the point of them anyway? They take a ton of energy, and ruin your clothes. Besides, my apartment in Beijing is so extremely warm and dry, all of my clothes are done within a few hours. Ningbo was another story though, sometimes it would take multiple days for things to dry due to how cold and wet it always was inside!

Regardless, I don’t use dryers anymore. Not even when I’m home. I prefer to keep my sweaters nice and soft, thank you very much!

Chinese dumplings

Boiling some dumplings on my hot plate!

5. You Can Cook Anything With a Hot Plate, a Rice Cooker, and a Toaster Oven

I still don’t have a toaster oven, but if I did, I’d be able to cook everything! My cooking supplies consist of one pan and a rice cooker. You’d honestly be surprised what a rice cooker can do. I don’t even need a pot to boil water for pasta or soups because I can just do it in my rice cooker now!

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Chongqing

6. You Have No Qualms About Literally Shoving People

Here’s the deal guys, Chinese people don’t really have the same concepts of personal space as we do in the West. Bumping into someone is not really something that needs to be apologized for. If you’re getting on the subway, you need to literally shove everyone in front of you to make sure you get on (and the little push from behind is helpful!)

Also, in my opinion, sometimes Chinese people are very oblivious about their surroundings (no offense, but it’s true). I still don’t quite understand this, especially in a city as crowded as Beijing, but people will just stop wherever they feel like it, completely blocking pathways, the entrance to elevators, full sidewalks… whatever. Then, to get by, people will just shove past them. Rather than realize they’re blocking the way, they just continue to stand there, doing whatever it is that’s so important on their phones.

When I see people blatantly obstructing obvious pathways, rather than shove past them, I’ve taken to lightly grabbing their shoulders and physically moving them out of the way. Sometimes they look up at me confused, and then realize “Oh wow, I’m blocking about 20 people from going down this escalator.. whoopsies!” and other times they don’t even notice.

fried dumplings with tomato

One of my Chinese cooking creations

7. You Can Go 2 Years Without Owning a Fork

I literally didn’t have a fork for two years… and I didn’t have one when I studied abroad either. The very first time I bought a fork in China was this fall when I was furnishing my apartment. It’s convenient for pasta, and salad but to be honest I hardly use it. Chopsticks and spoons are more than enough!

What did I do for all those Western foods? Macaroni and cheese? Spoon. Cake? Spoon. Salad? Chopsticks. Spaghetti? Chopsticks. Steak? Chop that baby up with your butcher’s knife and use chopsticks!

Fake Chinese Darwin quote

I think this quote is also fake…

8. You Can Tell When Money is Fake

It only took me 3 years and getting scammed out of 300 kuai ($50), but I can now tell when money is fake in China. I’m actually an expert at it. I actually never had this problem in Ningbo, or any other place I visited in China, but this is a HUGE problem in Beijing. My friend has only been here less than a year and he schooled me on a fake I thought was real.

Here’s how to avoid getting scammed in China.

chicken market China

9. You can Fend of Line Cutters

I can now easily recognize when people are about to cut me, and I’ve become an expert at fending them off. Usually this involves subtly sticking my foot out in front of them, so they’ll trip if they try to inch forward. Then I slowly shift my body weight until I’m firmly blocking them.

When I’m at a counter trying to buy train tickets and someone sneaks in from the side, I’ll slide my hand out in front of their body and then slowly butt them out with my back. Usually they’re actually pretty impressed! Just cause I’m foreign doesn’t mean I can’t fend you off!

The only people I’m still bad about dealing with are the little grannies! They are brutal. BRUTAL. They’re about half your size and will literally bowl you down. Then when you look back with a scowl they GIGGLE. How do you fend off a granny?!! It’s impossible.

Chinese hospital

Not including countryside hospitals that use IV treatments instead of pills

10. You Complain About the Inefficiency of Medical Care in Any Other Country

Chinese hospitals are actually ridiculously efficient once you know what you’re doing. Rather than having individual doctors offices, hospitals, pharmacies and clinics, the Chinese house everything in one place. Trust me, this is the best idea ever.

I really need to write a post about the genius structure and process of Chinese hospitals, but needless to say, it is so extremely efficient. 

In China, the doctor stays in his room while patients line up outside the door. Need a blood test? That’ll take 30 minutes down the hall. Need a prescription? Don’t worry, the pharmacy is downstairs and will take approximately 2 minutes to fill your prescription. How much does this cost? Oh… just $1 USD for the privilege of seeing a doctor and $.50 for my medicine? Yeah, I paid less than $1.50 last time I went to the doctor, and that’s without using my insurance.

…and you wonder why I haven’t moved back to America.

Chinese woman taking photo of pigeon

Gotta post this on WeChat!

11. WeChat is Your Life

WeChat is the Chinese version of Whatsapp, but that’s just the beginning. Chinese people actually don’t use regular text messages, they just use WeChat to text. WeChat also has voice messaging, a ridiculous amount of moving emojis, and you can even save your own gifs as stickers to use! You can make group chats that you can even mute if they’re causing too many notifications. I’m part of a nightlife in Beijing group that has 500 people!

WeChat also has a social media element that has become the Chinese mobile version of Facebook. You can also download WeChat on your computer and use it like AIM, or send actual documents as attachments. When I couldn’t get on my Chinese work email back in the US I had all my students texting me their essays!

WeChat also has a section for public accounts, which you can follow. This acts as an RSS feed where Chinese people follow all their favorite bloggers. My company even has their own WeChat public account where we post newsletters almost daily.

WeChat also has WeChat Wallet where you can set up your bank card and transfer money to your friends with just a text message. You can also even buy plane and train tickets on WeChat, which I’ve actually done more than once. You can either search for tickets on their version of Skyscanner, or if you buy tickets on your computer, a lot of Chinese airline sites will let you pay with WeChat by scanning a QR code. For example, I just found a cheap flight to Vietnam on the Chinese website Ctrip, and was able to pay by scanning the code with my phone.

Don’t have any cash on you? Even the tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street from my apartment has a QR code that you can scan to pay with WeChat. Yep… they don’t take Chinese credit or debit cards, but they have their own QR code so you can pay with WeChat.

12. You Order Almost Everything on Taobao or JD

Taobao and JD serve as the Amazon and Ebay of China. JD or “Jing Dong” acts as the Chinese Amazon warehouse. You can literally order anything on here, even groceries! Everything your order on this site is trustworthy and certified, making it a great place to buy electronics (I bought my Gorpro on this site).

JD is actually better for buying appliances than just heading to your normal grocery store. This is because you find products rated by thousands of people with actual photos. My Chinese friend helped me use JD to order both my rice cooker and my pan! I got a better price than I would’ve at the grocery store, and I made sure I was buying good quality items. The best part? JD usually has free shipping and everything comes within a few days.

Taobao is a bit sketchier, because you never truly know what you’re going to get (that’s why the reviews are so important), but it’s a much better site for shoes and clothing. I ordered a pair of knockoff Zara boots on Taobao and they’re incredible! But I had to exchange the coat I ordered for a larger size (2XL!!!) because the seller’s sizing chart was a bit off.

Regardless, everyone in China gets everything delivered.

Chinese woman taking photo of animal

13. You Know ALL THE APPS

Speaking of ordering everything, getting food delivered in China is actually cheaper than picking it up yourself. Now with apps like Eleme, you can get food delivered straight to your apartment with a discount that more than covers the cost of the delivery fee. You can even track where your delivery guy is on a map to see how far he is from your house!

Everything in China is cheaper if you go through apps. Never walk straight into a massage parlor, beauty salon or movie theater without checking an app first. If you purchase through your phone, usually you can get a huge discount! For example, show up at the movie theater and you’ll spend at least $10 USD on a ticket, buy through an app and you can go to the same movie for $4 USD.

Curious? Let me know and I’ll write a post on this later.

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Taking photo with Chinese people

14. You’ve Developed an Internal Pollution Radar

This one’s slightly more specific to Northern China, but you will become a pollution expert. I have an app on my phone that gives me pollution alert updates, and I carry a mask around with me in my work bag just in case the pollution picks up while I’m out.

Sometimes the app is a bit off, since it takes a while for the data to register and be transmitted through the app. In this case I can tell the app is wrong just by breathing/tasting/looking at the air. I’m so sensitive to it now, that I can even tell when other cities in SE Asia are polluted.

China’s not the only place that has pollution guys!

Need a pollution App for China? Here’s the one I use.

Chinglish sign

15. Flushing Toilet Paper Feels Like a Sin

The weirdest thing about going home is flushing toilet paper. For the first few days I always forget and almost put it in the trash can. I’m just so used to throwing it away now, I can’t help myself!

16. You Are Numb to Honking

People in China honk about anything, everything, and nothing to the point that it’s actually meaningless. The other day I almost got hit by a car that honked at me because I just tuned it out. I’m actually not kidding.

I used to wonder why Chinese people wouldn’t get out of the way when I honked at them on my e-bike, but honestly, when you live in China for too long, you just tune out the noise pollution. Usually though, when people honk at you they don’t have the right of way, they just want you to scatter so they can do whatever they want (aggressively pull out of a parking garage, run a red light, drive down the sidewalk… you name it)

Chinese people posing

17. You Can Tell When Alcohol is Fake

Just like fake money, you can sniff out fake alcohol from a mile away. One too many hangovers from fake alcohol have ruined full Saturdays and Sundays for me. Now I’m extremely wary of any free shots from cheap bars, or even free beer!

Just the other day my friends and I were debating whether a club was worth the cover charge, when a foreign employee assured us that if the guys paid the cover charge we’d be given free REAL alcohol. “Trust me, I drink it, it’s real” she felt the need to assure us.

18. You Prefer Hard Beds

I went home to Seattle and couldn’t get over how soft my bed was! Even after I got over the jet lag, I still had trouble sleeping. But now that I’m back in China, I pass out with no problem on my rock-hard bed every night. It’s better for your back guys! Trust me!

19. You’re Taken Aback By Cars that Actually Stop

Coming home, I couldn’t get over how inefficient everyone is with their crosswalks. If there’s only one car coming, you don’t have to stop for me! It’ll take me way longer to cross the street than it will take you to just drive and let me cross after you. What I definitely couldn’t get over were cars who would stop as I’m still on the other side of the street. You’ll be long gone before even get over there buddy!

In China, there are so many people and so many cars that if I want to cross the road I just use my “Hand of God” to protect me. What’s the “Hand of God” you ask? Basically I just throw my hand out and use the sheer power of will to make sure no one hits me. They’ll stop… probably.

Sure I’m still wary of the e-bikes who don’t stop for red lights, or the cars that don’t even slow down when taking a right turn on a red, but as long as a car is going under 10 miles per hour, I just use my Hand of God to force them to stop.

Chinese jumping photo

It’s not like I used to spend 3 hours a day learning Chinese…

20. You Strategically Forget How to Speak Chinese

Most people who come to China at least attempt to speak a bit of Chinese. It makes your life way easier, considering most people can barely speak English (despite learning it in school their whole lives.) I’m conversationally fluent in Chinese, which is actually kind of rare among the foreigners in China, but when it’s convenient for me I will literally forget every word of Chinese I know.

It’s actually hilarious how I’ve been able to suddenly and completely forget Chinese and have people believe me. For example, I’ll be talking to a Chinese guy for about 10 minutes with no problems, then when he asks for my WeChat I suddenly have no idea what he’s talking about.

Last week I was arrested at the bank (don’t worry, this is a story I’ll DEFINITELY share). Once the police started questioning me about what I’m doing in China and what my job is, where I live etc. I all of a sudden went from fluent to elementary in two seconds flat. When they brought someone in from the bank to translate, I started speaking in such complex English that I got him to give up after about two sentences. I should honestly get an Oscar.

20 Signs you've been in China too long

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That’s Just the Tip of The Iceberg

Honestly… this is less than half of the list I came up with.

Living in China is exciting, difficult and hilarious all at the same time. It’s changed me so much I don’t even know how to function back home anymore!

For those of you who have lived in China, do any of these ring true for you? Have any others to add to the list? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

42 comments on “20 Signs You’ve Been Living in China For Too Long

  1. when i came back home, for a long time when returning from the store i kept saying ” with this money i could have bought THIS much in China”…it still bothers me how much money i actually spend on food, and most of it it’s imported, not local and fresh like in China :/

  2. I love this list and although I haven’t lived in China (yet) but only visited the Middle Kingdom six times I can totally relate to drinking hot water, prefering squat toilets for the same reasons like you and I am also improving in shoving people and fending off line cutters. I also use WeChat to keep in touch with friends in China but I didn’t know that it has so many more functions. Good to know that many things are cheaper when going through Apps. I will definitely keep that in mind.

    • I’ve “only been to China six times” hahaha that’s still a lot! Yeah definitely check out the apps and Wechat. It only took me a few years to figure it out but I’m saving so much money this way, and I can now use my Chinese money to buy plane tickets rather than my (nonexistent) US money which is great!

  3. I love reading these kind of posts! One of my best friends lived in China for three years and each time I saw him when he came home he was more and more “Chinese”. So many interesting cultural differences I love reading about them.

  4. I agree with all but the first three of these. Even after almost three years in China, I refused to drink anything that wasn’t freezing cold, I still had yet to find Chinese medicine that did anything for me, and I still caught a cab home rather than using a squat toilet.

    • hahaha well unfortunately there’s no way I or any other girl can catch a cab home every single time we have to pee, otherwise I’d never go anywhere. Chinese medicine took a while for me to warm up to as well, but now I definitely use it for certain things: banlangen tea, cough medicine, and stomach issues are a few of the things I use it for.

  5. Great list, I love the last one. I also sometimes forget how to “Chinese” when I am too lazy to eat like a grown-up. Then my place is all messy, but the I use my gwai lo-bonus :D
    I just want to say that this list maybe refers more to US citizens, because many of your points do not apply to Middle Europe… huh maybe we are more Chinese than we want to admit :P

    • Yeah there are definitely things here that mainly apply to Americans: dyers are a big one- many people, especially in Central Europe, don’t have them. I also know our healthcare system is horribly inefficient, especially when you compare us to our neighbor Canada.

  6. Wow! I’ve never talked about these issues yet realize I completely relate to your experiences (sans the detection of real alcohol). While I can sleep on the rock hard slab of Chinese bed, my arms tend to fall asleep. Any suggestions? I go home to the US for Spring Festival and dread the unavoidable hunt for ‘real’ fruit. Thanks for your blog–I really enjoy it.

    • Haha yeah whenever I see imported fruit I can’t help but feel it looks fake! My tips for the hard bed are maybe to not sleep fully on your side? I have a box spring and a tiny pad, so my bed is hard but it’s not ridiculously hard.

  7. OMG I’m soooo Chinese already. I fit most of these symptoms haha!
    Great article, it’s so true :D made me want to make more videos about these topics, so hilarious! Miss China, looking forward to go back soon!
    x Lena

  8. Hi Richelle, I really enjoyed this post. I haven’t been to the Far East (only Middle East so far :) so all I knew about that culture comes from the Asian friends I had in halls of residence in the UK. Lol. There are some habits that should be introduced in the Western culture (like the hot water, natural medicine and toilets perhaps? I usually disliked those in Palestine but people seem to love them). I’m sure we would benefit from those! On the other hand, shoving people or fake alcohol don’t sound that great haha. Thanks for sharing :)

    Assia | http://www.assiashahin.com

    • Hahaha yeah, I’ll probably keep the hot water and natural medicine and ditch the shoving. Some things you just have to get used to living here, while other things are actually pretty great. You should definitely try to make it to East Asia if you can! It’s such an awesome area of the world.

  9. So, so funny. I love this post! Yep! I’ve heard of the hot water thing and of course in China, shoving is to be tolerated. That would be impossible to learn, as I’m British! We queue.
    However, I quite understand about flushing toilet paper down the loo or being extremely careful about water consumption. Minimal! I’ve been to many Asian countries and I live in Germany, but I still find it awkward to watch someone leave the tap running!

  10. Great list haha. I can relate to some of these even though the longest I was in China was probably about 3 months, but most of my trip have been 2 to 4 weeks.

    I can feel you on the fork front. I eat everything with chopsticks. The best is salad. Everyone thinks I’m weird, but chopsticks beat forks with salads any day!

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  12. AHH I can’t take people who cut! Just thinking about it gets me in a tizzy! And people who just stand in the middle of the road? So inconsiderate! I love this post though! I never got used to sleeping on a hard bed. When I first arrived in Taiwan, it was okay, but after awhile, I seriously considered getting adding another “mattress” on top of the one I already had, which was actually just a really thin layer of foam.

    Totally agree with you on squat toilets! When I’d go to the bathroom with my friends, they’d always call dibs on the Western toilets, but I was totally find with squatting. It’s easier imo and cleaner! LOL well, cleaner assuming that people aim correctly and the floor isn’t covered in piss lolol

    • Yeah I should probably get a little mattress pad, but I’ve been so lazy! I also completely agree with you about the squat toilets. i prefer one in my own house, but in public I would rather not have to wipe down the seat every time just in case… but the piss covered floor is the only major downside.

  13. I loved this list! I can definitely relate to all of these! I lived in China for 7 years, and just returned to the US last summer. My husband is Chinese, and we always joke that I’m more “Chinese” than him- especially with drinking hot water! After my first year of living in China, I visited my friend in NY and she had to keep reminding me to wait in line. I still have a hard time remembering not to make negative comments about someone’s appearance- I got so used to doing this in China because most people didn’t have a clue what I’d be saying in English! Now that I’m back in the US, I have to switch to Chinese if I want to talk about someone!

    • Hahaha! Yeah I definitely had to get used to not talking about people when I returned home to the US the first time. That’s so funny your Chinese husband thinks you’re more Chinese than him. I feel that way with my Chinese friends sometimes! Just the other day I ordered yushangrousi and a milk tea and my Chinese friend ordered spaghetti and hot chocolate. The waitress was so confused when she saw who was eating what!

  14. I lived in China for almost five years….three and half in Beijing and just over a year in Kunming. Most of these are true for me, as much as I hate to admit it, haha! I drink hot water, I prefer squat toilets, I love WeChat (why can’t everyone else?!), I hate dryers, I could go on! But one thing I will never like are the hard beds. I just can’t sleep on them. Everywhere I lived I would seek out a foam mattress pad. Despite all the things I dislike about China, I miss it. I accepted a job teaching Chinese kids online through a Beijing-based company and they have a lot of BJ landmarks in their lessons and it has made me so nostalgic lately! Thanks to your posts I can stay updated with the ever-changing city I love so much!

    • Wow three and a half years in Beijing! I would be nostalgic too. I will agree that there are some beds I’m not a fan of. My old bed was a box spring with a thin pad on top and that was perfect. Now I’m sleeping on just the box spring and I’m not a huge fan because the springs dig into my back. I think I might get a thin little pad to put over it and then it will be perfect!

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