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:
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?!
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!Grab Your Teach Abroad Guide!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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!