Embrace the differences and get behind the mindset of Chinese culture. I’m writing down some tips that would help newcomers and also the expats who have been here for a while feel happy and content.
I’ve been living in China for about two years now. Soon I will be celebrating 2nd anniversary of my love affair with China and its citizens. I really have a strong affinity for this country. My love for China doesn’t mean I’m doing well or I’ve realized all my dreams here. However, I respect the opportunity China has given me. My ancestors and I have not fought battles for this nation. I have never touched a brick of the gigantic monuments, buildings and road networks. But suddenly I came to this glowing nation and I’m enjoying everything in here.
Nonetheless, I’ve seen many foreigners who are very unhappy with this country. Some are doing well while some are not. Shockingly, I’ve seen people having negative views about this wonderful country and its people. Therefore, I thought of sharing some points that I learned from being in this country for so long. I hope they work out for all of us to lead a happy life in china.
- The fact that you are in a different country (away from home)
Be conscious about the fact that you are in a different nation, in fact a very different nation. The difference may be bigger than your previous experiences being abroad. China is a country of contradictions.
- Discover the Culture
This should be obvious to most foreigners but actually is not. All cultures have their quirks and if you are going to live in their country, either accept the good, the bad, and the ugly, or stay home. China has a wonderfully rich culture, and 5,000 years of it to learn about. Taichi, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Wushu, Kong Fu, Calligraphy, Beijing Opera are all part of that beautiful culture. Enjoy them, and accept the small annoyances that come from the parts of the culture that most ‘laowais’ shy away from.
- Learn the Language
It’s not as hard as people make it out to be. It shows respect for the country you are living in or people you chose to live with. I’m not asking you to master the language. Not everyone could do that, including me. But learn the basics. Be able to ask the name of a road, buy train ticket and such simple things. This is important because most of the unhappy foreigners I’ve come across are unhappy because of this. They don’t know the language and most importantly not interested in learning it. They keep thinking the whole world should understand their language, which presumably is “English”. Don’t expect migrant saleswomen to understand your English with your accent. Don't expect security guards, taxi drivers and municipality workers to understand your importance. This self-sufficient nation with a billion likeminded people can survive even without knowing the word “hello”. Face up to that fact. This will give you the motivation to quickly figure out simple dialogue, which will make your daily life easier and it will bring you more happiness than you ever imagined.
- Get Grounded
Find an expat group to be a part of. There are some organizations that conduct weekend events for expats (like hellonanjing). Do not hesitate to be a part of it. There are baseball, football and even basketball leagues. Joining an expat group is critical if you want to stay longer than one year. There will be times when no matter how much you love China, you will need to hang out with fellow foreigners.
- Respect their biases towards white people (western world)
Whenever I run into a western guy, there would be a debate among my friends how long will it take him to date a beautiful Chinese girl. Perhaps less than one week. They easily win the affection of beauties of this country. I really have no idea where they pick up these girls. However, this makes other foreigners, apparently with a different skin color, unhappy. DO NOT BE. We can’t change the collective attitude of the people, which build up over decades. Rather than complaining, fretting or being angry, we should try to find exceptions. Believe me there are jewels of people in this country, who care more about the person and his attitude/personality rather than the skin color or nationality. Try to find those gems. I found a lot after living in Nanjing, I’m loved by everyone. It is hard, but I’m sure there are many of them.
- Escape from your Comfort Zone (Country mates)
I’ve seen many people here find their own country’s people and spend the whole of their days in China with their own people. They go out together, dine together and play together. They build their little town here in China (like the Chinatowns in US). This has to be avoided if you want happiness. What’s the point of being in a different country if you spend all of your life with your own people? You can do that back in your motherland. I agree this feels safe and comfortable at first. However, escape from this safe zone to realize the nirvana of being in China.
- Eat the Food
But ask what it is first. I can't tell you how many stories I have involving Chinese food. Some of it surprisingly delicious, some of it disgusting, either way I have a story. Don’t think too much about the quality of food and beverages. Otherwise your happiness will be gone. Just don’t be scared to try new things. Some are amazing!!!
Well if I keep on telling, there would be plenty more to say. But these are some solutions to the common issues of foreigners. I hope it helps you during your stay in China. Trust me China is a mysterious but a magical country.