Overcoming Adversity: 5 of the Most Common Fears of China Expats

Overcoming Adversity: 5 of the Most Common Fears of China Expats
Apr 20, 2017 By Trey Archer , eChinacities.com

Living in a place like China that has a very different culture, language and ideology can definitely make the average person shake in their boots. I remember being apprehensive about the smallest things when I first arrived here five years ago just because it seemed like a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away. In the end I prevailed and faced my fears through trial and error, but for those who have just arrived, or for the ones who still haven’t gotten over the hump, here are some useful tips to help you integrate and conquer your biggest fears in order to become a true China expat.

Becoming a true China expat
Source: Renato Ganoza

1) Language
This one is a killer! Mandarin is one of the hardest languages to learn, and with thousands of convoluted characters, ear ringing tones and enough homophones and homonyms to turn a simple greeting into a burst of profanity, it’s easy to see why. For those living outside of major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the fear of using Chinese is even greater since not many people will have a solid (or any) grasp on the English language.

There’s hope. Most people coming here want to learn the language, so, even in 4th tier cities it should be easy to find a language school that caters to foreigners, and/or a language exchange partner. Furthermore, there are numerous Chinese language apps to make the learning process a lot smoother, while some apps can even translate for you on the spot in case you’re still having problems with those tricky logograms.

2) Friendship & Dating
It’s certainly intimidating to meet new people from other countries since their beliefs, customs and habits are different from yours, and many of us expats work alongside other expats which makes getting caught up in the foreign circle away from the locals too easy. Meeting Chinese people is part of your experience here and can be an enlightening experience, so don’t let the cultural barrier scare you; there are ways around it.

First, get a hobby; I myself have met most of my closest Chinese buddies through martial arts classes. Second, kill two birds with one stone and find a language partner to practice your Chinese and meet new people. Third, use social networking portals like Weixin or Weibo. Fourth, for those specifically looking for a significant other, try a dating site like eChina Dating or OKCupid. Fifth, be active and get out of the house; friendships and relationships are often formed in the places you least expect, and not by sitting on your couch at home by yourself.

3) Food
This is another problem many foreigners have. Eating anything out of the ordinary can be a real struggle in this country if you’re not accustomed to it; and this matter is only complicated given the fact that the Chinese are notorious for eating anything that “walks, crawls or flies.” Like some of the other points listed above, sampling China’s rich culinary past is part of the culture, and it would be a shame to miss out on thousands of years of delicious traditions by eating Big Macs every day.

There’s no other way to slice it: To overcome your fear of eating Chinese food, you simply just have to dive in chopsticks first and give it a stab. The absolute worst that can happen is that you won’t like it. The best is that you’ll discover something amazing and broaden your horizons. Now, I’m not saying go out there and try dog meat or cicada right now. Just maybe try a new dish once a week.

4) Pollution
Pollution is a legitimate fear especially for those moving to big polluter cities like Beijing. China has 16 of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities, and spending a significant amount of time under a blanket of smog can create serious health complications. In fact, many expats, especially in Beijing, have decided to pack up and go home due to the pollution problem.

There are ways to “face the smog”: face masks and air purifiers are great tools to help reduce your pollution intake, while exercise will combat the negative effects pollution has on your body. The government is also doing their part and slowly but surely acknowledging these problems by implementing measures to reduce these complications (albeit at a slow pace). In fact, China is the world’s largest investor in green energy, so if you stick around here long enough, things will probably be a lot brighter in the future.

5) Safety & Health
Apart from pollution, you may feel like your personal well-being may be in jeopardy with all the other things China throws at us. With countless reports of fake alcohol, food contamination and even a slight increase in crime, China can certainly be daunting. First and foremost, becoming seriously ill or dying from food poisoning, drinking fake booze or getting mugged is still extremely rare here. I play the numbers and don’t take too much precaution and voila, I’m still here.

But for those who are more concerned, just try to use common sense. Don’t drink at sketchy bars or brand names you don’t know. Don’t eat off the street or purchase cheap goods at the supermarket. Don’t walk around the street at night in a sketchy neighborhood or go around looking for trouble. Using your head is the best way to prevent a problem from happening, and most of the time it’s a lot easier than you think. So next time you shoot down a 5 RMB White Russian made with Chinese milk and bootleg vodka in the outskirts of town with a group of gangsters, think twice.

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Keywords: foreigners in China Fears in China; China expat culture shock


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I don't think any of those things in the article are "fears" except maybe for pollution. I've lived in China for 10 years. I still can't carry a conversation in Chinese. This hasn't stopped me from making dozens of good Chinese friends. The women will come to you with a cell phone to get your QQ and/or WeChat. All will have translation software. Although, most of the ones who do approach you will want money or a ticket out of China. So dating or finding a wife is never a fear. Food: yeah could be an issue; then again there are 1.5 billion people who eat Chinese food and are alive.

Apr 22, 2017 03:43 Report Abuse



Thanks ecc. I just became more stupid after reading that article.

Apr 21, 2017 23:00 Report Abuse



How about horns blasting outside your window and people not making way for others coming out of the lift even in the most expensive areas in town?

Apr 21, 2017 18:43 Report Abuse



the pollution seems the overriding concern; there's no clean water, air, or soil, so how can eating, drinking, food, breathing, or anything else be safe

Oct 27, 2015 05:34 Report Abuse



they say Chinese ppl their English are horrible. To be fair, I (an Asian) would say: Laowais! Just because they cant say almost nothing in Chinese (I feel sorry for them and realize laowais are not good foreign language learners) after spending several yrs in this country. And understanding about China is something far far away to them. Most of the laowais just come for travelling, playing around, wasting time here.

Nov 04, 2013 20:03 Report Abuse



That's a bit of a generalization. In my group of friends most of us can speak a decent standard of mandarin, at least enough to do our daily tasks and chat with people. Many foreigners are good at learning languages but we usually don't have the time to learn, for example if you work at an English school you are supposed to be teaching English all day, after that you have little time to study. I think most Chinese have a very poor understanding of foreign history, when they go outside to travel they are completely unaware of the significance of most cities/buildings. Foreigners do actually study "world history" during our schooldays (UK at least) and part of that includes learning about China and they dynasties all the way up to Mao and modern China. We are an honest straightforward people who will tell you if you have poor English in the hope that you will improve, often we sandwich the bad part between two good "You're pronunciation is quite good, but your grammar kinda sucks, you have some decent vocabulary though" rather than being told by Chinese "Ni de zhong guo hua shuo de hen hao!" after we say "ni hao", how can you know if we speak good Chinese just by saying hello. Have a conversation with me for 5 minutes then tell me if my Chinese is good or not. Finally I agree that many foreigners come here for travel and to play around, but 70% of them change their ways whilst here and decide to settle down here and make a life. I know this from personal experience.

Nov 07, 2013 12:22 Report Abuse



I don't think western history lessons spend enough time on Asian history, really. Unfortunately, in China the local history has been tied to the common identity, so you aren't likely to be told any of the less-than-heroic stuff in the past, either. For the moment, China has a bit of a mystery-history, and that atmosphere generates curiosity about the country. Only once you actually visit the counry of 5000-year-old hystory and wisdom, prepare to see your regard of Chinese deflate by leaps and bounds.

Nov 29, 2013 16:27 Report Abuse



My two biggest fears. Being ripped off. Having to use a squattie when I have an exploding botty, and not getting it all over the back of my trouser legs.

Oct 31, 2013 20:45 Report Abuse



When you choose alcohol it would be more safe to buy chinese strong drinks then famous western brands. Chinese drinks are authentic, cheap, clean and quite drinkable. But western ones are expensive, therefore are very often falcificated, fake (especially in night clubs). Drink chinese ones! Compare prices: wonderful chinese vodka Honggaoliang - 5-10 RMB for a bottle (0,5 l), whisky - about 200 rmb, so what will they falcificate?

Oct 30, 2013 11:50 Report Abuse



Some of this stuff is fake, and contains industrial alcohol, which is potentially lethal. Also makes you very sick and gives bad hangovers.

Oct 31, 2013 23:04 Report Abuse



My biggest fear? Chinese bathrooms. . .

Oct 30, 2013 10:05 Report Abuse



"To overcome your fear of eating Chinese food, you simply just have to dive in chopsticks first and give it a stab. The absolute worst that can happen is that you won’t like it." No, the worst is....well, see your section 5. (Hint, involves projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea, often concurrently.)

Oct 30, 2013 08:27 Report Abuse



as evidenced by what needs to be avoided on the sidewalks

Oct 27, 2015 05:31 Report Abuse



nothing new and everyone knows that already

Oct 30, 2013 08:22 Report Abuse



exactly, every month twice same shity "articles".

Oct 30, 2013 13:57 Report Abuse



I would probably add a 6th - the driving habits of the Chinese and possibly death by taxi! Being a pedestrian here is dangerous and being a passenger in a taxi is an adventure in itself at times!

Oct 30, 2013 07:28 Report Abuse