Living in China is a never ending source of surprises for the average expat. Even after the initial culture shock has worn off, it’s still likely that at least once a week you’ll be surprised by something that you had never seen or considered before. In this article we look at a few aspects of Chinese lifestyle and culture that tend to grow on an expat. Behold! These are things you love about China that you never thought you would like before you came here.
Housekeeping methods are different all around the world, that is a given. In China, one of the main things that you first notice about etiquette as a guest is that you are expected to take your shoes off as soon as you enter someone’s home. Carpet is uncommon in most homes in China where, because of the warm summers, amongst other reasons, tiles or wood flooring are favored. The best way of keeping floors clean and hygienic is for people to wear slippers. Most households in China will keep a variety of slippers: warm ones, waterproof ones (for use in the bathroom), men’s and women’s etc., at a place close to the front door. Wearing slippers is something that I never thought I would like to do, but I’ve come to discover that its value is threefold. First, having slippers on is relaxing and quite comforting as it is synonymous with being at home. Second, wearing slippers that are only worn inside the house is great for cleanliness. Third, Chinese wear slippers because, according to traditional Chinese medicine, the soles of the feet should be protected against hard and cold surfaces, as parts of the feet correspond to the health of different organs in the body. This leads us onto the next aspect of Chinese lifestyle that I, as an expat, have learned to love but never thought I would.
2) Traditional Chinese Medicine
People in Western countries are often a little skeptical about Chinese medicine and its constituent disciplines such as acupuncture and herbal medicine. Some think that it is pure quackery, others think that it is antiquated and a novelty at best. However, many people that have lived in China for a while come to realize that TCM really does have its merits, whether it be treating a dry itchy cough through with a wonderful herbal cough mixture, keeping the symptoms of an allergy at bay or using tui na massage for relieving aches and pains. I remember being surprised by my first visit to a hospital in China in the way that TCM was used alongside western style medicine so seamlessly. In my own experience I have found that TCM remedies are more gentle and kinder to the body; for some ailments they are not as effective in treatment as more invasive styles of western medicine but often the TCM treatments work great in combination with the health care methods that I was previously familiar with.
Back home, if you had told me I would, in the future, actually enjoy a night long session of Karaoke, I would have told you, in no uncertain terms, that you were talking nonsense. How wrong I was. Seen as a kitsch and silly pastime by people in non-karaoke loving countries, this activity is much maligned, perhaps because of the awful instrumental backing tracks and unfashionable song choices (Unchained Melody, anyone?), or just the unholy noise and terrible singing the following of this pursuit has unleashed upon the world. Having now enjoyed a few great—and perhaps worth mentioning, alcohol-fuelled—KTV sessions, I have found it to be a fantastic way of getting to know colleagues and new friends through mutual embarrassment and exhibitionism. People that knock KTV before they try it really don’t know what they are missing out on!
4) Street food
If singing at the top of your lungs isn’t enough, another thing that I’ve come to love since being here is the convenience and availability of street food, even in the wee hours of the morning. There’s no better way to fulfill those late night munchies that often strike when you stumble out of a bar or KTV room than by hitting the nearest barbecue stall and munching on some delicious mystery meat chuanr. It may not necessarily be healthy, but for a quick convenient snack at a pittance there’s nothing better. For my money, there are few scenarios that describe life in China better than sitting on a little folding stool on some street corner at 03:00 with a beer and a stick of meat in your hands, winding the evening down by chatting with the locals. Of course, the variety and availability of these snacks is incredible, and it’s something that if I ever decide to leave China, I’ll certainly miss.
Talking about foods I’ve learned to love in China, how can I not mention the humble soya bean? Whether it be in skin, sheets, chunks, stinking, frozen or liquid form, the soya bean is everywhere to be seen here. One of my strongest dislikes in food before coming to China was tofu. In Western health food shops, tofu is something that leaves much to be desired. Before coming to here my idea of tofu was a bland textured, rubbery, unpleasant tasting hippy culinary relic with no mileage in it at all. My opinion of this all changed when I first tried kung pao tofu; this sweet and spicy dish opened my palate to the delights of the soya bean. Now it is tofu with mushroom soup, tofu skin to add texture to hotpot, warm soya milk in the morning with breakfast, and deep-fried tofu rolls at the porridge restaurant. Not only is soya known for its beneficial cholesterol lowering properties, it is much tastier than the hippy haters back home would have you believe.
6) Public Transportation
We all have to get around somehow, though it amazes me the amount of expats who don’t fully embrace China’s public transport systems. Sure, taxis are convenient and comparatively cheap, but the price of buses and subways in most cities is beyond belief. Who’d have thought you could get from one end to the other of a mega-metropolis like Beijing for just a couple RMB?! It may prove difficult for those unable to read Chinese, but the rewards and money-saving possibilities are great, and totally worth whipping out the Chinese dictionary on your phone. Coupled with the comprehensive transport networks across the country that run from early to late, the buses and subways of China can be a godsend.
In conclusion, these are just a few things that I found to be a pleasant surprise when living in China. The truth is there are many more things about the Chinese lifestyle or city living in China that become a revelation which crop up during an expat sojourn. As they say ‘variety is the spice of life’, and there is plenty such spice to be found in China. For those with a willingness to try new things in spite of previous experiences, China is a treasure trove of surprises of the pleasant variety.
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Keywords: love about China
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Taking domestic tours with all Chinese and only myself provided a number of good experiences. Traveling by hard birth for two days and a night to the start of the tour one day early gave me the chance to talk in English to Chinese with different types of work. We had very interesting conversations about their work and China and not much about myself . We talked about different customs of their work in the United States. Usually the first day on the tour, the Chinese were a litle reticent abouit having me with them. But after the first day, they realized that I would always be on time for boarding the bus for the next stop. Most places had English signs and I knew enough to understand the presentations. The diners were always the same every day and the last night in Shanghai we all signed a complaint about the food in Chinese. Who is TNM? That’s Norman. Try going on a domestic tour by yourself to meet more Chinese people and enjoy the tour more.
Oct 14, 2010 12:00 Report Abuse
Having experienced all four during a recent trip to China, I have to agree.
The tofu thing was really a surprise. Who’d-a guessed?
A long evening of KTV with a large family group (and no alcohol) was great fun even if I didnt know most of the songs or words. And they were gracious enough to hunt down a number of popular American songs.
The TCM thing - well I wish it had worked a little better on the bronchitis I caught on the flight over. But, then again, we never did go into a real Traditional Medicine shop.
Ahhh... The slippers. I stayed with a Chinese family, so I got the royal treatment - help in removing my shoes, etc. (Im an older guy). So it made me feel special and like I really was "at home."
Oct 04, 2010 20:17 Report Abuse