Living in China: How Year 1 Compares to Year 5

Living in China: How Year 1 Compares to Year 5
Oct 05, 2018 By Degen Hill ,

Just like buying a new phone or updating its software, living in China is exciting at first. Things looks, feel, smell and move differently, but that ‘new country feeling’ won’t last forever. It’s inevitable that your perspective on China will change over the years. Here are some distinct differences that I’ve noticed between year one and year five.


Year 1
Let’s say you’ve just signed a one-year teaching contract or are studying abroad for a semester. That period is largely what you’ll focus on. Your first year living in China is spent figuring out your city, trying new food, making friends and living in the moment. You’re comfortable because the year is planned out for you, and as for next year, well, you’ll figure that out when it gets here.

During your first year in China, you probably won’t be very forward-thinking, and that’s to be expected. China is an adventure, and you’re here to experience everything.

Year 5
You wonder why you just re-signed with your company for another year, and swear to yourself that next year will be the one you finally leave China. After five years, you’ve probably accomplished a lot of your ‘China goals’, such as seeing major monuments, traveling to different cities, learning Chinese, buying loads of weird stuff on Taobao and moving away from teaching English.

Maybe it’s also the fact that you’re getting older, but after (or during) five years living in China, you start focusing on saving money, a career and where you’re going to go for your next adventure.

The city

Year 1
You just found a new market to buy fake goods and you feel like you hit the jackpot. Everything is new, and not recognising where you are during a night out is an exciting experience. The novelty of trying new places and finding hidden gems in the city is still alive and well.

It’s confusing trying to navigate through the public transportation at first, and you’ve probably taken a lot of taxis as you haven’t quite figured out how to connect your WeChat wallet to Mobike yet.

Year 5
You’ve been using Taobao for a few years now and wonder why you ever used to stop in brick and mortar stores in the first place. You haven’t taken a regular taxi in years because you’ve either bought a scooter or switched to using Didi. You’re comfortable in the city, primarily because you’ve explored most of it, but at the same time, you miss that feeling of being in a new place for the first time.

You’ve seen how the city has changed over the past few years, and although the modernity is nice, you reminisce about “the good old days”.

The food

Year 1
You’re up to try anything and everything, and most of your dinner outings are spent with friends or colleagues. Your first hot pot experience is full of pictures and novelty items like pig brain and cow hooves. The Chinese food scene is so diverse and you can’t wait to try it all.

During your first year, you tend to stay away from restaurants that don’t have English menus or menus with pictures unless you’re with a Chinese person, as you haven’t quite yet mastered Chinese characters. You also steer clear of Western restaurants as you want the ‘authentic’ China experience.

Year 5
You’ve reached the point where “I’m tired of Chinese food” becomes a weekly expression, especially if you’ve been eating lunch at your Chinese companys canteen every day. You know the best place to get dumplings, and eating hot pot no longer involves taking pictures.

You’re comfortable going into a restaurant with a Chinese-only menu, even if you still can’t recognize 100 percent of the items. You’ve seen your favorite spots close, and new ones open, having learnt the hard way about China’s high turnover of F&B establishments.


Year 1 - *Obviously not everyone
You love the clubs and spending RMB40-50 for a Tsingtao is no problem. You’ve also heard about fake alcohol, but since the drinks are so cheap, you aren’t too concerned.

Many nights are spent with friends, eager to meet new people who also share in your enthusiasm for a good night out. The hangovers are bad, but you keep telling yourself you only live once.

Year 5
You still go out with friends, but you aren’t drinking nearly as much and going to the clubs is out of the question. After drinking on the beach in Thailand for Spring Festival year after year, drinking back in China just doesn’t quite compare.

Drinking with friends at their apartment is more appealing than going to a noisy bar, and you wonder if it’s because the bars are no longer fun, or you’re just getting old.

After five years, you’re probably making better money too, so if you go out you’re going to shy away from domestic beer. No-one you know has touched Baijiu in at least two years.

General views

Year 1
Culture shock is in full swing and everything Chinese people do seems so foreign. At first, you aren’t quite sure how to respond except by laughing or wondering if what you saw was a one-time thing or a widespread cultural habit.

Your passion for the city, the culture and the food is tangible, and people who have been in China longer than you can generally tell that you’re new. You’re optimistic, energetic and happy to be here.

Year 5
While you still find some behaviors surprising, you’ve come to accept that “this is China”, although you still complain occasionally. You’re a China veteran and nothing phases you anymore.

You still enjoy being here most of the time, but your reasons are practical as opposed to based on interest or passion. Leaving China has become something you think about, but you’re also comfortable here; you make good money, you have friends, maybe even a relationship, and relocating again seems mafan.

One day you’ll do it, but until then, your perspective on China will continue to grow and change.

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Keywords: living in China


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