10 Things To Know Before Moving To China!

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China is crazy. In a good way, of course. We’ve experienced a hell of a lot in the short time we have been here, and as cheesy as it sounds, I think living in China has definitely changed us as people.

10 things to know before moving to China as an expat

There is something almost every day that surprises us; whether it’s the horrendapig (don’t steal this excellent adjective) pollution, getting splattered by bits of cow being hacked up in the supermarket or a taxi ride lasting FOREVER but still only costing £4.

We’re definitely not China professionals yet – we have barely begun to scratch the surface of discovering the country’s beautiful temples, parks and historical streets. There’s a lot we wish we had known before we came – not that we wish we had been put off, but because it’s just nice to be prepared!!

So here’s a list of things we have discovered that we would love to tell our pre-China selves!

The Food Is Not What You’re Expecting!


I am a BIG Chinese takeaway fan. Chinese-style pork, egg fried rice, beef chow mein, prawn crackers, sweet and sour chicken balls…ARGH GIVE ME NOW!! I had always been told that real Chinese food was nothing like what we were used to at home, but that it was much better. Don’t get me wrong, we have had some great meals in China, but I have to admit that I am disappointed with real Chinese food. To start with, a lot of the meals they serve in restaurants involve some sort of internal body part, and that freaks me out. I managed to try some chicken heart and sheep tendon but I was very drunk and would not do it again!

We still aren't exactly sure what this dish was!

It depends on what you’re looking for, but the standard Chinese food back home has been adapted to suit our sugar addictions! It also comes from Hong Kong so is more likely to be a Cantonese dish. We have found some amazing small local restaurants though, who serve huge delicious meals, including my favourite cumin-flavoured BBQ lamb skewers!

The street food isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either! It’s a lot of fried dough type snacks, with eggs and vegetables. There’s also something called stinky tofu which I often suspect comes from these stalls and I can’t begin to describe the stench. I’m hoping it’s the tofu because if it’s just an unhygienic stall then God help us all.

Find out more about the real food of Beijing!

You Will Not Die If You Use A Tuk-Tuk


This may only be partially true. We filmed our first journey sat in the back of this tiny home-made taxi. And we thought we were going to die. However, despite the crazy driving of everyone in Beijing, we’ve not once fallen out the side or been hit by a car so we think we have done pretty well. A lot of teachers we have spoken to have talked about their huge fears using one, but now we use them all the time and don’t think twice about it.

A typical Chinese tuk tuk - your carriage awaits!

They’re cheap, quick and fun – sometimes it’s just interesting being in the various styles. Some only have a wind shield, some have doors. Some don’t have indicators, others have a reverse gear. It’s luck of the draw when we jump in, but for 60p a journey who cares!

Ignore All Rules of Society When It Comes To Queuing (Except When Getting On The Subway)


We were actually warned about the pushing and shoving before we arrived so we did expect it, especially since we are living in a huge capital city with over 20 million people going around their daily business. However, we found it bizarre that people will literally push you down the stairs to get on a tube that is CLEARLY TOO FULL, but if they’re already on the platform, people form orderly queues following the instructions on the floor.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a different story when you are getting on or off. People stand in the way of the doors watching videos on their phones without a care in the world whilst people fight for their lives trying to escape the train. And I have seen others literally bend in half to squeeze into a space that should only fit a very small dog, only for another train to arrive 30 seconds later.

Luckily for us, our subway station is always empty because it’s quite far out, down on Line 7 in the South East. I’m not sure what I was expecting though because surely most subways around the world are like this – full of office workers who have places to be!

There are also queue lines and fences at bus stops , which are a brilliant idea.You are never in line for the wrong bus and you’re literally shepherded on one after the other so there aren’t any elbows in your face. Good call, China.

A rare empty Beijing subway station! This is where we live - near the Happy Valley theme park and it's quite far out on Line 7 so that's why it's always quiet.

There Are A Lot Of Rich Areas


Somewhat naively, I always assumed China was a relatively poor country. We get a lot of cheap clothes and goods from there, and the stories in the media can give the impression that China isn’t very well developed. Obviously it’s a huge country so there are going to be areas not doing as well, but Beijing is home to many many rich people. The city is full of posh shopping centres and flash car garages.

Addressing our misconceptions about Beijing and China

In some areas, food and drink can be more expensive than London , but these places aren’t just catering for expats. The business district is teeming with young professionals who were lucky enough to have been brought up in the centre, which has boomed in the last 20 years. Of course, there are two sides to every city and a lot of people are very poor, but it’s definitely not what I was expecting.

Children In China Are Not Particularly Well-Behaved


I know I mentioned this in a previous post but this is something I definitely wish I had known before arriving. All over the internet there are people talking about how perfect the children are because their Chinese teachers are so strict. I have seen some teachers go so absolutely ballistic that I’ve been scared, as well as a few slaps and kicks here and there.

The latter does anger me, regardless of how shitty the kids are behaving, but I know there’s nothing I can do to change the way the teachers discipline their classes. The punishments seem to do nothing though because some of these kids relentlessly talk (and not only in my class, which I was worried about in the beginning) and fight in the middle of a lesson.

The only time I was actually shocked about how quiet and lovely this particular class were being was when I put on some Christmas music and they started singing along as they drew Christmas trees – so cute!

The only time they have all been quiet is when they were colouring in Christmas trees!I personally feel that they need less time at school and more time to enjoy being a child – they sit in their classes at lunchtime to eat for about half an hour and then it’s straight back into lessons.

They do their army-like exercises in the morning but that’s the only time they’re outside, and even then it’s not free play. I think in England sometimes we are a bit too lenient on the kids, but I think China is far too strict. Where’s the balance, people?!

They Also Poo In The Street


Again, not 100% true – it’s only really young children; I don’t see kids from school whacking down their pants in the middle of a path. However, poo is still poo and it’s weird, whatever age you are. The split trousers thing still baffles me because sometimes I see kids wearing nappies underneath – surely wearing both defeats the object of wearing the other?

Either way, the other day we saw a mum let her kid wee into a jar in the middle of a shop. Completely bizarre, although we have since found out that there is such a thing where people boil eggs in young boy’s urine – don’t even go there – so maybe that was her plan.

Don’t Wait Until You Get To China To Buy A VPN


Also be bloody grateful for normal internet! I cannot wait for the day where I can just sign into Facebook immediately without having to log in via Seattle or somewhere I’ve never even been. We thought it would be best to settle in China first and then research VPNs but this was a bad, bad idea.

China’s government has obviously blocked certain websites for a reason and to prevent people from going on these websites they also block the VPN sites. Duh, of course they bloody do.

We got so sick of seeing this screen! Buy a VPN before you come to China!

This was something that we did not foresee and it made signing up really hard. Eventually we found that ExpressVPN worked so got the free trial – it was shockingly bad for us but it allowed us to then look at other options. Astrill has been our lifesaver but it would have been a lot easier if we had bought our subscription before we got here!

Stick Two Fingers Up To Royal Mail


If I order something online back home, I can usually expect it within 3 – 5 working days. That’s an acceptable amount of time for the order to go through, the warehouse to sort the order, the delivery lorry to fight the M25 and knock on my door, right?? WRONG!! In China you can order something at 12pm and it will be in your hands at 3pm THE SAME DAY.

The delivery guy on his wheels!

We ordered our phones online and by that evening everything was set up and ready to go. I am not looking forward to the time when I have to wait for a delivery again! Also, imagine the size of England compared to China. I know there are so many more people to complete the job here but my postman has some serious answering to do.

Learn How To Count To 10 On One Hand


This is actually pretty cool. Obviously learning the names of the numbers would be helpful too but actions are easier to remember. I have also tried to put 7 fingers up to show…well..7…but people have got confused (yeah, think how frustrating that is. I KNOW YOU DON’T USE TWO HANDS BUT JUST COUNT THE BLOODY DIGITS).

1 – 5 are just those fingers held up. We would normally use our thumbs to count 1 but in China you start with your forefinger, and the thumb comes when you want to show 5.

6 – thumb and baby finger up, the rest folded down. It’s the sign we do when we pretend we’re on the phone.

7 – First and second finger touching your thumb, the rest folded down.

8 – Thumb up, forefinger out, the rest folded down. Imagine you’re a 90’s kids giving someone an incredibly cool ‘hey!’

9 – All fingers folded down apart from the forefinger, which makes a hooked sign. You’re almost making the number 9 with your finger.

10 – Cross your forefinger and middle finger. Sometimes people will use two hands and make a cross with their two forefingers but that defeats the object in my eyes!

A Bank Holiday Is Not A Free Day Off!


A very annoying way to find this out is to enjoy National Day at home and then be told to come into work on the following Saturday. I don’t understand it at all – what’s the point of being forced to take a holiday when you have to make it up on a weekend which breaks up your consecutive time off? The whole of China follows this rule, not just schools, so it’s not as if we are being hard done by. I just think it’s weird – I would rather work a normal week and not have the holiday, cheers.

Enjoying our time off school - won't be great working on the weekend though!

Did you know any of these things about China? Have you experience culture shock anywhere in the world too? Let us know in the comments below!

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About Jade Mortimer

Hey, I’m Jade! Currently I’m working in the outback of Australia, planning a an incredible trip across the country in a campervan!! I love a good cuppa and John Travolta is my hero….

5 comments on “10 Things To Know Before Moving To China!

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  4. I’ve lived in Asia for 16 years, and personally, I think China gives you the biggest culture shock bang for your buck. One of the things that I disliked about the food was the amount of oil in the bottom of the dish. Those little taxis in Beijing are a hoot. Your photo of the Terracotta warriors is lovely. I love Xian and the warriors.

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