The more I learn about China, the more I realize I don’t know and never will know. That being said, I still have a clearer insight on life in China than I did when I first got here one year ago.
Everywhere you travel, the dialect is different. While the nation shares a common written language, there is a huge disconnect with spoken language among all Chinese. Every province, and in some circumstances even every city, has its own spoken dialect. The only way for some Chinese to communicate is through written communication since they often don’t understand each others‘ Chinese. That’s why there’s a need for Mandarin—a standard language that unifies all of China.
As a foreigner in China, Chinese people don’t expect you to be able to speak Chinese. Of course, if you do speak Chinese, even just a bit, they’ll be elated to hear that you’re making an effort to learn about and integrate into Chinese culture.
At first when I arrived in China the driving looked like absolute chaos. It still does, but I’m not surprised by anything anymore. Driving on the wrong side of the road in front of police officers, making U-turns right when oncoming traffic is heading your way, changing lanes without looking or signaling. It’s all the norm, so other drivers look out for it.
People use their horns liberally, and nobody gets easily offended by anything. In the States, people take driving way too personally. Chinese drive slowly, but they cut everybody off and honk at each other and nobody thinks twice about it. If someone cuts you off, it’s not their fault; it’s your fault. You allowed enough space in front of you for them to pass. That’s the driving mentality.
Don’t be afraid to try street food. Food off the street might be cooked with gutter oil, but you can’t really be certain. I’ve eaten tons of Chinese street food and I haven’t fallen ill. The only time I got sick was when I accidentally drank an entire thermos full of tap water on accident, resulting in a two day fit of explosive diarrhea.
If you have a lot of food allergies, don’t eat meat, you’re a vegan, or you are just highly particular about what you eat, just avoid China. Eating the food of this country is one of the best parts of the immersion here, and if you miss out on that, you’re missing out on an integral part of what it means to live here.
To those who integrate, eat Chinese food, maintain optimism in the face of frustrating Chinese policy enforcement and a high air quality index, and at least try to learn Chinese—you’re cool.
Many can’t speak any Chinese, don’t really like Chinese food, blame their frequent illnesses on China, complain that the west is way better at this and that—why the hell do you live here?
After a year, China feels like home, but the one thing I really don’t like—that I would change if I could—is the pollution, at least in the eastern provinces. In the western provinces of China, the air quality is better than in the east. Far less factories means fewer emissions, but not as much going on in the way of city life.
Just my opinions. I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who lives in China and occasionally makes videos about life here. If you live in China or have lived in China and let me know what you think, leave a comment. Thanks for reading.