Opinion / Blog

10 tips for newcomers to China

By kellivschina ( Updated: 2015-06-03 14:39

I have a few friends who are planning to visit China or study here within the next year. Each of them has asked me for advice, tips and suggestions for their trip. It's hard to capture in words exactly what it's like to live in China. In many ways, it seems like a different world than the United States. However, I came up with 10 tips that I think accurately summarize my experiences in China so far.

1. It’s okay to look lost.

I don’t know how it is other countries, but in America we have this mindset that to show weakness is a bad thing. Don’t ask for help—be independent! (After all, that’s what America is all about, right? INDEPENDENCE!!)

The truth is that there’s going to come a time in China when you need help, and all the independence in the world can’t make up for what you lack in Chinese speaking skills. The great thing about China is that if you look lost, I can almost guarantee that within three minutes you will have a whole crowd of well-meaning Chinese people trying to help you.

2. It probably has red beans inside.

This rule applies to almost any bread, cake, cookie, soup, or drink that you encounter in China. If you like red beans, feel free to risk it. If not,hopefully you’ll learn to like them very quickly.

3. Carry a package of tissues and hand sanitizer with you at all times.

You can ignore this suggestion, but if you ever plan on using a public restroom, these things are a necessity. Trust me.

4. There are a few handy phrases you’ll want to learn in Chinese: the name of your country, “sorry”, “it’s okay” and “where is…?”

About 90% of the time, the first question a Chinese person asks you will be “Which country are you from?” If you can’t say anything else, at least learn the name of your country. It will put a very satisfied smile on the asker’s face when you respond. Other phrases that I found very useful when I first came were “sorry”, “it’s okay,” and “where is…?” (The last one comes in really handy. Whenever I’d be trying to get somewhere, I would just walk up to a random person on the street, point at an address on my phone, and say “Where is….?”)

4a. And don’t forget about the phrase “听不懂” (ting bu dong). If you don’t know what’s going on, you can just repeat this over and over. People will stop jabbering at you in Chinese.

5. You may want to close your eyes the first time you ride in a taxi.

Driving can be a little wild here. Eventually, you start to get used to it, ut the first few times may give you a heart attack. Just take my advice and close your eyes.

6. Hopefully you don’t mind sharing food.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the “family style” meal in China. Rather than ordering your own plate of food at a restaurant, generally your table will be loaded with dishes that everyone shares. If you’re that person who always got mad at others for “double dipping”, you’d better get over that fast.

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