I noticed sometime back that whenever I left the country (Beijing to be specific) and returned, my adjustment to what had been my norm took longer to set. This was because I wasn’t ready to acknowledge what was right in front me. In our latest issue of the Home and Relocation Guide, we list ten cultural things that will hit you after you settle down. Here’s how to adapt to these eight shocks quicker. These aren’t scientific based but from a layman’s experience of living here for over six years.
You’re living in a city of over 25 million people, things are bound to get hairy if you are driving, cycling, and worse walking. The electric scooters are silent, which in turn makes them very dangerous. You will be saying a million silent prayers as most cyclists swerve without regard for others and at very narrow paths. You need a helmet, and be vigilant. Slow down when they speed up trying to pass as the most important thing is you reach your destination.
Cars are less friendly and you can expect a car not to signal if you’re following from behind. Make sure that you slow down and wait to see which way the driver is going before speeding up. Have a bell or two, better yet get a siren, as the pedestrians won’t look up from their phones and will stand in the middle of the bicycle path, entry ways, and just about anywhere really. I tend to shout "Hey" this has worked only if they don’t have their headphones on.
Well you might not be famous to the rest of the world but here, you’re a mini rock star to the locals. There will be a lot of staring from the locals and being in China means that it isn’t rude to stare. So here’s the rule, you can stare back as much as you like and it won’t be considered rude. Good luck undoing years of hearing your parents telling you it’s rude to stare. There will be extra special attention given to blonde babies, natural red-hair, and afro-caribbean. Some people will go even further and take photos therefore alway carry a hat for your kids when going to public places. There will be the occasional pointing of fingers, this is where you look anywhere else or shake your head as direct eye contact is considered rude.
What’s That Thing Called Personal Space?
One of the few things that won’t be too apparent unless you are using public transport is that people don’t understand what personal space means. People will stand so close to you that you will have to ask several times for them to move back, this would have to be in Chinese. When walking, even if you have just met members of the same sex especially women will immediately want to walk hand in hand and hoping to mold their bodies to yours. When buying something at the store or market you will get people touching your hair and skin wanting to fell the difference. Ask politely, for them to not do this as this is not something that you are familiar with. As for the public transport or public paths, look for areas that are less crowded, you will get some just take one minute to check.
TCM is the Norm not a Trend
The go-to option for treating sickness or just commons ailments is using traditional chinese medicine remedies and prescription. The western medicine will be handed out more often in international hospitals and clinics but very local will use TCM. Don’t knock it until you try it out. There are some benefits to some of the recommendations that would otherwise be a luxury back home as there are very few practitioners. The good thing is you have the option of opting out of using TCM by coughing up RMB 1,000+ at international hospitals. But try it out first if its something that doesn’t require advance medical treatment.
perception will quickly change when you first see the air quality index at 160, which is unhealthy and you start to wonder how long you have to live. After a few months seeing an AQI of 160 will become a good day. This is because there will be days when the AQI will hit over 400 or for the poor souls that had to experience 900 then anything lower is seen as paradise levels. Keep Louis Armstrong’s a wonderful world at on loop when the AQI readings are high. There are numerous articles on masks, things to do and how to cope living with high AQI.
Chinese food will challenge your taste buds as what is sold outside of China is mainly Cantonese. After a few attempts you will find that the food is really good. Apart from the oily food, there are some dishes that you will instantly fall on love. Broccoli and eggplant are just some of the vegetables that are cooked in so many different recipes that you won’t get bored with them. As like most cultures, some dishes will be a hit or miss but the only way to know is to try. What others don’t like isn’t necessarily what you might dislike.
Public toilets will take a while getting your head around as most are squatting toilets without changing tables, hand dryers, and are cleaned once in a while. If you happen to be in the hutong area then get used to most restaurants not having their own toilet therefore you will be forced to use the without partition toilets. Carry hand sanitizer, and wet wipes with you everywhere you go.
Without an alphabet, learning the Chinese language will be draining the first few months but then it gets easier. The tones will be frustrating for sure and don’t give up on not learning or even trying to speak to the locals. The issue you will experience is that some locals won’t let you finish speaking and ask someone else to help translate your Chinese into “proper Chinese” therefore keep trying even if you encounter this scenario.
Photos: Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious (flickr)