10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to China

Hi guys! I meant to write this sooner, but I had to readjust to being back in the States. As you know, I went to China to teach there for a year. Sounds exciting, right? And it was, for the most part! There was a lot of stress and a lot of culture shock, but I managed to… mostly navigate it. So, as an American, I’ve decided to put together a list of ten things I wish I knew before going to China.

1. VPNs Are Life

First, VPNs are life. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Most companies use them to protect their information. Security, if you will. In China, they use them to get around the Great Firewall of China by tricking the device into thinking it’s somewhere else in the world. The Great Firewall is a series of firewalls used to block various websites in China. Google, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter are some of the non-crucial sites blocked, but as a college graduate paying student loans back, the site I use to pay my loans being blocked was an issue. That’s right. China blocked the website used to pay back federal student loans! Plus, my main email is gmail, so Google being blocked did make it hard.

2. Good Luck Getting Money Out of China

Getting money out of China, as someone who was a foreigner, was next to impossible. Other people I knew, who came from South Africa, had a guy who they would send money to, then he’s place it into an account. Sounds a little risky, but the guy never ripped them off. Unfortunately, America didn’t have such a guy. Instead, we had to ask one of our Chinese friends to take money out of their account, send it to my American account, then repay them. And this had to be done AT the bank. And not too much at once. And not too often. These limits made it a headache to send enough money back to my American account to pay my afore-mentioned student loans. Which brings us to my next point…

3. When you are earning CNY, everything seems a lot more expensive…

CNY, the Chinese Yuan, isn’t worth as much as the US Dollar. Because of this, things seem to be a lot more expensive than they probably are. It might not have been as big an issue if I hadn’t had to send money home, but I did, so it was. Think about it like this. A new video game here costs $60, which, yes, is a little price. But, when you convert that over to CNY, that’s about ¥400. That’s a little steep for a video game, in my opinion.

4. Deodorant is Rare

Moving on from money and into personal hygiene! I don’t know if this is true of everywhere in China, but in the area around Shanghai, it is. In America, it’s possible to buy deodorant anywhere. Not so much in China. This is because they don’t sweat. Or, if they do, they don’t have body odor. Completely unfair, right? Fortunately, there are a few places to buy it. Unfortunately, it’s expensive. ¥55 for a tiny thing of it, and with less choices than you have here in America. But then again, American’s are spoiled with choices, aren’t we?

5. If you look foreign, expect lots of pictures.

So, I have a lot of negative on this list. Let’s toss in a positive, shall we? The people of China, especially in the less international areas, are fascinated by foreigners. I have had my picture taken numerous times, both with and without my permission. Beyond that, I also had a few times where I’d get something for free, or discounted, all because of the fact that I’m a chubby, pasty white American. Crazy, right?

6. When it’s cold, it’s cold

…and when it’s hot, it’s hot. I know it’s different in different areas of China, but when I took the job, I was told that it was a sub-tropical area. HAH. Think of the coldest day on the East Coast of America, and you have the average winter in Eastern China. And, on the flip side, think of the hottest day on the East Coast, and you have the average summer in Eastern China.

7. Don’t tip. It’s rude.

So, this is cheating, because I already knew this before going, but tipping is considered incredibly rude in China. I know, in America, it’s been ingrained in us to tip our server if service was good, right? Well, that is the one thing I can say about my experience. When I’d go out to eat, the service was amazing. My two favorite food places were Patty’s, which had authentic Tex-Mex, and HaiDiLao Hotpot. The servers were always friendly, and they always managed to find an English speaking one for us, making it hard for my American mind to resist the urge to leave a tip.

8. Chinese people don’t waste anything.

And I mean that literally. Walking into the meat section of a supermarket was hard. Chinese people literally eat every single part of the animal. Sheep’s Heart? In the freezer! Pig’s intestine? Right over there! Chicken Feet? Oh, that’s the best part of the chicken!

No. No it’s not. It’s gross.

9. You need a phone that works. No exceptions.

Everything works by cell phone. Need to contact someone? Cell phone. Need to pay while out shopping? Cell phone. Want to become a rewards member of a store? Cell phone. Need to translate what someone is trying to say? Cell phone. Need to pay rent/electric/water/other bills? Cell phone.

Not having a working cell phone in China is debilitating at best. My phone didn’t work, honestly, but I was lucky to be living with someone who’s phone did.

10. Um… Chinese?

This one seems a bit obvious, right? I thought I’d learn Chinese while there, but that didn’t happen. It is rare for there to be English translations in most places. At the bank and with the police, even with our landlord, we were stuck trying to use Google Translate (the only Google thing NOT blocked!) or having a translator come with us. Even the translator who came with us could hardly speak English!

In the end, going to China was definitely a wild experience. It had its ups and downs, but in the end, we made it through. We made new friends and learned all about a new culture. And we got to go to Japan! Maybe I’ll talk about that next…

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