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10 Signs You’ve Lived in China a Long Time

Posted by on March 29, 2014

I’m fast approaching my five year anniversary in China and I find it almost laughable when people ask me if I’m accustomed to life in China. If I wasn’t I should just pack it in at this point! In fact, I take many aspects of life in China, once considered weird or annoying, for granted now. Here are 10 little ways life in China has changed me.

Squatty pottys are just toilets now

While I’ve heard the tales of some guys living in China for years and never using a squat toilet (They just hold their deuce till they get to their apartments which have a western toilet) girls are not so lucky. Even just to pee we need a toilet and most of the time, when your away from your house, you just can’t find a western toilet. At my school, it’s all squat toilets as well as at bus and train stations, fancy malls, most restaurants and even nice hospital. If I got squeamish about this I’d be squeamish a lot. On a related note, I always carry a pack of tissues with me, another thing a foreign women learns to do quickly. (No toilet paper provided!)

Just because I'm accustomed to it, does;t mean I always like it. While many squat toilets are fine, and clean, sometimes you get this trough style toilet. It's best to get as high "upstream" as you can with this style as other peoples poop and pee pass by on the way to the drain at the far end of the line.

Just because I’m accustomed to it, doesn’t mean I always like it. While many squat toilets are fine, and clean, sometimes you get this trough style toilet. It’s best to get as high “upstream” as you can with this style as other peoples poop and pee pass by on the way to the drain at the far end of the line.

You look at the weather report to figure out your laundry schedule

With dryers rarer than the Giant Panda, you are at the mercy of the weather to dry your laundry. If you ever make the mistake of washing your sheets on a less than perfectly sunny day, you might be going to bed wrapped only in a blanket. But the bonus for this extra work is having clothes smell fresh and “sunshiney.”

Almost all apartments in China have a balcony (less a luxury add-on, and more of a necessity) or the very least several pipes outside the windows for laundry. And I apparently have a thing for striped turtlenecks...who knew?

Almost all apartments in China have a balcony (less a luxury add-on, and more of a necessity) or the very least several pipes outside the windows for laundry. And I apparently have a thing for striped turtlenecks…who knew?

You no longer are annoyed when every restaurant serves you hot water, you actually enjoy it

Water is hot in china. You gotta get used to it. Summertime, wintertime, a million degrees or freezing cold outside it makes no difference. Traditional chinese belief says that hot water is a cure for everything, and “good for health” while cold water will make you sick as hell. In winter most coolers are turned off, the soda and drinks sitting inside at temperatures sometimes warmer than the outside winter air. As a frosty cold drink loving american, this has been the hardest to get used to. But I always bring a thermos cup with me because I know no matter where I am, train station, hospital, friends house, classroom, I can have access to hot water any time of the year.

You look both ways before crossing, and check the sidewalk, all while glued to your phone

The street is a chaotic mess of bikers, mopeds, pedestrians and drivers all going willy-nilly in all directions. Bike lanes, sidewalks, stopping in the middle of 3-lanes to get out is a common occurrence. So you gotta keep you eyes peeled, but at the same time,who has time to pay attention to thing?! I got my phone to check! Another little trick I picked up in China.

You dont bring wine to a friends house but a bag or oranges or other fruit

Fruit is not only a polite housewarming gift, but good for any situation. In fact, I’ve never seen a chinese person bring any other gift than fruit when they visit someones house. And when I have stayed at a someones home, they buy even MORE fruit to share with their guest. If you go to the hospital expect to be inundated; bags of oranges, apples, dragon fruit or whatever is in season. Make sure to share it.

This is about 2/3rds of my bounty during a recent hospital stay. I had eaten, and given away quite a bit before I took this picture. And all of it was given to me in only 2 days!

This is about 2/3rds of my bounty during a recent hospital stay. I had eaten, and given away quite a bit before I took this picture. And all of it was given to me in only 2 days!

You dont ask someones age, but what zodiac sign they are and calculate it yourself

Yes this includes doing some math, which is tricky, and knowing the order of the animals, also tricky, but you can guess a persons age that way and its a bit more polite than to just ask how old they are.

You eat things from two or three wheeled carts and dont worry about getting sick

In Thailand I offered some cut and bagged apples to a fellow traveler. He looked into the bag and said “do they use local water to wash those? I’d better not.” After all the things I eat in China, from the backs of carts with no water or electricity, from dirty restaurants and unclean food stalls, a little Thai water doesn’t scare me. In fact, nothing does. I must have the intestinal flora of a rock star.

Chicken sitting outside all day unrefrigerated? I'll take two!

Chicken sitting outside all day unrefrigerated? I’ll take two!

You dont pick up a call from an unfamiliar number unless they call 3 times

No voice mail in china. At first I thought this was insanity, how could an entire population not have voice mail?! And then I saw the brilliant genius behind it. I now no longer pick up the phone if I don’t recognize the caller. If it’s a telemarketer, they don’t call back. If it’s a real person they will call back 2-3 times if I don’t answer. So by the third time I know it’s a real person, not a seller, and I know they want to talk to me. Or I figure if someone wants to contact me they can text if I don’t pick up.

You can cook a 4 course meal only using one pan and one electric cooker

Kitchens are less than robust here in China. Most have just one electric cooker and no oven. I myself have a tiny toaster oven, which is called an “oven” but just one burner. I’ve seen a grandmas cook a 12 dish spring festival meal with just one cooker. Sure, the first dishes are cold by the time the final ones are done, but that’s just the way it goes (eating lukewarm food here is also not a problem.) As for myself, I made an entire Christmas dinner for 2 with just my toaster oven and cooker. And it was all hot when served. Quite proud.

This is how I get a meal out of one pot and one pan. The key is timing and knowing how long certain foods stay hot.

This is how I get a meal out of one pot and one pan. The key is timing and knowing how long certain foods stay hot.

Youve forgotten most english words more than 3 syllables long

Just last week I told a friend that he had to come over and watch a movie. I told him I’d invite our other friends, but even if they couldn’t come, he had to. “For you it’s mandatory. For them its……um…..” I couldn’t remember the word. I asked him for help. “What’s a word that means not mandatory?” We stood around stupid for a few moments and then parted ways. “Voluntary?” he texted me later. There it was.

Due to the long amount of time talking to non-native speakers, you tend to simplify your english. First intentionally, then automatically and soon all the big words disappear from your vocabulary. You notice it most during the first 6-months, but it slowly ebbs away as time goes by. Once me, and all of my foreign friends, couldn’t remember a word that we tried to think of for days. Eventually, I had to take it to facebook. (It was “seminal.”)

So that’s just some of the things off the top of my head. Truth is I think there are some things that I’m so used to that I forget that it’s just a chinese thing, and not done anywhere. And how about things I’ll never, ever get used to? Well that’s a post for another day.

How about you? Have you lived in China for a long time and just take things for granted now? Tell me what in the comments below.

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13 Responses to 10 Signs You’ve Lived in China a Long Time

  1. Sara

    Let’s see one by one…
    1) Absolutely, I’ve gotten used to the squat toilets and even lived in a house without western toilet for half a year.
    2) Usually it’s my MIL that reminds me to wash clothes on a sunny day. Actually I’ve never had a dryer, so hanging my clothes to dry is nothing new to me.
    3) I’m not surprised about hot water anymore and do drink it during winter, but during summer I do enjoy cold drinks.
    4) Guilty as charged!
    5) Luckily I’ve only got food poisoning once and it wasn’t from street snacks.
    6) I used to not answer unfamiliar numbers but when I started ordering stuff from taobao I had to start answering too.
    7) Haven’t cooked in ages and I finally bought a small oven for our new home!
    8) I forget English words all the times! I gotta start speaking more English to keep the language level I have.

  2. Sara

    Forgot two in the middle! I don’t even remember the zodiac signs so I’m lost if someone tells theirs. I’m more often asked my age than my zodiac but could be because I’m foreigner. Most of my friends are foreigners and we often meet outside, so I rarely have the opportunity to buy fruits as gift.

  3. becky

    Ha ha, good list Sara. But surely the fruit must play a big part in your life, especially with your in-laws. When I was at Color’s house visiting, his mom forced fruit on me. I was stuffed from dinner, but she went out bought peanuts and different fruit and when I refused she actually peeled lychees and peanuts and fed them to me! Like, from her hand to my mouth. I was so stuffed but couldn’t say no at that point. So then I started peeling fruit and peanuts and hand feeding them to her, just to slow her down a bit, haha. It was lilt two baby birds feeding 2 mama birds.

  4. E-Phoenix

    About the food hygiene thing, I’ve heard that often it’s just a matter of getting used to the bacterial flora of the new environment as opposed to the foods actually being unclean or otherwise harmful. This is why the locals don’t suffer from eating what appears to be unhygienic food and why expats are the same once they have developed resistance, so to speak.

    And in Western countries, you can now get this frame that fits on top of the sitting toilet so that you can squat to do the no. 2 business.

  5. Nick

    Maybe my brain has closed down for the night, but I just don’t get number four. How on earth can your phone check whether it’s safe to cross the street??

  6. Anne

    What a fun list. It;s nice to know some of the things I now see as odd will become normal before long.

  7. Becky

    Nick, it’s not that my phone helps me, it’s that I just sit and play with my phone while walking around on the streets, not paying attention to the traffic. When I first got here every time I went out I was hyper-alert certain that my death was imminent. Now I just kinda walk around my face buried in my phone not even looking at the crazy traffic.

    Anne, soon going back to your home country will be weirder than living in China. 😉

  8. Kimberly

    Hi there, that is a great list. I am approaching my 6th year in China and I can relate to everything you’ve talked about. My husband is Tibetan so here in Qinghai along with bringing fruit (or having fruit brought to you) it is common to bring or be brought boxes of milk. Tibetans like to make milk tea and that is what it usually goes for.

    Also the hot water thing, sigh…my husband and his relatives can drink water boiling hot! It is amazing! I am nowhere near that and I still prefer cooler drinks. Whenever I visit anywhere I have to wait ten minutes before I can drink the tea they’ve offered. By then Tibetans are ready to dump out my cup and give me a new one.

  9. becky

    Kimberly, I have a friend who can’t drink any hot drinks. She just has trouble. And this semester she is teaching tea culture majors. It’s part of their tradition to prepare a fresh, hot cup of tea before class for the teacher. My friend just lets it sit and wait and by break time, when the tea is finally cool enough, the students start preparing another piping hot cup! haha. Sounds just like you!

  10. Asia

    Haha, I’ve been living in China for 2 months and I can already relate to all of the above. Except for the laundry, cause it’s veeery dry here in the north.

    I’ve been reading your blog for months now (backwards, to the beginning) and as I started writing my own, I want to say hi 🙂

  11. Eileen黃愛玲

    I can relate to all of these and I’ve only been in China for over a year. 🙂 I also squat when there’s nothing to sit while waiting. xD

    Hanging clothes to dry is nothing new to me (even as an American). My English is getting so much worse. My husband sometimes laugh at me for not being able to pronounce some words like “catastrophe.”

  12. Becky

    Eileen, would you believe in the place I grew up in America hanging clothes outside was illegal?! It’s a Connecticut suburb and a little on the wealthy side, and the town decided that hanging clothes outside made the place look “poor” so they banned it in the town laws. If you have your own private backyard you can do it, but if you live off the street, or in apartments, your not allowed!

    Personally I think the colorful clothes and blankets on everyones balcony makes a place look more fun and interesting, but not everyone agrees I guess!

  13. Eileen黃愛玲

    Ohhh, I’ve heard similar come to think of it. :O! That’s how many Americans feel about public transportation. “But I am not poor. I can drive.” (face palm)

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