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!)
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.”
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 don’t 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.
You don’t 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 don’t 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.
You don’t 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.
You’ve 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.