Living abroad can be an extraordinary experience. Meeting people with different visions about life, different ways of living, different languages and different believes left footprints on my heart and changed the way I see the world. In the same time, living abroad, can make you feel a bit lost and you might have to deal with homesickness. However, if you want to explore unfamiliar terrains, new food, different society and change your lifestyle, living abroad is the answer!
The culture shock I experienced had a big impact on my life. There are 4 different stages of culture shock: honeymoon, adjustment, acceptance and frustration. Each stage varies widely from person to person. In my case, the honeymoon phase lasted the longest, probably because I'm so curious, adventurous and new places always excite me.
The honeymoon stage is overwhelmingly positive. Every single thing is exciting - from people, food and surroundings to transportation and technology system - the excitement of new makes you want to stay there forever. I can't stress enough how fun China is, no day is like the other and it's impossible to get bored once you leave the house.
How many times have you heard someone's story and automatically thought 'this can't be true' ? Countless of times I encountered crazy, unexpected situations which I would've never thought of. Living in China this somehow becomes part of your daily life. It's so exciting waking up every morning and wondering what could happen next. Here are some of the cultural differences I experienced:
1. Dancing Ayis
Ayi ( 阿姨 ) is translated as auntie and is traditionnally refering to middle-aged married women. You can call 'ayi' a woman which is one generation older than you, a cleaning woman or a vendor whether you know the person or not.
Dancing Ayis are a group of middle-aged and upper middle-aged women gathering in front of a shopping mall or any public square to dance together. You can't miss them, they're everywhere, especially at evening. I don't know how they manage to organize but they have a big speaker and it seems they prepared the dance in advance because all their moves are syncronized. At first seems weird to see a bunch of old women performing in a park but it's a nice show and the best part is that you can actually join them. It's a good exercise and although it looks pretty easy, it's kinda hard to keep up with them.
2. Foreign obsession
Wherever you go, there's going to be at least one local asking for a picture together. In China people stop you on the street, in a restaurant, cinema, hospital, wherever and try to take a photo of you or with you like you're a celebrity. This happens because for people from rural areas in uncommon to see a non-asian face so they basically see you as an attraction. Sometimes you feel like a celebrity, sometimes like a monkey. There are 3 categories of locals:
- The polite ones, they are mannered and start a small conversation with you ( if they speak English ) then ask in a friendly way for a picture together.
-The subtle ones are a bit weird. They will akwardly follow you and take pictures hoping you won't notice or simply come to you, put their phones in your face and start taking pictures like you're some kind of a statue or a painting. I never knew how to react on this so I would just take out my phone and do the same, hoping they'll go away .
- The 'enthuziast' is my least favorite category. This last category includes excited and unfriendly locals who run into you, grab your arm and 'forcibly' take a selfie with you. They're usually very loud and make you feel like a circus animal.
It takes some time to get used to it, but after you understand it's just part of their culture and their intentions are not bad, you'll feel more comfortable with every approach.
Another example of this 'foreign obsession' are the odd jobs you can get which don't require any skill, just a non-asian face. Some companies pay foreigners to attend a business meeting and pretend they work for the company. It's a marketing strategy to make customers thinking it's a succesful international company and gain their trust. Clubs do something similar, they offer foreigners free drinks to attract them there. The more, the better, because Chinese want to party in the best clubs with lot of foreigners.
Business goes well not just in clubs, also in restaurants, bars, shops etc. Try this next time: walk around in a crowded area full of vendors and stop to look at something ( if you buy is even better ) then notice how you create a queue behind you and Chinese will want to buy the same.
3. Night life
I was so surprised to get to China and find out it's exactly the opposite of how people were describing it. I didn't read about China prior my departure and I didn't ask anyone about it but you know, people have opinions and they tend to share them without being asked :)). "China? They're extremely poor there", "They only eat rice, you don't like rice, what will you eat there?" and my favorite one "They're communists, you can't go out after 10pm, they don't even have clubs there".
Let me tell you how a night out usually goes in China. Take a taxi around 11pm and tell the driver 'jiu ba jie' which means bar street. Every city in China has that. It's an entire street full of bars, clubs and street food vendors. In most places you can party until morning. As a tourist nobody will tell you this, but in some places foreigners drink for free. You just need to know someone or ask around for free drinks ( could be a cocktail, whiskey, vodka or beer ). Unless you go to super fancy bars in big cities, most clubs and bars sell fake alcohol, although the label says Jack Daniel's, inside it's something else. The same cocktail you pay 80rmb (10€) you can get it for free just because you have a foreign face. Free or not, the chances to be fake are the same. Again, they do this to promote the place, to attract more customers. The entrance is free everywhere but some places you can't go inside if you're not on the list. Don't bother to stay for hours in a line to get in a club, unless you know the promoter, you won't get inside. Night life in China is awesome, the clubs have cool shows every night (dancers and acrobats) and there's always something to do, somewhere to go.
When it comes to food you can find everything in a supermarket except for what you're looking for. Things like cheese, bread, salami, sausage, sour yogurt, sparkling water or Nutella are not that easy to find. Supermarkets like Metro, Lincos, Ole have them but when it comes to imported products there's not much choice and the prices are pretty high. For example a 1.5l bottle of sparkling water costs 2€-3,5€ and 100g of sliced salami costs 4€-6€.
Chinese are not a fan of sparkling water, they like to drink hot still water despite the weather. Winter or summer, anywhere you go you will be served a glass of hot water. Took me about 3 years to get used to that. I never liked still water and my first year there the only choice I had was 0.5l bottle of soda water with 9RMB ( 1,20€ ) but life got easier after I discovered the soda stream.
Not everything is expensive in China. Most Chinese products are super cheap, of course the quality is as low as the price is. In any supermarket you can find pig body parts( ears, feet, nose, brain ) chicken feet, live fish, live frogs, live turtles, live crabs, tea eggs or snacks like seaweed, dried meat snacks, crab and squid taste potato chips, cucumber flavor Lays, chili flavor Oreo.