11 Ways China Has Changed You

1. A Waning Sense of Discomfort

Fresh off the boat and everything is different and new(新奇), and sometimes frightening, like when you see a baby pooping in the street or see someone lean out of their store front to blow a snot rocket. But soon enough, you grow used to these daily encounters. You are no longer uncomfortable popping into a hutong toilet(胡同里的厕所) for a quick pee. You get used to not hearing your native language on a regular basis and begin to pick up more and more Chinese(汉语). You feel fine using your newly developed bargaining skills at markets and even start to attempt bargaining at regular stores(商店), like your neighborhood 711 “五快? 真的吗?! 我会给你两块.”. All in all, China has become your home(), so the discomfort you initially felt has slowly dissipated.

2. More Dynamic Connections

While your friends in China are all from different places with different dreams and aspirations(心愿), we all have a lot in common(共同点). We are interested and invested in China and we all understand life abroad in a way that friends back home can’t understand(理解). You have become good friends with Chinese people, exchanging language and culture with each other. You meet fellow foreigners(外国人) in your neighborhood, at work(工作), and at your favorite night spot and share this wonderful, strange connection of “We are foreigners living, surviving, and thriving in China.加油!” Each relationship helps you form global connections that positively add to your experience(经验) here in China.

3. Unavoidable reflections on your home country

Living in China provides a lot of opportunities for serious contemplation. Living abroad gives you the time and space to reflect on the cultural norms, political system, and social issues in your home country(国家). It is easy to spot the differences between Chinese and Western cultures(文化), especially when comparing certain areas such as governmental regulations and media self censorship. However, with the numerous foreign people you meet, not just from China but from all over the world(世界), you also begin to see the many differences(区别) between Western cultures. Through all these global relationships, you now have clearer perspectives(方面) on your own country.

4. Debatable drinking habits

At home, maybe you saved going out for the weekends(周末). But here in China, there are fun events(事儿) going on every night of the week! If you live in Beijing, different neighborhoods(小区) all have their own regular nightly activities, which give you ample opportunities to throw back a few. If you’re not feeling the going out scene, just sit down with a group of old Chinese men(老人) eating lunch, dinner, or playing cards(玩牌) at any time of day, they will be happy(高兴) to share their beer(啤酒), liquor(白酒), and merriment(幸福) with you, especially if you can whip out a few Chinese phrases.

5. Lack of concern for food safety

In many Western countries, a growing movement supports organic, locally grown food(绿色食品). This includes large health food chains, organic grocery stores, weekly farmer’s markets(农贸市场) in many cities(城市), as well as your own home grown gardens. But in China, you stop caring how organic or local your food may be. You’re happy to just order a pancake(煎饼) on the street, pick up some dumplings(饺子) on your way home, or buy produce that still has dirt(泥土) on it, which can show how fresh(新鲜) it is depending on the amount of dirt that still lingers. The more the better, right? You are less concerned about how safe(安全) your food is because you have grown accustom to weird BMs and the occasional food poisoning, which is why you pick your favorite local restaurants(饭馆儿) and street stands because you know you can depend on their food leaving you with a satisfied, comfortable belly(肚子).

6. Varying degrees of elitism

You’ve been in China for awhile. You’ve done the song and dance of life here and know how to get around somewhat successfully, including riding your bike(自行车) to where you need to go, having a taxi(出租汽车) drop you off at your front door, grabbing that seat(座位) on the subway(地铁), learning the bus(公共汽车) system, becoming a regular at your favorite little restaurant, hitting up your favorite bars(酒吧) and knowing a lot of the people in them. So when you meet someone that just got here, of course you scoff and think to yourself ‘Pshhh I can dance circles around you with my Chinese life skills.’ Or you meet someone that’s just started studying Chinese and you think to yourself ‘Pshh I could dance circles around you with my Chinese language skills.’ The longer you’ve been here, the bigger the elitism grows because you’ve had those tough experiences and managed to figure them out, which leaves you with a sense of accomplishment(成就) and resilience that less experienced waiguoren have yet to understand.

7. Acceptance of bad air quality

When you first move to China, checking the AQI becomes a part of your daily routine(日常生活). Each day you get ready thinking to yourself “Should I wear my mask(口罩) today? The AQI’s over 100, I better wear it.” However, you slowly start forgetting to check(检查) it and soon enough you gauge the quality(质量) of the air(空气) not on the scientific calculations that are available but on if you can see that building at the end of the street or not. AQI concern becomes a thing of the past. You’re young(年轻) and fit, so what if the AQI’s at 300+ today, you’re just going to stay inside(留在室内).

8. Flexibility for spontaneous travel

At home, trips(旅游) often have to be planned far in advance as well as somewhat meticulously. But in China it becomes easier to decide to go somewhere on a whim. Your friend(朋友) wants to go to Hong Kong(香港) next weekend and invites you along? No problem, tickets booked! You need a break from the big city life of Beijing? Hop on a quickie train(火车) to Tianjin(天津). Not only can you book trips spontaneously(自发), you also don’t feel as inclined to plan(计划) every detail of these trips and instead feel comfortable just asking friends who have been for advice or figure it out on your own along the way.

9. Growing accustom to inconvenient experiences

Living in a country where English is not necessarily a widely spoken language(语言) sometimes makes things difficult. These difficulties can range from ordering food(食物), to booking a train ticket(), to going to the doctor(医生), to finding an apartment(公寓), to dealing with the amount of people() using transportation during rush hour(上下班时间), to getting your cab to the right location(地方), to finding needed household products, to not having 3G, and more. But you gradually conquer many of the difficulties that are thrown at you in your regular life in China and soon they are not inconvenient(麻烦) experiences anymore.

10.Developing a Jekyell and Hyde sense of English and Chinese

As your Chinese language skills progress(过程), you feel more and more comfortable using what you know in everyday situations (word). You also begin to develop the Chinese method of answering questions with grunts, one word answers, or simple phrases. This also leads to the habit of using aggressive Chinese in certain situations, like when someone forcefully bumps into you on the street(), probably on accident, but you still react with a “真的吗?!” or your cab driver is taking his damn sweet time and you have no problem telling him “快点儿!”

11.Aggressive Public Transportation Behavior

Here in China there’s an ‘every man for himself’ attitude(态度) when it comes to public transportation. When it’s rush hour with every one, and I mean ev-ve-ry-one, trying to go to work or go home, it’s kill or be killed to get on that beeping subway train as the doors are closing and you some how manage to inhale your way on to a sea full of people(人山人海). If an empty() seat happens to become available on your commute, you don’t care if you cheat an old lady out of her seat, you are going to get that seat! You stop feeling bad about not being polite(礼貌) and are soon one of the many people trying to push on or push off your train or your bus in order to get where you’re going on time(及时).

Kristen Carusos is from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. She graduated from Kennesaw State University with a major in International Affairs and a minor in French. She studied abroad in China for the first time in Shanghai in 2010 and again in 2011 at Beijing Language and Culture University. She graduated and moved to Beijing in 2012 and has been studying Chinese since then. She works in the Marketing Department at the Sinology Institute.