What to Expect While Living in China: Perks and Quirks
If you have visited Asia, you can corroborate...it's just a little different than western culture. Sometimes this deters people from visiting—the language is difficult, the food is…adventurous, and using public restrooms feels like camping. But while living in China has revealed an abundance of quirks, it has also provided numerous moments of delight that can only be enjoyed in this crazy, amazing, foreign country. So read on for some of the perks (and quirks) we have encountered while living in China (so far)!
Delivery…for almost anything
Many major cities have grocery delivery services. China is no different—every week we have organic, western groceries delivered right to our 12th floor apartment. But in China, delivery services extend beyond groceries and regular take-out. One notable delivery delight is McDonald’s delivery…24/7. Y’all, I’m just going to let you soak in those implications. Or, try Sherpa's, a service that delivers food from just about any restaurant you can imagine. And if you need to top off your drink; beer and wine can be delivered to your door as well.
Massage parlors are the Chinese equivalent of Starbucks---one on every corner.
What's one of the best perks we have enjoyed in China? Cheap massages! Massage parlors are everywhere and range from high-end “western-style” spas (at "western style" prices) or local establishments. Try a “blind massage” parlor, where the masseuses utilize their heightened sense of touch for a superior massage experience (supposedly). Or perhaps try a Chinese Massage; a dry massage utilizing towels instead of oil. You can opt for a "western" oil massage, but it costs almost twice as much. Andrew goes for the traditional Chinese cupping method.
Hire an Ayi to do your dirty work---literally.
Hire a personal Ayi to cook, clean, or do your laundry.Think of Ayis as everybody’s Chinese grandmother (although the word literally translates to “aunt” or “auntie”). As far as I can tell, they are employed to do just about everything domestic. Our work locations have dedicated Ayis to clean classrooms and help herd children. I always assumed “Ayi” was a catch-all job title, and some just assume it correlates to “maid”. But it appears it may also be an honored societal role. Competition to become an Ayi can be fierce. On a quirky note, I have not yet heard an Ayi referred to by their actual name (in fact, when I asked a local Cast Member what our Ayi’s name was, she simply said, “Well, I don’t know. We always just call her Ayi.”). Right: Ayis dancing early in the morning. You can usually see groups of women dancing in the evenings throughout China.
Transportation is easy; but don't stay out too late or you'll turn into a dumpling.
The perk about living in China, particularly Shanghai, is a comprehensive transportation system. With bullet trains, metros, taxis, international airports, and bikes, you can get around the city easily. The metro is particularly easy and cheap—all the signs and maps are in English and it costs only pennies per ride. However, convenience falls to the wayside if you stay out past 10:30pm. We went out to celebrate on our first night in the city. As 10:30 came and went, we realized the metro system shuts down to encourage revelers to turn in early. I don’t know about you, but I think this is a pretty early curfew, especially for city-life. Another quirk we quickly discovered is the relative lack of taxis at this “late” hour in the evening. And even more perturbing; their reluctance to pick up foreigners. Sometimes enlisting the help of a local works.
On a semi-unrelated note, I have noticed a real aversion to taking the stairs in the metro.
I had to try out the five-stair escalator, obviously.
These aren't NYC taxis.
Well, let’s talk about taxis, too. The perk? Taxis in Shanghai are super cheap—especially if you are paying in USD. Think $7 for an expensive taxi ride across town. The quirk is communicating with the drivers. Living in Shanghai lulls you into a false sense of confidence—everything is written in English, or at the very least Pinyin (roman characters instead of Chinese characters). Taxi drivers don’t speak English (which is understandable) and they can usually only read Chinese characters. Therefore, you need to have your destination written in Chinese (not Pinyin) in order to get where you are going. And even then, sometimes they will ask you clarifying questions (in Chinese), even though you clearly don’t speak Chinese. Sometimes I just nod my head and hope for the best.
Who said I would lose weight while living in China?
You will not go hungry in Shanghai, even if you are a picky eater. Food price and quality varies drastically in the city. I can go to a western burger joint and spend 70RMB on a burger and 40RMB on a happy hour drink. Or I can go to the pop up cart in the alley behind my apartment and buy a full meal for 8RMB. The perk is that there are options-—the Chinese food is delicious, but we still have plenty of western options when we are hungry for a burger or burrito. Another quirk about food is that the sanitation standards here are very different and less regulated than in the States. Our "Noodle Guy" has a little pop-up kitchen (only at night—never during normal hours) that sits on a cart pulled by a bike. He reaches into various bags to pull out fresh ingredients to throw in his wok. I’m not sure how sanitary the whole affair is, but the food is delicious.
Restricted Internet access--big brother is watching.
This falls squarely in the "quirks" category...and may even dip its toe into the "things you have to suck it up and deal with" category. If you are visiting or moving to China, you will not be allowed to access most sites on the Internet (including this one!). No Google, YouTube, or Facebook allowed here! Install a VPN (we use Express VPN) on your devices before leaving home. But beware----using a VPN without wi-fi will drain your data!
These are not your mama's bathrooms. Before we wrap this up, let's talk about the bathroom situation. Brace yourself. Most bathrooms in China do not provide toilet paper, soap, or a toilet. Meaning, the toilets here are not the "porcelain thrones" that westerners use; but instead a glorified hole in the floor. Some modern buildings and western restaurants that cater to expats will have western bathrooms, but always be prepared with a roll of TP in your bag. It also needs to be said that public displays of bathroom usage (that is the most delicate way I can phrase it) are not uncommon, especially when you travel outside major cities. Yes, I have seen things happen to the Disney castle that I wish I could unsee.
Exercise your right to drink freely!
Ok, one more perk to wrap things up. In addition to awesome happy hours in Shanghai, there are no open container laws in China. Therefore, feel free to ask for your last margarita (or beer, if you're Andrew) "dabao"---or "to go". They are happy to provide you a cup and straw!
Living or visiting China is definitely an adventure---one I hope you can experience for yourself! Cultural differences make this world an exciting place, and will keep you on your toes. If you are preparing to move to Asia, you might experience a degree of culture shock, but ultimately you may find new ways to adapt. Enjoy your time in China experiencing these unique perks and quirks!
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