Four months ago, I moved to the city of Changsha, China to begin my job as a foreign English teacher in a Chinese middle school. Before I came out here, I heard it all from my friends and family, “are you going to eat cat or dog?”, “I can’t imagine having to squat to use the toilet for a whole year!?”, “Remember, you’re not allowed to mention Politics or Religion”. I admit that I was optimistic, and prepared for all of these cultural differences. But, here are 13 things about China that I and my friends discovered for ourselves and couldn’t have found out if we hadn’t moved here.
1. Facebook is blocked.
Ok, ok, I actually discovered this fact literally days before moving out here. However, some of my friends were unlucky and discovered to their horror that they were blocked from accessing their Facebook accounts on their devices (Unimaginable right?! However, through purchasing and downloading a VPN (Virtual Private Network), you can easily access the usual websites and social networking sites in countries where they are blocked. Finding the right one is a gamble, but ‘Astrill’ has proved trustworthy for me.
Most young Chinese people are aware of western social networks like Facebook and Twitter, yet you shall find that they are not interested as they have their own social networks such as ‘WeChat’ and ‘QQ’.
2. Not all Chinese students are quit and hardworking.
This is a big no no and a huge stereotype held in western countries based on the personalities of Chinese students coming overseas to study in our Universities. Yet, plant yourself in a Chinese middle school where children are legally supposed to attend, and you will find yourself back in your Y9 French class ran by a visiting foreign teacher. Swearing, shouting, jokes behind your back, children being sent out of the classroom for kicking another kid’s chair from underneath them. Yet, who can blame them if you’re talking and shouting in a language they do not understand?
Thankfully, not all classes are like this for me. It is all about getting know the students in your class and finding the best strategies of classroom management. For example, Chinese children love competition! Therefore, on good days you could be having a laugh with the class and ending on a high, and on other days you might be sending a kid out for attempting to light their desk on fire with a lighter (true story).
3. Chinese people do not all look the same.
Yet, another huge stereotype held in the West. Obviously it is biologically impossible for people to look exactly the same. We are used to everybody looking remotely different, black hair, blonde hair, brown hair, ginger hair, green eyes, blue eyes, brown eyes, etc. However, if one is to observe someone or a group of people of a Chinese ethnicity, it is thought that they all look the same, black hair, brown eyes, pale skin.
Yet, imagine yourself being surrounded by hundreds of Chinese people every day and you shall begin to notice more and more that we are wrong and that there are great differences, just as there are in the West. You begin to see amongst the Chinese different hair color, different hair styles, different fashion styles, different eye shapes, different face shapes, and different shades of skin. The list goes on. Some people are too ignorant and choose to look at the similarities of a person rather than look out for their individual differences.
4. ‘Please form a queue in an orderly fashion’
One aspect I greatly miss back home besides pie and gravy, is our British ability to form a civilized queue and wait patiently in line. The first time I waited for a bus in China, I was awestruck to find that after waiting patiently for the bus to pull up in front me, I suddenly found myself being pushed and shoved out of the way by dashing Chinese people without a second glance. This goes for waiting to be served at a till in a supermarket, waiting to board the subway, waiting for a taxi, waiting to buy a ticket. I will take this opportunity now to praise the people of Great Britain on your ability to queue and to never let this trait, slip. Hear! Hear!
5. An Eastern toilet is more hygienic…yes really.
The first time I gazed down into the dark abyss of a public Eastern squatter toilet, the first thing I thought apart from “how am I going to hold my bags and jacket with no hook?” was “This cannot be hygienic”. You will find pee and poop all over the place and if you’re lucky, you might find some toilet roll provided, and, if you’re extra lucky, your toilet may have a cubicle door!
However, over time it has come to my realization that an Eastern toilet is indeed more hygienic than a Western toilet. Yes, they may be less private and filthier, but there is no physical contact with the toilet in any way. Imagine how many people have sat on the last western public toilet you sat on? Saying you hovered is not an excuse, imagine how many people have sat on the last western public toilet where you took a poop?
6. Chinese love alcohol
To be more specific, young Chinese adults love alcohol and hit hard on the town. By 12pm in most nightclubs, you can guarantee that you will witness Chinese girls being dragged or carried out by their girlfriends and stumbling onto the sidewalk. The toilet floors will be covered in excrement, making life just that little bit harder by deciding where to place your feet whilst squatting with vomit a few inches away from your face. It probably does not help that the average bottle of beer costs around £2 and bars such as our local ‘Hawa’, do a ‘drink as many cocktails as you want for £4’ night. This brings me onto fact number…
7. Free alcoholic drinks are guaranteed in some form or another.
The Chinese love foreigners, particularly English speaking foreigners. Therefore, if they spot a group of 8 English or American people, their aim for the night is to become your best pal either by dancing with you or getting you free alcohol…all night…for you and your friends. Getting drunk out here is incredibly easy, even a quiet night out for a coffee or pizza will most likely end up in a nightclub smashed. Thanks to your new Chinese pals!
8. The pollution is as bad as you think it is.
As I have lived in Yorkshire all my life, it is safe to say that I am pretty use to the fresh air we get every day. This is a privilege that everybody back home including myself takes for granted. It wasn’t until I came out into China that I realized how lucky we are back home in England to have such clean air. Living in China you can definitely tell a good day from a bad day, not based on the visibility of the skyline, but on your shortness of breath and tiredness. This is an image of a skyline in Beijing in August 2005, showing how rapid the air pollution can change. ‘The Los Angeles area and other U.S. regions violate national ozone standards one extra day per year’ because of China.
9. ‘Chinese women have no place in the professional job field’
One of the main ideologies still held in the West, is that Chinese women are still looked upon as stay at home housewives. This might considerably be true in the countryside and the most remote areas of China as between ‘50 and 55 per cent of the population live in rural areas and about two thirds of the population are still engaged in farming, agriculture and fishing’. However, with the increasing number of male workers moving to urban areas, the number of female agricultural workers and farmers are increasing. It is also important to point out, that those women who live in urban areas still have as much equal opportunity as the men to attend and do well in college, university and later on in life. This has been the case for a few years now.
10. ‘The idea that unmarried urban females over 27 are referred to as the ‘”leftover women”.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect society and abolishment towards all types of discrimination. Thankfully nowadays, there is no problem with women earning Master’s degrees and PHDs in China. However, there is a vitality of sexism in China contributing to the idea of social stability. During my third week in China, us new foreign teachers were given advice, tips, and the dos and don’ts whilst living in China. One of these tips aimed at the men, was to be cautious of commencing a relationship with the Chinese women. It is important that I point that this does not apply to all Chinese women. But, with the public and social pressure enforcing the idea that single Chinese women over the age of 27 are unmarriable, the pressure for Chinese women to find a husband becomes desperate. Therefore, English men have been told to be aware of their Chinese girlfriend’s intentions, as marriage might be on the cards within a few months. As for the English girls, the awkward “so when are you going to get married if you’re already 21?” pep talk by your Chinese girlfriends, is knocked down by “not until I have a stable relationship, stable job, and stable home” type responses. Overall, it is just as well to be a young Chinese woman with a Master’s Degree or PHD, but if you don’t have a husband by the age of 27, then it ludicrously appears that you are still worthless.
11. Chinese driving.
Personally, this aspect of China was something I was definitely unprepared for, mentally and physically. I’m the most accident prone person since I have come to China, including falling down the stairs and up the stairs multiple times. I have always had this strange theory that if I am going to die young, it will most likely be from being hit by a car. Not only do the Chinese drive on the other side of the road to the U.K, but they are also considered the worst drivers in the world. Therefore, two factors I have to remind myself before crossing the road. If a driver misses their turn or junction, they force their cars into reverse and go back, even on the motorways and busy rush hour periods. Most drivers refuse to stop at so called pedestrian crossings, even the ones with the little green man! Buses and cars drive obliviously into oncoming pedestrians (I am pretty sure I have come to the conclusion that buses speed up when they see a person crossing the road ahead of them).
12. “Stomach cleaning journeys that involve someone spitting on you.”
This is one of those cultural habits you have to get used to if you are going to surround and submit yourself to that culture. But there is something about the Chinese men making the most hawking sounds at the back of their throats and spitting into the road inches away from where you are walking. One young woman sitting opposite me on a bus did not hesitate to hark, spit on the floor right in front me and then rub it into the floor with her shoe. Therefore, there is no shielding this habit and is out in the open for everyone to see. With winter setting in and common colds on the rampage, there’s nothing worse than extra – mucus phlegmy harks.
13. The lack of English ENGLISH speakers.
The amount of Westerners in Changsha is around 2000 residents with different foreign nationalities; however, from my experience and from the people I have met, the amount of English English speaking residents is rather low. If you listen to any Chinese university student talking English, you will most likely find that they possess an American accent. This is because most material out there on the internet, including podcasts and pronunciation tutorials are mainly presented by Americans, and a lot of foreign teachers come over from America. One Chinese University student I met spoke almost fluent English, yet he had never physically met a person with an English accent. Yesterday, a 12 year old boy from one of my classes entered an English speaking competition. It wasn’t until this event that I realized how much of an American accent he had, clearly picked up from listening to audio and video clips. However, fear not fellow Britons, I have met one British lover. Let’s call him Charles. Charles I met at an English Corner, and loved to improve his English by watching Downton Abbey and Sherlock. His English accent glowed through the way he said ‘Barrrth’ (Bath) and his tweed suit screamed Sherlock –style. Yet, he too had never met anybody from England. Therefore, if like me, you’re a few months away from graduating university with no real life plan. Why no move to China and get a job as an English teacher? They’re crying out for native English speakers in schools and universities to help them with their pronunciation and speaking skills.