Getting used to your new life in China maybe taking some getting used to at the beginning, but given time, you will settle in. Trust me, I felt like crying during my first two weeks, but once I had adjusted, things did get easier despite the massive switch from the UK to Beijing.
Chinese culture is fairly rigid and probably one of the hardest things to adjust to as a foreigner. People don’t tend to say please and thank you as much as in other countries and you will definitely notice the difference when you get here.
Beer is not something consumed in copious amounts in China, nor is going to a pub or bar to celebrate an event. The Chinese will generally sit down and drink baijiu 白酒, a drink that can contain up to 60% alcohol, over a huge meal and get absolutely wasted. So, if you’re not used to hard drinking, then you might want to make your excuses or pour the drink under the table. Your school will probably have events at some point and you will be expected to eat hotpot with drink baijiu. Not much way out of it.
Chinese people are generally pretty strict with what they eat. Very few are prepared to test out foreign foods and almost always stick to their own food – something you will need to get used to unless you want to pay through the nose to eat western food every day. Food is almost always consumed with chopsticks, unless it’s a soup-based dish, something you will always need to get to grips with if you haven’t already. Rice is also almost always served with every meal. A meal without rice is not a meal in China. In fact, the Chinese word for food is actually rice or fan 饭. So, when they ask each other whether they have eaten, they are literally saying “did you eat rice yet?”
The Chinese language is probably the biggest challenge facing you as a foreigner. Foreign languages including English are not widely spoken or understood despite Chinese people learning English from primary school. The written version of the language is academically the most challenging part as there is no real way to learn it other than by hard work and lots of self-study – just going over the characters day after day.
That said, Chinese language is not as difficult as it may first appear. The grammar is fairly basic and much of the vocabulary is constructed from existing vocabulary, so a “phone” is a combination of the characters for hand and machine or shouji 手机. So, by knowing the words for hand and machine, you also know a third word: phone.
The other problem you may face in China, especially outside of the northeast, is the lack of use of standard Chinese and a lot of use of local dialects, which sound like standard Chinese at first, but are pronounced very differently and even incorporate some local vocabulary making it an even greater challenge. Due to the influx of people from different cities in major metropolises such as Zhengzhou and Chongqing, you will probably hear mainly standard Chinese, as the Chinese from other cities or Waidiren外地人 are rarely able to speak the local dialect either.
Paying for things
Most things are now paid for with mobile telephones. Very few people use cash anymore but it is still there. The main two forms of payment are through Wechat or Weixin微信and Alipay or Zhifubao支付宝. You will need to download these two apps and set up accounts if you want an easier life. Also, you can use either of these to make payments when you order food or items off other apps. A word of warning though, you may encounter a few issues setting up your payment method as these apps have been getting more strict over the past few years as they essentially are responsible for cash payments and hence lots of tax avoidance.
As China is technically a communist state, religion is deemed a threat to the powers that be and discouraged. That said, there is a massive Muslim contingent, especially in the west meaning it has more Muslims than most Arab countries by virtue of China’s sheer size. China was also once a very Buddhist country and even exported it to Japan and Korea, so you will also see lots of temples. There are also lots of indigenous religions, the main one being Daoism, although this is also thought of as being a belief system rather than a religion. Christianity also came into contact with China in the 7th and 16th centuries and has had plenty of time to flourish.
Living in China as a foreigner and a teacher
As a foreigner, you are generally not expected as much as a Chinese person would be to join in and seen of as more of a novelty. Life is generally easier for you because as a teacher, you will be paid slightly more than the average Chinese person and certainly more than your Chinese colleagues. You will be able to live comfortably and save money. If you are shrewd enough, you will also be able to find more lucrative opportunities in this growing and massive economy.
China has come a long way in the past twenty years and, in some respects, has already overtaken much of the west in terms of its use of different technologies and with some of its infrastructure projects. Now is a great opportunity to be part of this story and see China transform as a nation. Enjoy your time here!