China information Travel

Survival in China

1. Expectations

1. Intro
1.1 Communication Complications
1.2 Try to be informed, not just opinionated.

Intro – Under Construction

1.1 Communication Complications

If you’re completely new to China and don’t speak the language, getting around might not be the easiest thing. Language is a powerful tool, and where some of us may try other ways of communication to get closer to someone, the Chinese may put up a guard. Sometimes what’s foreign to you is a little bit scary. However, as soon as you show any willingness to speak Chinese, or you know a few words, that guard will come down very quickly. They’re also known (to us Westerners) to be more rough around the edges. Communication is more straight-forward and their hospitality rules are different from ours. It’s more to-the-point. I think it’s actually really nice to do away with our formalities every now and again (not that there are none, by the way). Well, apart from the fact that people may cut in front of you sometimes. But you can just elbow your way through that. You’ll learn to elbow your way through a lot of things. Like in a packed subway during rush hour. Ugh, the horror. My feet were once elevated from the floor; that’s how busy it was. Yeah, good luck with that!

Of course, there’s a large behavioral gap between generations, and just like in any other country, people behave differently based on where they live or their income status. I lived in Beijing and traveled to: Shanghai, Henan, Fujian, Guangdong, Hubei, and Xinjiang – no place was the same. China is a massive country and people in the north are vastly different from the south, not to mention the many minority groups that live across the country. Keep that in mind during your travels. It wouldn’t hurt to read up on some modern history and contemporary developments (here, or here), if you’re really keen on understanding the country before your visit.

1.2 Try to be informed, not just opinionated

The many times I’ve yelled and cursed in Dutch because I was in a rush and the traffic was in-sane. The first gym I went to closed down because it turned out to be a scam, and the owner took my money and ran. I’ve also had mental breakdowns in front of hospital doctors because I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what my problems were and they rushed me back out with pain killers. I’ve been “stopped” during travels because I was mistaken for an Uyghur. I’ve been mugged. I’ve been harassed…. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. And it’s okay to be frustrated during times like these, but try to not single out events and think negatively of your entire China experience as a result. I’ve heard so many people go: “China is like this, The Chinese are like that…” Every society has some bad apples. Customs, traditions, education, upbringing: it’s all different from what we’re used to. Try to be aware of that (I love using the word ‘awareness’ everywhere. Get used to that).

When wanting to start a business in China as a foreigner, the main advice you’ll get is to always have a Chinese business partner. I feel like the same applies to all other situations. Definitely attempt to befriend the locals. Someone who can show you the ropes and tell you right from wrong. When I told my Chinese roommate about my gym situation, she said: “Why didn’t you just come to me?! This happens all the time!” I was too scared to ask for help, wanted to fix things on my own, and ended up making a mistake due to my own ignorance. If there’s one thing I know about people, is that if they’re proud of their country, they love telling you about it. Ask (and stay calm). The most important cliché to remember, is that we’re all human. I forget that all the time. We all have the same struggles, we hurt just the same, we have hopes and dreams, and as what’s-his-name from the band Good Charlotte once sang: “We all end up the same.” A reminder in times of frustration, wherever you are.

2. Prepare

Ahhhh, paperwork. My favorite thing in the world. Some very basic information. I will share links by people that have done a much better job of explaining things.If anything is outdated or if you feel anything needs to be added, please contact me.

2.1 Things to prepare (government)
2.2 Things to prepare (non-government)
2.3 Upon Arrival (under construction)
2.1 Things to prepare (Government)
  1. Visa Free: There are ways to avoid getting a visa. If you’re planning to go through China on your way to another destination, you may be able to stay visa-free for either 72 or 144 hours. (As of today, June 10th 2020, this has been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19)
  2. All Visas: China doesn’t make it easy (or cheap) to enter to country. What visa you need depends on what you want to do and how long you plan to stay. For a list of all visas, check out China Briefing’s overview here. Applying for any visa usually requires a visit to a Chinese embassy or consulate. You can also get an agency to do it for you. Some countries have mediating institutes specifically for visa application and pick-up, you should check out the requirements for your country to figure out where you need to go.
  3. A work permit (on a Z visa) requires an invitation letter, employment license, and a medical exam. If you’re not working for a government body or a large company (which is rare, unless you teach English), I suggest getting some help. I’m assuming you’re here because you don’t know a lot about China, and without prior knowledge you really shouldn’t do stuff alone. Internations has a clear overview: here
  4. Have a place to stay (hostel/hotel/address) before you arrive; you’re required to fill in an address on your application. You won’t get a visa without it.
  5. Within 24 hours after arrival, you need to register at the Public Security Bureau. Most of the time you’re required to go in person (bring a Chinese-speaking friend/landlord/someone), although sometimes hotels may help out. You’ll need your visa (and passport), and sometimes a lease contract, depending on where you stay. After registering you get a Temporary Residence Permit form (am I saying that right?) – don’t lose it!!! Otherwise you have to go again or you might get in trouble for not having it. Like me. Don’t do it.
  6. China changes its immigration rules all the time. Anything political or any major event can interfere with your plans. In 2016, my move to China came right after a series of political events. My passport had Taiwanese stamps in it, which China did not recognize. I was forced to get a new passport and delay my flight. Cost me a lot. Make sure you stay up to date on current immigration rules (Chinese embassy is your best bet).
2.2: Things to prepare (non-government)
  • Take Chinese currency with you (no airport ATM would take my European debit card. Drama ensued. Take money with you and/or a credit card)
  • Check whether the hotel you book accepts foreigners. To accept foreigners as a hotel owner, you need to have a type of permit. Not every hotel has one. You’ll get sent away.

As you hopefully know, China censors a lot of non-Chinese (social) media. Here’s a list of things I wish I had downloaded before arrival:

  • VPN. A “Virtual Private Network” that circumvents Chinese censorship, so you can keep posting those selfies to Instagram. Chinese authorities have actively tried to block most non-paid networks and keep adding new ones to the list. Obviously, if you find a free VPN that still works, I suggest you use it. But just to be safe, I prefer to use a paid VPN. It’s cheap, don’t worry. Here’s a list. I’ve always used Express VPN and am overall satisfied with it.
  • WeChat – The app that substitutes ALL social media platforms we know. It’s used for business, banking, ordering food, talking to friends, posting selfies… you name it. Very important.
  • Baidu & Baidu Maps (replaces Google & Google Maps)
  • YoukuQIY or Tencent Video (replaces YouTube & Streaming Platforms)
  • Not sure if this is essential, but: TanTan (replaces Tinder. There are other dating apps, but this is the simplest one)
  • Food delivery apps I used: Meituan & daojia
  • Translation Apps: Pleco & MDBG
2.3 Upon Arrival

Beijing China People Stories Travel

A typical Chinese New Year: Food, Family & Fights

Aaaah, Chinese new year. A yearly get-together with loved ones including fireworks, dumplings, alcohol, karaoke, red envelopes and… lot’s of fighting!


In today’s episode, me and my friend’s foreign faces got us a free ticket to spend Chinese New Year in rural Beijing with a random Chinese family in the most traditional setting. Foreign guests are a rarity, and big eyes and long noses are worth investing time in. And so,  as me and my friend got back from an ice sculpture event in the neighborhood, the owner of the guesthouse gave us no choice but to join the rest of the family for dinner. Every sentence uttered was a reason to drink, food was reluctantly accepted into our bowls with elaborate explanations on the taste of home cooked rural cuisine, there was mandatory singing (and dancing) and we got lectured on the inclusivity of Chinese hospitality rules during Chinese New Year: that night, we, the two foreign guests, were all one big family, because that is how the Chinese roll, and we were to participate the entire evening. After the fireworks at midnight, we were all supposed to get together and make dumplings, drink and eat to our heart’s content, and go to bed stuffed and wasted. All was well. For a very short while…

We sat at the table with three women and two men, all related somehow. After a period of elaborate laughter and keeping up the façade, two ladies step inside, come back out, step back inside, and as the karaoke machine started having some minor technical difficulties, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be all smiles that evening. One of the women sneered at one of the men as she tried fixing the sound machine, then angrily walked back inside. There was some minor bickering after that, all the while the alcohol kept flowing. At some point it was just me, my friend and one man left at the table while everyone else went inside. We had no clue what was going on. The man seemed to try to call the others (on the phone) several times, trying to mediate and fix whatever was going on, all to no avail. Everyone came back out at some point, with smiles that turned into forced grins, and continued the festivities.

Me and my friend were getting tired; we had a long day, we were dreading more food, I was mainly tired from the wine, so we made the executive decision to “rest for a bit, but we’ll be back later,” aka go to sleep.

I woke up at 12. I heard the fireworks. -It must be midnight- I thought to myself, while I slowly fell back asleep. At 4 am I woke up a second time to go to the bathroom. My friend was awake too. I told her I heard the fireworks for a bit. “What? You didn’t hear everyone fighting?” she asked. Apparently, for over an hour, part of the family got into a violent feud over, of course, money. The entire floor was covered in food, people threw chopsticks at each other, there was pushing and hair pulling, there may have been a food fight, people threw chairs and glass around and someone seemed to owe the other one one million Chinese yuan. The fight apparently started in the main entertainment area, then one woman dashed upstairs angrily, followed by one of the men, and the fight continued in the hallway. It was very loud (I slept through pretty much the whole thing) apparently.

Not long after that we heard objects falling in the kitchen. Some woman started moaning in… pain? Anger? Fear? We were not sure. I locked the door to our room; you never know…

Me and my friend planned to leave some money and just escape through the backdoor, but eventually we both fell back asleep. As we left the room in the morning, everything had a funny smell. Vomit, probably. There was some hair sticking to the stairway…  we had no clue what happened.

As we entered the restaurant area, we noticed the two men sitting on opposite tables, looking completely miserable. “You guys want breakfast right?” he said.

We didn’t have to try that hard this time to refuse. They seemed fine with not having to put in any effort. One of the women came out as she accepted the payment and said: “They drank a little bit much.”  We nodded silently. She kept reiterating that she hoped we would come back again sometime. She must have noticed we knew a little bit too much.

All in all, again, a very typical Chinese new year.

Happy year of the pig, everyone

Beijing China People Stories

The Matchmaking Scheme

Currently I live together in an apartment with a 40-something year old bachelor who sleeps about 20 hours a day; the rest he spends in front of the computer doing “stock market” things. Whatever that means.

As a foreigner, you need to register your address in order to change your visa to a residence permit. My roommate never lived with a foreigner before; he didn’t understand the situation and got scared because he rented out my room without being a landlord or something, so he got really nervous and decided to ask a friend for help. He gave a suspicious amount of details about his friend: Born and raised in Beijing, likes to go out, good sense of style, actually a landlord, very intelligent etc. 30-something year old, so we should get along fine… Didn’t know that was relevant information for registering, but okay..

Yesterday I was finally introduced to the friend. Mr. Wang ( of course). He was in a wheelchair and had some kind of muscular dystrophy. My roommate needed to make a copy of my passport, so I ended up alone with his friend for 30 minutes. I tried making some small talk, but he had no control over his voice, so it was super hard to follow (he was really nice btw, not to sound rude or anything, he was just hard to follow). He offered me his gloves about 8 times. I kept telling him I wasn’t cold. That was about the extent of the conversation.

Anyway, we registered, all fine, then the lady behind the counter goes: “We talked on the phone didn’t we? I told you you didn’t have to bring a local, anyone in the same apartment would have been fine.” I look at my roommate who turns red and goes “oh..really?.. I must have forgotten”..

Then after registering my roommate goes: “Yating (my Chinese name), my friend is really into ‘western’ movies and music, and you like Chinese culture, so he would really like to add your WeChat and talk about …’your culture’. If you guys get along, maybe we can all go to dinner sometime soon. ”

I dunno, but I think I was part of a very odd elaborate matchmaking scheme…🤔🤔

Beijing China People Stories

Mirror mirror on the wall

“I am in such a hurry,” my roommate says to me one morning, cigarette in her left hand,  head literally hanging in the sink trying to get off the cleanser.


She had a rough day at work the day before, and even after coming home immediately started working on another article she needed to finish before twelve that night. But not before her one hour lasting skin care routine. She finally sat herself down in front of her laptop at almost midnight. At least she wore a face mask. “It’s to keep my skin fresh while I’m working.”

Last month she went on a trip to Korea and literally deprived the country of every face mask it owns. They have different functions too; less visible pores, prevent deeper wrinkles, hydrate, brighten, whiten… “Why?” I ask, while holding up 10 packets in front of her face. “The quality in Korea is better, it’s best to buy in bulk” she says while rubbing in her face with a toner, or maybe a moisturizer, or maybe wrinkle cream. She goes to Korea regularly to buy beauty products.

Unrelated: It’s not uncommon. Many Chinese are skeptical about anything “made in China,” and who wants to go abroad to travel anyway? You go abroad to buy. I find it interesting, by the way, how uninterested a lot of people in Beijing are in travel. They want to go abroad for work or study or just for buying plain.. stuff, but exploring the world? Nah.

Despite being in such a hurry, she has the time to put on layers of skincare products. Occasionally, in the evening, after cleansing and moisturizing, there’s also this soft electrical brush to make your skin more elastic. Or at least that’s what I think it does. Four layers of whatever is in those bottles for the night, a face mask every other day, the brush every other 3 or 4 days, and some anti-wrinkle cream. For who knows what. And of course layers and layers of make-up in the morning, while already having flawless skin. Her sister is exactly the same, despite having a completely different background. Her facial routine takes one hour. Her make-up routine takes another hour. It includes colored lenses and fake eyelashes. I applaud her patience.

“I’m so scared of getting old” my roommate says.

In a society where nearly everyone is materialistic and extremely focused on the physical; it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this includes female appearance.But it goes beyond simply materialism.

It’s applauded. The sole reason my roommate takes care of her skin is to hear other people say she looks young for her age, that she looks 22 instead of 30. To have men pursue her for her looks. To hear on a daily basis how pretty she is. To hear she looks prettier than other women. It’s ingrained in their way of thinking, there’s peer pressure and fear involved, and it’s encouraged by men. Don’t get me wrong; women from all parts of the world deal with this, but the pressure is much higher here. I get criticized too.

The other day a man asked me how I take care of my skin before I go to sleep, because I have fine lines near my eyes and it worried him because ‘I’m only 26’.  “I keep it hydrated because the air in Beijing is really dry” I said.

His reaction: “But then how do you stay young forever?”

“I don’t know, how do YOU stay young forever?”

“I don’t have to,” he says, “I’m a man.”

A shiver went down my spine realizing the deeper implications of that answer.

Here’s what someone told me about gender roles in China’s urban society:

“It’s what we, men and women, have been thought from birth. How we view men and women is part of our education system. But it’s been getting better. No, actually, it’s been getting more complicated. Urban women are getting more and more independent, and men are lagging behind because they refuse to acknowledge that things are changing. They appreciate a woman’s ability to take care of herself, but at the same time they can’t accept it. The problem with the so-called leftover women is not the women, it’s the men. It’s our fault for not recognizing and accepting change. If Chinese men don’t want to be alone forever, they’ll have to adapt too.  But well, forget about that. We still have our parents to worry about first.”

Food for thought?

China Stories Travel

Auctioned off


At least the fireworks were nice. Happy year of the fire rooster ya’ll!

In Hebei at a a friend’s family celebrating Chinese New Year. Here’s a short conversation when meeting a friend of the family:

* How old is she?

“She’s 26

* Has she found a partner yet?

“Not yet, she’s currently looking

– I’m not looking

*Maybe we can introduce her to my son

-I’m right here, I can hear you

” What does he have to offer?

*Has a car, a house and a stable job

“Her culture cares more about whether or not they share the same values

– I speak Chinese, hellooo?!

*Has a bachelor’s degree

“I see, I see. Sounds good.

-No, not good…

“Any interests?

*He likes music

“She likes music too!

-Whatever, I give up…


There will be no follow up of this. I hope.

Beijing China People Stories

I’m a bit of a pervert

He walks nervously around the gym space mumbling, eyes fixed to the floor. Then it’s time:

“S..S..Sarah. I like you. Please don’t reject me”

– I didn’t know Chinese people were so direct

“I watched on television that European people like directness”

– You should watch less television. What do you like about me?


– More specifically

“You’re a foreign beauty”

– So you like the way I look

“No.. no, also the way you move and work out”

– So you like the way I look

“And your butt”

– This is not winning me over

“I’m a bit of a pervert”

– I don’t really like that idea

“Why not? We’re just animals with a bigger brain”

– That is… a very legitimate remark

Beijing China People Stories

Misunderstandings on Love


Bree and her homemade apple juice at dinner

“Is Bingbing related to you?” I ask my roommate, Bree, about the guy that sort of lives in our house but then sometimes just isn’t there. He’s been living in our apartment ever since I got here, but I’ve never seen Bree touch him or smile at him; so I just assumed maybe they were cousins or something.

“Bingbing is my pursuer,” she says while looking at her computer, pretending like that’s not weird at all.

“I’m sorry, what?”

She turns around. “Yes, you see, he is in love with me.”

“And you’re not in love with him?”


“I don’t follow; he lives here.”

“Bingbing has some issues to work out first.”

“And then you will love him?”

“Then he can officially pursue me.”

Bingbing was married before, has a kid and some problems to work out with his ex-wife. Meanwhile he lives in our apartment trying to get Bree to love him back. I asked if it was related to her age perhaps; Bree’s 35 and unmarried, and traditional views on love and marriage are still standing strong, even with current changes in society. Believe it or not, the versatile city of Beijing, with its QR codes, online shopping and payment through apps is still pretty “old-fashioned.” “No, I am just very individual” she says. She comes from a family where, at the dinner table, she had to sit up straight, talking was not allowed and she had to wait until her grandparents picked up their chopsticks before she was able to start eating. “My family had big expectations, but I’m lucky with my mother, she understands that the world is not the same anymore. I think 90 percent of Chinese families don’t think this way. You know, after the door opened to the outside world, the younger generation started to think about breaking free from traditional societal structures. The problem is that the door opened in the midst of tradition. No matter how much you want to escape, your first and foremost priority is the obligation you have to your parents.” She went on explaining that if your partner of choice is not to your parents’ liking, you’re most likely to break up even though you may really love someone. “But Bingbing is a really good guy. He is not like most Chinese men. Chinese men love to control women. We haven’t reached that stage of equality like in the west, we still adhere to the patriarch. Not many women have the opportunity to live a completely free life like I do. But then most women also just don’t know any better.”

Later I see Bree ordering Bingbing to do this, do that, get this, get that and literally disagreeing with all of his opinions.  “You go girl,” I think to myself. #relationshipgoals

We have dinner together later that day, together with Bree’s sister and another mutual friend. The topic of beauty standards comes up. I name a few Chinese actors I think are handsome. “Ewwww no, they’re so ugly”  both women yell at the same time. Turns out small eyes are not to their liking. The ideal man has big eyes and a longer nose, for starters. “What’s your ideal woman, Bingbing?” I ask him. He thinks for a while, says it’s different for everyone, but then still gives a very detailed answer: white skin, big eyes, long nose, tall, big boobs, skinny waist. “So basically what all of you want is a Chinese person that looks very western,” I say. It turns quiet for a few seconds. “Yes, I guess so, but almost nobody looks like that here” Bree says. “That’s a bit fucked up isn’t it?” I state. Everybody nods. I find out Anne Hathaway is the perfect woman. “She looks a bit Asian, bit “western”, tall, great body..”  I also fall into the right category, the men state. I’m just not white enough. I move on to a different topic.

Later that week, 6 pm; I’m doing my make-up.

“You’re going out?” Bree asks.

“I’m going on a date” I reply.

Bree starts giggling. “Dearest… do you know what that word means in Chinese? It means you’re going out with someone on like a romantic level.” 

“I know, I am doing that, sort of”

“Woowwwww, honey! You’ve found love!! I’m so happy for you! Congratulations!!”

“No no no, it’s not like that. I don’t know this person. We’re just going to have a drink and talk.”

This time it’s Bree who doesn’t understand what’s going on.

“Do you know how dating works where I’m from usually?” I ask.

She doesn’t know.

“Basically, you meet someone somewhere; maybe on the internet, maybe at a party or a café or something; then someone asks the other person to “go on a date” and you meet up to see if you like that person enough to go on a second date. If you do, you meet again; if you don’t, you just stop talking to each other altogether. You can have 5 dates and still decide to stop seeing each other, you can also decide to be in a relationship after 2 dates; it depends on the person.”

“Ohhhh. I had no idea it works like that.”

“What? How do you guys date then?”

“We don’t. We sort of meet and decide to be in a relationship the same day. Most people get to know each other through work or school, it’s easier to get familiar with a person faster.”

“But you guys have Tantan (Chinese Tinder) right? How does that work?”

“The same way. You meet and then you’re boyfriend and girlfriend”

“How do you know if you like each other?”

“If you don’t like each other you just break up. When you’re young that is. It becomes more difficult after thirty.”

“Isn’t my way of dating more convenient? Breaking up is always difficult and you may hurt the other person”

“You don’t think it’s a hassle to have to meet a new person over and over again until you find the right one?”

“Yes. I guess it is.”

“Different approach, same outcome” she concludes.

I go on my date. Turns out my date is some sort of an in denial anti-feminist, pro-gun American and Trump supporter, or at least supportive of some of his ideas.

Somehow I’m relieved I don’t follow the Chinese approach to dating.

Beijing China People Stories

Smog Kills & Instafamous


First of all; don’t be an idiot like me and do a workout in a park in Beijing when the smog levels are high. How self-defeating can you be ?! I don’t know wat astma is like, but I think it felt pretty similar. I also have a throat infection. It’s great.

Also: After 10 minutes of push-ups and pull-ups people started applauding and surrounding me while taking pictures. Then one guy was brave enough to stop staring and/or filming and engage in conversation.

“Is it ok if I take a picture?”

– You’ve been taking pictures before you asked this question

“You speak Chinese!!!”

– uh-huh

“You have a really good body”

– Thank you

“Really strong and balanced”

-Thank you

“You did pull-ups!”

– Yes I did

“Where are you from?”

– The Netherlands”
“Your Chinese is good!”

– Thank you (He based that on the many thank you’s I’m sure)

“They speak Chinese in the Netherlands?!”

– No, I studied Chinese

“In the Netherlands?”

– In the Netherlands

“Can I take some more pictures?”

– … sure

* I did some split-squats; like a squat on one leg*


– uhm….thank you

“You must need a lot of “Qi” for that”

– Excuse me?

“The balance in your body, I’m sure it requires a lot of Qi.”

– Oh.. yes. Yes it does. Lot’s of.. Qi…

“You have a Chinese tattoo?!”



– That’s what it says

“Can I take a picture of that as well?”

– yeah sure….

“A foreigner who loves Chinese culture, wonderful!”


Beijing China People Photoseries Travel

People of Beijing

Traffic in Beijing, Chaoyang (Sanlitun)

Supportive relationship

Smoking in Dashilar


In Dashilar

Need your shoes or bike repaired? Need a copy of your key? Look no further

Woman casually hanging out in (Dongcheng, Dongzhimen)

Woman in the Dongcheng alleyways


Beijing China Stories Travel

Why you can’t trust cats in Beijing

13 September 2016

I passed by a heavily meowing car on my way back from a birthday party.


I went back and got on my knees to check underneath the car, inside the wheels, put my ear near the hood, tapped on the windows. The meowing got worse and I was super worried. It looked like this cat really needed help.

It sparked some attention. Within 5 minutes there were three other people looking for the meow. “It’s stuck in the engine”, a man said. “Can we get it out?” I asked. “You need to call the police.”

I tried the animal rescue service first, but their 24hour service apparently didn’t count anymore after 11. Then I had someone else call the police: “Yeah hi, we’re looking for the owner of this license plate (… )..yeah there’s a cat stuck underneath the hood. No I’m not joking. Ok thanks.”

“They’ll call you back when they find the owner and the police will come crack open the hood”

“Crack it open?! Can’t the owner just .. open it?”

“They’ll call you back.”

After that he walked off!! The other men also left in the meantime. Thanks for all the help buddies….

Then the meowing disappeared… I was afraid something may have happened, so I started tapping on the car again. Suddenly there was a faint meow in the distance, like at the other side of the street; THE SAME MEOW!

At the same time the police called back; wanted to know the street name and said they’ll be right over.

THEN the man who helped me call the police came back..He had woken up his wife for this event and wanted her to help look as well!!

And then.. a sneaky little bastard asshole cat crossed the street….

We all looked at each other in silence. “You uh..better call the police and say you’ve found the cat…” I did. I could hear the police was very pleased with this news by the swearing in the background.


I now hate cats.