Categories
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

Categories
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!

IMG_20190204_192258

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

Categories
China Stories Travel

Auctioned off

27-01-2017

vuurwerk
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.

Categories
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”
雅婷,我喜欢你,请不要拒绝

– 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?

“Everything”

– 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”
我就是有一点色

– I don’t really like that idea

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

– That is… a very legitimate remark

Categories
Beijing China People Stories

My new flatmate: Mr. Lim

19-10-2016

This is Mr. Lim from Korea.

lim

He is one of my 4 new flatmates, and boy are they an interesting bunch. One of them is apparently really famous and Mr. Lim is his agent. This picture was taken on the day they arrived and when I didn’t know anything about them yet. I was doing my make-up in front of a mirror and Mr. Lim asked in his best English: ” Are you done makeupping? I wanna take picture.” He said he takes pictures of women to get into the Guinness book of records to be the first man to photograph a certain amount of women. He had thousands he said. I asked if he only photographed beautiful women, as a joke, and he said: “Nooo no no. Ugly Ugly.” My other flatmate; apparently a famous actor, assured me he was not a pervert. Then he quickly went in his room and put on a coat over his pj’s and this picture was taken. You can tell how comfortable I am from the look on my face.

Later I asked Mr. Lim what he was doing in China, you know, to be nice. His response: “Ohhh I escape from the North Korea. I run. Very very fast. I here for two weeks. My friend help me escape!” At first I was caught off guard a little by that response and I can be pretty naive and stupid, plus I didn’t know anyone..But then I turned to famous actor man and said: “He’s joking right? Tell me he’s joking.” To which his response was: “Have you ever seen such a fat North Korean?”

The other two flatmates are a mysterious Korean doctor experienced in Chinese medicine and a Jewish lady; Mr. Lim’s assistant. Mr. Korean Chinese medicine doctor did an acupuncture session on me today. It hurt and didn’t help. I’m not making assumptions. But I am. The lady is looking for synagogue life in Beijing. Is there such a thing?

Like I said: an interesting bunch