Our guest blog this week is by Deb Cheng, Deb Cheng is a full-time teacher in Toronto. When she is not teaching, she travels and writes about travel. She has traveled to 48 countries and enjoys travelling through Asia. Read more about her travel adventures at www.adventureaffinity.com.
You have a new job in a new country! Now what? As you experience feelings of excitement and perhaps some anxiety, you need to start thinking of how to prepare for your big move to China.
China is such a fascinating country offering culture, history, and more. Be prepared to absorb everything happening around you at warp speed. You don’t need to be a seasoned traveler to visit China, but there are some things you should anticipate in order to acclimatise to the local culture, allowing you to enjoy your time in China.
Get Your Bearings
If you’re able to, start your journey by visiting a gateway city such as Hong Kong. English is widely spoken in Hong Kong and you will easily find more creature comforts to ease away the initial culture shock. You could visit cities located close to Hong Kong like Shenzhen or Guangdong. While English is not widely spoken in these cities and it would be a good introduction to the rest of China.
Take Advantage of your Workplace Networks
English teachers, university lecturers, students and au pairs automatically belong to a professional network. Make new friends with other expat colleagues who may have worked longer in China, and locals who work for the organisation. After work drinks and weekend day trips with your new friends is a great way to open doors to new experiences in China.
Breaking the Language Barrier
Even though we sometimes think of English as the universal language, it is not the case in China. At times, it can be quite challenging to get by on gestures alone. Here are some tips for breaking the language barrier:
- Learn a few phrases in Mandarin. Whether you take a language course, watch a few YouTube videos, or use a phrase book, locals will appreciate you trying to speak Mandarin.
- Prepare a few Mandarin phrase cards. Before my first trip to China, I used Google to translate a few common questions (Where is the toilet?) and printed these on cue cards. The Chinese characters and the pinyin came in handy when I wasn’t comfortable speaking broken Mandarin.
- Get your hotel’s business card. Make sure the business card has the address of your accommodation.
- Download a Translation app to your smartphone.
Bring Your Appetite
Depending on the city you’re in, each region has distinct food characteristics. Be sure to try Peking duck (北京烤鸭) in Beijing, steamed soup buns (上海灌汤包) in Shanghai, and rice noodles (桂林米粉) in Guilin. Wherever you go, just be sure NOT to stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice bowl, as it resembles incense offerings to the dead and brings bad luck.
If you’re adventurous enough to try street snacks, you will find everything from pan-fried pork buns and squid tentacles to centipedes and scorpions!
Beware of Traffic
Take extreme caution when crossing the road. On my first night out in Shanghai, a woman in front of me stepped out on the road seconds before I did. An oncoming scooter ran the red light and plowed into her at full speed. Both the woman and the rider landed in the busy intersection. Miraculously, both parties walked away unscathed but it was a powerful reminder to look left and right before crossing.
Dealing with Culture Shock
The way of life is no doubt different in China. Just remember to keep an open mind to new experiences! For one, there are a lot of crowds and the locals have a different concept of personal space than Westerners. Don’t be alarmed if someone tries to cut you in a queue. Keep your elbows up firmly at your side – locals also use their elbows to make their way through crowds.
Locals wear face masks to deal with the pollution problem. Feel free to wear a mask too especially if you have respiratory concerns.
Remember to only drink bottled water or boiled teas.