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5 Things I Learned When I Moved to China

Published 22 June 2016

Henry Manuel

Henry Manuel

Moving to a new country can be a daunting experience, with new friends to make, new customs to understand and perhaps even a new language to master. But with a little bit of effort to immerse yourself in your unfamiliar surroundings, you can get so much more out of your new home, as Henry Manuel discovered. Here are the top five things he learned when he moved from the UK to Beijing:

Mahjong players, China

image: Henry Manuel

Search again and again

Wherever you live, you might go the same way to work every day. Along the same road, past the same shops, perhaps even see the same people making their own commute. If you take the same road in a Chinese city daily then I guarantee you’ll see something new and different each and every day – a new shop, a new street side snack truck – and you’ll never recognise a single face. I have been up and down the same streets in Beijing over and over and I never get bored of them.

Playing the accordion, China

image: Henry Manuel

Show some curiosity

As you explore those streets, side-streets and alleys, you’ll see people getting on with their everyday life. But remember, they are as intrigued by you as you might be by them. Share your curiosity with them and you will almost certainly be rewarded with a welcoming smile and a unique insight into a part of their life.

It could be someone passing the time playing their ancient Chinese lute with their accordion-wielding friend, only too happy for you to sit with them or even try playing yourself; it could be someone poking enormous sweet potatoes on a home-made barbecue; it could be an antiques trader with a bizarre collection of Mao statuettes, or a group of men playing Chinese chess; whoever it is, forget the language barrier, smile, point and start learning.

Chinese food

There are two types of Chinese food

Whether it be in a restaurant or from a take-away, everyone is familiar with the most famous type of Chinese food – the gloopy-sauce-drowned lemon chicken or sweet and sour pork; the fried rice with frozen diced vegetables, or the over-peppery beef in black bean sauce. It’s the stuff of a million takeaways. More importantly though, we all love it!

But this westernised version is very different from the other type of Chinese food, the type that you actually eat in China. Across the country, the range of styles is remarkable: fresh and light vegetable dishes, hearty meaty dishes, ultra-spicy soups, fried dumplings with every filling imaginable…and everything in between. So don’t hold back; try it; taste it. There really is something for everyone. And fortunately, most restaurants have picture menus.

Saxophone players in China

image: Henry Manuel

Getting around is easy (most of the time)

When you arrive for the first time at Beijing airport, it seems that the indecipherable Chinese-language signs are going to make getting around somewhat tricky. But, look closer; there are some signs in English too, though often with hilarious mistranslations. In Beijing, the extremely efficient and extensive metro has maps in both Chinese and English and the station announcements are repeated in English. Keep hold of your hotel cards too and then even taxis (which are always on the meter) can be straight-forward.

More than 20 cities in China have metro networks and if you arrive in a town with a popular tourist sight then you will almost be guaranteed an easy passage to your destination. OK, so it doesn’t always work out without any problems, but then where would the fun be in that?! Which also leads me on to the next thing that I learnt...

China in Spring

image: Henry Manuel

Be patient and understanding

There are so many little differences between China and, well, anywhere really. There is a lot to get used to and sometimes things can, at first, be a little shocking. It is not just about getting used to the differences though; it’s about accepting them. Some things are different and always will be, so there is no point in complaining and expecting things to change. Chinese culture and civilization is ancient and it is not going to bend to a few tourists. So don't expect perfect queuing at the train station or even at a famous attraction. And don't get too excited when you see "steak" written on a menu in a typical restaurant because a slab of brown jelly is not the home-comfort food that you were craving. Accept it and enjoy noticing all the subtleties that make China such a fascinating country to be in.


If you'd like to experience China for yourself, give our Experts a call or take a look at our China Journeys.


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