China,  Expat Life

9 Things I Won’t Miss About Life in China

Given the difficulties of flying with a pet during a pandemic, I’m not sure when I will be able to leave Hefei, my home of the last year and a half. It’s no secret that China is not my favorite place. Actually, it’s the one country I knew without a doubt that I did not want to live in. Ever.

Isn’t it funny how things turned out?

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for this move, I came with an open mind. China, however, just didn’t win me over. I’m not saying that it might not be a good option for other would-be expats, but for me it was only meh.

Here is a list of particularly irksome aspects of Chinese life that I will not miss AT ALL.

1. Crowds

crowded street
Nanjing Road, Shanghai, China

I’ve never been enthusiastic about crowds. Living in a country of 1,400,000,000 people gives the term “crowd” a whole new meaning. There are always a lot of people. Everywhere. It seems like there’s never, not a crowd. When I first arrived in China, I made the mistake of traveling during a holiday – way more intense than what I was used too. Just too many people. Everywhere.

2. Thin Walls/Loud Plumbing

High-rise apartments like this are typical. Living in such a high density is new to me as are the quirks of Chinese plumbing practices. I don’t know if it the close proximity, thin walls, or a combination of both, but I can cleary tell you every time my neighbor flushes the toilet or takes a shower.

The sound of rushing water is so thunderous that I often get concerned that my apartment is about to flood. Additionally, since the pipes are all connected I get a array of interesting smells, many of which are less than pleasant.

3. Spitting

I know that people spit in other countries, but in all of my travels I’ve never been to a place where people expel phlegm with such frequency or abandon as they do here in China.

You must constantly be on guard as the Chinese spit indiscriminately and make minimal effort to avoid hitting you. No places is safe. I’ve seen and heard (*shudders*) people hock a loogie onto the floor in the grocery store, airport and a 5-star hotel.

4. Being functionally illiterate

I don’t speak Mandarin so obviously I cannot read or write it either. My attempt to learn even just a handful of words was a disaster. Unlike my time in Europe where I could easily identify words and look them up, Chinese characters are too numerous and difficult to distinguish between for immediate decoding. So instead, I have to take a picture and run it through translation software which often very cumbersome and often inaccurate.

5. Meat Roulette

It is no secret that I’m a picky eater. As I mentioned above, I cannot read Chinese, so I’m often forced to use Google Translate to ask about the contents of the food being served. This is a culture in which people don’t generally ask these of questions. So when I point to dish and ask “what is this?” The response I usually get is “food”. If I press the issue and ask what kind of food, I’m often met with “meat” as a response.

During my time in China I’ve learned that their definition of meat and my definition of meat are not always the same. Often at lunch you’ll hear me ask myself, “is this really meat?” or what kind of meat is this?” That my friends is a little game I like to call meat roulette.

6. Hot Water

“Hot water healthy” is a common refrain heard all over China. There are differing opinions as to the origin of the practice of drinking hot water, but it is a universally held belief that doing so is beneficial to your health. So that glass of water you get at a restaurant? It’s hot. Thirsty after a working out? Here’s some hot water for you. Sometimes they even like to jazz things up by adding lemons or cucumbers to the hot water. Um, no thanks.

7. Bathrooms

I’m not a fan of squat toilettes. I’m also not a fan of having to carry my own toilet paper. If you’re smart, you’ll keep a stash of hand sanitizer as well because with the exception of fanciers places, odds are that there will be no soap or tissue in a public bathroom.

8. Last minute notifications

screenshot of travel ban notification
Travel ban issued 3 days before the holiday

Ugh! Last minute policy changes and announcements are par for the course in China. Last year, the week before Labor day the government announced a change to the dates of the holiday. All of those who had made reservations and travel arrangements were screwed over. Businesses and schools also make changes and wait to THE last second to notify you about it. If you’re used to making plans ahead of time, life in China can be very frustrating.

9. Gawking

Random Chinese people taking our picture without permission

Surely by now you know that the Chinese stare at/take pictures of people who don’t look like them. Don’t buy into the notion that they stare because they don’t know it’s rude. They know. If you gawk at them it makes them uncomfortable. They don’t like to be stared at so they know it’s not cool.

One thing I can say is that living in China has helped me refine my ability to stay flexible and adaptable. If you’re considering spending any extended time in this country you will need those skills.