Despite the technological development and economic advancement, life in China still comes with some profound differences that are difficult to anticipate. When foreigners first arrive, they see the big, beautiful buildings and think they’re looking at a fully modernized city with all the amenities they’re used to at home. Think again. So what makes living in China so tricky for foreigners and how can you gain an edge on other expats with some China life hacks?
After a long day of exploring, you start to look for a restroom. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Finally, you find a restaurant that has a restroom and the boss directs you to the back where it’s located. You step inside and start unbuckling your belt and then release, there is no stocked toilet paper!
Chinese people always bring their own waste paper or tissue packets in their pockets, because many shop owners believe that if they stocked toilet paper, people would simply steal it. And guess what: they’re right, some people would.
If you’re coming from a Western country, this may come as a surprise. In the West, there is an abundance of tissue paper in free supply and not something someone would think to rob. So, that leads me to my first life hack.
Gain an Edge on other Expats with these China Life Hacks
1. Stock up on Tissue Packets
You can find them in every little shop. Ask the shop owner for wei-sheng-zhi (卫生纸), and they’ll hand you one packet of toilet paper in plastic. It can be challenging to get each napkin prepared when you need to use them. So I recommend taking them out, one by one, and unfolding them before you get ready to go and do your business.
While you’re at it, you might also want to stow a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Not everyone in China is hip to the necessity of antibacterial soap. You’ll see times when people clean tabletops at a restaurant with a rag and water and no soap. To protect yourself against stray bacteria as best you can. Hygienic China life hacks will save you from getting sick while living in a foreign country.
2. Prepare a VPN before Entering the Country
If you’re planning on doing business while in China or if you just want access to social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you’re going to need a VPN. What is a VPN and why would you need one?
A VPN is a server that makes you appear to be located in another country. Not only does this help to privatize your internet connection, but it also allows you to access geo-blocked content. This is important because in China, they have a firewall that prevents their citizens from accessing certain websites. Many popular sites in China are blocked.
So if you want to share a photo you’ve taken with your friends on Facebook, or if you want to send a message to a coworker on Twitter, you’ll need to have a VPN. It can be challenging to access company sites for VPN services while in China, so I advise getting China life hacks set up before you enter the country.
3. Bring a Smartphone
Chances are that you already have a smartphone, but depending on what kind of phone it is, it might not be one that you can use on Chinese networks. iPhones tend to be locked to the service carrier with which they were purchased. So, if your phone isn’t unlocked and you can’t use a SIM card for a different network, you’ll have to rely on Wifi connections to use your phone for various purposes.
As you travel, you’ll find that your phone is useful in China for several different reasons:
- You can use your phone for maps. I recommend Baidu maps for getting your bearings, as Google maps are unavailable in China.
- Translation software. Several different apps can help translate menus and signs with the help of the camera on a mobile phone. There are also dictionaries with flashcards you can employ to learn the meanings of new words.
- During long trips by train or by plane (if allowed), it’s great to have an engaging book to read. There are also useful guides you can read to gain deeper insights into the places you’re visiting in China.
- Making Payments with WeChat or Alipay. China has a highly convenient method for people to make payments using software, scanning QR codes and paying for things with their phones. This works best for people with Chinese bank accounts.
4. Push to the Front
If you want something, you need to go for it. Many people feel the need to be overly polite when visiting China. But if you are, people will walk all over you. When you queue in line at a fast food restaurant, close the space between yourself and the person in front of you. If there are even a few inches of space, someone will walk up and step right into it.
This is why you shouldn’t wait to get what you need because you will be taken advantage. Yes, it can feel a little rude at times, but it’s a different culture. Go ahead and push your way onto the bus, no one will think you’re out of place for doing so. The benefits of knowing these China life hacks is that people will treat you like a local instead of taking advantage of you.
5. How to Haggle
Knowing that most foreigners don’t know the going price on different items they might want to buy, Chinese people will often name an inflated rate when asked “How much?” It helps if you understand the concept of haggling, as most of us from the West have never done so before. This is one of the China life hacks that is going to save you money.
How to engage?
After they name a price, you need to draw attention to some sort of imperfection or drawback in the product and then propose a much lower price. For example: “This might be an attractive lamp, but it’s such an old style. My friends will not be impressed.” Or “I could buy this watch, but look, there’s a speck of tarnish on the back. And the lens is scratched!”
After they name a lower price, you’ll need to name one even lower and keep insisting on it until they agree. If they still won’t budge, there’s always the nuclear option: you can walk away. You’ll find in many cases, they’ll chase after you to make the sale. It requires a degree of mental fortitude, but you’ll find that after a few tries, you’ll get the hang of it.
Note how haggling is very similar to standing in line. If you want something, you have to go for it. And if you want a better price, you have to bargain for it.