Moving abroad to teach English in China is a massive change. It has ups and downs. It is jammed pack with new experiences. Some are great, some are things you thought you'd never do but they are all part of the journey. Upon reflection, I have come up with my top must-dos for any newcomer to China.
I guess I'll start with the most obvious rite of passage. Nature calls when she wants to and so, this one is unavoidable: the dreaded squat toilet. Some of us can definitely use these easier than others, but there's no denying that they can be pretty grim. I refer to them affectionately as squatty potties in an attempt to make the experience somewhat nicer – I'm not sure that it does. Keep in mind that squatty potties are not always equipped with toilet paper. You may need to grab some before going into the stall, or make sure to carry around tissues just in case.
Food is a widely discussed topic when it comes to China and for me, trying chicken feet was pretty high up on my list of things to do her. Weird, I know, but I am a bit of a foodie so was desperate to see what the fuss was all about. If I'm completely honest, they really don't taste bad. They taste like chicken. However, the sight of that little clawed chicken foot coming towards my mouth did put me off a little bit. They say you should try everything once, and I agree. I was then subsequently served a chicken foot during a group hotpot dinner. I pushed it to the side and covered it with other scraps. Once was enough for me. Next up on my list of food to try is frog hotpot and pig brain. Both are considered delicacies.
The world wide web can be pretty controversial here. You will need a VPN to access many of your favourite sites from social media to streaming outlets. It is inevitable that, at some point, your beloved VPN will fail you. The government cracks down, internet connection can be iffy, sometimes it just doesn't want to connect. It's frustrating, especially when you've worked hard all week and just want to binge watch your favourite Netflix show, but that frustration is usually short-lived. I'd definitely recommend arriving in China with your VPN set up and ready to go. However, don't be afraid to shop around once you're comfortable. Ask colleagues, find out which VPN works best in your area. Most providers offer free trials with various pricing plans, so you needn't feel pressure to make a snap decision or long-term commitment to one provider.
After V-P-N, the next most popular letters in China are KTV. Karaoke! You will find a KTV on pretty much every corner. I pass 3 on my walk home from the station and it's less than a 10-minute walk. I mean, what could be better than rocking out to your favourite songs with your friends in a private room with food and drink delivered to you? I've even been to some that have private bathrooms and deliver late night fruit platters. KTV is the ultimate end of the night destination, it's the ultimate party destination. Heck, I even took my Valentine to KTV and it was so much fun. If you make it through your first few months without a KTV experience or two, then you're doing China wrong.
Adapting to Chinese living can be challenging time. You will become entirely reliant on your phone as WeChat is used for everything from paying for meals to translating menus, booking everything from movie tickets to your next holiday, paying for your bus or train travel – the list goes on. Buy a portable charger and accept that you've become a slave to technology. Get used to strangers staring, or even taking pictures of you. Their curiosity doesn't come from a bad place. Finally, and most importantly, appreciate your time here. All of these different, new experiences are part of your Chinese adventure, don't forget to enjoy yourself.