Coming from a western country it’s not hard to see the differences that China has. The toilets being the biggest one for women (maybe men too but I’m not sure). As a foreigner it’s hard to ignore some of these differences and I often find myself on Skype or Wechat to my family back home telling them stories of good ol’ China that are hard to belive for a westener, like the bottomless trousers every baby seems to wear. When I was preparing to move here I did some research about the area and the expat community but that didn’t stop any westerner telling me horrors about China (even though none had actually been). Here are a few of the things I was told by family and friends:
1. You won’t be able to eat cheese!!
Now I love cheese. I mean really love it! When I heard this I was really sad and started looking at delivery costs for amazon’s bulk order of cheese. When I got here I realised this is nothing to worry about. You can get cheese, it might be a little pricy and maybe not the brands you’re used to but you can find it. Phew! Cheese is heavy so it saved me a massive bill!
2. No one speaks English and all the road signs are in Chinese characters!
So this is not true. You will get people that don’t speak English (most taxi drivers don’t) and they will assume you can understand their speaking or writing Chinese but for the most part an English speaking Chinese person is not hard to find. The road signs mostly have English (or pin yin) with the Chinese, although some of the translations are a little funny. Also their are lots of apps and phrasebooks to help you translate and I’ve found if you don’t speak the language everyone is more that happy to teach you whether you like it or not. Similarly I heard someone say that everyone speaks English which is not true either.
3. Everyone is 100% brainwashed and hate the west!
So, a lot of my friends had to tell me this. They kept pulling up media posts by various UK and USA news sites. They basically told me that if I wanted to stay in China I would have to become a member of the communist party (becuase everyone in China is(!) and fore-fit any right to have free thoughts. Being here I’ve found the opposite. Not only are there are lot of Starbucks popping up everywhere but there a lot of western influences and imports in the form of fashion, TV/films and even behaviour. A lot of the younger generation are finding ways to beat the system and consume more ‘western’ products and they love it! It’s that exoctic foreinger mentality that isn’t exclusive to us.
4. You can’t buy deodorant!
When I was reasearching expats who live in China this on popped up a lot. Mainly from women saying that they couldn’t find this anywhere. Maybe i’m lucky but i’ve found lots. I haven’t found familiar brands but I have definately found deodarant.
5. Everyone has conformed to the ‘ideal’!
This is definately not true. Just like anywhere in the world you get your anarchists, supporters and those who don’t care. I’ve seen lots of different Chinese people and not one of them fit that stereotype the west seems to have. Just like us they have different personalities and thoughts. They have ways around the bans on Game of Thrones and Deadpool and like to get drunk and party or have a duvet day just like anyone else. And yes, some may be ‘brainwashed’ but we have that too in the west. A lot of the news coverage we get in the west is about the ‘evil government’ and the fact they have banned this, that, and the next thing. I got told that Dr Who was banned because the government thought it might lead to the invention of time travel…. they love Dr Who here just as much as we do in the west, and it’s not banned at all.
What I have realised is like anywhere else in the world, China is a melting pot of ideas and cultures… although it may not be as liberal as other countries it is getting there. If I came here on holiday then I wouldn’t notice any of these things, because I live here I have time to see the cracks and the beauty just like my home country. And what seems strange to me, is totally normal to them….. and they have giant pandas!!