In response to “What tips and tricks have you learned that have made it easier to live in China?” recently asked on Quora, long-time China expat and Beijing resident Kaiser Kuo dished out some fantastic advice — his last one, quite possibly the toughest to follow, is my fav.

Stay tuned after Kaiser’s advice for a couple items of my own, but really these pretty much nail it:

Read Quote of Kaiser Kuo’s answer to Living in China: What tips and tricks have you learned that have made it easier to live in China? on Quora

I would add:

  • Get comfy. If you’re going to be here for more than a year or so, invest in some comfort items. Buy an area rug, put up a few pictures, get a (glorified toaster) oven. There’s a whole lot of China surrounding you, and long-term it’s nice to be able to have a little oasis of comfort and normalcy to retire to. There are a lot of ways to make an apartment, even a temporary one, a little bit more like a “home”.
  • Learn to cook. Kaiser suggests making use of delivery services, and being sure to get out and explore the cuisine — and I think that’s great advice. But eventually take-out, street food, and Chinese cuisine is likely to wear on you. Adding the ability to cook your own food over and above heating up 方便面 is a great skill to have. Not only does it help you moderate the quality of food you’re eating, it also gives you the opportunity to dive into non-Chinese cuisine. If you’re in a larger city, that’s not such a treat, but outside of the major centres finding a Thai curry or pita and hummus can be tricky. (see Matt’s post on this topic)
  • School yourself. Kaiser suggests familiarizing yourself with China’s modern history. If you’re going to understand the country at any level, that’s extremely important. I would add that there’s some real value to at least getting a crib notes version of the country’s ancient history as well. Despite a rather active effort over the last century to modernize the country, so much of China’s culture, identity and language is very deeply connected to its history. I’m not saying you need to go out and memorize who the most famous eunuchs of China were, but getting a sense of how the cultures and traditions of China developed can add a lot to living here — especially when visiting otherwise indistinguishable temples/gardens/towns/etc.
  • Get out of the country. When I look around at the people I know who have lived in China the longest (and are still mentally stable and enjoyable to be around), they are almost invariably people who get out of China once a year or more. Even the best of relationships need a break, and China is no exception. Living in China is full of challenges, and can be exhausting, so whether it’s a quick trip to SE Asia, or a journey home to visit family, make the effort and you’re sure to appreciate living here more and for longer.

What about you dear reader? What advice do you have on how to improve living in China and getting the most out of your experience here?


  1. I would add a good pair of shoes (and make sure sandals have toes covered)-the pavements can be very uneven and construction is everywhere, a space heater (no heated buildings in Wuhan where I am)or fan for summer, and a safety reserve of cash (to go to the nearest foreign hotel so you don’t have to freeze in the dark when the power goes out in your building during a cold winter and your space heater doesn’t work).

  2. Make at least some effort to learn the language. Life will be much easier if you don’t need help doing every little thing, and most of the locals will be thrilled (and wildly complimentary) of your efforts.

  3. “Don’t be a whiny little bitch.” Don’t surround yourself with complainers. Steel yourself to the fact that people will crowd you, will spit, will cut queues, will stare at you everywhere. Don’t be a douche.

    The don’t be a douche mantra doesn’t last very long… Nice guys in China get steamrolled. I give newbies a good week before they start yelling at waiters/waitresses and taxi drivers. Kaiser is Chinese, and thus gets no stares, and lives a pretty nice gig, working at Baidu. If you look like an ‘outsider’ (yes, that’s what they call you here), prepare to be laughed at and snickered at, all the time. And if you understand Chinese, prepare to hear the most offensive shit ever. Now, now… remember Kaiser’s mantra: Don’t. Be. A. Douche.

    Smile and take it.

    PS. Contrary to popular belief Beijing doesn’t actually have a usable subway system. That’s not my ‘opinion’ that’s the opinion of Beijingers.

    PPS. Taobao would be sweet if China has a western-friendly banking system. Have fun. Cash is king.

    • Come on now, how does Beijing not have a usable subway system? It can be ridicolously crowded (although not every line at all times), but how is it not usable? It serves a bigger and bigger portion of the city, and if you look at the plans for 2015, by then almost everywhere within the fifth ring road will be within reasonable distance of a subway station.

  4. spot on mike, cant agree more. I am stunned that kaiser (as a Chinese) would give us advice on how to deal with the stares and the general lack of personal space in china, especially for the LAOWAI, He is calling persons that have issues with that douches…. highly questionable that guy.

  5. I’d add:
    1. Soak up as many cheap foot massages as you can. Find places/people that do a great job and refer them to friends.
    2. See a Chinese doctor and don’t be afraid to try Chinese medicine. The sweet, molasses-like cough medicine nearly exterminates your cough, and most other stuff is made of natural products that have been developed over YEARS. When in HK, I had a mysterious chest pain that felt like it was in the bone marrow of my ribs. The pain was so bad, it nearly disabled my breathing (30yr old, healthy and fit female), so I went to the ER. I was given western antibiotics and pain meds (whole visit with meds =$75usd), which I took and the pain subsided after about a week. I returned to Urumqi, where I live, and about two months later, I developed an intestinal infection from heaven knows what (yeah, be careful with the “try local food” advice). I went to the best local hospital where I was given antibiotics and Chinese medicine via IV. Wish I knew exactly what the Chinese meds were because as soon as they switched the bag, there was a strange sensation that equates to something like hydrogen peroxide as it’s being administered on a cut – that kind of sting that you know is killing bacteria, in two places – the part of my intestines that was most painful and oddly enough, the exact two ribs that had sent me to the hospital in HK. I did go back to the US just to make sure all was well, but never found a medicine that worked as well as the Chinese stuff.
    3. Take pictures with Chinese adults who ask. I say adults because kids are more often looking for someone with whom to practice English, and use the “Can I take a picture with you?” as a prelude to “Can we be friends so I can practice my English?”, which is a different topic. But the adults are different. These people are usually from rural areas and will only on rare occasion come across a foreigner. So before your ungrateful mind blows off such a request, realize many Chinese people will never get the chance you have to get to travel or live in another country.
    4. DO NOT have Chinese people do things for you!! When you do things yourself, you learn the process and Chinese people respect you and have patience with you for trying, even if your language skills suck. Plus, doing things for yourself (registering with the police dept, getting official documents, going to the bank, etc) will improve your language if you’re here to learn. Besides, nearly every place has an ok English speaking person on staff. If you’re really new at speaking/writing, or if going somewhere important for the first time (like registering with the police station) yes, bring a friend, but make sure you tell them you want to learn how to do it, otherwise you’re gonna get translated out of the conversation. Chinese people are SO helpful that sometimes they forget to tell you what’s going on and you’ll be left in the dark.
    5. Foreigners get charged a “skin tax” because you either 1. Are thinking in prices you’d pay at home when you are not at home or 2. You are likely making a lot more than a Chinese person, thus many places will take on the attitude that you get more money so you should pay more money. Consider yourself warned.
    6. Yes, you should try the food. but be smart, as cleanliness standards are not to the level you might be accustomed. Buy a mix of imported goods and local goods to keep your body at balance. Also, Chinese LOVE to cook with generous amounts of oil. To avoid taxing your gallbladder, drink apple vinegar (found in any local grocery store for 2-5rmb/bottle) once or twice a week to help flush the oil from your system. Applesauce will also help ease digestive problems, but it is usually only found in import food stores in big cities.
    7. Get a Chinese bank account and set up internet banking (unless you have a Mac – only certain banks will have the required USB configured for Macs). If not already, have your employer pay you through your bank account. China Construction Bank has a partnership with Bank of America, so even without a bank account, you’ll be able to withdraw cash without an ATM or foreign transaction fee. Also, wire transfers between the two banks are a few dollars cheaper. Consider saving your RMB for the future. Need a reason?
    8. If you buy a gift for someone, and they ask you how much it costs, it is because they are calculating how they will return the favor. This is a relationship-building culture, and good friendships are evenly matched and don’t try to outdo each other. When someone treats you to lunch as a friend (not for business), show them your appreciation by calling them a couple days later and treating them to lunch.
    9. Lead by example. If you come from a civilized nation, act like it.

  6. Well, I live in China since three years (Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai) and I live quite well with the “don’t be a douche” mantra.

    How can you complain against taxi drivers? Have you been to Vietnam, Thailand or… Italy? I find Chinese taxi drivers quite honest. Sure, in Beijing they get lost and always enter the f*cking third ring, which is often a retarded move. Beside that I find them quite honest.

    About spitting or pushing on the metro, well, this is China. You can always move to Japan.

    I think the golden rule is to leave China once or twice a year and to recharge batteries.

    BTW, my favorite journalist in English is Evan Osnos from The NewYorker. here a sample:

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