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:
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?