Living in China can be very hectic and intense at times, but there are definitely many things to love about living here. The country has such incredible growth in the last decades. The mix between big city life and the more traditional countryside is what gives China its unique character. This month, I asked expats in China which unique things they love about the country. These are their top picks.
It’s evening, you’re just making your way back from work when you hear loud music blasting somewhere. You decide to go and have a look. As you get closer, the music gets louder and then you see them. Neatly lined up in rows or in a circle, about twenty elderly women are dancing to loud upbeat music. Some are very confident; some are just trying to follow along. Their arms are moving out in front of their bodies and they step to the beat of the music. Some take it seriously, some don’t seem too bothered, but all are equally content.
This is not a rare sight in China. Every morning and evening, groups of elderly women (and some men) gather in squares, parking lots, or anywhere else where there is enough space to dance. Square dancing, or 广场舞（guǎngchǎngwǔ）, is a very popular hobby in China. So popular even, that it caused some conflicts due to noise complaints of groups blocking whole areas. The Chinese government eventually implemented regulations to create more harmony between dancers and residents. We are definitely happy that this part of Chinese culture continues to exist.
It’s all on your phone
Another thing many expats told me they loved was how convenient life is because of apps such as WeChat, Meituan, and TaoBao. With these three apps on your phone, you’re all set up for life in China. WeChat is much more than just a communication tool. It’s also your wallet; your “Facebook”; your way to buy tickets for flights, trains, events; book hotels; apply for jobs; find a new apartment; and much more. WeChat links to many other useful apps in the form of “mini-programs”. It almost replaces email in many ways. I can count the number of emails I have sent to my Chinese friends in two years on one hand.
Another handy feature of WeChat is the ability to create huge group chats. I’m part of group chats for second-hand items, job opportunities, business groups, and even an all-women group for any female-related issues. I know apps such as WhatsApp also offer similar features, but I’ve only seen it so widely used in China.
The other two apps, Meituan and Taobao, make shopping so much easier. With Meituan you can order any kind of food within half an hour and Taobao is your treasure trove for any kind of random item you might need. You need new clothes? Taobao. You can’t find those spices you need in the supermarket? Taobao. You need that a new part for that thing that broke? Taobao. You don’t even have to know what the thing you’re trying to buy is called, because you can search by photo. Whatever you need, the answer will be Taobao.
China is a country where people rely a lot on community. It is, therefore, no surprise that elderly people lead a very social and active life. You can often see retired Chinese gather around to watch an intense game of Mahjong or just hang out together in the park. They come together to make music and discuss the latest gossip. Elderly people also like to gather to dance or practice Tai Chi (“Taiji” in Chinese). I also meet many elderly Chinese when I go for a swim in the morning and the workout parks are often flocked with elderly people too. It is amazing to see how active these people are.
The first time I saw the sign in my neighborhood telling me to “slip carefully” I was thoroughly confused. Now that I can read Chinese, I understand that it was a very direct translation of the sentence “小心(careful or carefully) 滑倒 (slip and fall)“, meaning “caution, wet floor”. Bad translations on signs or products are a great comedic source for the people who can understand them. Sometimes they’re not even bad translations, but just nonsensical sentences. It is definitely a good reminder of why you shouldn’t buy products with text in a language you don’t understand. You might end up like the elderly lady I met who was wearing a T-shirt saying: “don’t touch too much.” For now, we are at least very happy with these funny texts, as they always make us chuckle when we see them.
Have you eaten?
Food culture is not something unique to China, but how deeply the importance of food is ingrained in the culture here is quite special. So much so that it’s a common greeting to ask someone “你吃了吗？” (nǐ chī le ma?), meaning “have you eaten?”. The expats I talked to told me that they love how there are so many different dishes and street foods to try out. Especially in Yunnan, you get a large variety of food, because of the many different ethnic groups that live here. From tasty Chinese dishes to fried rice and barbeque if you’re in for a midnight snack. Your Chinese friends will make sure you never go hungry.
What you need is on the street
The last thing I want to touch on is the street carts that sell about everything. Although the Chinese government is slowly trying to get rid of street merchants to create a more “civilized” environment, you can still find many interesting and useful carts along the side of the road. You can find almost anything. People are selling warm snacks or breakfast foods from carts mounted on the back of bicycles; you can get your ears cleaned; get a haircut; there are tailors; locksmiths; solders; and many more. The only problem is that you need to be able to find them.
In short, although we all get frustrated from time to time from the hectic life here, we are also reminded of the reasons why we decided to make this our home. All of these little things about China make, as one of the expats I asked here stated, “life here feel so… alive”. Had you heard about these things in China already? What do you like most about living in China? Or what would you want to see?