Some Facts I Wish I Knew Before Moving To China

1. Everything is “Made in China”

We’ve seen the phrase on almost every piece of merchandise taking up space or hiding in our closets, “Made In China”. So naturally I thought I could skimp on a few items from my packing list, my Brazillian bundles included. Now I have been a redefined natural since 2010 and moving to China I thought I’d find bundles for the low. NOT the case! And this goes for a lot of my favorite hair care products easily found back In the states. What’s supposed to be a quick run to the store for sulfate free conditioner and edge control turned into frenzied taobao searches and inquiries in black women saturated wechat groups.
Going home to visit a few months after first arriving in China, I made sure to go back stocked up. I’m talking 6 month supplies of Hicks, edge control,  Eco-Styler, shampoo and conditioners, hair brushes, leave ins… you name it.

2. How much rent upfront?

Something I’m realizing is more common (as I travel) are landlords that in addition to a deposit require 2-3 months rent UPFRONT. Im not sure if it’s the broke bi*ch in me that finds this outrages or what. I witnessed multiple people moving to Shanghai  with barely enough money for a few nights stay in a hotel while still searching for an apartment. You don’t want to be in a foreign country without a reliable stash of money.
For example, living in the center of Shanghai, near many expat conveniences and bars will run you a pretty penny.  I rented out the master bedroom (with own bathroom)  for roughly 700 USD per month. As a first time renter, add that to the 950 USD deposit and you’d find me counting my RMB pennies for the next 2 months.
By the grace of God, and I mean that literally, my school gave me a comfy loan to help me get settled and enjoy those last warm months of Shanghai’s summer.

3. Personal Space? Shen ma?

In history class they taught you that India and China were the most populated countries in the world. Literally billions of people spread out the across the country but the three biggest cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are homes to majority of those billions. In my mind that’s probably one of the reasons China has one of the most lucrative economies around, by shear force! Growing up in New York didn’t even come close to prepare me for the masses of people bumping me and squeezing me into the subway car during rush hour.
Seriously, I figure most people only get on the subway during rush hour to be complete pervs and have an excuse to grab my voluptuous humble posterior. And if the pervs don’t getch ya best believe someone’s uncle and their bad breath will! Long story short, personal space is not a big thing in China…at least in the big cities.
As far as people intentionally violating my space just to touch my hair or compliment my eye lids (Apparently having eye lids is a beauty thing in China) that my lovelies is a story for another day.

4. Nobody Hates You…And If They Do, Flip the Bird

Honestly, aside from an educator I like to think of myself as a global ambassador. Or perhaps I’m just trying to boost my head. Either way …to the well traveled, everyday person who just watches the news, its no big secret that America is a world power. With such a title comes many negatives and positives but all politics aside being an American abroad can go both ways.
Maybe not so much in China as in other place (like European countries for example) but people will judge you based on your nationality alone! I’m pretty sure they have assumptions at first when they see me, a beautiful BLACK pixie floating through these streets looking like a bag of shmoney. I know this is bad but when  I’m around a group of foreigners, I usually cringe at the question “ so where are YOU from”? If my accent isn’t enough to give me away my gut wrenching honesty is bye bye fake Canada citizenship.

“I’m from the U.S”

Usually by this point in the conversation I have prepared myself for the onslaught of redundant questions revolving around my fabricated love for Trump, whether or not I know another language (luckily for this my mediocre French counts) and whether or not “I can handle living in China sad and single”. I haven’t had anyone ask me that last part directly BUT I can basically see guys frothing at the mouth plotting on how to “waste her time all summer ’18 .As for my Chinese counterparts,  whenever I say I’m from the US, most Chinese people exclaim, “Oh, America is good. They may also yell “Obama!” or talk about the NBA. (Once they stop trying to guess which African country I hail from)  and realize I was born and raised in the states, I can expect huge smiles and the occasional Kanye moment…”Can I take a photo with you?”

I’ve even had a free taxi ride because the driver loved Obama so much. His “english’ name was even Obama too! (After translating the Chinese characters on his wechat I had to laugh and smile at this one).
From what I’ve picked up my first year in China I can whole-heartedly say that some of my best conversations have been with some very friendly taxi drivers (In Chinese of course). Now if you, off the bat, try and start up a conversation in English you very well might get waved off, hit with the notorious “ting bu dong” ( which translates to “I don’t understand”) and forced to partake in a very quiet and awkward taxi ride.

5. WeChat. Is. Everything

WeChat, also has a social media element that has become the Chinese mobile version of Facebook. You can also download WeChat on your computer and use it like Facebook messenger, or send actual documents as attachments. Don’t forget WeChat Wallet, where you can set up your bank card and transfer money to your friends with just a text message. You can even buy plane and train tickets on the app!
Don’t have any cash on you? Even the tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street from my apartment has a QR code that you can scan to pay with WeChat. Yep… they don’t take Chinese credit or debit cards, but they have their own QR code so you can pay with your phone.
So even though they have managed to block our at home favorites (Instagram, Facebook) Wechat is still pretty convenient. 

6. Don’t Flush Your Toilet Paper

I’m well aware that this post was classy up until this point of discussing waste but if you know me then you know I have a sorry excuse for a bladder and when its time to go its time to go!

While I now know just how popular the hole in the ground squat toilets are in Asia, no one could have prepared me for walking into a restaurant’s bathroom without my beloved “western” toilet. To be honest up until 21, I only thought there was one type of toilet in the world.
Though you might have to hold your breathe longer than usual to use these toilets the upside is that your calves will look amazing! I didn’t realize where all the compliments of my legs were coming from my first summer home after China UNTIL I looked back at all those nights at the bar, in my heels balancing for dear life so that I wouldn’t walk out with wet toes.

Yes ladies, here is our opportunity to aim! 
You get used to seeing these toilets all over and you get used to remembering to bring your own tissue. Now if you find yourself not wanting to compromise, you will find a Starbucks in even some of the smallest cities and their bathrooms might be a bit more what you’re used to. Tissue included.

 One last little tid bit…you’re not supposed to flush the toilet paper. Next to every toilet you’ll find a small basket where you can throw your tissue. Many public restrooms also don’t have toilet paper or soap, so you’ll probably want to bring some hand sanitizer from home and pick up a mini pack of tissues when you arrive.

While there are a lot of things I wish I knew before coming to China, I think the surprise of discovering new things every day has made my life an adventure here. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to arrive in China with an open mind. China is so large and complex, discovering new aspects of life and culture are just part of the journey.

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