The China FAQ

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During a recent Skype call with my family, I suddenly had an epiphany. I used to think it was just Chinese people who used to ask the same old questions about my time in China, but in reality, us Westerners are equally guilty of it too. As I sit here in the office listening to this weeks band of choice (Mumford and Sons) on a quiet Monday I figured I’d answer these questions once and for all. Partly because it would make a good blog, and partly because next time some old family friend starts up the familiar template of questions, I can just pass them a card with a link to this blog and talk about something more pressing like ‘how Crystal Palace’s season went’. 


Typical questions:
1. “Is the food in China, the same as the Chinese food in Britain?”
In some ways, but its much better here. While it doesn’t take a genius to know that food in its native country tends to be better than the same food crudely exported globally, there are some all-to-familiar ingredients that crop up in both countries.
The general rule of thumb is that food cooked in a restaurant in China will quite often be inferior to its home cooked equivalent. Food cooked for me by my homestay family has never resembled anything like the ‘Chinese food’ I’d enjoy back in Britain. Head out to my local food court however, and you don’t have to look far to find your staple egg fried rice (蛋炒饭 - dàn chǎo fàn) or chow mien (炒面 – chǎo miàn) all swimming in MSG (mono-sodium glutamate).
2. “Isn’t Chinese food really fattening?”
Again, the stuff cooked at home by ordinary Chinese people is actually very healthy in contrast to most Western food. Eat out a lot at local restaurants however without a good exercise routine and you will start ballooning out in no time.
3. “Have you eaten dog yet?”
No, but it is available in some parts of China, but you have to really look for it though, so don’t worry, its not just going to appear in your daily diet without you knowing about it. I’ve lived in China for 20 months now, and I’m yet to see a place selling it.
4. “Don’t you miss eating western food?”
Western Food - yes, British Food – not so much. Bar a good roast dinner or a full English breakfast, British food is pretty crap in comparison. A good burger once in a while though can be a welcome change from the same old Chinese food in the university canteen.
Typical questions :
1. “What are your classes like?”
Pretty good, I have nice teachers; class is relatively small (around 15 people) compared to a standard class size of around 20-30.
2. “How’s the course going?”
Very good thank you. I have four hours of class everyday, five days a week with the weekend mine to do what I like.
3. “So, are you fluent yet?”
Not even close, I don’t know many people who can speak any language fluently after just one year of study. I need at least another two years yet in order to even get close.
4. “What’s Chinese education like compared to its Western equivalent?”
In a word, different. I always wondered why some Chinese students would pay huge sums of money to study at Western universities. The answer is pretty obvious, while Chinese educational quality can suffer at times; it comes down to resources more than anything. On the one hand China leads the way when it comes to Maths and second language learning. On other subjects however, they can really struggle.  On the plus side however, their education is definitely cheaper. While some Chinese universities such as the ones in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou etc are pretty good; others can lag pretty far from Western standards. Interestingly enough, the very nature of education seems to be different here. Having spent time abroad teaching myself, I would usually tailor my classes and teaching method to each individual in my class (as best I can). In China however, if you have a problem with keeping up with the curriculum, your teacher will probably tell you to work harder rather than suggest you a new study technique.
Social Life
Typical questions:
1. “Are there many other Westerners with you?”
In Beijing, yes, plenty. In Shanghai, even more. This isn’t necessarily a good thing though. If you plan to come to China to take in Chinese culture, you’re wasting your time solely hanging out with Westerners as it will ruin your Chinese and stifle the language learning.
2. “Do you have many Chinese friends?”
Here comes the flip side, no I don’t. Why don’t I? Well, its really hard to make friends with Chinese people. I wont make excuses, its not like they are in short supply, far from it. It’s more the huge cultural gap that divides us. Everything from fashion, sense of humour, life attitudes & priorities and even choice on music is different from your standard Chinese person. With so little in common it can be a real challenge to make friends with native Chinese people here. If you can overcome the social barriers however it will be very beneficial to your Chinese.
3. “What it like dating Chinese people?”
As a picky heterosexual male I can only answer part of this question. As with point two, making friends with Chinese people can be hard enough, dating them can be even harder. Some foreigners in China often like their partner to at least have a sense of understanding of their culture, for example someone who might be Chinese, but Western educated can be a good place to start.
4. “What do you do for fun?”
The same as anyone else living in an urban metropolis, go travelling / sightseeing, hang out in a bar, go for food and take part in seasonal activities are just few things to mention.
Typical questions:
1. “How easy is it to communicate with local people?”
Really not that hard. Yes there are times where I struggle for words or give in and ask for help from a Chinese friend, but most of the time I try to plough on by my self, despite encountering random everyday problems which seem to only occur in China, I am not one who gives in easily, especially if its just a linguistics issue.
2. “Can Chinese people understand you?”
For the most part yes, they tell me my pronunciation is pretty good *blushes*. I’ve found that the more educated the person, the easier it is for them to understand me. During my days of living in Xi’an I would often be able to ask a fellow student (Chinese or Foreign) for directions in Chinese, ask an old lady selling fruit however, and it would be blank stares all round.
3. “We never see you on Facebook anymore, what happened?”
One thing the Chinese do well is social media… Yes it might be censored (so is ours just for reference), but boy… would I be lost without ‘WeChat’.
For those who don’t know ‘WeChat’ is what happens when you blend Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype, Uber, Expedia and Tinder together and add a few extra features. My social life would simply not function in China without it. Despite this, I feel that I’ve barely even scratched the surface with this app. If I calibrated it correctly I could do all my business, my daily chores and my socialising all through WeChat without ever having to leave my bedroom. For those of you who still aren’t convinced, I recommend you download it and just give it a try.
And Finally…
1. Are you like, the tallest person in China?
Oh lord… no! Despite all the 1950’s era pro western propaganda, Chinese people really aren’t that short. My host family’s 15 year old son is actually almost as tall as me now (I’m 6ft 1” – 185cm).
Many of you may also know that China prides itself in basketball, having one of the best teams in the world. I’d like to see a westerner ask this question to Yao Ming, or the top ten current (living) tallest people in the world, three of whom are Chinese.
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Written By Andrew Cole - CSA Intern Spring 2015
Andrew enjoys regular skype conversations with his Grandmother back in the UK, even if she does insist on calling him during office hours.


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