5 (and a half) things I got used to after moving to China

At the beginning of this month it was my Chinaversary (8 years since the first time I came) and I started thinking about some things I got used to after moving to China. Some of them I enjoy, some of them not so much, but all are an indissoluble part of living in China!

1. Eating rice every day

When I go back to Spain people ask me: “Aren’t you tired of eating rice all the time?”. Well, the truth is I don’t even think about it! It just feels natural to eat rice with Chinese food, in the same way it feels natural to eat bread with Spanish food. But I can also eat Chinese food without rice, particularly if it’s in a fancy restaurant and the food is so good you don’t want to leave any space for rice! However, many Chinese people still order a bowl of rice if it is not served during the meal, because for them “eating” means “eating rice” and if there’s no rice it’s like if they didn’t eat anything at all!

2. Spicy food

Let me first clarify that I had never eaten spicy food before coming to China. Spanish food is not spicy and I had never been to a Mexican restaurant. So the first time I bought a meat skewer, during my first week in Beijing, I saw it had red powder all over but didn’t think twice and bit it. Oh. My. God. My mouth felt as if I was ready to spit fire like a dragon and I started sweating profusely. I hated it. So how did I end up getting used to spicy food? It was a long road. I guess it started with Gongbao chicken, which is just a little spicy, then I went on to try Korean food and I ended up going to Hunanese restaurants, where everything is covered with red chilis. Now my face still gets red and sweaty when I eat spicy but I can enjoy the food!

Spicy and non spicy soup in a hot pot restaurant.

Spicy and non spicy soup in a hot pot restaurant.

3. Drinking hot water

This is one of the things that shocks Spanish people visiting China. We always drink cold water so it is very weird when the waitress puts a cup of hot water in front of you. Hot water doesn’t taste good! I guess I started drinking it when I was too thirsty and got used to it. Now my teeth and throat hurt if I drink water that is too cold!

4. Personal questions

The first time a taxi driver asks you how much money you make, you feel awkward and tempted to give a rude answer: “That’s none of your business!”. However, after some time in China you realize that it’s the way they are and they won’t change. Asking personal questions to strangers is way too common here and you can get mad at everybody or simply go with the flow. So when the security guard in my compound asks me once again when I am going to get married and buy an apartment, I just smile and reply: “Let’s see”.

This kids just found out I am not married yet.

These kids just found out I am not married yet.

5. Going out in your pajamas

When I moved to Shanghai in 2010 I was amazed at how many people wearing pajamas I saw in the streets (in Beijing it is less common). I thought Shanghainese people were supposed to be the most glamorous people in China! How could they go out in their pajamas? The “problem” was so widespread that the local government asked the people to please stop wearing pajamas outside in preparation for the 2010 Expo as they wanted to make a good impression on all the foreigners coming.

Fast forward 4 years and I am walking the dog in my pajamas every night. In my defense I have to say that it is not the pajamas I sleep in, just the one I wear at home.

(1/2). Public toilets

I consider this as a half because I don’t think anyone can get fully used to the smell of Chinese public toilets; at most you can only learn to stand the stench for a few seconds and run away as fast as possible. It is difficult to explain if you have never been in one, but imagine how fossilized urine in a place that has never met disinfectant or soap of any kind must smell. That is how a Chinese public toilet smells like.


What about you? What new things did you have to get used to when visiting or moving to China or another country?