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For Better or Worse: How China Has Changed the Way I Interact With the World

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Even after 2 years China still amazes and surprises me on a weekly basis.  Some days I can’t believe how fast our time in China has gone by, and others it feels like an eternity and I wonder when the insanity will stop, but one thing’s for sure China has had a profound impact on my life in ways I never could have imagined.

1. I stopped caring about what people think.

Or, as the brilliant Mark Manson would say “I stopped giving a fuck”.  As a foreigner living in China, there’s literally nothing I can do to stop being seen as strange.  Blonde hair and blue eyes “Is it natural?” A question I’ve been asked by complete strangers about both my hair and eye color.  The answer, by the way, is yes.

I dress like an American…weird.  I dress like the Chinese…also weird (it’s a foreigner in Chinese clothing!).  No matter what, they stare, so why even bother caring?  Fucks = 0.

 2. I am more conscious about the quality of food I consume.

Health in China is directly linked to food, both type, and temperature.  Some things are eaten cold, some hot, and every individual type of produce or meat has a direct effect on some bodily function.  For that reason, I’ve learned to never settle when it comes to the quality of food I buy.

The egg yolks are too yellow, where are the nutrients?  Those shrimp aren’t jumping around in their tank, definitely not buying those, they’re already half dead!

3. I always have to eat something green with my meal.

Seriously people, where are the greens?  No joke, it’s a huge deal if I go to the market and the happy vegetable lady I buy from weighs my vegetables and doesn’t see anything green (peppers don’t count by the way).  She’ll literally ask me, “No greens?”.

And I totally get it now, because it’s just weird if my meal doesn’t have something green in it.  I still don’t really go too much for the leafy ones, because, let’s face it, they’re just not that good, but there’s absolutely always a touch of green somewhere in just about every meal I make (minus breakfast because I just can’t get in to the whole eating vegetables with breakfast deal).

4. I have become more financially savvy.

The bargaining culture here, while it has been on the decline in the past few years, is still pretty strong.  If you’re at any type of shopping market or buying something off the street, the given price means absolutely nothing.  They will overcharge you like you’ve never been overcharged before, and because it’s so cheap to begin with and you’re an ignorant foreigner you will pay for it.

Well, my ignorant foreigner days are long gone.  Nowadays I study prices much more scrupulously and always try and get the best deal before I let the cash leave my hands.  Oh, and I’m definitely not afraid to walk away when the going gets rough.

5. I put myself first.

Because if you’re not first, you’re last.  In a country with around 1.5 billion people, there is no time to be polite.  If you yield to others, you’ll never go anywhere or get anything done, because the list of “others” never stops.  In China, no one is going to look out for you, except you.

I learned how to make myself noticed.  If I need something, I get it, and if I can’t get it or don’t know where to, I ask.  I don’t ever wait for someone to come up and help me, because I could be waiting forever.

But don’t worry, I haven’t lost all of my American politeness, I still can’t help holding doors for people and use “thank you” way too much, some things never change!

Can you spot the green?

6. Lines are for losers.

I think we can all agree that waiting in line is a giant waste of time.  But we’re taught that everyone has to wait their turn to get what they want, so we stand single file in a polite little row and gradually move up to the front of the line.

Ha!  Once again China laughs in the face of our politeness.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

At first, you might think that there’s a fire somewhere, but no that’s just the Chinese bulldozing their way through whatever door, or to whatever destination their trying to get at in an attempt to get their needs met before everyone else.  Again, the place has 1.5 billion people, would you want to wait all day with thousands of other people to buy a train ticket?  I didn’t think so.

While the custom can get really irritating for those of us stuck in our polite ways, there are parts of it that are actually super cool.  Like, line cutting is totally acceptable, as is bribing people to let you sneak ahead of them in line.  I can’t even count the number of times that I just casually stepped in line beside someone, and nobody batted an eyelash.

7. Fake it until you make it.

Confidence is key in Chinese culture.  It’s looked down upon if you’re a super shy, reserved person because if you can’t stick up for yourself and really go after what you want, you’re not going to “make it” in China’s overpopulated society.

Now, once I make a decision, even about simple things, I stick to it, and I own it, and if it doesn’t turn out how I thought it would, I move on and try again later.  Never let them see you sweat.

8. You catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.

The Chinese have this concept called “face”, which I find insanely annoying, but that’s beside the point, it’s there, and their entire culture literally revolves around it.  In a nut shell, “face” is basically your reputation and other people’s perception of you.

It’s pretty much the entire life’s goal of the Chinese to “save face” and garner a positive reputation.  Kind of like in western culture how we’re obsessed with leaving some kind of legacy and making something of ourselves.

That said, with everyone trying to save face, they all want to be right, and feel important all the time, to a fault, in my opinion.  So, while I might be able to point out someone’s mistake and have them acknowledge and correct it in western culture, in China they will deny to the high heavens that their godly existence could have even made a mistake, and then become even less likely to help you out.

While I’m still not so great at, I’ve learned that if I can stay positive and use persuasion rather than getting frustrated, you can often get someone to help you out, or bend the rules for you even after their original answer was “no”.

9. Nothing is what it seems.

I have pretty much learned to just stop making any assumptions because no matter what I think in China, it’s almost always wrong.

Looks like eggs?  Probably tofu.  Thought that was chocolate?  Nope, sweet bean paste.

At this point, I’ve just stopped trying.


10. I’m less materialistic.

From my travels and experiences around China, it seems to me that happiness lies in the “have enough, but not too much” zone.  Once you can provide all of the basic needs of you and your family, no amount of things or wealth will make you happy.  So, I have concluded that the happiest people are those that have just enough.

For example, the food vendors and hole-in-the-wall shop owners, always happy and smiling, the rich people in the fancy cars and expensive apartments, super rude and angry.  You do the math.

Now, I don’t buy hardly anything except food, and just replace things I need when they wear out or run out.  I don’t feel like there are so many things that I “have to have”.

11. Rules are meant to be broken.

The Chinese love to implement new rules that are never enforced.  It’s so comical you’d think it was a past time of theirs.  No smoking?  Lights up a cigarette in the elevator.  Do not enter? They don’t really mean that, lets enter anyway.

For real.  I have to admit there’s something a little thrilling about taking a photo in a place that says “no photography”.

12. I take pictures of everything.

There’s no such thing as no cameras allowed.  Regular or video, everything in China gets documented.  The Chinese love love love taking pictures, and selfie sticks are a national craze.  Don’t want to be on tape? Might as well just stay holed up in your apartment because, as a foreigner, the Chinarazzi will be out in spades.

But hey, this applies to me too, so I feel no qualms about snapping photos of anyone or anything I want, anytime, anywhere.  Well, I guess a little qualm, but they’re definitely receding thanks to China.  The selfie craze though, there ain’t no shame in that!

13. There is no need for personal space and privacy outside of your home.

There is literally no such thing as personal space or privacy in China.  In fact, I don’t even think the concept exists here.  Anywhere outside of the walls of your home, your life is on display to the world, which is welcome to document, record, and interfere in any way they like, and they will.  Mostly out of curiosity, but they will.

There are little in the way of privacy laws here, so I am free to video, photograph, probe, and snoop around as much as I want.  Now, that’s not really my thing, but I’ve learned to accept this as part of the culture.

People will walk in on you getting an exam at the doctor’s office.  There are no private rooms in the hospitals, and doctor-patient confidentiality doesn’t exist.  It’s just a fact of life; I will be getting super cozy with the stranger standing next to me, and I just don’t care.

How has living abroad or traveling changed you?


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  1. Evelyn Barskey

    I have a lot of catching up to do with your blog, but just wanted to say this post was awesome! China is definitely an interesting place, but I’m glad you’re learning to roll with the punches!

    1. Cara Crawford

      Thanks so much! China is definitely a unique and interesting place. We are never bored living here that’s for sure!

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