How is everything going for you guys on these sunny summer days?
On my side, so far so good. Cold, rainy Belgium may have its perks, but have so much to give back too.
Yet, lately, I’ve been thinking about what I truly miss from my year and so abroad in China. And boy, I miss so many things for sure! So, I decided to start a new trendy way of writing about expat life: 5 things you may ignore/5 things you may want to know before traveling to….
As I lived for over a year in Beijing, the Chinese capital up North, I thought it would be fun to give you some facts compared to y life back in Belgium, extended to Europe obviously!
- Global Warming, is it a thing there too?
Welcome to China!
This country has the size of an entire continent. One of the biggest country (regarding the size), you know that the weather is going to be very different between the North and the South. Well, it is different, but not as much as it is in Europe (nor the United States).
I lived in Beijing, located in the North. But I also traveled in Shanghai & Hong Kong (South) and Wuhan (West central). Let me tell you that the temperatures were mostly quite the same. Yes, while winter winds blow in Beijing, better wear underpants and heat-up t-shirts under 3 sweatshirts! The temperature can easily drop below 0 for several weeks, decreasing to -20°C on the coldest days. It may not be as freezing in Hong Kong as it is in Beijing, but the South may suffer the hard winter as well, temperatures dropping to 0°C as well.
The most amazing thing is the season transition: indeed winter is the coldest as it is in our countries, but spring and fall aren’t as marked as it would be for us. Neither it will be as delayed as it is for most of our countries! Each season comes as it should be: on time! Winter will last the average period of time it must last, as it is for the other seasons. Talk about global warming! It’s like it never had any effect on China.
The main thing that would indicate a problem in the seasons there would be the transition I talked about: from winter to summer, from summer to winter: a week or two and temperatures will go up/drop without warning. And boy, when you go from -15 to 25°C in a month, you can ask yourself: where did spring come from? From big furred-coat to shorts and t-shirts, there’s only on step.
Here, in Belgium/Europe, we have autumn and spring as extension of previous summer/winter. Again, North of Europe (England, Scotland…, Belgium, Germany, France,…) is different from the South (Spain, South of France & Corsica, Italy, Greece,…). Temperatures in the South continent are higher, warmer. Still, seasons and global warming are part of the daily life of Europeans. From a snowy day to a rainy/sunny day, there is only 1 step, even in March or April. Don’t expect April to be cold in China. You know you will already suffer some sunburn and see our Chinese friends opening their umbrella to cover themselves against the tan process we all dream of back here.
So be prepared depending on the season and the potential changes, China hasn’t many various weather other than the usual season schedule.
- Food, electricity & water: is life as expensive as it is here?
If you decide to settle down in China for a while, thinking about living this extraordinary expat life I had, check your wallet but not as much as you may think though.
China is well-known for its cheap food as the rest of Asia. I am not talking about fancy 5-stared restaurants you may find in the finest and most luxurious hotels! But from the average restaurant to the street food, notice this fact: you can eat GREAT (various) food every day for less than 5€/5$!!! I am not kidding here!
If you wish to cook by yourself (yes, you can get tired of rice and noodles from time to time), groceries will cost you more or less the same as it costs in Europe/US. Some imported brands are more expensive, but overall, it will cost you the average amount you will pay in your own supermarket.
Let me remind you: Asian food (in general) has a variety of saviors/tastes, dishes and is exquisite. It’s cheap and you have great places in every city where the quality and hygiene are quite good. 1 year and 3 months I spent in China and I never had any food poisoning or indigestions. Choose wisely, dare to try some local specialties.
If you think about staying several months/years, you’ll have to rent an apartment. As it is in our big cities, rent is high in big cities as well in China. For what it’s worth, you may think they try to scam you. They don’t! Beijing is expensive depending on the neighborhood. Go further south, pay more expensive rent! Shanghai is an international city with many expatriates. Hong Kong is even worse. The only consolation? Electricity and water won’t cost you as much as it is in Europe (or at least Belgium). It will also depend on your salary, which should be quite enough to cover it all and let you free to splash the rest out as you wish. I had a good salary, a high rent and yet I managed to travel, buy clothes and gifts, allow myself some liberties I can’t afford in Belgium as life is way more expensive! (and I haven’t even mentioned mobile services and internet connections yet)
- 你说中文吗 ? Are you scared about the language?
When you travel in the United States of America, the only fear you may have regarding the language is the pronunciation. Texan people may speak with a weird English compare to New-Yorkers, yet they speak the same language.
In Europe, we may speak 28 different languages (well, less, considering that France and South of Belgium share the same language, North of Belgium and the Netherlands do as well). In the end, most of the countries are used to travelers speaking either English or French. You manage to get by in one of those two, you can easily survive your trip.
In China, either you go to the South or North, East or West, big cities or small villages, you may encounter Chinese people who speak mandarin, Cantonese or dialects but no English or French or Spanish or whatever. Be prepared, it happens, more than you think! When I arrived in Beijing, I thought that in the capital, they would ALL speak English… they mostly don’t! Say whaaaaaaaaat now?!?
If you go to Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, they will understand English easily and be able to help you. In Beijing, I had to learn some Chinese before my first stay as cab drivers, mall vendors and restaurant waiters do not speak Chinese. The beauty of it? I had the best Chinese lessons as it is the most efficient way to learn a new language: total immersion.
Don’t be afraid, dare trying to speak even with a bad pronunciation. Chinese people are amazingly kind and patient, they will love if you try even with mistakes.
- Being an outsider: still trendy?
I haven’t posted for a while on my blog. I have mostly analyzed, read and took advice from other bloggers. Especially those who travel. And it can come handy when you ask yourself: is being an expat still such a good thing when you see all of those people visiting places far away from home? Or is it just not a trend as it was before when traveling was reserved only to the wealthiest?
Well let me just say that in china, even though they are more used to seeing foreign people, they are still really excited when they meet one or randomly see you in the treets.
I had the pleasure of meeting really nice people in the streets of Beijing, and yes being from Belgium was as interesting to them as being from a fancier country such as France, the US or Russia (most countries represented in Beijing).
Then again, when I went back to Europe and traveled, I realized this “trendy” aspect of you is kinda similar in other countries where they actually don’t think you’re from their country (and obviously don’t speak the language). But in Europe, European people are used to see foreigners. They even have less interests if foreigners are from far away countries like us when we go there because we, Europeans, are huge travelers.
- Afraid of violence? Preach the Chinese ‘keep it calm’ way of life!
I live in Europe. Europe has been targeted by terrorists and some countries have suffered atrocities.
But I live in a country where threats are not from outside only. Far from there. People from here can be mean, disrespectful and violent to one another. The sad truth is, since I got back, I haven’t felt safe in my own hometown. How is that? Simple: Chinese government may be a dictatorship, yet people are (over)protected.
I had the same feeling when I went to Ibiza this summer. The safety over there is nothing to compare to what we have in Belgium or even France.
Don’t get me wrong, I love our country, as I love strolling in the streets of Paris, Lille and other cities but… when you come home after 2 am (or later on big nights out), you don’t feel that good walking around creepy narrow dark streets. Coming back from clubs or restaurants or friends apartment back in Beijing (or even Ibiza), I felt safe enough to even take weird narrow streets, no threats on the horizon.
Why am I suggesting my beloved country and our closest foreign friends may feel the same? Because of what happened in the (nearest or long gone) past to my friends or me. Even to people I haven’t seen in my entire life but witnessed or experienced such disrespectful act of violence coming from others for no reason (being gay doesn’t mean you’re wearing it on your forehead like a banner so I’m not speaking about this crazy fact here, not yet though).
I lived in china long enough, met real good friends there and we all spoke at some point of this amazing feeling of freedom to walk around at any time of the day or night without fear of strangers assaulting or jumping onto us at any moment. Girls and boys taking part of those discussions. That’s a fact I can’t deny: security is such that people feel safe enough to wander at night.
Anywho, Belgium remains a beautiful country you have to visit and see even after the sun down!
Those are just 5 aspects of China you may actually ask about before considering traveling in a country which you may not know anything about despite the pollution and other huge clichés.
Beyond those clichés, you may actually discover beauty and magic. Here, I just drew 5 quick facts. The upcoming ones are going to be more about the culture and lifestyle over there compare to what we have in Europe, pros and cons obviously!
See you soon guys!
all pictures are mine. To see more, go check my Instagram page @romaingijsensblog