Hello everyone! This post is a quick summary of things I liked about China while I was there for almost four years. Why was I in China for that long?
I was there to pursue my doctoral degree at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China which as the name of the university suggests, is in Ningbo, China.
For those of you who are not familiar with Ningbo, it is a port city in the Zhejiang province that is located South of Shanghai. I don't think that it is a major tourist destination but it has seen rapid growth and development over the past decade. Give it another decade or so and I believe that it is poised to be an industrial and financial hub that is similar to other major cities in China like Shanghai.
So what was it like staying in China for that long? Well, needless to say, the whole experience took me into unfamiliar waters. Before arriving in Ningbo, I sort of already expected living in China to be challenging and I was right....especially for the first few months that I was there. Don't get me wrong, the experience itself was not all bad but at the end of the day, home is where your heart is and well, my heart was always with family back in Malaysia.
You may have heard of less than flattering stories about the queer culture and practices of the people in China. From my personal experience, there is truth to some of those stories but that would probably be a story for another time.
This post is to share about things that I did enjoy during the course of my studies in Ningbo.
For those of you who have worked or studied in China, some of these things might resonate with you as well. Do let me know, It would be interesting to know what your experience was like.
So what did I like about China?To start things off,
CHANGES IN SEASON
This may seem like something very normal for those of you from countries with four seasons. But where I come from, (Malaysia), summer is the only season we get 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So, inconsequential as this may be, the first thing that I have to say I really liked about China is getting to experience the changes in season. That being said, in Ningbo, spring and autumn is quite short, and only lasts for anywhere between one to two months, Changes in the colour of plants and trees are also more subtle in Ningbo. Most of them simply stay green or go from being green to being bald when winter arrives... LOLs. If you are wondering how cold it can be in Ningbo, well the coldest I have experienced so far in the winter months was -8 degrees Celsius. So, if you do visit in the winter months, remember to bundle up!
As I am sure all of you are aware, China is HUGE! Travelling in China itself, you will have no shortage of destinations to go to. I have been to a number of places in China but it barely scratches the surface. I would not say that I have been to many places (budget and time contraints) but I think these four years has seen me travel the most in my life.. to date. hahaha. Just be aware of a few things when travelling in China. Be very careful of your belongings, cultural shocks are almost a certainty, make use of Baidu Maps (not Google maps), be prepared for the multitudes of people (people are literally everywhere...), haggling and bargaining in shopping areas (especially tourist areas) is a MUST, and be very careful of what you eat. These are the places that I have been to in China so far:
Next up on what to likea bout China?..Online shopping!!!China has sooo many online shopping websites that are equaivocal to ebay or Amazon with better selections and seemingly endless varieties at impressive price points. In fact if you look hard enough, there's bound to be a good bargain for you for just about anything that you can think off. The most popular shopping website in China would probably be Taobao. If you have not heard of Taobao, it is just THE BEST THING EVER!! Of course, Taobao is available everywhere else as well but shopping on Taobao in China is sooo much more fun!! Why? Shipping fees are sooooo cheap, its just too hard to resist!! Sellers also often offer free shipping of items if the amount that you purchase meets a certain amount or value. It is SUPER ADDICTIVE! And extremely convenient!! You do need to keep in mind that you need to be careful when purchasing on websites like Taobao. Be warned that there can be fake items and there is the possibility of getting ripped off. What I would do is check for the popularity of the item and read as many reviews as I can before deciding whether or not to purchase. Just remember that the amount you pay for is usually proportonal to the quality of the item. So, just remember to adjust your expectations, be reasonable, be careful, chat with the seller (you can bargain online too) and I am sure that you would often feel satisfied with your purchases.
I really like the logistics services in China. Delivery services in Malaysia isn't bad. In fact I think that since I've been back, delivery services in Kuala Lumpur has improved significantly. In China, there are so many courier companies to cater to local needs (1.7 billion people is no joke...lol). because China is SOOOOOOO big. All my online purchases are delivered to a designated place ( i.e. the entrance of my university's student dorms).
There are so many companies offering the same services which makes service charges competitive which is great for customers like you and me. As for efficiency, most of them are usually very efficient (by my standards). For example, items that I purchased from Shanghai reaches me in Ningbo the next day (maybe even the same day). If it's from say, Beijing, maybe 3 to 4 days?
Bottom line, I have had a few issues with my deliveries over the years but nothing too serious and nothing that cannot be fixed quickly. For such a large country, I have to say that their services are often good and very well managed....in my opinion at least. :D
VIDEO SHARING WEBSITES
I am sure that Youtube needs no introduction right? Well, unfortunately for me, unless you subscribe to VPN services (which I did not) or use a proxy (super slow), Youtube is not accessible in China. So what to watch you wonder? Fret not! I am not sure how many video sharing websites are there in China but here's just the few that I know off.
Aside from the local shows, these websites air international programs from America, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, Japan and so on. I have to say that this partially the reason as to why my Mandarin has improved. I learned to read Mandarin from here as well because all their programs have Mandarin and English subtitles... (NICE!!). Don't worry about having to wait for videos to load and buffer as well because the internet speed in China is AMAZING!!! I have to admit that I kind of miss it now that I am back home.
Now when it comes to food, you may have heard of all sorts of horror stories about the food in China and you would not be wrong. BUT, there have been pleasant experiences and exceptions, such as these.......
and these :D...
What I would advice you to do is to get opinions from family or friends who have been to or are still in China. Those who have been there for a while will know where it would be worthwhile to satiate your tummy's needs. Another tip is that I would recommend you is to bring some diarrhea medication, panadol, carbon pills, etc. Just to be safe. From personal experience, I would tell you not to take too much street food but if you are feeling adventurous and you have a resilient digestive system, you can try them at your own risk. haha..
Now before I went to China, my conversational Mandarin was terrible. Aside from my name, some basic phrases like 'how are you' (nihaoma - 你好吗), 'thank you' (xiexie-谢谢), 'goodbye' (zaijian-再见) and numbers, I could NOT speak proper, colloquial Mandarin to save my life. And I am supposed to be Chinese!!!! I know, sooo embarassing.... To add more salt to the wound, I couldn't read in Mandarin as well. So when I first got to China, I was so lost, I think had it not been for my boyfriend, I would not have survived the first few months in China. It is exceedingly inconvenient to get things done when you don't speak the local language (they have local dialects there too).
So throughout my time there, I made it a point to improve my Mandarin by conversing more with my local colleagues, watching more Chinese shows, listening to more Chinese music, just anything to help me improve my Mandarin skills. Getting from place to place, buying anything, settling my resident's permit,asking for help, just anything really; having a moderate command of the Mandarin language definitely makes things a lot easier. I have to say that being immersed in the local culture and environment also definitely helped improve my Mandarin significantly throughout the four years that I was there.
Today, I would not say that I speak Mandarin seamlessly, but I can definitely have proper conversations in Mandarin with the locals especially with my colleagues and friends. I also have so much more appreciation for the language and hey, having another language under my belt can't be a bad thing right?
So there you have it, after four years of being 'stranded' in China, These were the things that made the whole experience very worthwhile. I have to say that being in China for that long really made me appreciate being back home so much more. I definitely enjoyed the freedom and the independence but I also learnt that my home is still in Malaysia. That being said, putting myself into what I felt was a more challenging environment really forced me to grow and mature more quickly. For those of you who are about to be seconded to some part of China, or you're just looking for some form of adventure in this vast, vast land, my hope is that you will keep an open mind about whichever part of China you may be going to. Don't take everything too seriously and if you can, find a support system in the people around you. If you have not been to China, I would definitely recommend you travel there at least once just to immerse yourself in the whole experience. Feel free to leave me comments or if you have any questions feel free to ask. That's all for now. Cheers.