Life In China: 7 Need-to-Know Tips

Written by Kayla Gaskin, (Smith College) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Hangzhou, Spring 2016

Tip #1 Carry a pack of kleenex everywhere you go, because strangely squat toilets are not accommodating.

The public bathroom experience in China has two major components. The first is finding the right way to squat – this is essential because it prevents muscle cramping, affects the direction of your flow and also makes it less likely to slip if the floor isn’t dry. The second is remembering to bring tissue because although squat toilets have toilet paper holders, they are always empty. I’ve gotta say, it’s truly an interesting mix of horror and feeling utterly stupid that arises when you realize you’ve forgotten to bring tissue.

Tip #2 If your hair is any kind of curly, bring all of your hair products with you to China.

The only American hair product brands I’ve seen in China have been Pantene and Head & Shoulders, both of which do nothing for my curly mop top. Shea Moisture, Miss Jessie’s, and Carol’s Daughter are nowhere to be found in China. Needless to say, DIY hair recipes have become my new best friend since I’ve run out of my favorite conditioner. I also advise to bring extra make-up and skin care products. There are bleaching agents in the lotions and department store counters do not carry any shade of brown.

Scenic view from my campus in Hanghzou.

The scenic view from my campus in Hanghzou.

Tip #3: Buy yourself an air purifier for your room, because that isn’t fog outside of your window

I remember returning from dinner one night and feeling as if I were in a dream. Everything was hazy, the sky was oddly a bright shade of purple and the glares from streetlights felt brighter than usual. My throat felt a bit uncomfortable, both clogged and slightly raw. I came to find out the air pollution was in the mid to upper 200s – which is deemed hazardous. It’s interesting how much we take for granted back in the States. Before coming to China, I never gave a thought to the air I was breathing and how it might affect me in the future. #chuhchuhchanges

Tip #4: Do not eat the meat from street vendors, your stomach will thank you.

Especially be sure to stay away from the baby princess pink colored hot dogs and slices of spam. There’s a back alley called “Trash Street” near campus that is full of little vendors selling late night greasy treats – most of which are meat. However, it’s also a place full of garbage, stray dogs peeing everywhere and dirty buckets. Therefore even if the meat is legit, you know it’s not being cooked in an FDA approved place. So in regards to street meat, exercise caution and believe me when I say hot diarrhea isn’t fun. But if you’re a daredevil and have an iron stomach, by all means go for it!


A highway overlap in Hangzhou.

Tip #5: Develop a 360° look-around habit for crossing the street

Streets in China are the definition of chaos, filled with scooters, bikes, buses, trucks, cars and masses of people taking traffic lights as suggestions not rules for crossing streets. I’m not sure what the traffic laws are in China, but I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to ride your moped in the opposite direction of oncoming traffic.


Tip #6: For my lovely introverts, you’ll have to learn some aggression.

Whether it is haggling with a store vendor to make sure you aren’t cheated, shoving your way onto a packed bus or screaming for a waiter in a crowded restaurant, these are things you need to do to make sure you are taken care of. There are too many people in China, so you have to be loud to be noticed. It’s uncomfortable but necessary. I still can’t get used to yelling “waiter” at the top of my lungs in order to receive service. #thingstaketime

Tip #7: I’m all for cultural immersion but for the sake of sanity, remember to provide yourself with some familiar comforts.

When the oil in the food is too much and everyone’s stares feel suffocating, it’s a good time to self-care. This could be finding a Western restaurant and eating a chocolate croissant or it could be burying yourself under the covers and binge-watching Netflix.

Jokes and giggles aside, living here can be exhausting. It’s a place where you learn not to take everything so seriously, however it’s also a place that will demolish every comfort zone you’ve ever had. But the good laughs, hard earned triumphs, and new friends I’ve made along the way have been entirely worth it. Everything in life, especially China, is about your attitude. I choose to see my life in China as an adventure, and while adventures are not always fun, they definitely make you a stronger person by the end.