What you should Not Do when you live in China

They led him to a tea bar, and before he knew it he woke-up the next day with an empty wallet unable to remember what had happened to him. His credit cards were all gone and had been depleted. 

1.1. From girls in popular streets…

When you live in China, you want to explore many things. At first you will naturally converge toward the popular attractions and streets. However, those streets can be filled with ambushes that take the appearance of friendly and inviting smiles,  who lead you in for tea, drink etc…In Shanghai, that would be places like East Nanjing Road. This very popular street is extremely crowded with tourists of all backgrounds and regions. It is therefore a very good spot to fish for naïve people who think their charm naturally attracts girls. 

1.1.1. He got trapped

One day, on a business trip back to Europe I sat next to a German man. A very pleasant bold headed, it was easy to engage in a conversation with him; especially regarding our living experience in China. Besides, the encounter provided for relaxing times from a twelve hours trip that never fail the boredom test. He had been going back and forth to China as part of a job requirement his head office in Germany tasked him to accomplish. Like many people who go to live in china, he wanted to explore all the amazing things the country had to offer. From the great food to the tourist attractions and the country views, he made the most out of his time in the country. He had, however, the unfortunate experience of accepting the invitation of two ladies who accosted him in East Nanjing Road. When he woke-up he could not remember what happened, but he knew it was bad.

1.2.1. …Then got away

Fortunately, he called a local colleague of his who managed to cancel his credit cards and sort out his papers. So, if you are the LonelyPlanet type of traveller you better be careful.

1.2. Nor from men around 4/5 stars hotels who offer massages from ladies

I could spot them a mile away and they were always there. I came to suspect some of the security guys working in these hotels are in cohort with these rascals. If you go to bars or clubs, make sure they are descent and don’t look like shabby places in the dark alley of some dark streets (there are plenty of those in China). 

1.2.1. Their technique

Even in popular touristic places, beware of the bars where the girls drink with you. I once observed the game they played when we went to such a bar with two of my work colleagues. They drank the alcohol offered (I stayed with Coca Cola); and the girls prompted them to drink more by “sharing” drinks with them. At some point I got curious about the reason why two big guys seemed drunk, while the girls were as fresh as water lilies. As I tried to analyse their drinks, they quickly removed their glasses from my hands.

I tried to analyse their drinks and they quickly removed their glasses from my hands

2. Don’t look at your phone when you cross the street

You will die

You will certainly pay it one day and it will be sooner rather than later. Drivers do not have the same sense of priority and they accelerate rather than slow down when the traffic lights change. That irremediably leads to accidents. Many foreigners who live in china experience the dangers of vehicles coming from every angles.

Traffic in china is different from elsewhere

Traffic in china is different from elsewhere

3. Say NO to drugs

Bad things will happen

The policy in China on drug is extremely severe and they will not hesitate to throw you in jail, or worse if you are trafficker. On my way to Europe from Beijing airport, a toilet cleaner offered me drugs once. While I dried my hands, he asked me if I wanted some drugs. I shook my head in disgust because I suspected he was an undercover agent, who thought a dark face was automatically a drug user. No matter what his motives were, it is better to avoid these kinds of troubles all together. And also remember, even if a local friend of yours offer you illegal substances, he is in his country and will be able to get away, while you will not. So the basic formula is “while you live in china don’t do drugs”.

4. Do not drink the water from the tap unless you boil it

Even water in bottles should be handled with care. If you buy bottled water, it’s always advisable to boil that water. Experience leads me to believe it’s better to be cautious than sorry. On occasions, I realised the bottles I bought in small stores had loose caps, which indicated they were opened before. Some even, put tap water in these containers and sell them.

5. Avoid restaurants where the toilets are dirty

It is an experience I ran ever since I visited suppliers in my past work. I realised there was a correlation between the quality of the supplier’s products, and the cleanliness of their toilets. So, I took that philosophy to restaurants everywhere I go in the world, and; there too, I observed the same correlation. 

stay clear of street food when you live in china

5.1. Dirty toilets = dirty food

The one time I really got sick happened when we visited a friend of my wife in northern china. Because of the hot weather, we ate some barbecued meat sold outside by a restaurant. When it came time for me to go wash my hands, I instantly regretted the choice of the restaurant, even hours before I got sick. It also goes without saying “Avoid street food”. I have a theory about street food and a human stomach. Local people who are used to street foods probably have developed an immunity against any dirts in the food. Outsiders have not. So, stay clear of the food, especially if it smells good. In all likelihood, the food has been chemicalised to have great aroma. If you really want to eat Chinese, there are plenty of decent restaurants. The best advice is to go based on the recommendations of a local friend. 

6. Do not forget to renew your visa

When you already live in china, it is easy to forget some of your obligations, because you enjoy your life so much. For example, you must report to the police any changes of addresses etc. Although the fine is not unbearable, it’s always good to be cautious. Moreover, you don’t want to live in china on an expired visas, as they can kick you out of the country. Because many foreigners are taken care of by their companies, agents etc…, they are not familiar with everything that goes behind the scene while they are busy with their life in china. 

7. Be careful with your AYI (helper)

Most Chinese homes use helpers to clean their home, look after the children, cook etc… Remember that you do not know these people. Even if an agent recommended them, be careful, since the agent’s recruiting process is not as rigorous as their fees could lead you to believe. In any case, use your judgment. When we used ayis, we never left our son alone with any of them (with the exception of one who really showed us she could be trusted, and that was only on rare occasions). 

8. Avoid the metro at peak times

Difficult to avoid crowded metro when you live in china

Try and avoid the metro at peak times (between 7.00-8.30am and 5.30-7.30pm). You are almost guaranteed to have a hard time, and you will be squeezed from everywhere. Also, do not stand in front of the exit doors as people will rush onto you without care. 

9. Do not be passive

Politeness is good for your Chinese family, colleagues and friends; but if you don’t know the people, they will take your courtesy for weakness. For example, if you open the door of a store or building for people, they will pass you by and ignore you. Of course, you can be polite. The point is not weak.

10. Extremely cheap hotels carry risks

If you plan to stay in very cheap hotels the question is “are you really ready to live in china?”. It doesn’t mean you need to stay in 5 stars hotels, but there are many descent 3stars hotels that have good standards. Your items could be at risks in these cheap hotels. Moreover, you are likely to get knocks on your door late at night. 

10.1. Passport and hotel

Speaking of hotels, do not forget to take your passport as they will need to make a copy of it. They will refuse to let you in unless you have this document. The hotels can get fined if they have guests without passports, so they would kick you out rather than get fined or lose their licence. The British government website suggests you should have your passport at all time. In ten years there, I never carried my passport unless necessary (hotels, flights…). And I would advise against that directive, since you can loose it and; it can in turn be used. 

11. Stay clear of traffic accidents

In almost every case you are sure to lose. You will have the language disadvantage (check out my blog on why you should learn that language), unless you have a video camera on. There are countless of videos that show drivers in the wrong who deny the facts before being proven wrong on camera (check Youku for that). I also speak out of experience since I drove in China for 9 years and had to deal with few shaddy situations.

learn chinese when you live in china to avoid issues
Learn chinese to Handle situations

12. Refuse black taxis if you are alone

only take regulated taxis when you live in china

These guys, along with some regular taxi drivers, can charge you exorbitant prices for a regular ride. One of my friends made the experience once in Beijing. A trip that should have costed him 15rmb, ended-up costing 500rmb.

A note on regular taxi. The reason why they do not take that much liberties is because you can call and complain if a taxi driver ever tried to cheat you or was rude. The service phone number is displayed on the taxi dashboard and so is the drivers ID. I met such drivers and knew how to handle them. That say, please be aware that most of these regular taxi drivers (yellow, red, blue, green cars with clear Taxi signs) work very long hours and are underpaid. I could tell you stories of taxi drivers falling asleep when I took a ride with them late at night. So, a bit of politeness, or; conversation with them is always welcomed.

12.1. Should you tip?

Some other posts suggest that you DO NOT TIP. I think everything is a matter of judgment. Chinese, like anyone else are happy if they receive tips. Your tips should however be proportionate to what you spent, and be left to your own assessment. Many times, when I came back from parties, I tipped taxi drivers who were nice to me or honest (i.e. who took the shortest road to my home, unlike others who tried the longest). On a 40rmb trip, I sometimes left 50 and they appreciated it. 

13. Do not disrespect the people


It goes without saying but when I lived in Beijing, I read a story about a famous Russian classical music player who displayed rude behaviour on a subway train toward a woman. She complained and reported him, and he got cancelled and kicked out of the country. 

14. You can’t outdrink the locals

…if you are not good at it

don't try to outdrink the locals when you live in china

The only time I got drunk in my life was when I accepted an invitation to eat with a friend. Normally, I would stick to cola, but I realised he did not invite me out because I was too boring. So, I decided I would just let it all happen no matter what. Well; I never thought walls could talk. Now I know in some instances they do. There is a culture where good business often occurs around drinks. It’s a way to show respect. If you are in an official situation good judgment will dictate that you drink with your hosts. But you might want to be careful with how much you drink. 

15. Do not buy an unlicensed motorbike

…or pretty ones

careful of your motorbike when you live in china

If you have an unlicensed motorbike, the police will take it away. Once you move around town, you will want to have your own means of transportation. However, you need to be careful when you buy scooters, as many thieves lurk around ready to strike when you expect it the least. Nice scooters are on sales in China and are great since they work on electricity. Because of their look, they draw attention from those who hope to make free money on a resell. 
One of my dancing partners made the unfortunate experience. Worse, it happened in her own compound. She did not get more help from the security guys in that compound, nor the police. One thing though. Unlike what she had thought; security footage revealed the thieves were two white guys who came in on one bike, and left each one on one. 

16. Avoid Politics

Chinese don’t really like when you talk badly about their country

What that means is, do not engage in conversations about Politics. Most Chinese you know will not invite you in political discussions about your own country unless they have stayed abroad for a long time. Therefore, you should stay clear of comments on their internal affairs. Nobody criticises the queen of England for example. So thread as you would like to be treated.

17. Enjoy

This Don’t Do List is more a cautionary tales. As long as you avoid those little traps, you are all set to enjoy a great time living in China. There are so many things to do and explore, you might lose your entire self there. And before you realise, it has been 10-20 years already. Check my post of 5 great reasons you want to live in China.

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