Ciao! My name is Ferdinando and I am one of the office interns here in Chengdu. I come from Torino, a lovely city just a short drive away from the Italian Alps. I have now been in Chengdu for almost a month, but it honestly feels like I have been here an entire lifetime! The atmosphere and energy of this laid-back metropolis have completely won me over, and I could definitely imagine myself living here one day.As the days have passed, I have found myself more and more at ease in this new environment. I’ve started asking myself a simple question: Why? Why is it so easy for me to dive into and settle in this very different and complex culture, while with so many others I have a more challenging time? After some pondering over many hot bowls of dandan noodles, I have realised that the reason for my rapid acclimatization was that Chinese culture is, in fact, not so distant from my own Italian culture after all.The obvious starting point of this comparison is food: both Italians and Chinese are passionate about their food and possess very complex and proud eating cultures. Due to its abundance of strong flavours and “exotic” ingredients (such as chicken feet and pig brains!), traditional Chinese cuisine can seem threatening to Western palates. However, after a few days of rumbling stomachs, foreigners will get to know and appreciate the incredible richness of this wonderful culinary tradition. I am a great fan of Chinese food myself, and I believe that, upon my departure, the thing I will miss the most of Chengdu will be its succulent chuanchuan houses and its authentic noodle corner-shops.Another main point of contact between our two cultures is the paramount importance we both give to family and tradition. While strolling by Chengdu’s People Park, it is possible to see old grandparents practising Taichi with their young nephews, just as my grandparents used to play football with a young me in Torino’s parks. In addition, in the numerous large family gatherings I have seen in Chengdu’s hotpot restaurants I see the reflection of my own “extended family” lunches, that could last anywhere between three to six hours. I am of the opinion that this strong sense of community and belonging, typical of both Italian and Chinese families, not only creates deeper family and friendship ties, but also enhances your sense of cultural awareness. Thus making it easier to “jump over” the cultural divide at hand.A third similarity I have observed between Italy and China, especially in regards to Chengdu, is their common relaxed, “dolce far niente” approach to life. I have surprisingly found that the concept of being on time is exceptionally similar both in Italy and China, so that my canonical five-minute lateness is not only accepted (unlike in England), but almost encouraged! Although Chengdu still is a bustling, work-oriented metropolis, somehow its citizens manage to maintain a hands-off approach to both their professional and personal lives. This makes this city the perfect spot to jumpstart an ambitious, yet stress-free career.
I believe many other cultural analogies can be found between Italy and China, but that is not the point of this post. The point is, in my opinion, more important to underline and point out the existence of such similarities – as comparison brings recognition, recognition brings acceptance, and acceptance brings friendship. In other words, the purpose of this post is to highlight that, no matter where you are from and where you go, as long as you seek similarities and avoid division, you will find it easier to “jump over” the cultural divide and feel at home anywhere around the world. Therefore, this is the main advice I can give to new interns coming to China: seek the familiar in the foreign and the foreign will look familiar.
My internship experience was with a Chinese logistics company. They are responsible for the organisation of shipping hundreds of tons of cargo every year. Work life there is certainly different from the UK way of working.
Every Monday, everyone in the office received a free snack after lunch. One week we got cake, another week a smoothie. A different company would have supplied the food each week. They brought in the food and distributed it in the conference room. My boss told me it was to praise the office for their hard work.
The work hours were 08:30 to 11:30 then a two-hour lunch break, resuming from 13:30 to 17:30. I found myself starting to get a little bored during the lunch break because it was so long. Closer to the end of my stay, I would take the bus to another part of the city or go to the gym during lunch, as I found the lunch break quite long.
On my first day in the office at around 12:45, the office suddenly became very quiet and I looked around and everyone was sleeping! They had brought in small pillows and used these to nap at their desks.
My colleagues were very helpful and mindful of me. If there was anything I didn’t understand, at least three people would appear and rush to help me. When I could not get my laptop charger plug into the socket, a girl two desks away ran over and helped me. And the same when I couldn’t use the kettle (as everything is in Chinese), two people came running over again.
Most employees (male and female) at my company had teddy bears at their desks and would hold them from time to time.
One thing I noticed during my internship is that people in my office audibly, dramatically, loudly and randomly sighed. I had no idea what about though. Also, when I asked my boss why everyone in the office was speaking so loudly on the office phones, he did not know what I was talking about. It seemed like people were very noisy, but it is not seen as impolite.
I was on the 23rd floor of a 26 storey building. Each floor can hold up to 80 people and everyone started around 08:30 in the morning. This means a lot of waiting for the elevators in the morning. There are so many people at this time that the building employs people just for the early morning rush to help load people into the elevators. If you arrived at the wrong time, you could wait up to 15 minutes just to get to your floor.
Culture Outside of Work
In the evenings after my internship, I would often see old retired Chinese folk “people watching”. They liked to hang around outside and would pull up a chair and sit on the footpath watching people passing by. Many also used to meet their friends on street corners to play “Chinese Chess” or gamble.
Older Chinese people are really into socialising and movement. Every morning I used to see a few people in my apartment complex doing Tai Chi or walking around slapping themselves all over their body. Apparently this is to help increase blood flow.
Many people would meet in the evenings to dance, exercise and stretch together. They would usually play traditional Chinese music or modern remixes of old classics. And you can definitely hear them before you see them!
Cultural Norms that Surprised Me
If you haven’t heard by now, spitting is very common in China. You can find people spitting pretty close to your shoes on the streets. Not intentionally, of course.
There is also a phenomenon called the ‘Beijing Bikini’, where middle-aged men roll up their T-shirt to expose their bellies on hot days. It is considered more polite than removing their entire T-shirt. There is no shame, only pride.
I feel China is a very tactile country. Lots of young girls will hold hands or link arms while walking and I have even seen some old men holding hands too.
Sometimes queuing is non-existent in China, and one of the things I will never fully understand as a Brit. Every time someone jumps in front of me, I try to be chill. In the UK, as a child, you learn to contribute to the greater good of the team. In China though, it seems like every man for himself and children are raised not to cooperate but to compete. The only way to a better life is by defeating other people.
One of the other things that surprised me was people taking pictures. I think I had seen at least 10 people taking pictures of me in the streets. They also tend to stare for a while. But it’s great because at least there is an element of cultural exchange there.
Learning About Qingdao
Ever wondered what it is like to live in China as a foreigner? Niamh spent two months in Qingdao on a Generation UK funded programme last year. Here is her story.
Qingdao (formerly known as Tsingtao) is a beautiful city located on the North Eastern coast of China, close to North and South Korea. As the largest city in the Shandong province, it has a population of about 9 million people. That makes it slightly larger than London.
Qingdao is known to many as the home of Tsingtao Beer, which is served on draft, in a bottle or a bag, and is the most consumed beer in Asia. If drinking from a bag, you can use a straw or cut the corner, pour in to your mouth and hope for the best!The German Imperial government planned and built the first streets and institutions of the city that can still be seen today. They also brought beer with them, forming the world-famous Tsingtao Brewery. The buildings that still stand from this time period are built in an area known as ‘Old Town’. This is a well-visited area for travellers due to the interesting European style buildings which differ a lot from the skyscrapers which can be found in every Chinese city.
Every night between 8:00pm and 9:00pm, the buildings on the seafront will light up together and images can be displayed moving across many buildings. It is absolutely beautiful!
On my first day in Qingdao, I was trying to find a shop that looked like it sold food. In my many attempts of sticking my head through the blinds of many boutiques, pharmacies and clothing stores, I finally found a convenience store and bought a very questionable breakfast.
It quickly became evident that I was the only non-Chinese person out walking the streets that day. People would stop, do double takes and take pictures of me.
Later while I was walking along the seafront beside May Fourth Square, I asked a couple if they knew where I could get food, and they invited me back to their apartment to dine with them. And that was the moment I was adopted by them.
They quickly referred to me as their daughter, and I referred to them as “Chinese mother and Chinese father”. I had a small photo shoot where we posed like a family, dog included.
Family Life in China
The family invited me back to their apartment another time to watch the Qingdao skylights. They also wanted me to meet their friends for a lavish fresh seafood dinner including sea cucumber, sea urchin, clams and oysters.
One of the cultural things I learned very quickly was that the word for ‘cheers’ in China is ‘Gānbēi’. This meant that everyone involved in the Gānbēi must down their drink. There was, however, the complicating factor of respect.
If two people Gānbēi, the height at which you touch glasses represents the level of respect. A boss in China will usually Gānbēi higher than his colleagues as his colleagues respect him more.
The night of the lavish dinner, there was a Gānbēi every five minutes
Day-to-Day Life in China
Before travelling to China, I presumed many people could speak English, but, not so much. The language barrier has been interesting when trying to communicate outside of routine transactions and dining situations.
Some of the cultural differences in China were also interesting to learn, particularly the laws of the road, or lack of.
Drivers in Qingdao drive with one hand constantly on the horn it seems, waiting patiently to use it. Many people ride mopeds as it is easy to weave through the traffic. You will often see pedestrians running across zebra crossings even when the green man is showing, as cars rarely stop for them.
Taxis in China are extremely cheap and easy to flag down. A 45-minute journey only cost 70RMB (£8). Yet in the UK, this same journey could cost £50 plus.
I have also seen interesting ‘Chinglish’ signs everywhere – where there are often questionable translations of signs from Chinese to English. And one of the biggest cultural shocks here was having people take pictures of me because I am a foreigner. What way do I deal with this? Take pictures back. Everyone gets a good laugh!
Another big difference is the number of street cleaners picking up litter and tidying the place up. The cleaners are usually elderly and the local council pay them to do this. In Chinese media, street cleaners are often known as “angels of the road” (马路天使).
Currently in China, many Chinese retirees have very small pensions and many farmers and rural workers have no pensions at all or lack the means to pay into them. Older people resort to picking up litter for very little money.
Getting a Hair-Cut
Even getting a hair cut doesn’t cost much. I decided to get my hair cut at a local salon and my boss supplied his discount card. The price should have been 38RMB but was 19RMB – just over £2. The people working at the hairdressers all wore military pilot uniforms with stars on their shoulder patches and walkie-talkies with earpieces.
The entire process lasted 80 minutes just for a trim. The actual haircut itself took only 10 minutes. The rest of the process consists of shampooing (while sitting in your chair), a head massage, conditioning (while at the basin), a neck massage, arm and hand massage. But there is a lot more smacking involved than I thought.
To hear more about Niamh’s internship, look out for the next excerpt.
What do Chinese host families normally expect from their house guests? Should I bring a gift for my host family? Are there any cultural norms I need to be aware of? You probably have a million questions about your homestay. Fear not! It’s all part of the discovery process and the magic of living with a host family.
When confronted by a completely different culture, many things you never expected can take you by surprise. My first tip for you before you head to China is to find out all you can about the concept of face. This will be invaluable knowledge for getting by and developing relationships in China.
Secondly, here are some friendly tips about doing a homestay in China and observations to help you prepare for host family life!
Mountains of Food
One of the lovely things about the Chinese culture is their respect, love and attention that can be conveyed by a single meal. The polite thing to do to a guest in China is to pile their plate high with food from the centre of the table. Whether you ask for it, or not.
Homestays are an incredible way to taste a wide variety of local food. You might find your hosts constantly offer you fruit, snacks like sunflower seeds or even occasionally special treats like chocolate. This can be a bit overwhelming at times!
My personal guidelines for when to accept or decline food in your homestay:
- Be open minded to trying things – say yes as much as you can, widen your horizons, don’t chicken out! (Try a few chicken feet)
- Don’t be afraid to say no when it gets to be too much – know your own limits, don’t panic if people keep offering even after you’ve said no
- Take special treats in moderation – avoid losing face by scoffing down all the families most expensive treats (though they might keep offering)
- Beware of Baijiu Alcohol – celebrations and big family dinners can often get a bit wild when local shots are involved. Handle with care!
Chinese families tend to be very conscious of the amount of water used in the home. So, looong indulgent baths or lengthy daily showers might not go down too well. Your family might even be slightly surprised at how often you shower. Feel free to bring this up in conversation with them. The more you discuss differences in living habits, the easier it is to avoid misunderstandings.
In any case, water is the most valuable commodity in the world!
In China, chicken stew means the whole chicken; the head, the beak, the feet et al. Waste not want not!
This idea crops up again and again in food and in other areas of life too. With bath towels and other household items too. (Although perhaps not when it comes to plastic packaging). Be aware of this and try to observe how the family use things.
Discuss these observations with the family! You’re both there to discover these differences. It’s always interesting to find out which of your daily habits are due to the culture of your country, your family or just your personal preference. It’s a weird and wonderful world.
Modern day lifestyle in a Chinese city is busy busy busy. Kids are the absolute epicentre of the family. Everything revolves around their schedule. Dropping the kids of at school, picking the kids up and shuffling them off to badminton class, extra English lessons, lego club, chess or gymnastics championships and finally exam prep, plus more exam prep.
Adjusting your schedule to the family schedule can be a challenge sometimes. The more you communicate with the family about your timetable, your internship hours etc. the more enjoyable the experience will be. You’ll communicate with your host family through WeChat which even has a translate function if conversations get complex.
Top tips for living in harmony:
- Try to set up regular time to spend with the family in the evenings – especially if there are kids!
- Ask advice on the best places to shop, hike, climb or play football – the family with be eager to show of their city and can show you around
- Be patient and flexible -remember how much the family are adapting to make you part of their daily routines
Clubbing and your usual night-life madness might not be so compatible with your new family life here in China. Have a think about what you are committing to and decide what is most important to you. Host families can be extremely caring in China and they do tend to get anxious if their house guests stay out late at night.
Remember, it’s a short period of your life and you might only have this one opportunity to do something so unusual!
Gifts from your hometown go down a treat! Any local to your community at home. Chocolates, biscuits, stickers, tea towels, scarves, pictures etc. Just a little something to show your appreciation.
In China, people always give and receive gifts. It is also quite common for gifts to be put aside to opened later in private. So don’t be surprised if the gift disappears unopened.
Added tip – try to give your gift with both hands!
You have to discover these for yourself. That is part of the homestay journey! However, I would particularly recommend checking out Mamahuhu’s YouTube channel. They’ll give you a fun insight on which to reflect, then build your own perceptions.
Enjoy your homestay! It will be an experience like none other.
Happy 68th National Day!
The Chinese National Day on 1st October is seen as the anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. On this date in 1949, the Central People’s Government formed with the help of Mao Zedong, celebrated with a ceremony on the Tian’anmen Square (天安门广场). However, the exact founding date of the PRC was the 21st September 1949.
The National Day marks the first day of one of the two Chinese Golden Week holidays. The Golden Week (黄金周) gives Chinese people the chance to travel or visit their family because of the seven continuous days of holiday. Officially three days of paid holiday is provided, but these three days are extended by bridge holidays. Working on surrounding weekends compensate these bridge holidays. The intention of the government doing this re-arrangement is not only for the Chinese people. Primarily it should stimulate the Chinese tourism industry which is steadily growing.
Famous tourist attractions, popular travel destinations, airports, trains and hotels crowd with Chinese people. Everyone wants to use their limited free time for travelling and visiting the country in which they are living. So, for travel during the Golden Weeks, less popular destinations are recommended or be prepared for long waiting times for popular tourist areas.
Traditions and activities
There are several traditions and activities when celebrating the National Day. Throughout the whole country they are relatively similar, even in Hong Kong and Macau. There are many different shows like dance, song and light shows. There are flag raising ceremonies by uniformed troops like in Beijing on the Tian’anmen Square, military reviews and parades. In the evenings there are fireworks everywhere. Red lanterns, banner scrolls, Chinese flags and portraits of Mao Zedong, founding father of the PRC, decorate all public places ostentatiously.
To demonstrate the Chinese public worship of the founding father of the PRC the portrait of Mao Zedong at Tian’anmen Gate Tower in Beijing has changed every year since 1949.
The Chinese government sponsors all these activities, shows and decoration because they express the patriotic feelings of the Chinese people towards their fatherland.
During the Golden Week, government offices and factories often close for several days. However, shops, malls and sights are open. They profit the most from the Golden Weeks because people have time to spend their money.
So, enjoy the new impressions of another kind of busy China and don’t spend too much money! Have a nice free week!
My name is Zachary Black and I am from York in the North of England. Although I pride myself on being Yorkshire born and bred, I have been very fortunate to travel a lot. Having frequently visited South-East Asia as a child, it is safe to say that I have always had an affinity with this part of the world.
My passion for Asian culture led me to my study of Mandarin at Newcastle University along with Spanish, Catalan and Business. As part of my BA at Newcastle, our year abroad was spent at a partner university in China in order to improve our language skills. This proved to be a life-changing 12 months for myself and has in fact led me to being here at InternChina today. Living in Shanghai ignited my passion for the way of life in China and was the driving force behind me studying mandarin for a further year after completing my BA.
After returning home in the summer of 2017, I found myself itching to get back to the middle kingdom and was fortunate enough to secure this fantastic opportunity with InternChina which is only just beginning. Although Chengdu is completely different to Shanghai, there have been a few elements that have pleasantly surprised me – Not just the Pandas !. For example, there is an unparalleled emphasis on the slow-paced rhythm of life here with people just seemingly going with the flow and taking a more ‘laid-back’ approach to life. This is definitely a welcomed release from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, and even the UK sometimes.
My First Impressions
I have been overwhelmed by how friendly people have been here which has helped me settle in my short time here. One further aspect of life here so far which I am enjoying is the food, Chengdu has definitely justified being selected as a global gastronomic site by UNESCO. The juxtaposition of 火锅-‘hotpot’ and 串儿 – ‘anything possible on a stick’ is complimented wonderfully by an array of western restaurants for that occasional change of cusine .
My time in Chengdu has already pushed me out of my comfort zone, yet I am more than committed to welcoming the InternChina participants here to China. I feel lucky to be experiencing life in a fantastic part of the world whilst further improving my mandarin. I can’t wait to see what the next few months hold, so all that is left to say is “加油”－Let’s go !
Interested in Changing your life ? – Apply now !
My name is Erika and I come from a small country in Central America called Costa Rica. And I am about to tell you about my journey abroad. So some may have heard of my country, some may have not. But it is safe to say that it is an amazing country. I am basically a Latina with Chinese background, and being Chinese has its perks! So I grew up learning not only Spanish, but also Cantonese, since my father is from Zhongshan and my mother from Hong Kong. At 6 I started learning English.
Growing up learning with basically three languages and seeing the different ways I could express myself, made me realize that I wanted more. So I started learning German. This is how my journey abroad started.
After learning German, I wanted to start studying in Germany. But what could I study there? I wanted to learn more about my parent’s culture and at the same time, get to know my heritage better. So I started studying Asian Studies and Management China in the south of Germany.
Luckily this allowed me to learn an even more complicated language, Chinese. As part of my study program, I have to stay in China for a year to improve my Chinese and later on to do my internship. So I decided to come to Chengdu. I would be lying if I said that pandas didn’t have anything to do with my decision, but obviously Chengdu is more than just pandas!
So…do you know that feeling you get on your first day of school? When you are really excited, but at the same time really nervous? Energetic, but at the same time extremely tired? Well, that was me on my first day in China. Trying to avoid jetlag, I tried to get some sleep on the plane, but wasn’t successful, even after arriving.
So I went from Costa Rica to Germany and finally ended up in Chengdu. My new journey abroad just started.
Since I was enrolled for the Language Program at the University, I started improving my Chinese…or at least I tried to. Chinese can be a difficult language sometimes, but the less shy you are, the more you learn. 加油！
Remember when I said Chengdu is more than just pandas…well, it definitely is! The city is full of life! You definitely won’t get bored. The people here are so welcoming. Even though the Sichuan dialect is difficult to understand, they still try their best to make you feel welcome. We all know that Chinese culture is very diverse, but their food culture is even wider and broader. Food in Sichuan is known for it’s distinctive spicy/numbing flavor, going from dishes like hot pot and chuan chuan to pig’s brain (not that I have tried it).
After six months of improving my broken down Chinese, I am starting my internship at…guess where? InternChina of course! Hoping to meet new people and to learn new things I am starting this new adventure.
Being abroad pushed me to take more chances and helped me learn not only from my failures, but also from the people around me. All I can say is don’t be afraid to try new things and experience a little more in your life.
Join me in this journey and Apply Now!
Over the Chinese New Year period, our interns enjoyed an authentic homestay experience. Calum and Alejandra both left the city to experience a traditional Chinese New Year with their respective homestay families.
Calum’s Homestay CNY Experience in Dali
First off, I must thank my host-family for bringing me along with them for their New Year’s trip to Dali, their generosity regularly astounds me! I struggle to imagine ways they could give me a better experience here in China. Dali sits on the banks of the Erhai Lake, surrounded by mountains. Just a short flight of a little over an hour brought us out of Chengdu, and under the blue skies and sun of Yunnan Province.
Our hotel had a very homely feel, with relatively bare corridors leading to beautifully furnished rooms. The owners were an amiable family of husband, wife, and daughter. Much of the furnishing had been done by the husband, himself a keen carpenter. Each piece of the garden and the house had its own individuality. While there was no clear theme to any of it, somehow, they all came together perfectly to make us feel at home. Meals were all homemade, and I must be honest, I think Yunnan edges out Sichuan for cuisine…
The relatively small size of the business meant that often the hotel owners could accompany us on outings, guiding us through the local countryside. Experiencing Dali’s Old Town was something special. Buildings were an eclectic mix of efficient concrete structure designed to keep cool in the summer. Beautiful traditional Chinese architecture, all gilded with generous amounts of neon. This gave it an almost Vegas-like feel at times, while just two dozen metres back from the main road sat simple farming buildings. Industrious locals all trying to find something unique with which to set themselves apart and earn their living was a pleasure to see. There are some absolute gems hidden away in those streets for those willing to seek them out!
The whole trip was just the right length to shake up my Chengdu routine. Every day discovering a little more of the fountain of different cultures that is China. Perhaps in the future, I will be able to bring my family to see the area and meet the hotel family. Although I could go on for hours about how excellently they treat all their guests, I can tell without a doubt that the pleasure is all theirs!
Alejandra’s Countryside Homestay Experience
Chinese New Year with my host family was quite an experience. It started with a visit to Leshan, my host mum’s hometown. I visited a cousin whom I had met previously and who is kind of a genius with Chinese medicine (yes, I have had quite a few sessions of hot cupping and acupuncture). I went orange picking in Leshan and had an amazing lunch after. Everything is so fresh in the countryside! After lunch, I learnt how to fly cards. First time lucky I managed to fly a card just right and slice through an Aloe Vera plant. The cousin was denting tea cans with every card he flew- I need a lot more practice!
After Leshan, we head off to Guang’an, about 4 hours away from Chengdu, where my host family’s father is from. As a foreigner, you become the town’s talk in a very good way. People want to come say hi and meet you. I spent my evening playing cards, running around racing with the children and playing badminton. Once you are that far away from the city air is so fresh you’re going to want to be out walking all the time.
However, the next day the Winter Olympics were on and we were all a little tired so we decided to spend the day just chilling, except the host grand parents- they never never stop! They are farmers and their cooking is incredible, with everything they cooked grown and picked from their garden. They are so strong, healthy and always very hospitable and smiley. I offered to help but they said guests were not allowed to help. I managed to quickly pick up the plates once or twice after dinner when they weren’t looking (I call that an achievement!)
New Year’s Eve was also spent at home. I thought we’d go out to town and look at lanterns and fireworks but in the countryside, the New Year’s Eve is spent at home with all the family gathered. No disappointment there at all. We had a great time at dinner then… Fireworks concert just before midnight until 6 am. Everyone in the neighbourhood takes turns and fires amazing rounds of fireworks.
After and during the fireworks, we all went upstairs and watched the New Year’s gala on the TV. I understood half of the comedy sketches, but it was good fun watching everyone laugh. There also some dancing, singing and acrobatic performances that were all YUP! ASIAN LEVEL! INSANELY PRECISE. We then called it a night for an early wake-up call.
Chinese New Year!
I had no idea what it would be like but the amount of people that Guang’an had made it look more like a big city than a town. Turns out it is good luck to spend the entire New Year’s day outside your home. I spent the whole day with my host father playing cards and just having a good laugh and banter with his old school friends. I became one of the lads for the day. The town looked like a mix between a children’s fair and a tea house full of Mahjong and card adult players. Then towards night time it was Baijiu and dinner time. Let’s just say I had a really good night’s sleep after such a long day.
Finally, the trip to the countryside made me realise how different traditions are but also how immensely hospitable Chinese people are. The family welcomed me with open arms and were always asking twice if I was okay. Even when you insist you are alright, they always want to make sure you are more than alright and this just shows how giving and kind their character is.
Want to experience a traditional Chinese New Year yourself? Apply Now!