The current lack of environmentally friendly practices is one of the aspects that I find most frustrating about living in China. A lot of Chinese life is about convenience from Alipay to takeaway but, unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of the environment. Living in China it is all too easy to abandon the more sustainable life habits that you are well versed to back at home because they are not the norm and often require more effort. Yet, one of the simplest ways to be environmentally friendly in China is to persevere and continue your habits from home. This blog outlines some of the challenges China still faces in regards to the environment, aspects in which it is improving and ways in which you can make a positive impact along with some useful vocabulary!
The demand for shopping is huge in China as is evident by the huge number of shopping streets and malls in China selling everything from discounted fakes to Louis Vuitton. China also has a massive online retail market of 855 million digital consumers with online sales expected to reach $1.5 trillion in value in 2019.
You won’t last very long in China without hearing about Alibaba’s Taobao 淘宝, an online retail market selling pretty much everything you could imagine, similar to a combination of eBay and Amazon. On Taobao, an order of multiple items will normally come in individual deliveries because the products are sourced from different sellers across China, producing huge amounts of unnecessary packaging.
Shopping and discount festivals have also become more popular among retailers in recent years, such as Singles’ Day (November 11), a day of discounts launched by Alibaba in 2009 which regularly surpasses the sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined; Alibaba made 268.4 billion RMB (£29.4 billion) in 24 hours in 2019.
Environmental organisations claim that China’s online retail industry used 9.4 million tonnes of packaging materials in 2018 with estimates that over 250,000 tonnes were produced from Singles’ Day sales alone. As of 2017, Chinese people threw away around 26 million tons of clothing annually, with less than 1% of it being reused. While some retailers are taking some small steps to encourage recycling or use more recyclable materials, it seems that more substantial changes will rely on environmental regulation of the industry.
What you can do?
Try to reduce your consumption, especially of products with extensive packaging, and recycle items wherever possible. When buying presents for your family and friends back home, consider what kind of souvenirs you are buying and opt for locally produced and more ethical options. For example, Blue Sheep in Chengdu is a social enterprise which sells locally made craft items and the profits are used to help economically disadvantaged people, particularly those affected by disease, disability or poverty.
Charity shops are non-existent in China and second-hand clothes shops are extremely rare due to a cultural stigma attached to second-hand items in China. However, expats are constantly moving in and out of all major Chinese cities and so expat groups on WeChat and Facebook are a good place to find and pass on used clothes, furniture, utensils and food. You can also talk with interns who are moving out before you or staying longer than you to see if you can transfer items between yourselves.
The WeChat account Fei Ma Yi 飞蚂蚁 (WeChat ID: feimayi90) also accepts all clothes, shoes and bags regardless of the condition they are in. You just need to enter your details, choose an approximate weight of items that you are donating and arrange a time for them to collect it from your apartment. They will sort the items and send the better quality ones to charity and the rest to be recycled.
Takeaway in China is very cheap and there is a vast range of options on websites such as Eleme 饿了么 and Meituan 美团外卖 . The Chinese takeaway market has expanded massively in recent years and a survey from the National Business Daily shows that 23% of respondents order takeaway daily. However, the growth in takeout is amounting to huge environmental damage: it is estimated that China’s takeaway industry in 2017 produced 1.6 millions tons of packaging waste which included 1.2 million tons of plastic containers, 175,000 tons of disposable chopsticks, 164,000 tons of plastic bags and 44,000 tons of plastic spoons. Delivery containers and utensils are generally not recycled because people don’t wash them out adequately and the materials used in them take over 30 years to disintegrate if they are discarded in landfill sites.
What you can do?
While everyone has those days where they return from work and don’t want to leave the house again, try and avoid getting regular takeaways. The reality in China is that you’re never more than two minutes walk from a restaurant, so why not just go out to eat and save the waste of containers, plastic bags and single-use chopsticks? If you do decide to order takeaway, you can choose the option not to receive disposable tableware (不要餐具 bù yào cān jù) or write it in special requests.
There are huge environmental problems resulting from the management of China’s plastic waste: it is often sent to poorly managed landfills or discarded in the open which can lead to it entering the sea. As a result, a quarter of all plastic waste that is discarded in the open is done in China, causing it be the home of the world’s first, third and fourth most polluted rivers.
A new recycling system was launched in Shanghai in July 2019 which has now spread to major cities and is gradually being introduced throughout China. Bins in public areas have divisions between regular waste and recycling, with more categories for domestic waste. As recycling is fairly new, many locals are still unfamiliar with how to recycle but education campaigns have been launched and the government is introducing fines for individuals and businesses who don’t recycle.
 https://www.statista.com/statistics/277391/number-of-online-buyers-in-china/ (accessed 24/12/2019)
 https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/10/tech/singles-day-sales-alibaba/index.html (accessed 24/12/2019)
 https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3037168/waste-chinas-e-commerce-deliveries-could-quadruple-413-million 23/12 (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1000777/why-china-is-bursting-at-the-seams-with-discarded-clothes (accessed 30/12/2019)
 http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1165893.shtml (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/china-food-delivery-trash.html (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/china-food-delivery-trash.html (accessed 23/12/2019)What you can do?
Recycling systems vary throughout China so this advice is based on my experience of living in Chengdu. Bins for your apartment are normally located on the ground floor of your apartment block and are generally divided into regular waste, recyclable waste, food waste and hazardous waste. The best method is to create a system within your apartment for recycling so it is easier to take it down to the relevant bin. You should tie up bags of waste, especially food waste, so that if the rubbish does get mixed during collection, food will not contaminate the recycling and can be separated at a later stage. Try and also avoid using extensive single use plastic: where you can, avoid taking plastic bags and using single-use tableware; and invest in tote bags, tupperware, metal straws, metal chopsticks and reusable cups. You may experience confusion when you say that you don’t need a plastic bag/ straw etc or if you offer your own but be insistent and use the phrases below to help you.
Recycle – Huíshōu 回收
Recyclable waste – Kě huí shōu wù 可回收物
Food waste – Cān chú lèsè 餐厨垃圾
Harmful waste – Yǒu hài lè sè 有害垃圾
Plastic – Sù liào塑料
I don’t want a plastic bag – Wǒ bùyào dàizi我不要袋子
I don’t want a straw – Wǒ bùyào xīguǎn 我不要吸管
I don’t want chopsticks – Wǒ bùyào kuàizi 我不要筷子
China is notorious for its pollution, such as photos of Beijing’s famous sites hardly visible through the smog. However, the Chinese government has taken moves to reduce pollution which are leading to results – particle pollution fell by an average of 30% in the 62 Chinese cities investigated by the World Health Organization between 2013 and 2016 with Beijing no longer being included in the world’s 200 most polluted cities. The Chinese government has introduced ambitious targets to reduce pollution levels; reduced the use of steel and coal-fired electricity for production replacing them with cleaner alternatives; banned agricultural burning; and introduced regulation for higher quality diesel for vehicles. This action has largely been a result of public pressure and concern about the health effects of pollution, and has led to the government putting more of an emphasis on trying to balance its rapid economic development with environmental concerns.
 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/14/pollutionwatch-china-shows-how-political-will-can-take-on-air-pollution (accessed 26/12/2019)
Many cities have also reduced the number of cars in the city centre by placing restrictions on which days cars can enter the city based on what number their number plates ends in; however wealthy families have combatted this by buying multiples cars with different number plates. China is also leading the way in electric transportation and Shenzhen introduced an all-electric public transport system in 2018 to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
That’s not to say that pollution is no longer a problem in China; it still reaches above World Health Organization recommended levels in many Chinese cities, especially during winter, and has also worsened in some rural areas and towns.
What you can do?
Pollution levels in Qingdao, Zhuhai and Chengdu generally remain below the Air Quality Indicator (AQI) level of 150, which is classified as unhealthy, but stay aware of pollution levels by using AQI tracking apps, such as Air Matters, or WeChat mini programs, such as 空气质量指数查询. If the AQI does reach an unhealthy level, listen to local advice and take particular caution if you have health problems, such as asthma. Face masks are also widely available at convenience shops and department stores throughout China.
Where you can, avoid getting a taxi or Didi as one person – you can ride share using the 拼车 function on the Didi app. Cycling is a great way to get around in Chinese cities because share bikes can be found everywhere and dropped off anywhere. Cycling is not only the best option for the environment but is also often quicker than taking a Didi due to traffic jams, especially at rush hour. Share bikes are also extremely cheap and Hellobikes can be used through an Alipay account for around 12 RMB (£1.30) for a month with unlimited use.
Taking trains is the most environmentally friendly way to travel in China and it is a great way to see parts of China you would not usually visit! You can choose high speed trains (高铁 gāotiě) or regular trains which are mainly sleeper trains and can often take 1-2 days. Due to the huge distances in China, taking a plane is often the most convenient way to travel if you have limited time but the lack of budget airlines means that internal flights can be expensive.
As income levels have increased in China so has consumption of meat and seafood. If Chinese consumers’ demand for meat grows as predicted, then China will produce an additional gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the current amount produced by the aviation industry globally. China also has insufficient land for food production to keep up with the growing population and consumption and so fertilizer has been used to increase crop yields but this has caused extensive environmental damage, such as soil degradation, air pollution and water contamination.
Food waste is a serious issue in China, especially in restaurants, because in Chinese culture it is the norm to order excess food to show generosity and respect to your guests. Estimates suggest that 17-18 million tonnes of food were wasted in China in 2015, an amount which could feed 30 to 50 million people for a year. However, less of the animal is wasted compared to Western countries as nearly all parts are eaten, from gizzards to brains to chicken feet.
What you can do?
The easiest way to combat the problem of food waste in China is simply to order less and bring a Tupperware with you to takeaway leftovers when you’re eating at a restaurant.
Vegetarianism has not become a mainstream diet as it has in the West and less than 2% of China’s population is vegetarian (predominantly Buddhists). This means that vegetarianism and veganism are not always fully understood in China and you may sometimes find that a plate of vegetables comes with a meat garnish or that it is cooked using fish oil. However, most restaurants have vegetarian options and large Chinese cities have an increasing number of specialist vegetarian/ vegan restaurants as well as Western restaurants catering to differing dietary requirements. Buddhist temples often have a vegetarian restaurant or buffet attached. While being vegan is by no means impossible, it is slightly more tricky if you are wanting to take part in shared meals with Chinese friends or colleagues. The InternChina WeChat accounts list vegetarian restaurants in each of the cities we offer programmes.
I am vegetarian Wǒ shì sùshí zhě – 我是素食者
I don’t eat any meat and fish – Wǒ bù chī suǒyǒu de ròu hé yú 我不吃所有的肉和鱼
I don’t eat any dairy products – Wǒ bù chī niúnǎi zhìpǐn我不吃牛奶制品
I want to takeaway leftovers – Wǒ yào dǎbāo 我要打包
 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/will-chinas-growing-appetite-for-meat-undermind-its-efforts-to-fight-climate-change-180969789/ (accessed 30/12/2019)
 https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201803/27/WS5ab9a0c4a3105cdcf65147d8.html (accessed 30/12/2019)
 https://www.economist.com/china/2019/10/17/the-planet-needs-china-to-curb-its-appetite-for-meat (accessed 30/12/2019)
While China certainly has not been struck by the Greta Thunberg and youth climate strike movement, and it doesn’t look to anytime soon, there are some gradual steps being taken to protect and conserve the environment. The rolling out of a recycling system last year was a massive step in the right direction but the impact will depend on how seriously it is implemented across China and on the accompanying education campaign. One of the main issues in China currently is a lack of education on how severe the global climate crisis is, rather than an unwillingness to conserve and recycle resources. So, during your stay in China, make sure you stay alert to how you can be environmentally friendly and talk to your colleagues/ friends/ homestay families about the environment and encourage them to change their habits!
An introduction to China
Keen to learn more about China before carrying out your internship? We have picked out some of the best social media accounts and websites for learning about China, its language, culture and travel destinations! We have also chosen a couple of city-specific accounts if you are struggling to choose which city to do an internship in or want to find out more about the destination you have picked.
Looking for fun and easy ways to learn Chinese – take a look at the accounts below!
The Instagram account han_characters makes Chinese characters easier to remember by creating drawings of them. Each post shows a single character as a picture and explains the different words that that character features in with example sentences. Not only does this make learning Chinese easier, especially if you have a picture memory, it also helps you to understand the meaning of single characters which helps in learning multi-character words. Your time on social media can be made productive by learning Chinese just scrolling through Instagram!
Check out their Instagram here
The Chairman’s Bao
The Chairman’s Bao has abridged news articles in Chinese which you can filter according to HSK level. The website and app have a built-in dictionary and keywords and grammar points are listed at the end of every article. You can read sample articles for free, but to access all their language resources you have to pay a monthly subscription fee. However, the blog section is free and offers good tips and advice for learning Chinese, as well as articles about Chinese culture and news.
Travel in China
Want some inspiration of where to travel to China? Follow these accounts to see some incredible photography of China’s gorgeous landscapes, historic sites and cityscapes.
This account collates photos from around China and provides a description of the location, including an explanation about the place’s history and geography.
Check out their Instagram here
Nathan Ackley is a photographer based in Shanghai and Taiwan and the majority of his photos document these two places. He captures the buzzing cosmopolitan life in Shanghai, as well as beautiful temples and traditional buildings.
Check out his Instagram here
The account provides awe-inspiring photographs of life in rural China with short extracts explaining their background. It is summarised by their bio: “you know the city, now get to know the country – see how China’s other half lives”.
Check out their Instagram here
News about China
Sixthtone offers news and investigatory stories about China which you may not find in the mainstream news. The stories are split into five sections, based on the Chinese language’s five tones: rising tones, half tones, deep tones, broad tones and vivid tones. Each offers a different perspective on news and life in contemporary China. Sixthtone’s articles, photography and videos cover a wide scope of issues including social trends, economic development and life in rural areas. The weekly summary of China’s Week in Photos provides an insight into the hugely varied events and developments going on in China.
Follow China Daily if you want to keep up-to-date with national news and understand a Chinese perspective on international news stories.
Scan the QR code below to follow their WeChat account
This Instagram account uses pictures to convey the cultural differences between China and the West which are based on the illustrator’s experience of being a Chinese person living in the West. They may help prepare you for some of the cultural differences you will experience in China and resonate with you if you have spent time in China before!
Check out their Instagram here
Chengdu Expat’s WeChat and Facebook account lists recent news and upcoming events in Chengdu. Look here for all the best business, cultural and nightlife events, as well as some discounts and deals. The Instagram account also features a variety of pictures showcasing life in Chengdu which will give you an idea of what you might see, do and eat while you’re here!
sheleads is an international network for professional females in Chengdu and offers a mentorship programme and listing of events which focus on female empowerment and feature women. In 2019, they organised a Female Week and launched a podcast.
Follow them on Wechat: sheleads
discoverzhuhai showcases the local sites of Zhuhai and the surrounding region.
Check out their Instagram here
This new account started by an InternChina intern shows the vast range of delicious food available in Zhuhai with their locations listed. With zhuhaieater’s help, you will never go hungry in Zhuhai again!
Check out their Instagram here
This account targeted at expats lists upcoming events in Qingdao and information about the city.
Check out their Instagram here or follow them on WeChat: redstarqd
The official tourist account for Qingdao offers snapshots of its scenery throughout the seasons.
Check out their Instagram here
Unfortunately Dalian is currently lacking any English language accounts but check out InternChina’s blog section about Dalian to learn more about previous interns’ experience here and maybe you will be inspired to start an account during your placement!
At the time of writing this blog, I have been in Chengdu for just five days. This is my third day as an intern in the InternChina office but I am already getting into the swing of life here. Having spent my year abroad as part of my degree studying at a university in Taiwan, I was eager to get a taste of living and working in mainland China. Chengdu appealed to me as it is a more manageable size and less international than the huge metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai, but still with lots to explore within the city and surrounding areas!
I chose to start my time in Chengdu staying in a homestay with a family and their seven-year-old son. While living in Taiwan and briefly travelling in China certainly broadened my understanding of certain aspects of Chinese culture and life, I had not developed an insight into Chinese family and home life. My family have been extremely hospitable and gone out of their way to help me get accustomed to life in Chengdu. Even in this short time, I have got an insight into their daily routine, met their family and colleagues, and tried a huge variety of delicious home-cooked meals. In Taiwan, I found that it was easy to learn what you liked on the menu and then stick with what you knew to avoid translating the menu every time. However staying with a family has led me to try new dishes, fruits and vegetables almost every meal, including foods that I would not usually have ordered myself, such as 美蛙鱼头火锅 (frog and fish head hotpot)!
Difference and Similarities to the UK
Whilst there are many similarities between family life in the UK and China, there are also some striking differences, most noticeably the pressure on young children to study. However, what particularly surprised me on my arrival, is that my family also have an 18-month-old son who is being raised by his grandparents almost 3000km away from Chengdu until he is old enough to attend kindergarten. While I had read about the phenomenon of parents living in urban areas sending their children back to their hometown to be raised by other family members, I had not grasped how common this was among Chinese families. Only seeing your parents once or twice during your first few years of life seems almost incomprehensible to me, and 3000km away from my hometown of London would mean crossing multiple countries ending up in Turkey, for example. However, the pressures of Chinese working life and the lack of affordable childcare options in urban areas, mean that this is a necessity for millions of Chinese parents who have to instead make do with video calling their child.
Communicating in Chengdu
Although I have been studying Mandarin for over four years, the language barrier with my family can still be a challenge. While I generally understand what is being said on a one-to-one basis, group conversations at mealtimes are definitely more difficult, especially with my host dad often switching into Sichuan dialect! However, I am definitely becoming more confident to say to the family when I don’t understand, and, with the help of Pleco (a Chinese dictionary app), I am learning lots of new words and phrases so, as is said in Chinese, 慢慢来 (it will come slowly)!
Last week, people all over China came together with their families to celebrate the annual Mid-Autumn festival. This is a festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar year and is often associated with a type of pastry known as a “moon cake”. Moon cakes, or 月饼, are extremely popular across China; they are given to relatives, friends, and colleagues during this festival and are seen as a luxurious gift. However, if you are unfamiliar with Chinese culture and traditions, this may be the first time you have heard of the delicacy. The cake is surrounded with deep history and folklore and is available with several different fillings cased in intricately designed pastry. Here is an introduction to the roots and relation of the dessert to mid-autumn festival, the most popular types of mooncake, and the modern development of mooncakes around the world.
History of Mooncakes
Mooncakes are an extremely traditional delicacy that have existed throughout many Chinese dynasties. One of the most commonly told stories about the history of mooncakes is the role they played in the Ming uprising against the Mongol rule during the Yuan dynasty. Ming revolutionaries used the intricate design of these cakes to their advantage. Cakes were decorated with a design which contained a secret message when pieced together indicating an uprising on the 15th day of the 8th month. Once these instructions were understood the cake could be eaten to destroy any evidence of the plan. Ever since this uprising, the mooncake has been heavily associated with the mid-autumn festival which occurs on the same day as this uprising.
Unlike soft, light sponge cakes often eaten as dessert in the West, these mooncakes are extremely dense and heavy. For this reason, the circular cakes are sliced up and eaten in small pieces, often accompanied by Chinese tea. The most traditional mooncakes are encased in a shiny, thick pastry (imagine chewy shortcrust pastry with a shiny finish), and the three most popular fillings are red bean, lotus seed paste, and mixed nuts.
Red bean paste and lotus seed paste are both very popular fillings of mooncakes. Red bean is a common ingredient in many Asian desserts. Be careful not to confuse this bean paste with chocolate; the similar colour of the two ingredients has been known to confuse tourists around China. Lotus seed paste is thought to be one of the most luxurious fillings for mooncakes and is popular in southern China, especially in Cantonese regions. Both pastes create a smooth, sweet, dense filling. As well as plain red bean and lotus seed paste, some cakes also contain a salted egg yolk in the centre. Cakes which contain egg yolk are thought to be the most lavish mooncakes around and are highly favoured in China.
Although this pastry is known as a “cake”, not all fillings are sweet. Another popular filling is mixed nuts, which sometimes also contains roasted pork. This type of filling is known as “5 kernel” mooncake because it contains a mix of five different nuts inside. This filling differs to the smooth texture and sweet taste of the red bean and lotus seed pastes.
Although mooncakes have been eaten in China for centuries, new flavours are constantly being created around the world today. From seafood to cream cheese, innovative new fillings are constantly being tested not just in China but in many other countries also. Some new fillings which have caught on include ice cream, jellied fruit, and green tea. A new pastry made from glutinous rice has also been used to make “snow skin” mooncakes which are sweet and chewy. The development of new flavours is popular in foreign countries where the traditional fillings are not commonly eaten, so mooncakes can be adapted to better suit the preferred flavours of that country.
Now that you have a basic knowledge of the most traditional and popular mooncakes found in China, go out and try some for yourself to properly understand the flavour and texture of this rich and historical cake.
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.
How I ended up in the “City of Ice”
As a student of Business Management and Mandarin, I had to make a choice of city in China for my year abroad. The year abroad, in my case, consists of two components: one year study and a two month internship. I decided early that I wanted to study in one city and do an internship in a different city, for different experiences.
North vs South
Originally, I was very keen on studying in a city in the southern part of China, for many reasons that include: climate, food, proximity to the sea, and much more. As a Portuguese person, I searched for a similar place to go to (and to make the cultural shock a little less noticeable!), However, it went a little different than expected (in a good way!).
I applied and was accepted for a one-year Confucius institute full scholarship in Harbin! The coldest city in China! This peculiar city in northeast China fulfilled my main criteria which was: must have majority Mandarin speakers, who speak in a standard way. My other criteria: I will study in a city where English is remotely spoken, so that I can have the best learning experience. I stuck to these two important criteria and must say, had a great experience learning Mandarin in Harbin.
How I ended up in the “City of romance”
When it came to apply for my internship, Zhuhai was already on my mind. I wanted a place different from Harbin. I wanted to feel the warmth of the sun again, and so I did for two months in the lovely city of Zhuhai. As expected these two cities are extremes in so many categories, that some may ask “Why did you go to Zhuhai/Harbin?”.
Let’s talk about some of those differences:
For those who aren’t familiar with Harbin, it’s a city located in Heilongjiang Province right at the top right corner of China, bordering Russia’s Siberia. So, one can imagine just how cold it is. Harbin’s winter lasts about 6 months reaching minimum’s of – 40 º C. Harbin is, in fact “the City of Ice”, famous for it’s ice buildings and statues and icy festivals. Moreover, it’s important to point out, Russian entrepreneurs who wanted to recreate their motherland, built the Harbin of today. So its buildings are very Russian, in the way they look, but with Chinese banners. It’s this odd combination that makes it such a peculiar city, interesting on the foreign eye.
Zhuhai is the complete opposite. The buildings are tall, and mostly dark grey and white. While it sounds depressing, it goes well with the city’s landscape. Zhuhai is relaxing on the eye, because it is a mixture of human landscape and nature. Wherever you go you’re sure to see trees, bushes, anything that screams Nature.
Beifang’s food (North China) and Nanfang’s food (South China) is completely different. Not only that, but also it varies according to the region.
Harbin’s food is delicious, flavored and mostly fried. But I couldn’t understand why most food was fried. Until a teacher explained that due to the extreme cold weather in Harbin, there was a preference for oil-based food (it will heat your body and help fight coldness). Zhuhai’s food is light, flavored and with a lot more vegetable side dishes. Both are not too spicy, so both Harbin and Zhuhai’s food are very delicious.
That was, for me, the biggest difference between the two. While in Harbin, Chinese people tend to be more amazed whenever they see a foreigner for the first time. Nevertheless they are very welcoming and overall very curious about the countries we come from. They may even ask for a picture.
Zhuhai’s people may also be amazed, but are much more relaxed when meeting foreigners. Overall, I found that a large portion of people in Zhuhai can speak basic english while no one in Harbin could. I imagine the proximity to both Macau and Hong Kong, two ex-colonies and now special administrative regions (SAR) played an important role in this.
Harbin and Zhuhai are two very different cities in so much more aspects other than the one’s I have listed. That is the fun part and makes my first time in China so special. I highly recommend visiting both north and south china and deciding which one provides for the the most enjoyable experience.
It’s now time for me to leave the InternChina team after a 6 month internship in the Qingdao office. It seemed like thanking the team for the amazing time I had will be a nice topic for my “goodbye blog”. However I’ll try to show you that you should definitely consider doing your internship there as well!
First of all, are you passionate about China and want to learn more about how to do business there? Also, the internship of your dreams is one where you’ll have plenty of responsibilities and support? Finally, are you ready to learn more about yourself and your abilities? Well, if yes you should definitely keep reading! But first, enjoy a few pictures of the Qingdao team!
Business in China
When I first arrived in the InternChina team I was asked to choose what I wanted to focus on during my internship. As I wanted to learn more about business and marketing I became a Business Development and Marketing Intern. Indeed. as part of our job here we need to find new partner companies who are seeking foreign interns. First of all, you’ll need to learn and understand to concept of face and guanxi. Then you definitely will always address companies as you should in China. As a result I was even able to assist a meeting with a company all in Chinese and understand it! Thanks to my 8 years of Chinese studies I could understand the language and process of a meeting with a Chinese partner company. Also, it’s definitely a nice way to develop your own network and make connections for the future.
Funny thing about talking to companies here in China: you use WeChat! Emojis and video calls are both easy ways to communicate, and are the keys to a successful and professional relationship! Business in China is full of surprises! Regarding the marketing part of my internship our aim was to promote our services. For example I add to posts on social medias about our activities and internship offers. I even wrote an article about it, check it out! I discovered that Photoshop wasn’t that hard to use and that we could do amazing things with it!
Responsibilities and Support from the InternChina Team
Being a little too shy to use my Chinese and actually go meet companies, I reconsidered my position and wanted to look into another aspect of the company, the one that we call “booking”. It’s basically the process between InternChina and a student who wants to find an internship in China and uses our services to do it. As I am French, I was dealing with French students. They were all dreaming of coming to China and from step 1 to the final details, I helped more than 10 students in a few weeks. By talking to future interns and helping them find the suitable company and internship for them you really feel so useful and talented when you finally succeed! As part of the Qingdao office you’ll be rewarded with a delicious Tsingtao beer!
During the whole process I was never alone. One thing you should know about InternChina when you join the team, is that you’re joining a big family. We are all connected to each other via Skype even if we are all located in different countries. One of the most important part of our services is to offer support to our participants, well within InternChina you couldn’t find a more supportive team. Even if I was probably annoying at some point – by asking too much – I was always given an answer to my questions and never felt left alone. Let’s meet some of them now!
Learn about yourself
Keep in mind that doing an internship with InternChina is the opportunity of developing the skills you wish for. By that I mean that the diversity of tasks you’ll be given will depends on your own abilities and most of all interests! That’s also a way to push yourself into tasks you wouldn’t imagine to be able to do. I didn’t believe 6 months ago that I would be able to understand and take part in a Chinese meeting. Or to enjoy watching the statistics on our Facebook page and try to find ways improving them! I really enjoyed working in the office – and if you’re not an office person well be aware that you’ll have plenty of occasion to work outside the office as well.
You’ll work within an international team, and that’s one of the best way to learn about communication and culture. With the Chinese staff members I was able to learn more about Chinese culture and develop my interest of it. With my British colleagues I learned a lot of new expressions thanks to our weekly “Quiz” – have you ever heard of Hobnobs before? As between offices we are all using Skype to communicate I developed some communication skills that I didn’t know I had before. Moreover you will also learn how to be more organized and how to prioritize your work – that’s super helpful and not only for your time at InternChina! Let me introduce you to the team you’ll have the opportunity to work with:
Even if the fact to answer the question “what’s your internship like” by saying “my internship is basically to help people find internships” is awesome – doing it is even better! Interested of doing that awesome internship, or come to China with our programmes, apply now !
春节 （the Spring Festival）or the 农历新年 (the Lunar New Year) is fast approaching! The new year of the dog begins Friday the 16th of February, with the first new moon of the year. The holiday can fall between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. People start to celebrate the day before the New Year and continue until the 15th day – the Lantern Festival. This year the Lantern festival takes places on the 2nd of March, when people will release red Lanterns to symbolise letting go of the past and moving on into the new year!
Chinese New Year and the Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 animals; similar to the 12 Western Zodiacs, however each Zodiac represents a year as opposed to a month. This passes in cycles with each year also being associated with an element. 2018 will be the year of the Earth dog, which is the 11th animal in the 12-year cycle.
Your Birth Year ‘本命年’:
The year you are born in decides your zodiac and you won’t be in your zodiac year again for another 12 years! Surprisingly, your zodiac years are the considered the unluckiest in your life and unfortunate events in this year could have lasting effects on you for the rest of your life! So, you are suggested to take extra care to avoid incurring bad luck. Many Chinese people will buy lucky items as talismans, such as red underwear with lucky characters stitched on.
There are also lucky numbers, cardinal directions and colours associated with your zodiac. 3, 4 and 9 are lucky for people born in the year of the dog, as are the colours green, red and purple.
The Origins of Chinese New Year
Every year around the new Lunar Year, a mythological beast called Nian was said to come and lay waste to towns and eat people, particularly children. Everyone would hide from the beast until he left. One year an old man appeared and refused to go into hiding, and decided he wanted to get revenge on the Nian. He put red papers up around the door of his house with lucky symbols and set off loud firecrackers. The day after, the villagers discovered that their town wasn’t destroyed. They believed that the old man was in fact a god that came to save them. The villagers then realised that the the colour red and loud noises deterred the beast. Next New Year the villagers hung up red lanterns, wore red clothes, and placed red character scrolls on windows and doors, and they set off firecrackers to frighten away the monster. Ever since, Nian never returned to scare the villagers!
Characters on the Door
You will see Chinese phrases on red scrolls around doorways, such as ‘出入平安’ , meaning peace wherever you go. The most common character is ‘福’ Fú which means fortune or luck. It is often placed in the centre of the door to ones home, and sometimes you will see that the character has been placed upside down. This is because by placing it upside down there is an added meaning to the character:
Homonyms are common in Chinese language. The Chinese expression ‘福倒了‘ and ’福到了‘ sound identical, so to have 福 upside down also means to have fortune arrive.
New Years Day Celebrations
On New Years day young family members are given red envelopes called hongbao (‘红包) filled with money, fireworks are set off, dumplings are devoured and relatives are put up with. It is a time when Chinese families reunite, with some people travelling vast distances to see their family. The Spring festival period is host to the largest migration of people on earth, with almost 3 billion journeys being made!
Here are some common greetings to say on the New year:
Taboos to avoid doing on the first day of the festival:
- Debt: You should not lend money on the day, and debts should be paid before New Year’s Eve.
- Washing hair: you’ll wash away your wealth for the year.
- Sharp objects: if you cut yourself it is extremely unlucky.
- Sweeping and cleaning: If you sweep up then your wealth will be swept away.
- Theft: If someone steals from you then your wealth for the year will be ‘stolen.’
- Killing anything: Similar to sharp objects, anything associated with blood is very bad luck.
- Taking Medicine: you’ll be ill all year.
- Monochrome clothing: White and black are the colours associated with sorrow in China.
- Giving specific types of gifts: scissors, clocks, or anything with the number 4 (it sounds like death 死) and shoes (they sound like evil!)
Have a happy New Year and remember, watch out for evil shoes!