Let’s paint the picture. You arrived in China, it was all a bit overwhelming at first, but once you’d had chance to settle in, you had the time of your life! Two, three months on, it’s time to pack your bags and head back home, but you’re not ready, and you suddenly hit a low back in your home country.
Sometimes, heading back to your home country after several months overseas can be just as difficult, or possibly more difficult than initially moving away from home. After the initial excitement of seeing your friends and family, eating all your home comforts, and going in your favourite shops, it can wear off and you can find yourself pining after China, feeling quite lonely and bored and not feeling like you are ‘home’ as such. You may not expect to experience reverse culture shock, you might not have even heard of it, so when it hits it could be very unexpected. Like all things you will find a way through it, but it’s good to know what to expect and how possibly to deal with it.
“When In China…”
You will no doubt come back from China wanting to tell every man and their dog about your amazing experiences on the other side of the world; you will probably find yourself saying “In China, it’s like this” or “When I was in China…..…..happened”. People might listen to begin with, but you may never be able to fully get your point across, or even start to feel like no one wants to listen. I’ve always found it difficult to get across to friends and family what China really is like; that it’s not like how the media portrays it, and that it is one of the most beautiful and welcoming places I’ve been.
Record your memories: There will be people out there eager to hear about your adventures. Perhaps start up a blog, write articles about what you saw, ate, heard, did. Try make mini projects for yourself related to your trip. Choose your favourite pictures to put up in your room, put together a scrapbook of your trip try or just try jot down your memories in one way or another, rather than keeping them in your head to slowly fade away.
Keeping it local: Another possibility is to try find some Chinese friends back home; they’d love to hear about your time exploring their country. Go to your local Chinese restaurant, try find some of the new dishes you tried whilst you were away, practice your newly acquired Chinese with the staff; they will probably be super impressed! Keep in touch with your new-found friends on the other side of the world, and try keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the city, news wise or if there are any new developments.
Pass on your knowledge: Perhaps join a city-related forum so that you can give advice and help to other foreigners who might be heading to that part of the world. I always love sharing advice about places I’ve been with other people; giving them tips on places go, recommending restaurants that are a good hit, or even telling them about what are local hidden secrets that you probably wouldn’t know about if it wasn’t for word-of-mouth.
Just like culture shock; reverse culture shock also falls in a U-Shape. You start high at the excitement of returning home, hit a low when you experience the ‘home sickness’ of your past home, and then you push through to the other side and create many positives out of reverse culture shock. I’ve spent so much time in Asia in the past five or six years, Asia has definitely become my home from home – I experienced reverse culture shock hard for the first time this year, but by finding ways to treasure my memories and use my knowledge to help out others, the experience has moved from a ‘low point’ to very much a ‘high point’.
One of the biggest challenges you may face when travelling overseas aside from a language barrier is culture shock. It may be your first time out of Europe, first time away from American shores or first time encountering an oriental culture, and to begin with, being so far out of your comfort zone, it may come as a bit of a shock.
Growing up your parents may have always said “Don’t stare, it’s rude!”. In China, be prepared for people staring at you, pointing out the lǎowài (老外) and following this up with a two-minute conversation about you (yep they probably won’t hide the fact they are talking about you).
This could be the first time a lot of these people have seen a foreigner, and they will be intrigued as to why you’ve come half way across the world to China. Daily you will get told how tall you are (hào gāo 好高) or how pretty or handsome you are (hěn piàoliang 很漂亮 / hǎo shuài 好帅). Don’t be surprised if they pluck up the courage to ask for a picture with you either.
TIPS: try not to feel self-conscious by the staring; embrace it, remember that you are a foreigner in a country that was once quite closed off from the West. Soon the staring that initially seems quite odd will become a daily normality.
Chinese food in China is not 100% like your Chinese takeaway back home. Whilst you can get your sweet and sour pork and black pepper beef, these aren’t daily dishes here. Don’t be surprised to see every part of the animal on the table (including head and chicken feet). Chinese cuisine, from all different parts of the country, really is delicious, and I find, tastes a lot better than it looks. There is a reason why everyone comes to China and puts weight on!
TIPS: If you don’t like spicy food, have an allergy, or are a vegetarian, make this the first Chinese phrase you learn! Being a vegetarian or halal eater is quite easy if you know what to say (or have it written down). If you try something that you like, try get a name for it or a picture, then this can always be a ‘go to dish’. Finally try not be afraid to give everything a go, if there are a lot of Chinese punters at a restaurant, then you know it’ll be a good’un.
PERSONAL SPACE & QUEUEING:
Personal space is a lot smaller and somewhat inexistent in China. On the bus, people may barge past you without an “excuse me”, be packed in so tightly that you feel quite uncomfortable (there always seems to be space for an extra person!) or they may not move out of the way to let you on or off.
TIPS: Hold your own, be assertive and stand by the back door the bus (always more spacious!). Queueing has improved dramatically over the years and you will see locals standing up to those people trying to push in!
China isn’t the fastest country when it comes to internet speed. What’s more, a lot the websites that me and you are used to using on a daily basis (Facebook, Google, Instagram) are blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall so you need a VPN to access them. Sometimes the internet can be a bit hit and miss and it may take twice as a long as normal to download something.
TIPS: Download and install a reliable VPN BEFORE you arrive in China (once you’re in China, you’ll need a VPN to download a VPN!). Patience is a virtue when using the internet!
These are just a few pointers of what to expect in the initial days after landing in China for the first time; initially it can be a bit overwhelming and you can feel a bit like a cat in headlights. But within days you will have found your feet, met some fantastic people and started to make the most of the incredible country and culture that you’ve just landed in! Before long you will no doubt be saying you don’t want to go home!
In 2009 I set foot in China for the first time. I was in Beijing for a semester at Peking University and my time there passed in a blur. I barely knew the language and it was my first time being abroad on my own. So now, seven years later and with more Mandarin under my belt than just xie xie (谢谢) and bu yao (不要), I am ready to take on my second Chinese adventure.
After being here for a few weeks now, I can definitely say that I am happy I chose Zhuhai to do my internship. While Zhuhai does have everything a big metropolis has to offer, it doesn’t feel overly crowded or hectic. There are parks and green spaces all over the city and life here is a little more laid back. That does not mean that being here isn’t a little overwhelming at times. It takes a while to get used to living in a different place and being in a different culture, and it isn’t always easy. Not being able to fully speak the language also makes every interaction a little more difficult, as each time it takes a little bit longer to get my point across, but that’s OK. I’m here to soak up as much as I can and with every day it gets easier and easier. I have a great support group here with InternChina and they have definitely made my first couple of weeks here a breeze.
My favorite thing about coming to China and living in Zhuhai is the food! I love that food is such a big part of the culture here and plays an important part in daily life. On every street you can find little shops selling all kinds of different stuff. I love trying new cuisines and dishes, and I haven’t had a bad meal yet!
I am really looking forward to my internship and to living in Zhuhai. I can’t wait to see what the next few months will bring!
Throughout history, China, or the Middle Kingdom has had a special place in Westerners’ imagination. From the cradle of civilisation in the ancient Xia dynasty to the mighty empire of the Tang dynasty, China has always been a land of mystery for the majority of the Western world. Today, riding on the tides of globalisation, China is closer to the world than ever before. Many claim that just as 20th century was America’s century, the 21st century will be China’s.
We have been asking our interns about their expectations of doing an internship in China. In an internship, interns look for lots of varied and interesting work. An internship should have at least one big project that interns can put a lot of their energy into and can really make a different to the company. Interns also hope to attain quantifiable goals and skills they can use when they return home.
“The internship is great. I’m learning lots of new things and my workmates are all fantastic. Another plus is that there is unlimited free rice and soup in the canteen!!” (Joe Martin, Trade intern)
Modern China is a country of many faces. The rapid economic growth over the past 30 years spurred high-tech development across the Eastern coastal cities that puts many Western cities to shame. Many who visit Chinese metropolises marvel at how similar China is to their home country, contrary to their expectations.
“After coming to China I was pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of cuisine here in Qingdao. Initially I was worried that I might struggle to adopt to Chinese food, but there are so many options to choose from that you will definitely find something that suits your taste. Even if you have special dietary requirements like being vegetarian or only eating halal food, you will still be able to manage!” (Meredith Kern, Marketing intern)
Young Chinese are increasingly becoming global citizens that effortlessly keep pace with the latest pop culture hits. Youngsters from around the world are more and more drawn by China’s successes in the world of business. For many, China’s rapidly developing economy is the main reason they choose to come to China. It is now simply the place TO BE. Understanding Chinese business practice is becoming a necessity for anyone who wishes to embark on an international career in business.
“Learning the nuances of doing business in China and understanding the rituals of ‘guanxi’ have really made my time here that much more valuable.” (Griffin Baxley, Consulting intern)
But it is not just the stunning economic development that instils curiosity in the minds of young people across the world. What makes China so enticing is precisely the blend of old and new. One could not hope to understand modern China without also understanding its rich and intricate cultural heritage. After all, the rules that underlie modern business practices stem from age-old Chinese traditions and customs.
Some come to China in search of ancient Chinese culture, the way they know it from childhood stories:
“Every morning from my bedroom window in Qingdao, I look outside and see the craggy peaks rising high above, revealing twisting trails which seem to appear and vanish, intricately carved sculptures of fish and lions, jagged rocks, birds that wheel and hover, and trees that whisper and sway.
When I look upon the light and dark greens and blues and browns of these high peaks, all blending together like the hues of a half-remembered dream, I think of Dragonkeeper—the mountain range before me just as I always imagined in the story.” (Sophie Comber, Journalism intern)
And yet others find satisfaction in immersing themselves in the daily lives of the common people. They are pleasantly surprised when through their internship they get to know Chinese people as a whole better.
“I was taken aback by the hospitality and by how helpful everyone is. My company has been very accommodating to my needs (e.g. praying) and everyone here is really friendly. I’ve got an employee assigned to me and if I need any help all I need is just to ask. Also, the work expectations are not crazy! Hour and a half lunch break! (Tanvir Ahmed, Sales & Marketing intern)
No matter what expectations interns have before coming to China, an internship in China is a great opportunity to show young people from around the world the ‘real China’ and allow them to form an opinion for themselves.
My September homestay family lives in an apartment complex in northern Shinan District. They are kind, hospitable and very friendly, a couple and their ten-year-old son—I am really enjoying my time with them. Living in the building is like living in a beehive—so many apartments—fittingly; the ten-year-old is a fan of honey. We eat breakfasts and most dinners together, which I really like, as they are lovely people, and I also hope my Chinese will get better as a result.
Our towering building is built against the base of a mountain, part of Fu Shan Forest Park. In the midst of the complex, there is a garden with a shivering river, pink lotuses floating on its surface. At nightfall, many adults and children come out to the garden. They laugh, chat, play, dance, run around and listen to music, and with handheld coloured lights, they trail luminous patterns and characters on the dark. The windows of buildings glow like jewels, and the moon hangs low, as large as painted in ancient Chinese artworks; full, round, golden, celestial.
There are many reasons why I decided to come to China for three months shortly after graduating university, reasons both professional and language-related. But perhaps none of those reasons would exist, and perhaps nor would my Chinese language skills, if not for stories I loved at a much younger age. So, for my first entry, I will begin with these stories.
When I was a child, one of my favourite books was named Dragonkeeper, which told of a slave girl who lived in ancient China’s Han Dynasty. Complaining all the while, she selflessly rescued an old green dragon from captivity and death in the mountains. Beset by dangers, she and the dragon travelled together on a long, difficult quest. Their twin journeys: his to find the ocean, a safe place for his child to hatch; and hers to find her own name and her own identity.
Every morning from my bedroom window in Qingdao, I look outside and see the craggy peaks rising high above, revealing twisting trails which seem to appear and vanish, intricately carved sculptures of fish and lions, jagged rocks, birds that wheel and hover, and trees that whisper and sway.
When I look upon the light and dark greens and blues and browns of these high peaks, all blending together like the hues of a half-remembered dream, I think of Dragonkeeper—the mountain range before me just as I always imagined in the story. I wonder if the girl and her dragon friend may have made their way, clambering and climbing, tired and footsore, among these mountains. If they came to Qingdao, perhaps they soon found the sea. (But first, I’m sure they took the time for a rest stop at Gaoshan, “High Mountain”— for what a perfect place for a dragon, after having curled up and rested, to take flight!)
On the mountain hike I took with my host family in Fu Shan Forest Park, I could just as easily imagine Sun Wukong, the mischievous Monkey King of the Chinese classic Journey to the West, leaping from peak to peak, treetop to treetop, soaring atop his cloud, spinning his gleaming magic staff, his grinning face coloured brown and gold.
When I was five years old, I read with relish a set of Stories of the Monkey King, coincidentally; the same tales most Chinese people come into contact with at a similar age. They told of the noble Buddhist monk Xuanzang who goes in search of sacred Buddhist sutras, and of his disciples; the food-loving pig-man Zhu Bajie, the stoic soldier Sha Wujing, and the Taoist trickster god, the Monkey King.
The Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, and the Jade Emperor, sentence the Monkey King to act as bodyguard for the three other travellers, as penance for his past crime in Heaven—he had ruined the heavenly garden of the Peaches of Immortality belonging to the Queen Mother of the West. He is sworn to protect and defend the other travellers against a host of malevolent supernatural beings led by the White Bone Demon, who are determined to kill and eat the holy monk, and destroy the sacred scrolls. The stories were exciting, hair-raising, dramatic, emotional and funny—perfect for children. Tales of bravery, tragedy, redemption, which were all about fighting battles against hordes of demons using magic, weapons, wits and Buddha-esque compassion—what could be better?
Dragonkeeper and Stories of the Monkey King were my first experience with Chinese culture—I adored these stories, and I never forgot them.
Without them, I might not be here today.
It makes me very happy to have come to Qingdao, where I can imagine the stories taking place.
Two interns in Zhuhai, Alizée Ville and Alice Roberts, interning at a biochemistry company, were recently given the opportunity to travel to the north of Guangdong province. On 28th-29th June their manager Wesley invited them to visit two farms in the Guangdong countryside which were to become suppliers for his new restaurants. Here’s how they got on whilst they were away.
After a long drive, our first stop was at a restaurant where they served us famous Chinese chicken and the ‘best bamboo root in china’. The bamboo root was freshly cut and cooked so it lacked the strong smell that not-so-fresh bamboo roots give off. It is common in china to serve the heads and tails of any meat and fish, so it was new to see chicken and duck head on the plate. We also tried unfertilised chicken eggs before they are shelled.
Fei Sha Hu near the lake: office + new theme park
We then visited Mr Lai’s office, which was in a traditional style building by a large lake. When we arrived, we spotted a calligraphy table, where we practiced some Chinese writing (書法 Shūfǎ) and were taught how to hold the brush. Calligraphy can be considered an art form in China.
During this trip I have realized the importance of tea in social gatherings and business meetings. It is used as a symbolism of hospitality and is the first thing presented on arrival. When we arrived at Mr Lai’s office, he had a beautiful table made specifically for “Chayi”, the art of drinking tea. The water was boiled on a hot plate built into the table and used to clean the china, and then the remaining water was poured over a small porcelain four faced Buddha’s head (supposedly representing Brahma Hindu). The tea was a mix of green tea leaves and herbs, which Mr Lai took pride in. While the tea was served, I noticed a common courtesy was to tap two fingers on the table, near your cup, as a way of saying thank you.
During the tea ceremony, the atmosphere is very friendly and casual. I have noticed that Chinese business culture differs to western, as friendly talk is mixed with business talk, rather than having strict meeting schedules. After a while, a poster of a proposed theme park map was shown to us and it was explained that around the lake, Mr Lai and his colleagues are planning to build a theme park.
Qingyuan (Lilac Garden Hotel)
We spent the night at the Lilac Garden Hotel, in Qingyuan, by the Bei River. Home to four million people, the city is growing alarmingly fast, with new high rising residential towers being built everywhere.
Boat Fish restaurant (in Qingyuan)
That night, we were invited to dinner on a boat restaurant, where we were served freshly fished seafood. The place also raised ducks and geese, so all the meat and fish couldn’t have been fresher. During our dinner, men from our neighbouring table were even fishing while they were eating. We were introduced to Chairman Xie, leader of the Agricultural Board of the Qingyuan district, whom joined us for the festivities. We were then served Fei Xia Ye, a special locally made rice liquor, which is sipped during the meal. Strong, it also has a floral aftertaste.
Chicken and pig farms
The morning of the 29th we drove to the chicken farm that planned on supplying Wesley’s new restaurant. To get there, we had to climb up a hill, despite it being one of the easiest ones to access. Once we reached the top, we saw a chicken pen but no chickens. These chickens were so free range that they were able to roam the hills without fences, so much so that we were not able to see one. As these are free range, they eat whatever they find in the hills so they are not guaranteed to be organic, however the farmers in this area are not educated on how to use fertilizers and pesticides so they do not tend to use them, making the chickens most likely organic.
We did not stay too long and were soon back on the road, to visit an organic piggery. Situated in Donghua (near Yingde), Mr. Zeng Fanwei’s farm hosts domestic Tibetan pigs. Tibetan pigs are (quite obviously) native to Tibet, from around the Brahamaputra river, which is elevated at about 3500 meters. These pigs are thus comfortable in high altitudes and prefer wide pastures, which is why they seem to strive in the Donghua area.
The pigs are kept in age groups, starting at 3 months old (the younger ones being kept with mothers until they are weaned), and acquire bigger pens as they grow. The older ones are allowed to roam freely in the mountain. Being an “Ecological Agricultural Science and Technology” company, the pigs are raised in respect to organic norms and humane treatment.
After lunch and lychees at the pig farm, we started our journey back to Zhuhai. However, within 300 metres, one of the tyres burst and we were all stuck in the Chinese countryside. After a few complications, and some tea at the neighbour’s house we were able to get to a garage and fix it. While driving back we saw lots of beautiful countryside and passed over Guangzhou’s huge industrial harbour.
Interested in being presented with opportunities like this? Apply now to intern in China.
So I’ve been roped into writing another blog. Last time I was writing about wacky shrimp-charmers and typical Chinese benevolence but I’m toning it all down a bit in an attempt to brandish my questionable cooking talent. However, do not fear these recipes, for they have earned critical acclaim from seasoned pundits such as my ex-flatmate and anosmic sausage-dog. What’s more is that I present an opportunity to make friends with your local veg-stall owner. Just visit every day and say ‘shēng yì xīng lóng’ after you’ve paid and you’ll be friends for life.
Perhaps I should stop flaunting my credentials get on with what you came here for.
Dish One – Egg Fried Rice
‘It sounds boring!’ I hear you cry. “It’s too easy!” you moan. Pfft. Don’t you remember the social sec from that questionable university rugby club telling you not to knock something until you’ve tried it?
- Egg, obviously. You’re going to need 2-5 of these, depending on how much you hit the gym.
- Rice. Try to scale this with the number of eggs you’ve used.
- Some kind of oil to grease your wok. I use peanut oil because it’s the cheapest.
- Vegetables. Normally I go with a solitary carrot because I’m boring, but you should try adding broccoli, pak choi or cauliflower. If you’re feeling really adventurous then add all four.
- Soy sauce, obviously. This is China after all.
- Sesame oil. This is the secret ingredient that sets apart the Jamie Olivers from the normal Olivers.
Start by getting your rice cooker on the go. While she’s doing the hard work for you, chop up your vegetables into little chunks and crack open your eggs into a small bowl. Then, fry the veg in your wok on a medium/high heat in some oil.
Once those seedless fruits are looking nice and cooked turn down the heat to low/medium and throw in the eggs. Be sure to give them a good whacking with a wooden spoon. Beat them until it looks like that scene from Team America when the hero-guy comes out of the pub.
Now you need to add in the rice. Make sure that it isn’t all mushy with water then throw it into the wok. Pour some soy sauce over it and stir it in. Usually you’ll need about 10-20mL of soy sauce, but you’ll soon work out how strong you like your flavours. Finally, pour some sesame oil into the wok and mix that in too. About 3-5mL is all you need.
And voila! That took about 15 minutes.
Dish Two – Chicken Stir Fry
This is my signature dish in China. My old housemates back home in England know how proud I was of my first bhuna and others find my bolognese irresistible. However, China isn’t fond of curry and you’ll pay a lot of money to cook yourself a proper bolognese so I’ll try to keep on topic.
- Chicken. Cluck cluck.
- Rice or noodles. This is a great opportunity because you can disguise this single recipe as two by using either carbohydrate base.
- Carrots. Feel free to add other vegetables but the carrots are the best thing about this dish.
- Ginger. You’ll need about 5cm of this, maybe more. Who knows? You’ll find out how much you like soon enough.
- Garlic. While we’re on the subject, anyone reading who hasn’t been to China might be interested to know that the Chinese like to munch on whole garlic cloves. You’ll need about three for this dish.
- Soy sauce. You’ll work out how much you need.
- Oil. Again, I use peanut oil because it’s the cheapest.
- Honey (not essential).
- Peanut butter (not essential).
- Peanuts (not essential).
Choose if you want rice or noodles. Prepare them but wait until later to cook.
Slice and dice your chicken and slap it into a moderately oiled wok. You don’t want to turn on the heat yet unless you like your chicken black. Wash your chopping board if you don’t have access to another and use it to chop your carrots. Slice them into 1cm thick batons, wash them and leave them aside. Turn on the chicken to a medium heat. Then start chopping up the ginger and garlic into tiny pieces. A big meaty cleaver helps with this. The smaller the better. You’ll see what I mean.
Somewhere in the middle of chopping up the ginger and garlic you’ll hear a mysterious voice whisper in your ear: ‘don’t forget to turn on the rice’. This will only occur if you chose to cook rice. Obey the voice.
When the chicken is almost cooked, which is usually when you’ve just peeled the garlic and ginger, put your carrots in the wok. If you’re cooking noodles, boil the water now.
When you feel like you can’t be bothered to chop ginger and garlic anymore, put them in the wok and turn the flame up high. I try to make some room in the middle of the wok and put them there, adding the soy sauce at the same time. I find that the flavours come out better when it’s been blasted with heat. Leave it for about 15 seconds and then stir it all in. After a few minutes I like to pick the wok up and toss the ingredients up into the air and catch them again in the wok. (I actually do this with the lid on but it’s still good practice). Finally, add a squirty of honey and a spoony of peanut butter. Stir it like that rumour you spread about Tom and Lucy back in ‘08.
If your choice was noodles, start cooking them now. They need about one or two minutes. If you chose rice, it should be cooked by now. Put it in a bowl and add a little bit of soy sauce. I like to add the noodles to the wok and stir fry them with some extra soy sauce.
About now everything should be ready. Just serve it up. Garnish with peanuts to add extra protein and a new crunchy texture.
And that’s it! Another just-satisfactory blog that has slipped through the editor’s occasionally slippery net.