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!
Get in touch:
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.
As is often the case during the transition of relocating abroad, one of the most daunting factors within this process can be the change in diet. Coming towards the end of my second month here in Chengdu and third year collectively in China I can safely say that it is indeed that little bit of comfort in the form of a meal that offers that much needed taste of home. Therefore, as a self-confessed ‘foodie’ to make life a little easier I am going to layout where I feel are the best places to go, how to get there and how they compare in terms of price and quality:
Peter’s Tex Mex
Although this is possibly the oldest and one of the most well-known western food chains in Chengdu as well as Beijing, do not be fooled by the fact that there are several locations across the city. This was in fact the first place I visited for a western meal and I can honestly say that I left needing to be carried home bearing a full smile which is a rarity. From nachos, to pizza, to Mexican food and even all things sweet I was very impressed with the quality and variety of food here which came to roughly 400 RMB between me and a friend allowing us to have a nice banquet. If you are keen on a tipple, there are also some western lagers and the freshly made margaritas pack a real punch!
12 East Tongzilin Rd/桐梓林东路12号
To say these burgers are good is an understatement. Out of my three years in China, the burger selection is definitely one of the best I have ever had. Redbeard (an American expat) sources high quality ingredients (Aussie beef namely) for his seriously decadent menu that plates up everything from gargantuan buffalo burgers to classic beef delights layered in different kinds of cheese. He also offers seriously decadent smothered fries and you can wash them down with craft beers.
I find it hard to pick a favourite (although the ‘mutton chops’ comes close) and I’ve tried a fair few. The burgers are definitely on the pricy side but you really know where your money goes – servings are huge and quality is outstanding. They are also now available for delivery !
29 Zijing Donglu, Chengdu/成都紫荆东路29号
Although this is quite a popular chain across China, I feel that avocado and brunch is continuing to prosper amongst us and it is on that basis that Wagas deserves a try as well as the reasonable prices. To put it simply, the elegance and nostalgia associated with a poached egg done properly when thousands of miles away from home really is a welcomed luxury over here, especially when factored in with the ‘lighter’ choices including kale, feta, and so on for the more health conscious.
Located in the scenic area of TaiKoo Li, Wagas offers the chance to sit back, relax and take in the wonderful surroundings with the outside seating area and a wide selection of juices to compliment it !
TaiKoo Li Chengdu, L1/ 1345 中纱帽街8号成都远洋太古里L1 – 1345
Mike’s Pizza Kitchen
No matter where you are from and where you may be in the world, I think it is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of us all speak the language of ‘pizza’ due to the liberty of adding your own personal touch. At Mike’s, not only do you get the option of base, toppings, sauce and so on but every single element is of the highest quality.
The quality is in fact so good that you will be unable to eat here without a prior reservation and can only order delivery at an allocated time relative to your location. Nevertheless, when in Chengdu if you’re talking pizza then you must be talking Mike’s because I am yet to have tried one as good in the UK, let alone China.
4 Tongzilin Lu Ste. 7/桐梓林路4号附7号 – Just look for the Big, Blue “M”
“From the Heart of Tuscany to the tastebuds of Chengdu” is a perfect fit for the motto of this wonderful restaurant as you are taken on a culinary journey from the southwest to the more hills of Tuscany. This is nicely complimented by an array of stunning Italian wines that also reside there in the form of Bucciano’s own “The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne” brand.
As I’m sure you can imagine, although the choice of food and wine is endless rest assured that the majority of dishes are served with a generous lashing of Tuscany’s finest extra virgin olive oil coupled with traditional bread and vegetables to tick you over while you take in the ambience. From pizza to pasta, meat or seafood- you will not be disappointed !
314 Block 3, Building B, Poly Center, 1 Jinxiu Road, Wuhou District ( Near to the Ping’an Bank, Yulin, North Kehua Road)/ 锦绣路1号保利中心B座3楼314室(玉林、桐梓林、科华北路、武侯区、平安银行附近)
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Why does it have to be Basketball?
Did you ever want to do some extraordinary stuff that feels a little bit like being a celebrity without being one? Or to see and go through cool and wonderful situations? Then China is the place to be! Today I am going to speak about one of these activities. We got free tickets for a basketball match between two University Teams. Actually a friend got them, and not only two, he got a lot, so we went there with a bunch of fellow students. I was really happy on one side getting the opportunity to see my first basketball match but on the other hand I would have preferred watching a football match instead. But basketball is much more popular in China.
Why? If you ask a Chinese person this question they also don’t know. Football is also popular in China, and most people know at least one name of a German player, although they will use the Chinese name for him so you might not understand who it is they mean. For example you will have a Chinese guy smiling at you and say. “my favourite players are Kelinsiman or Shiweiyinshitaige!” Ok, so these examples are quite easy, but you will sometimes have a hard time I guarantee it.
Before the Match
But back to business! As a Student of Qingdao University, I was cheering for the Qingdao Team. I cheered so much that I even forgot the name of the other university, but is that information needed? I mean, who wants to know about the loser anyway?
Everything was new for me; first of all they were playing the national anthem before the game. Which is quite strange for a German to see, as we don’t play national anthems that often on sports events. Actually the only occasion on which we would play the German national anthem would be a match between national teams. Then they had two stadium speakers that were giving information about the teams and the game. The were announcing every single player by name.
After the introduction another, for me, strange thing happened. A group of cheerleaders came and performed on the field. Which was strange, because in Germany this is quite a seldom thing to happen too. Actually, I only know about cheerleaders from American movies.
For me the idea of cheerleading is, using diplomatic terms now, quite a strange one. Why would you need a bunch of girls performing expressive dancing, to cheer up a crowd that came to see their team competing against another one anyway? And why are there no male cheerleaders? Or are there some at women’s sport events? And if so, what kind of clothes do they wear? Hot pants, with muscle shirts? What would they swing around?
During the Game
Anyway after the performance and a long time of people running around without any system visible, on and by the sides of the field the actual game begun. We had the best seats directly on the line of the field. The anticipation was killing me already, when the game started.
And I saw from what I can tell about basketball (which is not too much, because I never saw the need to gather knowledge about this game anyway) it was a good game. The players were dedicated and they really played with tactics. During half time, two of my fellow students had to perform a streetball game against two Chinese guys. In the end the Qingdao Team won with smashing 52:38 Points.
After all I was really happy with the whole experience and can strongly recommend this to everyone that gets the opportunity- go and get a grasp of Chinese basketball, with everything belonging to it, including the loud drums Chinese people seem to carry around with them like the vuvuzelas brought to a football match!
In the two years between being an intern in Qingdao and being a Branch Manager here, plenty has changed. But the most striking change is probably the massive popularisation of digital wallets, the two most popular being Alipay (zhīfùbao 支付宝) and WeChat Pay (wēixìnzhīfù 微信支付). Digital wallets have yet to catch on to the same extent in the UK. Apple Pay is the most notable example, however it definitely does not have the same momentum as WeChat Pay does.
So How Does it Work?
Put simply, you link your Chinese bank card to your WeChat account. From there, you can either scan a shop’s QR code (China loves a QR code!) or the cashier can scan your own personal bar code. From there, you input the amount you have to pay, tap in your WeChat Pay password and, just like magic, your money is transferred immediately.
I am not exaggerating when I say that WeChat pay is everywhere! From taxi drivers, fruit stalls and tiny noodle shops to supermarkets and car dealers, everyone now uses either WeChat Pay or Alipay, or even both! I have only come across one taxi driver who refused to accept it.
It solves the age old problem of how to split the bill. In Chinese, this is called AA制 (AA zhì). Before digital wallets were a thing, it was a hassle having the right change and juggling between you and your friends to make sure everyone paid their fair share. Now, in a very Chinese fashion, you can send your friends a digital 红包 (hóng bāo red packet) to pay them back for dinner.
The only time I have found WeChat to be a pain was recently when my phone stopped working. On the first of every month, the packages of calls and data on Chinese phones refreshes. If you don’t have enough credit to refresh the package, your phone simply stops working until you top it up again. Becoming reliant on WeChat Pay was a nightmare in this situation, as I couldn’t connect to the internet to make any payments. To make matters worse, I only had 6RMB in my wallet! I couldn’t even get dinner, let alone buy a top up for my phone. I had to go home, connect to my home WiFi and top up my phone before I could access my WeChat Pay again.
So how does WeChat Pay affect the rest of China?
In just a few short years since their introduction into Chinese society, these digital wallets have become massively popular. According to a recent UN report, the value of payments made through WeChat pay has increased by a staggering eighty-five times, from RMB 0.1 trillion in 2012, to RMB 8.5 trillion in 2016. It is hardly surprising when WeChat is so integral to Chinese life. Most peoples’ social life online is conducted through WeChat, using the app to chat, organise events, find flatmates and even pay their taxes online!
A real upshot for the Chinese government as well is that the use of digital wallets has brought vast amounts of cash payments into easily recorded and traced digital transactions. This will potentially make it easier for tax authorities to keep track and collect taxes owed. In addition, it has the potential to bring more people into the economy. Those who are too far from banks, or are lacking the correct documentation to open a bank account where they live, can instead access the economy through their phone, taking advantage of China’s huge smartphone penetration.
The largest change on the street has been the near-extinction of cash. In restaurants, in cabs, in shops, I rarely see cash changing hands. Instead, people brandish smartphones and QR codes. It will be interesting to see how long this trend lasts.
For international payments, we always recommend using TransferWise. They’re cheaper than the banks, because they always use the real exchange rate – which you can see on Google – and charge a very small fee. They’re also safe and trusted by over 2 million people around the world. You can sign up here.
A little insight into my life in China…
Coming to intern in China was never a daunting prospect for me as I had previously visited China a few times, so it felt almost natural to come back and complete a 3 months’ internship. The only obstacle was trying to persuade my parents to let me travel all the way to Asia on my own again but this time for 3 months rather than a 2-week holiday.
Coming from an Asian background (Afghanistan specifically), one would think it wouldn’t be a huge deal for my parents to accept my decision in wanting to intern in another Asian country. However, knowing I would be living in a city I have never visited before genuinely worried them. I suppose what made them feel comfortable in knowing I was going to be safe was that I would have InternChina to rely on in case I felt in any way unhappy or unsafe. But being in Qingdao, the most dangerous thing I’ve come across these past three months has been trying not to cry whilst eating spicy food. Whereas, if this was London, by 11PM I would question and wonder if I should go home yet so I do not face any dangers that we, women, are constantly told to watch out for. I have had the privilege of travelling to many countries and nowhere makes me feel more safe and protected the way China does.
Culturally, China is not so different from Central Asian countries like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. We all have a big tea drinking culture. We enjoy sharing our food. We consider family to be our main priority. But most importantly respect and kindness to be shown to visitors. Chinese culture is so rich and pure that it has allowed me to feel at home so far away from home. I would wholeheartedly recommend interning in China, as you learn about a culture first hand and experience a way of living life very differently to your own.
When it comes to the business aspects of China, the culture is very different to the Western and Central Asian way of life. Only that in China, networking is incredibly important and making connections with whomever you can is the norm. Also, their work hours are somewhat longer but more laid back, as they take their time to complete a task rather than work to a deadline.
Being an intern in InternChina has been interesting as I have been given many different responsibilities which would be deemed too high for an intern in the U.K. We are treated more as colleagues than interns which I think is great, not only for our self confidence but knowing we have the ability to perform as well as an employee. It also helps open doors to our futures because being given tasks we would not normally complete allows us to challenge and stimulate our time. Here’s our intern Joe giving us 6 reasons on why we should intern in China (although I could give you many more reasons as to why you should intern here)!
My final words; yolo, come and experience China.
(check out the IC Instagram and you will understand why people consider China to be travel goals)
One of the most notable differences between Chinese and Western cuisine is breakfast. When most westerners think of breakfast, images of toast, cereal, pastries, eggs, bacon, orange juice and coffee come to mind. In China, breakfast is a whole different ball game. A major difference in Chinese cuisine is the lack of dairy. Milk, cheese, butter and yogurt are not staples in Chinese cuisine and often aren’t readily available in smaller markets and grocery stores. So many Western breakfast staples aren’t eaten often here. Chinese breakfast is usually savory and people don’t shy away from stronger flavors such as preserved eggs, pickles, and spicy oil to eat first thing in the morning. Many people go out for breakfast and grab a quick bite to eat on the way to work or school. Street vendors will open up early to sell their goods to passing commuters – always at a very cheap price!
Below I’ve listed some of the most common breakfast foods in our cities. This, however, is only a sampling of what options are out there – especially for the more adventurous eaters. So get your taste buds ready, and before you know it you will be a Chinese breakfast convert!
粥 Zhōu (Congee)
Zhōu (congee) is a popular breakfast dish, which can be eaten all over China, but especially in southern China. Usually made of rice, although there are variations made with cornmeal, millet, sorghum, etc., zhōu is similar to oatmeal or porridge. Zhōu, however, is not sweetened and instead of adding sugar or fruit as a topping, popular toppings include zhàcài (pickled vegetables), salted eggs, soy sauce, and bamboo shoots to name a few. Yóutiáo, (long, deep fried dough) is often served as an accompaniment to zhōu.
馒头 Mántou (Steamed Buns)
Another very popular breakfast food in China is mántou. The classic mántou is white and made from wheat flour, though they come in various shapes and forms. Fresh from the steamer, mántou are soft and pillowy, and make for a great breakfast or midday snack. In northern China, often times mántou will be served with a meal instead of rice, and grilled mántou are one of my favorite street barbecue items.
包子、饺子 Bāozi, Jiǎozi (Steamed Bao, Dumplings)
Dumplings are also a classic Chinese breakfast. Bāozi are large steamed dumplings you can eat straight out of your hand. They are usually filled with minced meat or vegetables, though some have sausage, egg and other goodies inside. Jiǎozi are smaller steamed or boiled dumplings you eat with chopsticks and dip into a vinegar and soy sauce mixture – and of course as much spice as you want.
煎饼 Jiānbǐng (Fried Pancake Wrap)
Jiān bǐng is a common breakfast food that is popular all over China. Similar to a French crepe, jiān bǐng are always made to order, and usually filled with egg, hoisin sauce, chili paste, scallions and báocuì (fried, crispy cracker).
肠粉 Chángfěn (Rice Noodle Roll)
Chángfěn is found in southern China – more specifically in the Guangdong province, and is definitely a staff favorite here in InternChina. For those lucky enough to be in Zhuhai, every morning you will walk past huge trays of steaming metal contraptions, with cooks churning out chángfěn faster than you can blink. Chángfěn is made from rice milk that is mixed with minced pork and egg, then steamed on large metal sheets. The resulting steamed rice noodle is then scraped onto a plate and covered in sweet soy sauce. Chángfěn may not sound appealing, and it definitely doesn’t win a beauty award, but is by far one of the best breakfast foods to be found in China! So if you’re coming to Zhuhai, make sure to give it a try.
And of course, no breakfast is complete without a cup of dòujiāng (豆浆), fresh warm soy milk, to go along with it!
Selecting an IC internship destination can be a truly daunting task. How can one possibly choose between panda central, tropical beach paradise, and the beautiful mountains of the north?! Fortunately, as an office intern, I have been given the wonderful opportunity to experience life in two of IC’s beautiful cities: Qingdao and Zhuhai!
Now for the ultimate question, “Which one more preferable?”. Well, of course the answer to that question is going to differ from person to person, but I can share a bit of my experience to give you a better idea of life in both cities.
Qingdao and Zhuhai have excellent transportation systems. You can navigate the cities easily with your bus cards.
Now for some pros and cons for both cities.
• The majority of buses charge only 1 RMB!! Going to and from work only cost me $0.30 a day!
• Adding money to your bus card is extremely easy – just stop by a kehao and have one of the workers behind the counter help you top it up.
• Heading to and from work can be a bit of a challenge if you’re on a popular route. Prepare to feel like canned sardines.
• Qingdao rush-hour can double the time it takes you to get home.
But don’t let these cons scare you away! Just pop in your headphones, check your email, or engage in some mindful meditation. Your commute home can be an excellent time to multitask!
• Hello breathing room! You tend to have more space on public transportation in Zhuhai.
• Are you looking to get out of China for the weekend with your multiple entry visa? Hop on a bus headed to Gongbei and spend the day in Macau!
• 2-3 RMB each way, rather than 1 in Qingdao
• Adding money can be a bit more difficult. You sometimes have to go to the bus station to top up your card.
**If you are more of a subway/metro person, you might consider heading to Chengdu.**
Qingdao is located in northern China and tends to experience four seasons throughout the year. Zhuhai, on the other hand, is located in the south and has a more tropical climate. If you are headed to China in the summer, I would highly recommend going to Qingdao. The weather is hot, but not scorching. Zhuhai is the perfect winter get away. Who doesn’t love t-shirt weather in January?! I know I sure do!
Both Qingdao and Zhuhai are excellent for those looking to do some traveling both in and outside China.
• 5 hour train ride to Beijing
• 6 hour train ride to Nanjing/Shanghai
• 1 hour flight to Seoul
• Great for a weekend trip to the Yellow Mountains
• 15-30 minute taxi to Macau
• ~1 hour ferry to Hong Kong
• Get out of the city and experience more rural regions, such as the Yunnan Province in the west
• Spend a weekend in breathtaking Yangshuo
Interested in learning more about IC’s fantastic internship locations?! Check out the following Superblogs: Chengdu, Dalian, Qingdao, Zhuhai.
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!