Posted by: Lotus Light | September 3, 2010

Fear… and is it real?

Continuing explorations as a newcomer means getting out of the house or the institution grounds and through the front gate. Most universities or schools are surrounded by the shops that are most useful to students and teachers.  Restaurants, optometrists, stationery, sports equipment and the small or big supermarkets.  Walking the block so you can’t get lost at first will bring most of these to you.

But sometimes it can be daunting to walk into the restaurants and order something.  The menu is in Chinese, the floor and tables aren’t as clean as we are used to, there may be a cat or dog in residence in the kitchen doorway. What if we order something really weird?  What if we order something we really hate?  What if they don’t clean the plates properly or it’s not cooked properly?  All these fears run through our heads – maybe it’s just better if we go to the nearest McDonalds or go to the supermarket and buy things to cook at home.

What happens if we get lost? Will we ever find our way home again?  Will we be mugged, kidnapped or worse?

Are these fears justified? 

We are used to different standards in our home country.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to isolate ourselves and go crazy trying to protect ourselves.

Will we die from the food?  Rarely! Open-mouthed smile   Food from the street stalls and ‘holes-in-the-wall’ restaurant is usually really fresh and well-cooked.  The turnover is high because of the low price and convenience.  So – try it!  Street food is great because you can look and point.  The floors are dirty or greasy and have food spilled on them, the tables have only been swished over with a slop cloth.  Mostly true – the dropped food ‘2 second’ rule DOESN’T apply here.  The wait staff are used to cleaning up after bits dropped from chopsticks and from the bones etc placed on the table, not the plates.  But in general, the fast, high temperature cooking means the food is safe. Shut your eyes to the ‘ambiance’ and enjoy the food!

What about the water?  It is usually pretty safe to brush your teeth using the water from the tap in your bathroom.  China’s water quality is a problem the Government is addressing, and there is still a little way to go to ensure that tap water can be safely drunk everywhere.  Check out your students or Chinese friends – they carry water or tea with them all the time.  This is a great habit to get into.  Water is usually pretty cheap in your local shops, and you can order big bottles of water (tongs) to be delivered to your apartment.  Boiling the tap water is usually enough to make it safe for drinking.

What about fruit and vegetables, are they safe?  If you would wash them at home – wash them here. If you would peel them at home, peel them here.  You don’t need to buy special disinfectants or use dishwasher liquid to wash them in. A wash in tap water will be fine.

Some of the best food you will ever eat will come from the most unlikely places you’ve ever seen.  Be prepared to try new things.  Really weird foods are usually pretty expensive, so it is unlikely that you will order them by accident – one look at the price list will show you what is commonly eaten. Look around at what other patrons are eating and point to something that looks good.  You won’t like everything you try – but that happens at home too.

As for getting lost, ask the Foreign Affairs staff to write your address in Chinese and carry it with you wherever you go.  That way you can hop on and off as many buses as you like, walk down as many interesting side-streets as you want and when it’s time to head for home, hail a taxi, show the driver the address and you’ll be fine.

It is VERY rare that you will encounter any danger.  The majority of Chinese people, country or city, are friendly and helpful. It is more likely that if you show interest in what people are doing, you’ll be invited to join them.

What will be most important in your explorations in China will be your attitude.  If you are open, friendly and interested, it is likely that nearly 300,000,000 doors will welcome you!  If you let fear of the unknown, fear of difference control you, your time here will be much, much less than it could have been.

Don’t let fear stop you from having a great time in China!!



  1. Very useful tips.

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