Living in China, you tend to hear a lot about the habits you should resist developing while here – nose picking and spitting usually being at the top of the list. But what about those things we should learn? Those things the Chinese have gotten right, those habits that would benefit us long after our stint in China is over? Below is a list of habits we should all be happy to pick up – some of which you may have already done!
1) Saving money
If anyone knows the value of a Yuan, it's the Chinese. And you often hear about younger people snapping up English teaching jobs in order to "save money for back home" because, well, it's fairly easy to do here. Granted, it depends on a) the cost of living in your hometown and b) where exactly in China you're living, but for most people, it's perfectly possible to keep costs low. From cheap food (5 RMB bowls of noodles, anyone?) to cheap beer (oh, Snow…) to fairly cheap rent, carry your thrifty ways in China over to "the real world" and you'll be in much better shape than most of the world.
2) Using chopsticks
If you didn't know how to use them before, you certainly know now (either that or you've lost a ton of weight from subsisting solely on that meat-on-a-stick from your local C-Store). Being able to use chopsticks is one of those life skills that may not come up very often in your home country - but, when it does, your ability to use them flawlessly is definitely noticed.
3) Doing daily exercise
If you've ever gotten up early enough to watch the groups of people practicing tai chi in the parks, you know it's a beautiful sight to see. And while the supervised company exercises directed over a blaring loudspeaker may feel a bit 1984ish, the fact remains the same – the Chinese make a concerted effort to get some sort of physical exercise every day… which is a lot more than can be said about the oft stagnant developed countries. So while you don't necessarily have to bang your back into a tree or smack yourself on the shoulders, remember to take a bit of time out of your day to challenge your body.
4) Learning Chinese
Or Russian. Or Arabic. Or any foreign language for that matter. Granted, China is considered where the future is, so learning Mandarin is certainly not a bad thing – but the point is that almost all young people in China today are at least learning English, if not a third or fourth language. Learning a language is good for the brain, can be a great social activity, and opens you up to new and vastly different cultures. It's a time investment that is rarely a time waster.
5) Learning to eat anything
Chicken feet? No problem! Stinky tofu? Not my favourite by a long shot, but bring it on! Living (and, more importantly, eating) in China can open up a whole new culinary world. And even if you don't like all the local delicacies on offer, at least trying them can expand your palate in unexpected ways and make you more open to other experiences (not just of the culinary kind). I'm not sure if I would have had the guts to try three different kinds of live sea slugs when travelling to Korea last year, for example, if I hadn't already challenged myself by trying some of China's more exotic tastes – and now it's one of my most unique stories! The point is, never be afraid to try something new because it might just be delicious.
6) Being prepared
As a foreign woman living in China, one of the first things I learned was to carry a pack of tissues on me at all times. Whether used as toilet paper, napkins, or just as tissues, those little packs will save your life (or at least make it a lot easier). That got me thinking about all the other ways in which living in China teaches us to be prepared for anything at any time – whether it's a random rain shower in the middle of a sunny day or no soap in the bathroom (or anywhere, for that matter), carrying around an arsenal of various emergency items has become a way of life.
7) Eating smaller meals
How do the Chinese stay so skinny? While unfortunately it looks like we're going to have to settle for the unsatisfactory answer of "genes," there are some external factors that play into it – one of them being the habit of eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Touted as a radical new way to approach meals by many Western countries, eating small-portioned meals and snacks four to five times a day is simply how it's done here. It wards off that ravenous hunger that can lead to eating overly large and fatty meals, as well as keeps your blood sugar levels steady (which, again, can trigger that desire for foods with high sugar and fat contents). Not a bad way to structure meal time…
8) Not taking "no" for an answer
While this may seem like a pain when you're dealing with street vendors or illegal taxi drivers, when used for good, not immediately taking "no" for an answer can actually be a good thing. Let those pushy women at the fabric market who won't let you walk away be an example for you the next time you encounter rejection – whether in your office, your home, or at school, not backing down from a challenge or experience is an important step in turning your life into your own adventure.
So next time you're wondering what this country has to offer, take a minute to think about all the smart, savvy and downright useful habits you have (and will) pick up during your stay here. Look at it as the ultimate souvenir…
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