You know what’s important in life?
Last week I wrote about the 5 Things I Love About Living in China so it only makes sense to balance that out with the 5 things that I really dislike about living in China.
I understand that China is a very large and diverse country with different people, customs, and cultures that vary from region to region. This is just a breakdown of my experiences thus far in Guangzhou.
So let’s get it started…
This is obviously number one for me.
China, unfortunately, is known around the world for having a pollution problem. Nasty gray smog and tiny particulates clog up the sky, block out the sun, and make it unbearable to go outside.
I remember the first winter I spent here, there was a span of 3 weeks where I didn’t see the sun. The Air Quality Index (AQI) was consistently up above 200, which is incredibly unhealthy.
It made me so depressed that I made plans to leave China as soon as I could.
The large number of factories that contribute so much to China’s economy are also responsible for this environmental problem.
The good news is, the government is starting to crack down. Factories all over are either being fined or even shut down for not following production regulations.
I know for sure China is investing heavily in renewable resources and in time these issues will become less and less severe.
Or lack thereof…
Stuff is dirty here. Simple as that.
The thing that gets to me the most, however, is the cleanliness of restaurants.
Many of the places that I’ve gone into eat at are quite filthy. You can see into the kitchen and the equipment and facilities are less than appetizing. It’s not generally a sight that makes you excited to dig in and start eating.
I’ve eaten at multiple restaurants and have seen cockroaches crawling around tables or the walls, random pools of water, and bugs that shouldn’t be there.
Besides restaurants, public buildings or places are often not kept up or just plainly ignored.
Bathrooms are one of the first things that come to mind.
Here in China bathrooms double as a smoking room, despite the no smoking signs everywhere.
Restaurants, fancy upscale malls, stairways, convenience stores, and even the building where I used to teach will have a nice cloud of cigarette smoke wafting through the hallways at all times of the day.
My friend who runs a sourcing agency here said it got so bad at his office building’s bathroom that he decided to move offices where they actually enforce the No Smoking rule.
Similar to the pollution, I can imagine that over time this type of behavior will become less and less common as the rules start to be enforced.
Until then, smoke it up!
People to the left. People to the right. People on the trains. People on the planes.
I rhymed there. You see that?
Anyway, yeah, it’s no surprise it’s crowded here. With the population of China approaching 1.5 billion, it’s no secret that it gets crowded.
But damn, does it get annoying.
You just cannot escape it here.
You want to go to a café to work? Good luck! There will be 353 people doing the same thing.
You want to grab lunch? Not today junior! So do 5,982 other people at the same location.
Every single day, at all hours of the day, you will see the subways full, the malls packed, and the restaurants flooded with people.
Guangzhou has a reported population of around 14 million people. To contrast that, New York City’s population is 8.5 million. From what I remmber about living in NYC, it’s a city that has a certain energy to it that can be really invigorating.
You would think that any big city would give you that same feeling but it’s not the case here. Guangzhou feels more like an energy sucker.
The crowds here are so immense that it has become a public hazard. A couple months back (I think November 2017), there was a light festival in the downtown part of the city. It attracted so many people that they had to shut down the ENTIRE event!
They closed the subways and basically closed all of downtown because 250,000 people showed up… Yes a quarter of a million people showed up for a light show. That’s just insane!
I do enjoy larger cities but I must say that it can be a bit much. There is definitely a need to recharge from a place like Guangzhou.
4. Robot People
When I am out in the town, eating, or on the subway, you can expect about 95% of people glued to their cell phone. And I mean absolutely glued to that screen.
People are so distracted that they’ll miss their subway stop, accidently run into other people, sign posts or other inanimate objects.
I don’t know if it’s just China or all of Asia but cell phones here are a serious deal.
And it’s kind of eerie…
I go out to eat and see an entire group of Chinese eating together, yet no one is talking and every single person is just staring at their screen like a zombie.
I see children at dinner with their families playing with giant iPads, and couples getting coffee, not saying a word to each other, their eyes illuminated from the reflection of their screens.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in communicating with each other in a normal manner. Everything is done via text or some app.
This leads to social awkwardness. People don’t really know how to interact with each other. New acquaintances come off as timid and shy or they simply don’t know how to hold a conversation.
Sure, there is a language and cultural barrier, but I think this is having more of an impact that goes beyond just differences in language.
My buddy who speaks fluent mandarin has made comments about similar things—finding it difficult or impossible to make real Chinese friends because of the fact that they don’t know how to interact.
My perspective may be skewed so take this all with a grain of salt. I moved here just two years ago and I haven’t seen how things have developed in the US, or other parts of the world for that matter. I don’t know if people are noticing this cell phone phenomenon all over the world but it just seems to be more pronounced on this side of the hemisphere.
5. Censored Internet
If you come to China you’ll quickly realize that all of your most frequented websites and Mobile Apps DO NOT work.
That’s right. Facebook, Google, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Whatsapp—to name a few—don’t work at all.
And that’s frustrating as hell.
It’s not that I have social media withdrawals, but rather, it’s that I rely heavily on these apps for the work that I do.
We really take Google for granted. It’s become so necessary for finding information that other search engines just don’t cut it anymore. I’m talking to you Bing!
Besides Google, I use Facebook for advertising, Youtube for my…well, Youtube channel, and Whatsapp just to stay in touch with family and friends.
And the Chinese Government blocks all of this.
I guess when you live inside a communist country you have to play by their rules…
Or you don’t.
Thanks to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
These nifty little tools let you get around the great Chinese Firewall by mimicking IP addresses of other countries.
In simpler words, when I’m connected to my VPN, my internet appears as if I’m browsing in the US, UK, or whatever other country I select.
The downside of this is that it’s f*cking slow! Download and upload speeds are fractions of normal speeds and it just makes everything a bit harder.
I’m not gonna beat this to death, but yeah, having censored internet is really annoying. But hey, they gotta keep their billions under control somehow.
More power to ’em!
There will always be something that you don’t 100% LOVE about the place you live but the goal is to accept what you can’t control and adapt.
I used to get incredibly frustrated about some of this stuff but now I’ve gotten over it. I can’t change it so I’m not going to waste the energy in getting worked up about it.
These annoyances are solely based on my experiences here in Guangzhou and obviously cannot be applied to the entire country of China.
There are of course many things to appreciate here and if anything at all, I hope you got a chuckle out of reading this.
If you plan to come to China, shoot me a message and I’d love to answer any questions you may have!