It's more than just perfecting your chopsticks technique or struggling to learn Mandarin. Living in China – indeed, living anywhere abroad – changes you, as Matt Prichard reports.
I have now lived in China longer than it took to get my bachelor's degree. While no one is going to confuse me with any of my Chinese colleagues or friends, the experience has definitely made a difference in my daily routine and how I see the world. In my estimation, it has been a positive change.
Some ingrained laowai (foreigner) habits are hard to break: I still sometimes forget to ask if I should take off my shoes when visiting another person's home. Yet, it was a revelation to make a list of 50 ways I have become more Chinese, and in particular, more of a Beijinger, in ways big and small:
1. While mystified the first time I was served a glass of hot water, I now like it, especially in winter.
2. I have an English name and a distinct Chinese name (Ma Wen Tao) that's not just a phonetic version of the former.
3. I know the Chinese zodiac sign I was born under (rooster).
4. Don't hug acquaintances anymore.
5. Smile automatically when I see a small child, and may ask a baby's age or name.
6. Have a new favorite breakfast food: jian bing, Shandong style, a crunchy, eggy, spicy crepe of goodness.
7. Go to Wumart more than Wal-Mart, and love the lively atmosphere.
8. Have a son who speaks good Chinese – my youngest studied Mandarin in college, including a summer in Chengdu.
9. Have a new favorite snack: chuanr, or as my wife calls it, meat-on-a-stick.
10. Seldom worry about personal safety, even walking in big cities at night.
11. Keep a large metal carafe on my desk for hot water for the day's tea.
12. Have friendly relationship with Jing Dong delivery guy.
13. Have a Chinese keyboard on my phone.
14. Will eat jellyfish – reminds me of cole slaw.
15. No longer have coffee on balcony – that's where I hang wet clothes.
16. Politely cover my mouth with one hand while using a toothpick.
17. Grocery shop using my bicycle.
18. Have to remember to tip when I'm traveling abroad.
19. Wonder why public spaces there look so empty.
20. Pack a jar with a hot beverage from home for the office.
21. Consider vendors' prices only a reference point for haggling.
22. Use the China UnionPay card: I never leave home without it.
23. Love tearjerker Chinese history dramas on TV.
24. Am amazed by Western actors who speak really good Mandarin.
25. Make fun of Americanized "Chinese food" back home.
26. Keep transit card on me at all times.
27. Check air pollution conditions several times a day.
28. Keep mask in my coat pocket, humidifier by my bed.
29. Calculate, automatically, yuan equivalents of dollar prices in my head.
30. Am amazed at how much stuff costs in Western countries.
31. Check WeChat throughout day; make phone calls on WeChat.
32. Think ganbei (dry cup) when someone proposes a toast.
33. Have a pet cat with a Chinese name, Meimei (Little Sister).
34. Love candied crabapples.
35. Put my contact information for emails in English and Chinese.
36. Measure wintertime by when Beijing's centralized radiator heating system comes on and shuts off.
37. Keep supply of red envelopes for cash gifts on appropriate occasions.
38. Go to a hospital for routine healthcare.
39. Have Moutai baijiu (white spirits) firewater in a cabinet at home.
40. Live in a divided household: Wife and I are split by that infamous rivalry, Shanghai vs Beijing.
41. Have no problem with squat toilets, which actually are more natural.
42. Surprised and dismayed by how little the world knows about China.
43. Get up in wee hours to watch important sporting events outside Asia.
44. Think not only of time zones when phoning abroad, but also the International Dateline.
45. Try to balance Mandarin-speakers and English-speakers at social gatherings.
46. Understand much better the importance of friends to a happy life.
47. Celebrate two New Year's days and two Valentine's days.
48. Stare briefly at anyone who doesn't appear to be Chinese on buses, subways or airplanes.
49. Read celebrity news of Jackie Chan and Fan Bingbing, ignore Kardashians.
50. Gave up Netflix for Youku.