On my year abroad I went to Peking University in Beijing. I was immersed in Chinese language, culture, and scrumptious cuisine (my favourite: peking duck pancakes). Aside from indulging in the new cuisine, other cultural differences struck me…
For one, the very efficient Chinese App, “Wechat”. Wechat is mix between WhatsApp and Facebook, but offers many more functions. Apart from the standard messaging function and “wechat moments” (similar to the Facebook Newsfeed), you can use wechat to pay for almost anything in China. Shops just have to scan a code on your wechat app which then transfers money from your bank account to the shop. You can also use wechat to order taxis (you can decide whether you want a shared car, a normal taxi, a black car driven by a professional driver etc.), to reserve Cinema tickets, purchase theatre tickets and get them delivered the next day, and even rent out public bikes. Other apps such as Zhifubao, waimai or Elema allow you to order things online - the last two focus on takeaways and deliver you any food from any restaurant within 45 minutes.
On another note, it is also important to understand the effects of breathing in the severe pollution in Beijing. Some masks available in stores do not actually filter out the dust and chemicals! The ones that are scientifically proven to protect your lungs have “3M” written on them and have a visible filter. You should be aware that even though you are inside a building, this does not mean the air inside the building is not polluted. When staying in Beijing you should invest in an air purifier for your room.
In addition, prepare yourself for the chaotic traffic as cars have priority to turn, even if the traffic light shows green for pedestrians. It is not advisable to take a taxi or buses at peak times (7-9am and 6-8pm), so it would be quicker to use the public bikes or take the subway.
Last but not least, the bathrooms in China are mainly squat toilets which do not provide toilet paper or soap, so make sure you carry around tissues and disinfectant.
Although the pollution may be a negative, China has so much to offer. I will end this by leaving you with two highlights on my year abroad: camping on the Great Wall of China and riding on a camel in the middle of the Inner Mongolian Desert!