3 Sacrifices Expats Make By Not Learning Chinese

Over the last few years, professionals living and working in China have borne witness to an ongoing debate – whether or not foreign expatriates need to learn the Chinese language in order to not just work effectively in China, but to also understand the country, people, and culture.

To a certain extent, it’s quite reasonable for expatriates to ask whether or not they need to learn the Chinese language. While learning Chinese will undoubtedly aid in communication throughout one’s life and career in China, it certainly doesn’t come easy.

It’s also worth noting that in addition to the difficulties of the language, especially when transitioning from other languages such as English, there is also a significant time commitment involved.

When it comes to the basics, which can include difficult tones and rote character memorization, progress can be slow when it comes to developing a solid foundation. So, in the midst of all these potential difficulties, why would expatriates want to sink so much of their time into the Chinese language?

One key reason is that the China we know today is vastly different from the China that existed at the turn of the century. There are fewer expatriate positions available due to the ongoing development of the Chinese economy, which has resulted in an increase in the number of Chinese talent with experience in international markets and the ability to communicate fluently in other languages, especially English.  

Based on my own experience, foreign expatriates wanting to work in China can no longer expect to pick and choose their assignments. Instead, they must be willing to compete for a decreasing number of potential positions, which may also being them into competition with local Chinese talent. This then increases the need for expatriates to adapt and improve their communication skills.

I recently discussed this issue in my latest vlog on China, specifically what I’ve learned from my own experience working in China and with Chinese companies for over ten years. While I don’t feel it is any way a mandatory requirement to learn Chinese in order to work in China, I feel that would-be-expatriates will be making key sacrifices by not being able to communicate in Chinese, namely control, efficiency, and career development. Take a look at the below video to find out more.

All in all, there are many reasons why a foreign expatriate might consider studying the Chinese language. In addition to supporting one’s own work and career, the language can open new doors of possibilities to understanding China, its culture, and its people.

In the end, in an era where the competition, as well as team members, are speaking multiple languages and sporting comparable skills and experiences, not speaking Chinese, not to mention reading and writing, makes one stand out, and not in a good way.

I won’t pretend that the growing need to learn Chinese will effect all fields and professionals equally, but it seems likely that the Chinese language will become an increasingly important consideration for expatriates looking to make or continue their careers and lives in China.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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Why “Dual-Culture Management” is Important in China

Being based in a foreign country can be difficult. Different languages and customs can create barriers on a daily basis, and frustrations seem to be found around every corner. Of course, dealing with this kind of culture shock is a natural part of adapting to any new environment, and with hard work, it will pass in time.

However, the challenges multiply when you are employed in a foreign country, and are expected to drive business results, as part of a team, or even the leader of a department or office. Fitting into a new business culture, especially if you don’t speak the language, can be very challenging as many norms and rules are left unspoken, especially in cultures that favor more conservative and less direct approaches, such as in China.

The need to understand the behaviors, attitudes, and preferences of local consumers, business partners, media, and even government officials also adds to the challenges, as many of us working in the business world operate in part based on our own experiences, which create a clear map within our own minds of what works, and what doesn’t. Overcoming these existing mental patterns can be very difficult, but ignoring them can easily lead to business failure.

With these points in mind, I’d like to discuss a concept I’ve discussed with students and academics in Mainland China, called “Dual-Culture Management (双文化管理)”. While this may sound similar to “cross-cultural management”, it differs in one core aspect: Dual-Culture Management focuses on simultaneously observing an respecting the values of multiple cultures’ values and beliefs. In my work in China, I’ve too often seen cross-cultural work simplified to the culture with less power becoming subservient to the culture with more power. An example of this could be Chinese workers in Western companies forced to adopt the Western style, and vice versa for Western employees working in Chinese companies, if they are willing to adopt a different style at all.

Learn more about adopting a mindset of “Dual-Culture Management” when working in China.

I have begun using the concept of “Dual-Culture” as my experience has shown me that working as a bridge across cultures requires a mindset that includes more than a single way of thinking or doing things in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. And here, “success” relates to being able to not only meet your business objectives, but also build strong, sustainable, and trusted teams across different markets. In order to move closer to this type of more balanced cultural style, there are a number of mental adjustments that need to take place, some of which I will discuss below.

  1. Adjusting your management and communication style
  2. Adjusting your business instincts
  3. Adjusting your cultural sensitivity
  4. Adjusting your working speed (Watch the video here)

Adjusting Your Management and Communication Style

Taking on a management role in a foreign culture can be challenging as there can often be significant differences in things like hierarchy, organizational structure, workplace culture, and other aspects of the workplace. For example, when a Western manager moves to China, it’s very common for them to find that teams need more direct instruction, which sometimes can include direct micromanagement of important tasks and additional training for what might be considered basic skills overseas.

Respecting the local approach is a key way to earn trust.

Communicating effectively also can prove to be a challenge when operating in a business environment where English is most often a second or third language. Adding to this unique dynamic is how the need for a more direct management approach combines with the need to also communicate in a more roundabout and respectful manner in certain scenarios, no matter whether you are the boss or an employee.

In China, there is oten a specific cultural idea of correct management practices, which includes concepts such as giving Face, developing relationships, and even showing the proper types of character and behavior, a term call Suzhi, which I previously discussed in a previous blog post as well as a journal publication. Suzhi includes things such as keeping a low profile, showing tact, observing rules of respect and etiquette, and other things. And while every company is slightly different, the above points should help to illustrate how different business management can be in the Chinese context, and the need to adapt.

And while not many Chinese would expect a Western team member, manager, or boss to adapt completely, my own experience has shown that those willing to adapt, find much greater success in daily management and communication, as well as building lasting relationships and business success.

Adjusting Your Business Instincts

When Western companies establish offices in overseas countries such as China, one of the biggest challenges for Western managers on the ground, as well as top management overseeing operations from abroad, can be how often their natural management instincts can often steer them wrong.

If you want to hit your business targets, you need to understand the local market realities.

It is all too common for senior leaders and managers to strongly rely on their own experiences in overseas markets, as well as what could be considered an unconscious understanding of how things “should work”. Sadly, when making the crucial decisions these instincts can lead to the wrong decisions on a number of fronts, including managing people, building local relationships and partnerships, engaging with the media, and working with the Chinese government (Important for all businesses in China).

One example of an issue that can challenge senior Western managers who are new to China is conducting local media relations. On one hand, in China, the focus in China when dealing with the media often revolves around payment for access and content, vastly different from the focus on relationships and unbiased journalism in Western markets. On the other hand, the government-led aspect of China’s state-controlled media landscape, and the censorship that comes with it, presents many challenges and potential landmines to overseas companies looking to tell their stories in China.

Another example comes from my own personal experience. Once, when attending a meeting with a Western company looking to expand it’s presence in the Chinese market, my team gave a presentation on new developments in China’s retail market and the new business models that were working in China. Unfortunately, at the time, the main feedback from top leadership was that the recommendations presented to them did not fit “their” operating model. This unwillingness to even consider different approaches, can make it impossible to succeed in the Chinese market, where all domestic competitors know the market better than Western managers.

Overall, this type of thinking, wanting to continue with business as usual in a new market, is not uncommon when companies come to China. However, at best this mindset can result in a huge lack of preparedness, and at worse lead to serious market errors. It’s therefore vital for senior leaders and managers who are new to China to adjust their expectations and instincts accordingly, especially if they intend to compete successfully with local competitors.

Adjusting Your Cultural Sensitivity

Different countries and markets also have many types of cultural landmines that can be triggered by regular business operations as well as insensitive marketing and communications work. And in China, with its mobile-focused consumers, bad press can spread exceptionally fast and lead to extremely negative consumer sentiment.

Being sensitive to local beliefs and ideas will make it easier to create loyal local customers, and avoid costly mistakes.

One of the most poignant examples in recent memory was when Italian fashion house Dolce and Gabbana got into serious trouble on social media for releasing ads in China that many viewed as racist. Not only did this decision lead to intense consumer anger, it forced the company to cancel a huge fashion show in China, with many Chinese e-commerce sites refusing to carry their products. Matters were made even worse when racist, anti-China comments made by the fashion house’s co-founder began circulating online.

Decisions that might seem to be a simple part of everyday operations also need to be viewed through a local lens. I remember, years ago, when IKEA got in hot water due to its handling of an issue at one of its Shanghai locations. At one IKEA in Shanghai, it had become common for elderly residents to visit the store and lounge about in the cafeteria to socialize with their peers. However, one day the company decided to force out all the elders, which was met with anger by some on social media.

From these examples, it should be clear that there are many issues and viewpoints that must be accounted for when operating a business inside China. Foreign companies and senior managers do not merely need to adjust their thinking to fit the local market and consumers, but also get in the habit of including local managers and talent in the decision-making process to avoid costly mistakes.

Adjusting Your Working Speed

While many people are aware that different cultures operate at different speeds, the example most are likely aware of, especially business students and graduates, is that of Mexico and Latin American countries. These countries often operate with a so-called “Mañana Culture”, which sees local workers being unwilling to move at the same pace as Western executives, forcing Western companies to adapt if they wanted to do business locally. However, the example more relevant to working in China, especially in the Chinese tech industry, is something I like to refer to as “China Speed”, and it consists of several elements.

First, in the Chinese tech industry, it’s common for white-collar employees, and especially engineers, to handle significant workloads on a regular basis. This has been necessary to both handle demands in the extremely competitive domestic market, as well as those in new overseas markets. It is also not uncommon for schedules to be jam-packed with meetings and business trips. I remember one occasion in 2019, when after taking part in a full day’s work I headed over to a client’s office for a short meeting at 9pm, after which I had to board a flight to New York at 7am. And while in my own experience these types of late meetings were not common, they certainly typify the breakneck pace most Chinese companies are under pressure to maintain, in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Second, employees are very driven, on a personal level, to move fast and achieve results, which is one reason companies are able to handle the massive amounts of work to expand quickly and broadly. On one hand, similar to tech companies in overseas markets, Chinese tech companies offer very valuable compensation packages, which can include high salaries, bonuses, stock options, and other factors. However, many of these compensation options are directly tied to KPIs and producing results, sometimes in an all or nothing fashion, driving employees to not slow down.

It is also very common for employees to believe very strongly in the company’s work, products, and mission, driving them to go above and beyond. Sometimes this is due to their pride in a domestic Chinese company being able to successfully grow and compete on the global stage. In other cases it can stem from wanting to repay the company for the opportunity given to them. Unlike some companies overseas where one needs to have the “right background” (e.g., education, connections, previous employers) to be considered for a position, many Chinese tech companies focus first and foremost on a potential employee’s attitude. These companies therefore often worrying that graduates from top-tier schools will act lazy or entitled, and not be willing to dedicate themselves to their work, instead preferring to give chances to those from less well-known schools and poorer regions.

To succeed in China, you need to be able to move fast.

Third, Chinese tech companies are very ardent believers in the concept of “move fast and break things”. This is characterized by a tendency to focus more on implementation and less and planning, which makes sense when one looks at how the modern Chinese market developed early on in a less mature market without extensive regulations. This can sometimes result in rushed product launches, unclear external messaging, and often a very unclear brand image, as many tech companies put the product/service before all else. However, despite the complications this mentality can cause, it does seem to be related, in my experience, to these companies’ ability to grow and succeed.

Working at “China Speed” can rub many expatriate workers the wrong way, as they often regard their experiences and approaches from overseas markets as the “right way” and the Chinese classification as the “wrong way”. Western workers entering this space for the first time often feel at a supreme disadvantage as Chinese tech companies can have unclear internal structures, less refined processes, longer work hours, and a general mentality to “just get things done” no matter what. However, to succeed there is no other way than to abandon preexisting beliefs one wants to be able to function effectively and earn the support of colleagues.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, there are many exciting aspects to working in China. With the number of global Chinese companies growing, there is in increasing need for those with the skills to help Chinese companies expand overseas, as well as those who are agile enough to handle multiple cultures, and even languages. This can provide a number of potentially exciting career opportunities for those who are willing to take the leap and adapt on the ground.

Working within a different culture can also form the foundation for personal learning and growth. One one hand you will have the opportunity to learn about a new language and culture, and make many new friends. But perhaps even more important (to some), your time working and living among a different people and culture can help expand your worldview and allow you to view many global events through a different lens.

But the key is that the first step depends on you. There is nothing wrong with feeling frustration and even anger or other difficult emotions when experiencing a country or culture for the first time. But to succeed it is necessary to find both the will to push forward, as well as the empathy to accept mindsets and practices different from your own. The choice is yours, but I hope you will consider joining me, either in working in China, or in learning more about China and the Chinese people.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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China’s Overtime Culture: The Real Story on Alibaba’s 996 and Other Working Styles

In the last year, Alibaba’s 996 culture has been quite the hot topic, perhaps because of how specific the overtime guidelines were, requiring employees to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. However, in many respects, these types of overtime are nothing new in China, and have in fact been in practice for many years. I first experienced this over seven years ago, when I first moved to Shenzhen to work in the Chinese tech sector.

I still remember the day, one balmy afternoon in April of 2014, when I crossed the border from Hong Kong into Shenzhen, and began my trip to the Huawei campus where I would work and grow for the next 4+ years. Huawei, then one of China’s more successful tech companies overseas, is a classic example of an environment where overtime could and did thrive, full of ambitious and driven employees looking to build something bigger and better.

However, if one truly wants to understand overtime culture, or really anything about China, it’s vital to look at it from different perspectives and understand how it affects different types of people. And throughout my more than ten years in China, I’ve had the somewhat unique experience of working both for smaller companies and factories in addition to towering multinationals with employees in the tens of thousands.

“The boss says that the good and loyal employee is one who stays till at least 9:00pm…”

Office worker, furniture manufacturer, Jiaxing China

So while I would never claim to understand everything about China’s overtime culture, I feel that at this point I understand a good bit, certainly that’s it’s more complicated than Alibaba’s 996. With this in mind, in the below video, I talk a little more in detail about the types of overtime in China and the true value of the practice.

As I discussed to some extent in the video, trying to conclude that overtime is either good or bad is far too simplistic. Instead, I’d suggest that it is better understood to be a tool that can be used by companies, managers, and employees. While overtime work can indeed help companies grow faster and achieve greater (though not always better) results, it is also a double-edged sword, with as much capacity to hurt as to help.

We often hear stories about inexperienced managers who think that delegating mandatory overtime work is a magic bullet to solve their problems, or that employees staying late is an important indicator of loyalty to the company. But continuous overtime degrades performance and efficiency, and potentially employee morale as well. Knowing when to use a tool and when not to is an important part of being a professional in today’s fast-paced world.

In the end, no matter the positives and negatives of China’s overtime working culture, it is and will continue to be a part of the local work culture. Those who aim to work in China or with Chinese companies would be well-advised to understand the potentially more strenuous work environments they will be becoming a part of. For everyone else, I would simply suggest you take a fuller view of what overtime actually is, not just how it can lead to companies’ and teams’ failures, but also how it can help them grow and succeed.

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2021 China Visa & Quarantine: Everything You Need to Know

During normal times, nearly a million foreign workers might call China home, with hundreds of thousands inhabiting vibrant costal metropolises such as Shanghai. But after the rise of COVID-19 in early 2020, things got a lot more complicated.

Many foreign workers fled the country as reports circulated of the virus’ spread in places like Wuhan, but the tables were quickly turned. Soon, China was successfully controlling the virus, and the expatriates who had sought safety in their home countries soon found themselves facing even more worrying local outbreaks and difficult job prospects at home during what became a lockdown economy.

This was also my story. For over ten years I made my life and career in China, working with Chinese companies looking to develop their global marketing and public relations capabilities and expand into overseas markets. But in 2020 I was trapped in Hong Kong, unable to return to China for work, while also not daring to return home to the USA where the pandemic was raging out of control.

Thankfully, after a nearly 10-month long purgatory-like existence, moving from hotel to hotel to avoid Hong Kong’s legendarily-high rent prices, I met with a much-needed break. I received a job offer allowing me to return to the city of Shenzhen, China, which had become my second home, to continue my journey in China’s burgeoning tech sector.

However, in light of China’s tighter restrictions on entering the country following the onset of the global pandemic, getting a job offer was only the first step. In the below vlogs, I highlight the many process I had to undertake (December 2020 – February 2021) to satisfy Chinese government requirements for visa applications, border crossings, and mandatory quarantine stays.

While, moving forward, Chinese government requirements for returning to the country for work, as well as those of different Chinese cities, will likely continue to change and evolve, I hope that my own experiences can serve as a guide for others like me who have made China their home, who also long to return.

Applying for a Work Visa & Crossing the Border

Undergoing China’s Mandatory Quarantine

It’s worth noting that in the nearly two months since I completed my own return to the Chinese Mainland, including the border crossing and three-week quarantine, there have already been additional updates to Chinese government policy regarding the pandemic and crossing the border.

On one hand, many sources appear to agree that some locations in China, including Shenzhen, are stepping back the restrictive 14+7 day mandatory quarantine period, instead requiring only 14 days at a hotel. However, some cities’ requirements may differ, so be sure to double-check before making plan to return to China.

The Chinese government also previously announced that foreigners who had received a Chinese-made vaccine would not be required to go through the additional visa processes imposed by the pandemic, instead only needing to meet pre-pandemic requirements.

To be clear, as was true in my own case, applying for a visa and crossing the border is still possible without a Chinese-made vaccine, but the process is longer, more documents are required, and more pressure is placed on the individual, or the applying company, to prove that the foreigner in question is necessary for travel/employment in China.

Personally, I am confident that China’s entry and visa restrictions will continue to loosen as the world recovers from the pandemic. However, I doubt that these restrictions will completely disappear in the years to come.

China has prospered, relatively speaking, while foreign countries implemented indecisive and ineffective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. While keeping its borders closed, or at least restricted, certainly has its negative sides, China has a lot more to lose by not learning from the mistakes of others and opening-up too soon.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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Talking TikTok: Reflecting on Resignations & Executive Responsibilities

2020 has been a crazy year, especially for those of us doing business in and with China. The current US administration has continued to make unproven allegations against Chinese technology companies, which are increasingly competing successfully in overseas markets.

It can be a violent storm to weather, though certainly not an unfamiliar one to me, having worked with Huawei Technologies for over four years. However, while governments using the specter of national security to threaten private companies without just cause is a very important topic, it’s not the one I’d like to talk to you about today.

TikTok, the prominent Chinese social media platform from Bytedance, seems to have become one of the more prominent among these successful companies facing bans in the US market, perhaps in part due to the fact that it has found the success and broad appeal in the US market that has so far eluded other Chinese companies.

TikTok was and is facing a crisis as a direct result of its success, and a crisis needs strong leadership to navigate the resulting turbulent waters. Unfortunately, shortly after these troubles began, TikTok USA’s at the time new CEO Kevin Mayer decided to resign after only three short months with the company, further exacerbating the difficulties the company was facing.

In the below video, I discuss Kevin Mayer’s resignation and my thoughts on what responsibility senior executives have to not abandon ship in the midst of an ongoing crisis, especially foreign executives recruited chiefly to assist Chinese companies in expanding to overseas markets.

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COVID-19 Update #5: My Hong Kong Hotel Quarantine

Life under COVID-19 is hard. Many of us have had our movement restricted in one way or another over the past several months. I also experienced the city of Shenzhen as I never had before, where businesses and schools were closed en-mass, the majority of the populace was working from home, and people were unwilling to venture outside unless absolutely necessary. Overseas, while situations varied from country to country, many people were also faced with working remotely or downright shelter-at-home orders.

Here’s what it’s like to quarantine in Hong Kong for two weeks during COVID-19.

However, when recently traveling to Hong Kong on a business trip, I experienced a whole new level of “stay-at-home”. Specifically, at the time of my trip from Shenzhen to Hong Kong, all non-Hong Kong residents were required to undergo a mandatory two-week quarantine, either in a hotel or residence, or at a centralized quarantine facility. Naturally, for both safety and comfort, I chose a hotel, and a new “adventure” began.

During a two-week period, I was more or less locked in a small room without the ability to leave. I was faced with the challenge of finding ways to ensure everything stayed clean and safe (room cleaning by hotel staff was not allowed), getting food delivered to my room on a daily basis (I initially lost the ability to pay for food when my bank restricted access to my cards), and generally staying healthy and sane. To learn more, take a look at the below video to hear about my Hong Kong quarantine experience.

Alternatively, if you’re not in the mood to watch a video, I’ve also recorded my thoughts on my hotel quarantine stay in a Twitter thread listed below. If you have any questions on any part of my quarantine story, you can send me a reply within the thread or comment below.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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Revisiting Xi’an: Old Memories & New Experiences

I first visited the city of Xi’an during my first trip to China, early in 2001, when I was still in my final year at North Monterey Country High School in Castroville, California. The high school band, of which I was a member, had achieved a small degree of fame through enthusiastic performances across the United States, and was invited to visit China by one of the local government entities. Thus began my first trip to China, which included trips to Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, and Shijiazhuang, and would lay the foundation my two-decade-long (so far!) relationship with China and its people.

Returning to Xi’an was more memorable than previous trips to Shanghai and Beijing, perhaps because of its distance from China’s eastern coast where I have made my home for more than 10 years. It might also be due to the fact that while Xi’an has also modernized just like other Chinese cities, its progress does not appear as visually obvious as it does in other cities, allowing me to more easily connect, both mentally and emotionally, with my very first experiences in China.

Take a video tour of the #Chinese city of #Xian, including sumptuous street food and the ancient city wall!

And so, earlier this year, I was very excited to return to my roots, as it were, and experience both the Xi’an I had known so long ago, as well as the new city that Xi’an had become. My trip, from January 02 – 06, was somewhat of a whirlwind, trying to fit in a number of things every single day. But overall, there were four main experiences, which I shared in a previous vlog and would like to share with you here, today. I visited a local university to discuss education in Xi’an, I sampled a wide variety of street foods that the city has to offer, I visited the ancient city wall, and, last by not least, I found out what it’s like to vacation at a Chinese-style hot spring resort.

For those of you more visually-minded, you can take a look at the video, linked below. However, I will also provide additional commentary on the trip for those of you who are interested in learning more, not just about the trip, but about my reflections on China. In any event, Xi’an is a very exciting city and I highly recommend visiting if you have the opportunity.

Education in Xi’an

As it turns out, while I had many reasons for returning to Xi’an, what started the process was a conversation with a good friend. My friend Rui had previously accepted a position as Deputy Dean at a university in Xi’an and was working with the local faculty to improve the international-focus of the education provided to Chinese students. I originally prepared a short video lecture in Chinese to share with the students months ago, and after its success, Rui invited me to visit Xi’an and talk with the faculty at his school, in addition to taking a tour of the city.

For those of you who may not know, internationalized education is a big deal in China. On one hand, in the past, it’s been very common for parents with the money and the means to send their children to study overseas in reputable universities, as overseas degrees were long-viewed as the path to good jobs and success (things are changing now, but that’s a story for another time). On the other hand, Chinese universities aim to provide their students with knowledge on international businesses and practices, not simply because of the global companies doing business in China, but because of the increasing number of Chinese companies expanding overseas.

However, providing this knowledge effectively can be a challenge at times, due to differences in China’s educational practices, cultural differences, and other factors. Thus, it is not uncommon for Chinese universities to employ professors from overseas universities, or as in my case, bring in experts from various backgrounds to consult. Which is how I ended up in a small classroom on a cold Xi’an winter morning, talking about my own experience studying for a business degree as well as working in global marketing and PR roles.

There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room, as there often is in China, as well as an interest in and a willingness to listen to what I had to say. I talked a lot with the teachers about curriculum design and the type of courses generally offered to Western business students. In China, language and cultural barriers can prevent progress early on, but once the Chinese can see and learn from successful examples they often pick things up rather quickly. Needless to say, I enjoyed this opportunity to interact with the faculty, learn more about their own challenges, and see how to help them overcome them.

Xi’an Street Food

With the real work out of the way, I was able to head over to a famous food street (only slightly touristy) called Yong Xing Fang to sample a number of local Xi’an dishes. Street food was once extremely popular and prevalent in China, and it’s a fond part of my earlier memories in China, such as when I was studying abroad in Chengdu, from 2004 to 2005. In those days, while street food indeed felt more authentic, it was also a good deal less hygienic, with the street food scene more often than not characterized by quaint roadside carts and messy, oily grills.

Things have changed in recent years, with actual roadside carts an uncommon sight in many big cities, as authorities have attempted to modernize and pursue policies aimed and greater health and wellness. But the Chinese, ever-innovative, almost always have a solution. While late-night kabob stands have vanished, they have been replaced by a number of actual restaurants, in some cases high-end ones, that cater to the street food-loving crowd. And, all in all, it’s a change for the better, as unregulated and dirty food carts are indeed not the best for our health.

However, that’s not to say that those of us in China don’t get a tad nostalgic about the good old days of freewheeling street food, and that’s one reason I particularly enjoyed the street food I had in Xi’an. The winding streets of Yong Xing Fang featured both stalls and small restaurants, and it really took me back to my study abroad days, as I sampled a number of treats including, lamb kabobs, steamed noodles, a soup with what tasted like wet cornbread (it was tasty), and other items as well.

If you haven’t watched my Xi’an vlog yet, I would highly recommend at least watching the food street section, as I feel it really portrays how exciting food can be in China, with all of the different sights, sounds, and tastes the dining experience can offer.

Xi’an City Wall

Next, I headed over to the city wall, which was a special place to me for several reasons. First, when I visited Xi’an in 2001, the city wall featured prominently. Not only were we able to walk along the city wall (it’s actually a tourist attraction), but my high-school band (a marching band, in fact) was able to perform on the wall in front of a live crowd, something I recall clearly to this day. Therefore, one of my first priorities was to walk the wall again, and experience the city – by walking the entire circumference of the wall I was able to view the city in all directions, and from a significant height, which really gives one an appreciation of the size of this amazing city. It also brought back fond memories from those early days – the excitement of experiencing China for the first time, when the country was still in the midst of its opening-up, and everything seemed both incredibly old and incredibly new, all at the same time.

Second, while China’s opening-up and modernization has brought many benefits, one of the downsides has been that much of China’s traditional architecture has been slowly vanishing. Older houses have slowly been torn down, including Beijing’s traditional Hutong alleys and courtyard homes. I, therefore, feel its a very unique experience to experience China’s traditional architecture firsthand, and have the opportunity to walk among (and on) the literal history of a country, and to experience the same sights that others have, hundreds, if not thousands of years before.

Lastly, it’s also a great spot for pictures.

Xi’an Hot Spring Resort

My final stop was at a five-star hot spring resort outside the city limits. I can’t say I’m an expert on what a hot spring resort is supposed to be like, as the only similar place I’ve been to was a garden-sized sauna in California, with only several hot and cold tubs, and for only a stretch of one-two hours. In contrast, a Chinese hot spring resort is the size of an entire park in an of itself. This is without counting all the other attached facilities, including the hotel, dining complex, and other recreational facilities, including a massage parlor (the PG variety, thank you very much).

Aside from the actual hot springs, the resort was very much in line with what I have experienced at resorts in China over the years – good rooms, so-so food (the good places are all off-site), etc. What was a nice surprise was the unexpected variety of hot springs – 20+ different pools scattered across a lush and vibrant landscape, each filled with a different herbal mixture, including milk and various types of Chinese traditional medicines.

The big surprise was how physically draining a trip to a Chinese hot spring resort could be. For this was a trip that lasted an entire day, and from what I gathered from other Chinese guests, the usual practice was to spend two-three hours soaking in both the morning and afternoon, interspersed with meals, rests, and massages. Needless to say, I was exhausted afterward, though in a mostly positive way. Afterward I finished the trip in the traditional Chinese fashion – with a good meal among friends.

So, that’s about it for my trip to Xi’an. I hope you enjoyed the video as well as my description of the trip. I also hope it inspired you to learn more about China, and hopefully visit Xi’an yourself one day. If you have any questions about Xi’an, feel free to let me know if the comments below.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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Coronavirus Update #4: Is the World Ready?

The course of the Coronavirus outbreak is changing, at least here in Mainland China. After nearly six weeks of aggressive and sometimes harsh quarantine and containment measures, enforced by the Chinese government, we are now seeing clear decreases in daily confirmed cases.

Indeed, a new report by the World Health Organization also confirms that the measures being undertaken by China to halt the spread of the virus have been successful. This flies in the face of continued criticisms of China by Western politicians and the media, focusing on both the country’s response as well as its political system.

But now, the world appears to have been caught flat-footed. Many countries outside China, including the USA, have apparently been so focused on blaming China for its real and perceived failures that when confronted with significant growth of Coronavirus cases at home, many countries have failed to cope, to an alarming degree.

In my latest video on the Coronavirus from Shenzhen, China, I discuss my concerns about the Coronavirus’ spread overseas and how I consider it of paramount importance that other countries be willing to learn from China’s example, not simply areas where China could have performed better, but the specific aggressive measures that have led to success.

Please take a look at the below video, and let me know your thoughts and questions on the Coronavirus outbreak in the comments section.

I will close by imploring all of you to remember that while the Coronavirus, also known a COVID-19, is certainly dangerous and presents a clear risk to our health and safety, it is not the only danger we are facing.

As we have seen thus far from the outbreak, pandemics and other similar disasters have a tendency to bring out the worst in us all. So far, the outbreak has led to fear, panic, xenophobia, hoarding, and perhaps worst of all – complacency, the belief that it could never have come to us here in the “civilized world”.

But in the face of all this darkness, it is of the utmost importance to remember that we all have a choice in how we react. We can decide to view any Asians as a threat, or we can treat them warmly and politely as the fellow members of our community that they are. We can choose to hoard as many supplies as we can, or we can put our communities first and only take enough for several weeks.

There will be many more such choices and challenges to face in the coming weeks – please make the one that helps us all move forward.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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Coronavirus Update #3: China is Fighting the Outbreak

The past week has seen new developments with the evolving Coronavirus crisis in China, some of which were worrying to many overseas. I’ve therefore sat down and created my third update on China’s Coronavirus outbreak, looking to keep viewers overseas informed of recent developments, but more importantly to help correction misinformation and misconceptions.

Learn about the efforts against COVID-19 in Shenzhen, China, as of mid-February, 2020.

Today, I discuss the following recent developments:

  1. New movement restrictions imposed by the Shenzhen authorities to help limit the virus’ spread
  2. Reasons behind the new surge of confirmed Coronavirus cases in China (now officially named COVID-19)
  3. New testing measures for quarantined individuals in Shenzhen and why forceful quarantines are needed
  4. How the Coronavirus caused the cancelation of one of the biggest tech tradeshows in the world
  5. The local leadership reshuffle in the Hubei province, the hotspot of the Coronavirus outbreak

So, click on the video below to get the latest news on the Coronavirus outbreak in China.

In closing, please continue to bear in mind that misinformation is rife during this crisis, both on social media as well as by word of mouth. It’s doubly important now, with so much fear and anxiety in the air, that we verify our sources before making ill-informed choices, and not make the mistake of blaming Chinese (or Asian) people or believing wild conspiracy theories. The truth, whatever it may be, will come out in time, and the most important thing we can all do now is to continue to support each other.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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Coronavirus Update #2: Getting Supplies & Discussing the Quarantine

As the Coronavirus outbreak continues in China, the authorities are stepping up their efforts to limit the opportunities for the virus to spread. However, despite claims by some on social media, the city is not in fact on lockdown, though the government has indeed taken steps to limit the unrestricted flow of traffic. Join me in the below video as I take you on a trip to a local market to stock up on supplies, and gain an on-the-ground view of the real situation in Shenzhen during the Coronavirus outbreak.

To rehash some of the points I discussed during the video, one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in Shenzhen since the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak is the limiting of peoples’ movement. Now, it’s important to remember that this has been focused on specific communities and buildings, and not so much on individuals.

What I mean is that I, as well as other residents, can freely go outside and visit public spaces, but visiting certain spaces, such as malls, markets, and neighborhoods is tightly controlled. For example, when entering my overall neighborhood, I am required to have my temperature checked at one checkpoint, later repeating the process before entering my apartment building. Temperature checks are also required for many malls and areas where people would be in close proximity.

Police barricades in Shenzhen during the Coronavirus outbreak limit access to certain neighborhoods.

Another big point I discussed in the video was how the harsh realities of a virus outbreak can be, specifically in terms of requiring a very strong and restrictive government response, putting the good of everyone over that of specific individuals.  People located in hot zones (for lack of a better term) like the city of Wuhan, have additional restrictions imposed, just as being unable to leave the city. Local officials in other cities have also been very strict in implementing forced quarantines on individuals who may not be sick, but are merely from affected areas, or recently traveled there.

We also have seen stories in the media about other harsh actions taken by the local authorities, such as installing additional CCTV cameras to monitor individuals’ movement, using drones to monitor people and remind them to take safety precautions, and destroying Mahjong (Majiang) tables to prevent people in villages from ignoring authorities’ directives to avoid congregating in groups.

See what it was like to visit a market in Shenzhen during the initial COVID-19 outbreak.

And while these measures certainly seem harsh from outside China, even anathema to those hailing from democratic countries, as someone on the ground who is still healthy, they make a lot of sense. I certainly agree there is still room for improvement in the handling of this virus outbreak, but what of what has already been done seems to have helped limit the spread of the virus, in China and overseas.

When venturing outside, it’s vital to protect yourself from accidental exposure, including face masks, glasses, and even long clothing.

For the full story, make sure to check out the video. I’ll be aiming to provide future updates as the Coronavirus outbreak continues in Mainland China, so please feel free to let me know if there is a specific aspect of the situation in Shenzhen that you’d like to hear about. Please also consider subscribing to my YouTube channel if you’re interested in seeing more videos on China and the Coronavirus.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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The Coronavirus: On the Ground in Shenzhen

The Coronavirus, first sighted in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has quickly turned into a  global health scare, not merely menacing all of China, but also quickly spreading to multiple countries around the world. Now, the World Health Organization has also declared the Coronavirus a global health emergency.

Here’s how COVID-19 was affecting Shenzhen, China, in late January, 2020.

The Coronavirus first began to flare up in China in the lead up to the Chinese New Year holiday (also known as the Spring Festival). Every year during this holiday season, millions of Chinese travel back to their homes and families, in what is known as the largest human migration on earth. This has rightly led to further concerns as the holiday period presents a significant risk for the spread of the virus, in China and throughout the world.

And while the Chinese government, along with governments and organizations overseas, work quickly to treat those infected and limit the virus’ spread, there has been a large amount of false or misleading information spreading online, increasing the risk of panic in communities overseas. With this in mind, I have decided to share my own thoughts during my time here in Shenzhen for the Chinese New Year holiday, including daily life, the handling of the outbreak by the Chinese government, as well as the problem of misinformation.

If you have any questions about the above video, please feel free to let me know in the comments section.

If you’re interested in learning more about China, Chinese culture, and business in China, please feel free to subscribe to the China Culture Corner to have future posts sent directly to your inbox. You can also follow and interact with me on social or send me a message on Twitter.

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Sprite & Baijiu: Lessons on Marketing to Chinese Consumers

These days, marketing in China is no easy feat. The immense size of the Chinese population continues to lure many overseas companies as a Holy Grail of new markets, but the continuing evolution of China and its consumers are actually making things more difficult, not easier. The advent of an increasing number of local competitors – who instinctually understand Chinese consumers better than their foreign counterparts, only adds to the difficulties. For sure, gone are the days when “showing up” was the key to success for foreign companies in China.

Recent years have also seen a number of foreign companies commit major marketing faux pas, insulting the sensibilities of Chinese consumers and government regulators alike. These mistakes include Victoria’s Secret wrapping models in a tacky dragon design, companies failing to list Taiwan as part of China (which Chinese consumers and the government certainly view it as), and Dolce & Gabbana producing several cringe-worthy videos which were viewed as belittling the Chinese people.

Even when marketers learn enough to avoid outright insults, challenges still remain. On one hand, marketers need to ensure their content is geared toward local consumers, whether it be reflecting local culture and traditions, taking into account Chinese consumers’ mobile-focused lifestyle, or failing to adapt their brand to appeal to a new market.

And that’s one reason I love this campaign by Coca-Cola, featuring a partnership between its Sprite brand and a local Chinese Baijiu maker, Jiang Xiao Bai. This campaign saw the combination of the Sprite and Baijiu flavors, but also saw a highly effective marketing campaign which not only successfully attracted the attention of local Chinese consumers via a focus on Chinese social values and drinking culture but also succeeded in achieving a huge amount of engagement on Chinese social media.

So, take a look at the below video where I explain this interesting collaboration in more detail, taste the product on-camera, and share some key takeaways for foreign companies who are interested in marketing in China. If you’re interested in more videos about China and Chinese culture, you can check out my YouTube channel HERE.

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about marketing or business in China? Do you have any experience marketing or doing business in China, which you would like to share with fellow readers? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a message directly to the author on social media.

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10 Tips for Working in Shenzhen

Are you interested in working in China? If so, you may want to consider a “little” place called Shenzhen, just over the border from Hong Kong. While these days it may be getting harder for foreigners to find jobs in China overall, I personally feel there are still many opportunities for those willing to put in the time and try their hand (and heart) at a new adventure. Shenzhen, as the tech capital of China, is one such place where I believe opportunities can still be had.

And after working in Shenzhen for the past five years, primarily for and with Chinese organizations, I feel I’m pretty up to speed on not just what’s needed to get a job in China, but to succeed and prosper in Shenzhen, China’s tech capital. Take a look at the below video to find out the following, among other useful tips:

  1. Do you need to know Chinese to work in Shenzhen?
  2. What type of talent are Chinese companies looking for?
  3. What do you need to do to get a job in Shenzhen?
  4. What is Shenzhen like as a place to live and work?

If you have any additional questions about living or working in Shenzhen, be sure to let me know!

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about finding a job in China, whether in Shenzhen or elsewhere? Do you have any experience looking for a job in China that you’s like to share?  Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a message directly to the author on social media.

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Expat Discrimination Brought This Chinese Professional to Tears

Due to the sensitive nature of this story, names and place names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee. All other aspects of the story have not been changed.

Living in China can be very stressful, and Westerners and non-Chinese can take a long time to adapt to local culture, customs, and rules. During this transitional period, there is often a constant barrage of culture shock, which can make simple, everyday tasks feel like a burden.

However, that’s just one side of the coin. Many Westerners and non-Chinese, often while dealing with culture shock of our own, never stop to think about the difficulties they may cause for Chinese friends and colleagues. Words and body language employed, even unintentionally, can easily shape the experiences of Chinese people, even though a single interaction.

Unfortunately, due to language barriers and the general unwillingness of many Chinese to share personal feelings, most Westerners and non-Chinese never have the opportunity to hear directly from their Chinese contacts, and thus may be unaware of negative effects caused by their actions. Therefore, I’d like to present the personal story of a Chinese friend, and the situation she experienced when on a business trip with Western colleagues in China.

My Chinese Friend, Julie

The other day a close Chinese friend, let’s call her Julie, called me up literally in tears.  She felt depressed and humiliated, and it stemmed from the treatment she had received at the hands of Western colleagues during a business trip to Shenzhen. But before I talk more about the treatment Julie experienced, I’d like to briefly introduce Julie and her background.

Julie is from Mainland China. She was born in the Guangdong province, is fluent in 3 languages – Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. She currently works in Shanghai and has a large amount of experience both working in international organizations and traveling abroad. She currently works for a global corporation and her department focuses on a mix of training, human resources, and more importantly, diversity and inclusion-related work.

Why are these details important? While there is never any excuse for discrimination or mistreatment of others, I want to make it perfectly clear that Julie holds no naivety in regards to big-city or international life which might be used as an excuse to not take her seriously. She is also highly skilled linguistically and culturally and is well-adapted to conversing and interacting with Westerners.

In addition, there’s fact that Julie’s Western colleagues – experts in promoting diversity and inclusion – could so easily and often overlook the diversity and inclusion of a local Chinese worker. This should serve as a stark reminder that none of us are truly immune from cultural discrimination, no matter how well-prepared or well-intentioned.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the particulars of Julie’s business trip, and why the behavior of her Western colleagues had such a profound effect on her.

The Situation

Based on what Julie told me, were several types of events over the course of her business trip that contributed to her negative experience.

Food: Like many places around the world, food is an important element of Chinese identity. Many provinces and larger areas of China have their own, unique culinary tastes, and Julie is no different. As someone from Southern China, Julie grew up eating Cantonese dishes and delicacies that many Westerners and non-Chinese would hesitate to touch. But there is a big difference between choosing not to eat a particular dish, and ridiculing said dish in front of a native who holds it as part of her cultural identity.

And that’s exactly what happened. During one lunch, several Westerners on Julie’s team made a point to loudly ridicule Chicken Feet, a popular Cantonese dish, and make it known how much they were disgusted by it. While Julie remained silent, she later related to me how much it felt like a slap in the face. “Why is it,” she asked me, “that Westerners come to my country as guests, but still end up telling me how disgusted they are with my country and culture?”

Language: With three languages under her belt, Julie was clearly among the most linguistically capable of the employees on the business trip. Most of the visiting Western colleagues could only speak English, and none had taken the time to learn much, if any, Chinese. Despite this disparity in her favor, during the business trip, she constantly felt an impatience from her Western colleagues with regards to both her speaking speed, as well as her occasional need to search for a specific word.

This type of behavior is sadly common in China, where in the past and currently Westerners can come to China for work without learning the local language and culture, while local employees are often made to feel they can never learn enough to satisfy the desires of their Western coworkers and superiors.

Group Dynamics: Last, despite her global focus and time spent adapting to Western culture, when it came time for lunches and after work activities, Julie commonly felt that she and other Chinese colleagues were not “allowed” to be part of the Western group. Western and Chinese groups, both at work and after work, naturally formed, and despite her desire to join the Western group, she never felt welcome.

It’s important to emphasize that Julie’s above experiences were the result of many small interactions and incautious words. These combined over multiple days before finally becoming too much to bear – the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s therefore of great importance to understand the types of actions and behaviors that can eventually break the spirits of Chinese colleagues and friends. Without this basic understanding, it can be very difficult to have positive relationships with the Chinese lead a more enjoyable life in China.

Why Expat Discrimination Happens

Placing expats on a pedestal: The West has had a problem with “false superiority” since its early interactions with China, and this has sadly, though not surprisingly, carried into the era of the Western expatriate in China. Since Western expatriates coming to China are often highly experienced and almost always brought onboard local operations to fill a gap in the expertise of local talent, it is perhaps inevitable that many would assume a real superiority in professional experience also translated to superiority in other areas, like language and culture. I myself have seen far too many Western expatriates haughtily yelling at or dismissing the concerns of Chinese colleagues or subordinates.

Assuming only your culture has value: Culture shock is a big problem for non-Chinese visiting China, and understandably can lead to stress from feeling isolated, leading them to retreat to like-minded cultural and social groups to better deal with the difficulties of daily life. However, what is not often discussed is how these coping behaviors often lead expatriates to broadly look down on anything that is not Western, be it food, living standards, social etiquette, or common business practices.

Taking Steps to Stop Expat Discrimination

There isn’t, nor will there ever be, a permanent cure for discrimination from Western expatriates (or anyone else for that matter). However, if you are interested in showing greater understanding and respect toward Chinese colleagues to boost work efficiency and enhance team cohesion, there are a few simple actions you can take.

Think before you speak: The simplest and best-advised tactic is to think before you speak and consider how what you say might be negatively perceived by the Chinese. This can extend to both serious and casual remarks that might be seen as criticizing an element of China (e.g. culture business, or society) or an individual.

This is not to say that one should censor themselves in how they speak to Chinese friends and colleagues. Instead, visitors need to make more of an effort to reflect on what they are saying and how it might affect the Chinese. Things that might come naturally in conversation to Westerners might have a more serious aspect to them from the Chinese point of view. A reverse example is that the Chinese commonly call people “fat” when talking about their weight. It’s usually not serious at all in China, which contrasts with the fact that many Westerners are prone to take it as a serious insult. Learning Western versions of “calling someone fat” is a good way to develop better speaking habits when in China.

Spend more time with locals: The best way to better understand the Chinese, and what they consider to be discriminatory comments, starts with making a genuine effort to spend more time with them. It’s a sad fact of life in China that many Western expatriates live apart from the Chinese almost as a separate social class. It goes against instinct, especially for new arrivals, but spending a larger portion of your time among the Chinese (not including work hours) may be the best choice. The easiest ways to start including having informal chats over coffee or attending a group meal, both common and familiar social activities for modern Chinese.

Question pre-conceived beliefs: Many Western expatriates (myself included) led sheltered lives before traveling abroad, growing up in a single country, speaking a single language, and often living among a largely single ethnicity or social class. As such, it’s not uncommon for expats in China to either not have been exposed to or not accept many beliefs that conflict with their own, especially in the age of social media where our news feeds are customized to reflect our own personal beliefs.

In coming to China, one is bound to come up against ideas that will challenge your own views, whether it be social etiquette, business styles, or political philosophy. Being unwilling to at least consider new ideas (or pretend to do so out of basic politeness) is a surefire way to not make new friends and, in my view, waste an excellent opportunity to learn new things and observe issues from different angles.

In the end, it comes down to a simple matter of mutual respect. For those of us who work those from a different cultural background, aiming to respect our local counterparts should be one of the most basic goals. And despite the inevitable cultural and social disconnects that will occur at times, I deeply believe that a wish to respect and engage is something that can be easily communicated and observed across cultural and language barriers. And when Westerners do more to respect the Chinese, the Chinese will do more to respect Westerners. And when this happens, everyone wins.

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about working and communicating with Chinese locals? Have you had a personal experience where you inadvertently discriminated against a Chinese friend or coworker? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a message directly to the author on social media.

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Decorate Your Door This Chinese New Year

Hey everyone! It’s February of 2019, and that means the Chinese New Year (also called the Spring Festival) is here again, this year being the Year of the Pig.

Every year I make a point of putting up my Chinese New Year decorations to ring in the New Year. As I work in China, I only see my family in the USA when I travel home during the Spring Festival break, and putting up the decorations helps me remember the importance of family and how important it is to cherish the time we have together.

I’d also like to share this Chinese New Year cheer with all of you, so I’ve put together a short video with a few pointers on how to buy and put up some simple yet important decorations for the Chinese New Year. I hope you enjoy watching it and feel inspired to put up decorations of your own!

If you’re interested in checking out some other content on the Chinese New Year or about Chinese traditions and the New Year, I’ll list a few links below:

  1. Chinese New Year Unboxing (2018)
  2. Important Symbols of the Chinese New Year
  3. Sending Red Envelopes on WeChat
  4. Surviving the Holidays in China

Here’s wishing you all a Happy Chinese New Year and Best Wishes to all of you in the Year of the Pig!

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about traditional holiday decorations in China? Do you have any personal experiences you would like to share? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a send a message directly to the author on social media.

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14 Social Media Tips for China Career Development

China is an exciting market, especially if you’re looking for new career opportunities. It’s not only the world’s largest economy but also a hotbed for many new products and ideas. However, despite the allure of this growing market, in recent years finding a good job has only gotten harder for overseas talent.

In the past, when China was a haven for Western expats looking for new adventures, opportunities were relatively easy to come by for those willing to brave the perils of the developing market. But now, as the local talent market has matured, the need for foreign experts has decreased. That isn’t to say there aren’t opportunities though – there most certainly are. But it’s now much more important to have the right skills and experience AND to use a smart search strategy.

Therefore, one important way to career development in China is cultivating your digital network. Based on my own experience, I can offer some useful tips to aid you in developing your own China career. And my advice is based on my own philosophy for living and working in China – that it’s best to live with one foot in each world. Therefore, when possible, I suggest using both Western and Chinese platforms to maximize your chances. And in China, that means LinkedIn and WeChat.

So, take a look at these tips and get going with your China career move!

LinkedIn Networking Tips for China

A good LinkedIn presence is an important foundation to lay before beginning your China job search. Not only is it a place to list all your relevant professional information, but it provides multiple options for seeking out new contacts as well as finding and applying for jobs.

  1.  Write a China-focused profile: First and foremost, you need to make sure your interest or expertise in China is clear – having your Chinese name in your profile is not enough! China, as well as your ability and interest in doing business there, should also be mentioned in your headline and summary, as well as your current job description if relevant.
  2. Join China-focused groups: LinkedIn is not merely a high-quality digital CV – it’s also a great place to network. Groups on LinkedIn (and there are many with a China focus) are a great way to engage with people from all over the world with a similar interest in China. You can ask questions, share posts, and find interesting members to connect with.
  3. Reach out to directly to target contacts: Another great thing about using LinkedIn actively is the ability to easily research companies and identify people that work for them, both inside and outside your existing network. This makes it easier to develop new relationships and connect with companies that are hiring, instead of blindly applying to job after job, with many companies almost certain to not give you a second glance.
  4. Connect with China-focused recruiters: Recruiters are a great way to make headway with a career search in a new and unfamiliar region like China, and LinkedIn is an easy place to find them and connect. Recruiters in China work both for specific companies as well as for recruitment companies, and if you have the right skills they’ll be very happy to help you out (that IS how they get paid after all).
  5. Use the “jobs” tab: The jobs tab on LinkedIn is a powerful location to view and apply for jobs posted through LinkedIn, which can be filtered via location, company name, and other options. But one of the more useful features for career networking is the ability to view the recruiter/hiring manager responsible for certain job postings, giving you easier access to the right person to talk to.
  6. Search smarter with Chinese and English keywords: Lastly, when searching for people to network with on LinkedIn, it’s a great idea to use keywords along with filters to refine your search. For example, if you are interested in connecting with people from Tencent in China, you can use the filters to narrow your search by company and country/region, and use keywords to locate people with the right type of role. Also, don’t forget that many potentially useful contacts may not speak much English or have parts of their profiles in Chinese. Therefore it’s also recommended to use a list of Chinese terms, such as 猎头 (recruiter), 社交媒体 (social media), or 通讯(telecommunications) to locate local Chinese contacts.

WeChat Networking Tips for China

WeChat is a vital app for everyday life in China. It’s also very useful for managing your China network, as while only more overseas oriented Chinese people will have LinkedIn accounts, it’s hard to find ANY Chinese person without a WeChat account.

  1. Choose a useful name: The first step to using WeChat successfully to help your career development is to have a profile name that not only lists an actual name (Chinese people often use anonymous names), and if possible lists your current company and profession (e.g., Chris Davis – Apple MKT). This will allow new contacts to easily find you in their contacts’ list and remember what you do.
  2. Fill in that summary: WeChat profiles also have their own short profile space. Use this as an opportunity to list key information you want others to know, such as your current goals, skills, and interests, especially as they relate to your career in China.
  3. Update contact “aliases”: When adding new contacts, first make sure to update your new friend’s “alias” to their actual name and position. Without an updated alias, all you’ll likely see in your contacts list are Chinese characters you either can’t read or can’t understand because they’re an anonymous identity. Having a clear idea of who each and every one of your WeChat contacts is will make managing your China network SO much easier.
  4. Make use of the “tag” option: Despite looking like a mere chat app to the untrained eye, WeChat is more than capable of acting as a hub for all your important China contacts. When adding a new contact, list them under several useful tags, such as company name and job (e.g., Sony), their job function (e.g., recruiter), and their relationship to you (e.g., close friend). This will make future networking much easier as you’ll be able to find needed contacts with just the press of a button.
  5. Create groups with similar interests: Like LinkedIn, WeChat also has a group function, though it is much more personal than that of its Western counterpart. Users are able to create their own groups and invite existing contacts. This allows you to form groups to pursue common interests (e.g., foreigners looking for work in China). Also, if you’re coming to China to develop your career, one of the more useful things you can do right off the bat is obtaining invites to existing groups and introducing yourself. This can quickly introduce you to people on the ground and gain you helpful contacts.
  6. Connect with colleagues: After figuring out the WeChat basics, make sure you start connecting with your colleagues at work, especially those in China where WeChat is essential. These contacts will form the beginnings of your network in China and will be able to provide useful help and support.
  7. Get on the recruiter grapevine: There are thousands upon thousands of Chinese recruiters on WeChat, always looking for new talent to recommend to companies. The key is getting their attention. In my experience, there are two key ways to do this. First, it’s common for people to recommend recruiters in their own network, so make sure to reach out to your own contacts (not in your department or team though) to ask if they can recommend one. Second, it’s common for recruiters to find talent via information posted on job search sites (especially Chinese ones). Therefore, if you’re looking for a job and want to get the attention of Chinese recruiters, find ways to post your resume online and include your phone/WeChat contact details. Based on what I’ve heard it’s possible to connect with several new recruiters each week using this method, assuming you stand out as a candidate.
  8. Don’t forget those Red Envelopes: I introduced the concept of “Red Envelopes” in a previous article, and they are definitely an important part of maintaining a network in China. So, once you’re connected with potentially influential coworkers and friends, make sure to use Red Envelopes from to time to show your appreciation and celebrate important holidays and events.

Things to Remember

I’d like to emphasize that despite my own success using LinkedIn and WeChat in China, they are not necessarily the only ways to career networking success in the Middle Kingdom. Networking effectively will always be dependent on doing your research and making use of the available tools.

Use WeChat and LinkedIn to develop your career in China. Despite the importance of digital and online networking today, don’t forget that China IS a relationship-driven society. This means that while technology still plays an important role, often there is no replacing face-to-face networking, especially if you want to lay the foundations for strong and healthy relationships.

In closing, if you’re interested in working in China or with Chinese companies, there are still many great opportunities to be had. Just be aware that along with the developments in the Chinese market and society, demand for overseas talent is continuing to shift and evolve. To make the most of your search, make sure you make it your business to know what the local market is looking for, and who is looking. In this regard, LinkedIn and WeChat can be invaluable tools. Happy job hunting!

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about using social networking to achieve career success in China? Do you have any suggestions on other sites or apps that can be used for job searching in China?  Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a send a message directly to the author on social media.

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All About Xiaomi: Smart Homes and Cool Tech

Chinese culture and society have long been one of my interests, and it’s been fascinating to observe how the country has developed over the past 20 plus years. I’ve also been working in the Chinese high-tech sector for several years, and it’s been extremely enlightening to be on the ground in China, and watch how continued technological innovations have impacted the Chinese people and their society.

When it comes to the important technologies that Chinese companies are working on right now, we can see a number of industries that Westerners may have assumed were being solely led by their own countries. But things like solar power, artificial intelligence, electric cars, and phones have all seen impressive developments from Chinese firms. Which leads me to the subject of today’s post, a Chinese company called Xiaomi, which has been making exciting advances in the smart home and Internet of Things spaces.

I previously started using Xiaomi products a few years ago following a recommendation by a friend. Since then, I have become both a fan of their affordable products as well as their connected ecosystem, which in my experience far surpasses in scope that of their closest overseas competitors. In the below video I share the founding story of Xiaomi, the type of products they offer, and how they are doing more to bring their company to overseas markets.

I hope you’ll take the time to watch for a few minutes and learn about this exciting Chinese company and everything they are doing to further connect consumers’ lives.

Thanks for watching!

Do you have any additional questions about the Chinese tech industry or smart home products by Xiaomi? Have you ever used smart home technology or products before? How do you feel they might influence human society in the future? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a send a message directly to the author on social media.

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This Guy Taught in China and Found a New World

Mike Cairnduff hails from Melbourne, Australia and works as a recruiter in the education sector. He has traveled to China many times and loves the people, country, and culture. In part due to his passion for China, he set up and manages a recruiting platform called “Hello Teacher!” to help other Westerners pursue teaching careers in China. In this interview, Mike shares a little about his initial journey to China, and the reasons that have made China an integral part of his life.

China Culture Corner: What first brought you to China?

Mike Cairnduff: Growing up I always found foreign languages and cultures fascinating. So, when my aunt adopted a baby girl from Shanghai in the mid-90s I decided to study Mandarin. Back then, Australian high schools rarely offered Mandarin as a subject, so I chose to do an additional half-day of school every Saturday at a government-run language school. I really was the odd one out; in a class of about 30 kids I was the only Caucasian. It didn’t bother me though as I was there to learn the language and immerse myself in Chinese culture.

As soon as I graduated and got in to The University of Melbourne, I made sure I studied Mandarin alongside a business degree. It was a brilliant four years and Mandarin was by far my most enjoyable subject. As part of my studies, I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to study intensively in Xi’an for about a month. I arrived in the final weeks of December, 1999, in the lead-up to the year 2000. I remember being in Xi’an on New Year’s Eve, walking into the city center through the ancient city wall. Fireworks were going off all around me; it was a great night. It was then that I knew China would be part of me forever.

China Culture Corner: What was your first time in China like? How bad was the culture shock?

Mike Cairnduff: My first time in China was overwhelming. Before we took the train to Xi’an, we spent a few days in Beijing. I remember that everywhere we went, street peddlers would come running up to us trying to sell us stuff. They would literally put postcards in my face, begging me to buy some. I found it hard to say no, until I was told by the tour guide to say “Bu xihuan!” in a very direct way.

I’m very tall, and with my then-bleached blonde hair, stuck out like a sore thumb. People constantly stared at me and spoke behind my back. It was a strange feeling, one that I had never experienced before. I think it’s a lot easier in China these days as the locals have seen so many foreigners, at least in the big cities.

At that time, I felt China was very behind Australia, in terms of modernization and just ways of doing things. Everything seemed bureaucratic and involved lots of red tape, even for supposedly simple things like sending stuff at the post office. Overall though, I absolutely loved my experience in China. I probably learnt more in this brief period than in years at university. It truly opened my eyes to other people, their languages, and cultures. And it made me want to travel the world!

China Culture Corner: How do you feel about the Chinese people and society?

Mike Cairnduff: I find Chinese people to be incredibly generous, kind and friendly, probably more so than people in any other country I’ve visited. They are innately inquisitive, which some first-time visitors might find strange, but it’s this want-to-get-to-know-you attitude that I simply love.

They are a very proud people, and I believe this goes back to their centuries-old society. As someone who lives in a relatively new country, i.e. Australia, I find their culture and traditions quite complex but also so very interesting. Although China has caught up to the West quite quickly, I think the culture, and things like family structure, has pretty much stayed intact.

Take the Spring Festival as an example. You really see how important the role of the family is in China is at this time of year. Chinese people will travel thousands of miles to spend time with their family – no matter what – to cook, clean, and spend quality time with each other. I don’t see the same level of commitment to family in the West, certainly not in Australia anyway.

China Culture Corner: What advice would you give to Westerners interested in coming to China?

Mike Cairnduff: I can’t recommend it enough. It changes your life in ways that are hard to articulate. If you happen to go for a short touristy stay, make sure you get off the beaten track for a little bit, even if that means simply avoiding the “tourist food halls” and eating local fare instead.

If you happen to stay longer, take up any invitations to have meals in people’s homes – this is where you’ll get a real taste for Chinese culture and hospitality.

Overall, I think having patience is key. Things may not go as planned, or at least not the same way as they do back home. You need to keep reminding yourself that you’re in a foreign country, and that it’s normal to feel a bit strange at times. It’s important to just try and let go – sometimes that’s easier said than done!

China Culture Corner: What’s important to remember to have a good experience teaching English in China?

Mike Cairnduff: Be flexible. China’s education system is very different to the West. You need to let structure go the minute you arrive, because in some ways daily life in China can be very unstructured. You need to learn to go with the flow. For example, getting a meeting invite an hour before the meeting starts is normal. Not a great deal is planned for weeks, or even days, in advance. Some Westerners find this difficult to adjust to.

Doing some research before you go is key. Prospective teachers should have a think about the kind of school they want to teach at, the level of the students, the location of the school, where the accommodation is located, and so on. For me personally, the salary should be a final consideration, not the driving consideration. If you’re thinking about teaching in China solely for the money, you’re making a mistake – head to Japan or South Korea instead! What China can give you, however, that other countries can’t, is the once-in-a-lifetime craziness of a developing country. It really puts things in perspective for you.

Teaching overseas is a big move and that’s why enlisting the help of a recruiter you can trust is critically important.

China Culture Corner: Can teaching English still be a viable occupation for Westerners in China?

Mike Cairnduff: China’s demand for qualified, native-speaking English teachers isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. China is very much aware that English is the world’s international language; no other language comes close. Chinese parents have an expectation that their child will study English and eventually become fluent.

Salaries for native English teachers in China continue to go up. At worst, you’d be earning about double a low or average salary in China. In the private sector, many teachers are earning salaries that local Chinese can only dream about. That means you can live like a king or queen for as long as you’re living in China. Just remember that the money probably won’t be as impressive when you exchange it into your country’s currency.

Many teachers do a one-year contract in China and then return to their own country, while others continue on, often changing schools to explore other great areas of China. Everyone I know who has taught in China, even if just for a year, has described it as a life-changing experience that they will never forget.

I think teaching in China is most definitely a viable long-term career, provided you love Chinese food!

China Culture Corner: In recent years, the Chinese government has introduced regulations that make it harder for unskilled labor to work in China. How does this affect the education industry, and how should foreigners who want to teach in China prepare?

Mike Cairnduff: It’s definitely not as easy to teach in China as it used to be, especially in the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Gone are the days where an unqualified Westerner could arrive on a tourist visa and start teaching English immediately.

The guidelines state that you need a degree and TEFL certificate to teach in China. We are seeing that this is being enforced more than ever before. In addition, new visa requirementsinvolve getting some of your documents legalized. This means the visa application process is taking longer than before.

Due to these changes we’ll ultimately see better quality teachers in Chinese schools. That’s a good thing!

If you’re a qualified candidate, i.e. you have a degree and TEFL certificate, preparing is easy – you just need to have hard copies of your documents ready to go. Then it’s a matter of liaising with your recruiter to help you with the next steps.

China Culture Corner: Are there any last thoughts you’d like to share with aspiring visitors to China?

Mike Cairnduff: If there is only one foreign country you visit this year, make sure it’s China. Many people who end up going to China have pre-conceived ideas of what the country is going to be like, only then to find out it is so very different. You really will be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re not familiar with Mandarin you’ll be fine in a tour group, but if you’re traveling on your own or with a small group of non-Mandarin speakers, I’d recommend you learn a few words before you go. And have your translation dictionary on your phone ready to go!

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about teaching English in China? Are you interested in experiencing the Chinese people and culture? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a send a message directly to the author on social media.

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Chinese Spring Festival Unboxing – Celebrate the Year of the Dog

The Chinese Spring Festival is here again! I previously wrote about some of the most important symbols of the Chinese Spring Festival, and this year I wanted to try something new. To help you, the reader, better understand these important symbols of the Spring Festival, I decided to shoot my first ever video on Chinese culture, in the form on an unboxing.

In the video I take a large box filled with various Spring Festival decorations and go through them to explain their significance to the Chinese, as well as show you how you can use them around your own home, to better get in the holiday spirit.  I hope you enjoy!

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about traditional holiday decorations in China? Do you have any personal experiences you would like to share? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a send a message directly to the author on social media.

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5 Reasons You Need to Learn Chinese Names

Despite China continuing to grow in power and influence, I worry that many people  have yet to fully accept this reality. One area where this reluctance shows through is how uncomfortable many Westerners continue to feel when trying to pronounce or learn Chinese names. Feeling uncomfortable on its own can readily be forgiven – it is an unwillingness to try that really bothers me.  Some are embarrassed when trying to pronounce unfamiliar words. Others insist that Chinese names are too hard to pronounce. It is therefore no surprise that one of the more common phrases one hears among those new to China is “do you have an English name?” 

To many, learning how to pronounce a name may seem wholly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. However, it can easily relate to our own attitudes and prejudices, which will directly affect each of us as we continue to learn and grow. I’d therefore like to help you, the reader, understand why I feel learning Chinese names is so important, and will not only help develop closer relationships with our Chinese friends, partners, and coworkers, but also prepare us for China’s greater prominence in the global economy.

1) You’re in their country

I always feel that when visiting someone else’s country it’s best to learn a little of their language, if only how to pronounce basic words, questions, and names. Of course, you can always choose not to if you prefer, but many Asian countries, including China, focus a lot more on respect than their Western counterparts. Currently, in China it’s a common practice for visiting Westerners to take the easy path and rely solely on English names. But at the same time, making the effort to learn Chinese names and basic phrases will send a clear message to the Chinese, that you are serious about engaging with them and their country. And if that’s not enough, think about this – how would you feel if a Chinese person visited your country, and after you courteously introduced yourself, they flatly refused to use your native name and suggested you adopt a Chinese one instead? Therefore, while learning Chinese names may be difficult at first, it’s a simple way to show respect and interest, which can only lead to a better experience for all.

2) Don’t isolate yourself with an expat mentality

Photo by Fifaliana on Pixabay

While I believe learning Chinese names, phrases, and greetings is ideal for Westerners visiting China, it is even more important for those planning a lengthier stay. In a previous article I wrote about the dangers of succumbing to an expat mindset, and refusing to learn basic Chinese can tie into this, only serving to further isolate you. Refusing (or even unconsciously avoiding) to learn Chinese names and language not only will make it harder for you to integrate into life in China, it may even prevent you from working effectively (assuming you work at least part of the time in China). Even worse, I have seen many Westerners develop a pronounced apathy and even hostility toward the Chinese people in general due to this type of isolation. For hundreds of years Chinese immigrants (and those from many countries) have relocated to Western countries, integrated themselves into the countries, and learned the local language. Is it really too much to ask for us to at least learn to pronounce Chinese names?

3) A name is a very personal thing

I touched briefly on racism and hostility above, and the sad truth of the matter is that the Chinese people have long suffered at the hands of other countries, most notably Western nations and Japan. My home country of the United States is particularly guilty in this respect, with Chinese (and Asians in general) still subjected to regular bigotry. A recent example of this occurred when unidentified persons tore the nametags off the doors of Chinese students at Columbia University in early 2017. While their exact motives were never confirmed, it was clear that their intent was to directly attack Chinese students, as nearby name tags of non-Chinese students remained untouched. Names are a very personal thing to the Chinese. Chinese parents choose names for their children with care, with the chosen words (characters, in fact) representing their hopes and dreams for who their children will become. I encourage you to watch this video created by the Chinese students involved affected by the incident – it may give you one more reason to learn how to pronounce and understand Chinese names.

After growing up in China and later emigrating to the USA, I found that many people did not know how to pronounce my Chinese name. The mispronunciation of my name has caused multiple embarrassments and miscommunication throughout my education. I even had to go so far as to begin writing my first name as “Ray”, as opposed to “Rui”, which is how it is spelled in Chinese Pinyin. Despite greater convenience this has never felt entirely conformable, as no one should have to give up their own name. Rui Lin, Sino-US Trade Policy Specialist

4) We need to ditch Anglocentrism

Another reason we face a problem with Westerners being reluctant to learn Chinese names and use them in everyday conversations, is the rampant Anglocentralism which has persisted during and after the Western colonial era. Begun by Britain, and later joined by the United States, European countries, Russia, and Japan, the common view was that developing nations were somehow lesser, or not worthy (especially when their citizens were not Caucasian). In the time since, these citizens of developing nations and regions (e.g., China, Africa, South, and Latin America) have had to take on the burden of learning the languages of Western countries (namely English), while their Western counterparts have for the large part shown no interest in reciprocating. However, many developing countries, China in particular, are now set to take on a greater role, in terms of power and influence, on the global stage. Continuing to be ruled by outdated mindsets can only hurt those who hold them, as developing countries have no need to wait for Western mindsets to catch up. Focusing more on the importance of names to the Chinese is a simple way to start reversing the damages caused by Anglocentrism.

5) Preparing for Chinese companies going global

Photo by Ambreen Hasan on Unsplash

To build upon the previous point, China continues to develop, which includes many Chinese companies and workers traveling to and being based overseas. As their presence and power continues to grow, it is very likely that less and less leeway will be given to Western companies and employees who want to work with them but refuse to learn their language and culture. As an example, several years ago I observed that Tencent, the Chinese powerhouse behind WeChat, had placed job ads online for several US locations. For every single Manager or Assistant Manager position, Chinese language proficiency was required for regular communication with the head office. In addition, Chinese firms I have worked for in the past also mainly spoke Chinese in the office, and Chinese was essential while for communication with senior managers. So Chinese language proficiency may be all but required for many of us in the near future. Starting with learning Chinese names is a relatively easy first step, and may make it easier to learn more of the Chinese language, which can only lead to more opportunities.

Final Thoughts

I’ve presented several reasons above why I feel many Westerners should make a greater effort to learn Chinese names. And while these reasons certainly tie-in to the need for learning the Chinese language in general, the core issue is simpler than that to me. The biggest problem I see is not that other Westerners are not learning Chinese, but that their mindset prevents them from recognizing the need to learn about the Chinese language and culture.

Too many of us are still blind to the fact that China is challenging and/or surpassing Western countries in many areas, including economics, science, and technology. In the end, China will continue on no matter what we do. Whether or not we are individually prepared will directly depend on the mindset we adopt towards China and the Chinese people. Will we view them as equals and endeavor to treat them as such, or will we continue to ignore them as an unimportant country and culture? The choice is yours.

Additional Reading: For those of you interested in learning how to pronounce Chinese names, you can find some basic pronunciation guides in my previous article on Chinese Pinyin.

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about names in China? Do you have any personal experiences you would like to share? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a send a message directly to the author on social media.

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How to Successfully Take a Taxi in China

One thing that stands out about China is its massive size, not just the country but its many mega cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Therefore, knowing how to get around quickly is important for getting by. Thankfully, there are many transportation options that foreign visitors can take advantage of, including subways, buses, bikes, taxis, not to mention walking (though it may take you a while).

You can also take a taxi, though in my experience this can be one of the more difficult ways to travel, as unlike other modes of transportation, directing a taxi to yourself, as well as your destination, requires a much greater degree of communication in Chinese. Therefore, based on my own experience with Chinese taxis, I’d like to share what I consider essential tips for foreign visitors in China, especially those that speak little of the local tongue. So take a few minutes to read through the below tips and before you know it you’ll be an expert at taking a taxi, Chinese style.

Hailing a taxi on your own

  1. Choose a good location: The first step to having a good “China taxi experience” starts with actually getting one. And for those not familiar with the often chaotic conditions of Chinese traffic, it may not always be clear where the best place is to find a taxi. Based on my own experiences some of the best places include intersections (corners), bus stops, and subway stations exits, and outside major shopping centers. It’s also useful to remember that some, but not all, higher-end hotels can help guests call a taxi, or even have a queue outside where guests (or anyone) can wait.
  2. Avoid the crowds: One thing many visitors to China are not prepared for is the sheer amount of people. It is not uncommon to see five to ten different people at a single location waiting for a ride, especially during peak hours and at busy locations. One way to improve your chances of grabbing a taxi is to shift locations. At popular locations that draw lots of taxis you can simply walk along the road in the direction cars are coming from to stake out a less competitive spot. Another option is trying a different intersection to try for better luck.
  3. Be proactive and visible: Another issue that defines life in China is many people competing for a scarce amount of resources. Therefore with taxis it’s first come first serve. Out on the dusty streets of urban China, few people care if you were there first, and there is no line to wait in. Therefore, if there is a free taxi coming (light on and no yellow placard indicating they were reserved by an app) you have to jump out and get it. Also, when waiting by the side of the road, it’s important to make yourself as visible as possible – so step out into the road a little (when safe) and wave your arms to get a driver’s attention.
  4. Have your address written down: There are never any guarantees that a driver will be able to speak English (almost never) or even understand any Chinese phrases you know. The safest bet is to always keep a list of addresses (or even just place names in Chinese) on your person at all times. If you are coming to China for a business trip or tour, make sure you prepare the Chinese names of your hotels and intended destinations.

Hailing a taxi with an app

  1. Download Didi Chuxing: The first step to using a ride-hailing app in China is of course to download the app. Didi Chuxing is the main ride-hailing app in China, and therefore the one you’ll want to use no matter what city you’re in. The nice thing about this app is that it comes with an English version, making it easy for visitors to China to start using, right off the bat.
  2. Know how to say your starting location in Chinese: A major issue that will prevent visitors to China (who don’t speak Chinese) from successfully using ride-hailing apps is the language barrier. Not only do most Chinese drivers not speak English, but there is an enormous reluctance to rely on customers’ GPS locations. As such most drivers, almost without exception, will immediately call a customer upon accepting a fare to ask where they are. So it doesn’t matter if you switch on a ride-hailing app’s English version, the driver will still call you and ask in Chinese for your destination. Therefore, the easiest way to resolve this issue is to learn the Chinese names of the places you often frequent, such as your home, office, and favorite hangouts.
  3. Have a Chinese friend help you out: An even easier way to use a ride-hailing app for non-Chinese speakers is to enlist the aid of a Chinese friend or coworker. And while it certainly is easier, it is not something I would recommend over the long term, simply because it prevents you from being able to get around Chinese cities, independently. However, if you’re ever in a rough spot and can’t describe a specific location, this technique can save you a lot of time.
  4. Wave and show your phone: Interestingly, many drivers will assume a foreigner cannot use a Chinese ride-hailing app, even if you’re not able to converse in Chinese over the phone. I’ve therefore found it useful to not only wave to get an incoming driver’s attention (after spotting their license plate) but to wave while clearly showing my phone. This makes it much easier for drivers to understand that you are their fare, and prevent them from continuing down the street and missing you.
  5. Enable phone payments: I personally recommend that anyone in China for a few months or more enable payments via their smartphones. This is usually fairly easy enough to manage providing you open a Chinese bank account. Once you have a Chinese bank card, you should be able to link that card directly to difference payment services, such as WeChat Pay or AliPay.

Additional Tips

  1. Know where different colored taxis can go: Some large Chinese cities restrict certain types of taxis to certain areas of the cities. For example, in Shenzhen all green-colored taxis are not allowed to enter the city center, while red and blue taxis have free run of the entire metropolis. This is important to be aware of, not just due to differences in price, but because a very small minority of drivers may try to take advantage of passengers by taking on fares they know they cannot complete, and simply dropping them at the boundaries of their no-go zones.
  2. Learn some Chinese: In the end, the more Chinese you can speak, even only simple sentences, the easier it will be for you to give more complicated directions to taxi drivers. So it’s worth putting in a little more time, if only to make your time in China more enjoyable. To start you off, I’ve listed some simple yet important phrases below that you can using when taking a taxi.
  3. Make use of hand gestures: Even if you don’t speak Chinese, there is a lot of communication that can be achieved via a liberal use of hand gestures, especially when combined with basic directions in Chinese. This can help you get to your destination quicker, especially when you are familiar with where you are going and the driver may not be.
  4. There is no tipping in China: While it may be second nature in some countries like the United States, tipping is basically unheard of in China. And while there are certainly no laws that prevent you from doing so, I would recommend disabusing yourself of the habit while in China. Basically, there is no sure way of knowing how someone will react. Some Chinese certainly will be happy to accept extra money, but many more will be embarrassed and refuse to accept your generosity.  Therefore, when in China, do as the Chinese do.
  5. Don’t be a jerk: By and large I have had pretty positive experiences with Chinese taxi drivers over the years, with only a small amount of bad apples. It’s useful to note that many of my bad experiences have been with drivers who themselves have clearly had bad experiences with foreign passengers (e.g. drinking and/or yelling). So please do all visitors to China a favor and treat your driver well (or at least don’t treat them badly). They are simply working to get by, and how you treat them could have a significant impact on the next foreign passenger they meet.

Useful Chinese phrases when taking a taxi

These Chinese phrases are by no means the only ones you could use when speaking to a Chinese driver, but they are the ones I use by far the most on an everyday basis. And if you’re not quite sure how to pronounce some of these Chinese words, you can check out my article on Chinese Pinyin for some in-depth tips.

  1. I don’t speak Chinese (wǒ bù huì shuō zhōng wén; 我不会说中文)
  2. I’m a foreigner (wǒ shì lǎo wài; 我是老外)
  3. Please look at the GPS/navigation system (qǐng kàn dǎo háng; 请看导航)
  4. Here (zhè lǐ; 这里)
  5. Turn right (yòu zhuǎn; 右转)
  6. Turn left (zuǒ zhuǎn; 左转)
  7.  Make a u-turn (diào tóu; 掉头)
  8. Stop on the right side of the road (kào yòu biān tíng; 靠右边停)
  9. Drive straight (zhí zǒu; 直走)
  10. Do you have spare change? (yǒu líng qián má; 有零钱吗)
  11. I want to pay with my phone (wǒ yào shǒu jī zhī fù; 我要手机支付)
  12. Thank you (xiè xiè; 谢谢)

In conclusion, taking a taxi in Chinese can be an unfamiliar and sometimes daunting experience, but if you follow the above tips you’ll have a much better chance, not just of reaching your destination, but of enjoying your trip. Happy trails!

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about taking a taxi in China? Do you have any personal experiences you would like to share? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a send a message directly to the author on social media.

8 Tips for Surviving the Holidays in China

As Christmas and the Chinese Spring Festival have already come and gone, I thought it might be a good time to address a topic that can easily frustrate foreigners living and working in China. Basically, what the heck are you supposed to do during the holidays?

This can be a complicated issue as different companies have different rules on vacation time and there are different cultural norms between Chinese and Western firms. It’s also often a long and expensive flight home, often requiring more than half a day in a stuffy, cramped, and bacteria-filled plane cabin.

However, no matter how stressful and uncomfortable making the trip home for the holidays can be, it’s still an important part of many of our lives. After all, what’s more important during the holidays than spending time with family? And with that in mind I’ve prepared a few pointers based on my own experience in the Middle Kingdom. Take a look and it may lead to easier and more relaxed holidays in the future!

When you CAN go home for the holidays:

The best situation possible, in my opinion, is when you have both the time and means to travel home for the holidays. However, for those living and working in China, there are several unique challenges to be aware of.

  1. Book plane tickets early: As in other countries, it is common for the price of plane tickets to begin increasing in the time leading up to major Chinese holidays, especially Chinese New Year and National Day. Sometimes during the last several weeks, prices can skyrocket to extraordinary levels. This is partly due to the extraordinarily large number of people on the move in China during this time of year. Therefore, in order to be able to pay a reasonable price, it’s important purchase a plane ticket early, at least 60-90 days in advance in my experience.
  2. Make sure you have a multi-entry visa: One very easy, yet extremely wasteful mistake to make is leaving the country only to return to discover you can’t get back in due to a single-entry visa. One reason this can occur is because many Chinese companies’ HR departments have yet to get their act together in terms of hiring foreign talent, and most staff members display an amazing lack of awareness of what needs to be done on the visa side of things. On the other hand, for those coming over on a tourist visa, it’s important to make sure you take charge to a certain extent and ensure you have the correct visa.
  3. Make sure you can get time off: This one is the kicker, and often overlooked by foreign talent in China. When working in China, it’s easy to forget that most Chinese companies don’t schedule time off for non-Chinese holidays. This can be compounded by the fact that many departments in Chinese companies are unlikely to employ more than one foreigner (if any). So not only is there no pre-scheduled time off for the holidays, but there may be no one available to cover your shift if you do want to go home. It’s therefore crucial to have an early and upfront conversation with your manager, otherwise it may be impossible to get time off in the future.

When you CAN’T go home for the holidays:

Unfortunately, not all of us can make it home for the holidays every year. Sometimes money is tight, and at other times it’s impossible to get away from work. However, this doesn’t mean you have to stay at home by yourself .

  1. Don’t spend the holidays alone: This is a very important point for visitors to China, as we all suffer from certain degrees of culture shock, which can get worse over the holidays. This is a time of year we are taught from birth is supposed to be spent among friends and family, and not doing so, especially while in an unfamiliar country and culture, can feel very draining. So do what you can to be around people if you find yourself in China over the holidays – go to a mixer, have dinner with coworkers, meet up with local friends for coffee – every little bit helps.
  2. Get a good meal: One nice thing about many larger Chinese cities that can make culture shock easier is not only growing expat populations, but also more and more foreign-owned restaurants. Many family-centered foreign holidays (e.g. Christmas and Thanksgiving) also have a big focus on food. And missing out on that can be a big disappointment if you’re staying in China over the holidays – I always think of my family’s signature stuffing over Thanksgiving! So do a little checking in advance, and see what restaurants are planning to serve holiday specials.
  3. Decorate a little: Sometimes it’s the simple things that can help you get by. No matter if you are putting up colorful turkeys for Thanksgiving, scary ghosts and goblins for Halloween, or a cheerful tree for Christmas, a little extra color can make a holiday alone feel that much easier to endure. And this is made very easy by the fact that many decorations are available on Chinese e-commerce sites – they’re just a few button taps away (Chinese translation assistance may be required).
  4. Don’t forget to call home: Another easy way to cope while feeling under the weather in China during the holidays is to just make a call home. In addition to cheaper than ever overseas calling plans offered by Chinese carriers, there are a number free online services, Skype chief among them. So when you’re feeling down, comfort is just a phone call away.
  5. Create your own China holiday tradition: After living in China for many years, I’ve found that not only have I adapted to the a new holiday schedule, but my family back home has as well. To date, I’ve never really had the time to make it home for Christmas. So instead of feeling bad during Decembers in China, I simply wait excitedly for a few more months to pass, until the Chinese Spring Festival rolls around. In practice, this Chinese holiday is my Christmas – it’s the key time during each year when I get to travel back to the USA to see my family. And that i what I’ve found is really important to me – not what specific date I’m back home, but being able to spend time with family at all.

Final Thoughts

In the end, there are multiple way to ensure you aren’t feeling down in the dumps over the holidays. This partly requires some pre-planning and early communication. It also needs a little extra effort to step out the front door and go do something. No matter where you are in China, there is always a way to cope and to get through the holidays largely happy and intact.

I also think this potentially difficult issue is something that must be faced squarely and openly – culture shock is a horrible feeling, and one that not only strikes unexpectedly, but also takes away from the wonderful experiences and memories China can provide. And while my own experience tells that culture shock does indeed fade over time, it never really truly leaves  completely. Or perhaps it’s better to say that a part of us will always remain in our beloved homelands, making our hearts ache whenever the holidays roll around.

Therefore, I hope the above tips can be of use to China travelers young and old, new and experienced, so we can all enjoy our time in China a little bit more. So happy holidays in advance – for next time!

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any comments or questions on staying in China over the holidays? What do you usually do when returning home for the holidays? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Follow My China Journey on Instagram

instragram-sample_sean2Hi everyone. Lately, due to my new job in digital marketing, I’ve become interested in smartphone photography. This has inspired me to open an account on Instagram to share photos documenting my time in China.  On my account I’ll be sharing:

  1. Photos of my life in Shenzhen, China
  2. Photos of my work, both in China and abroad
  3. Past photos of my travels throughout China

instragram-sample_seanSo, if you’re interested in seeing what’s happening with me, enjoying photos from China’s many scenic spots, or learning more about Chinese culture, you can check out my profile at https://www.instagram.com/seanum_china/.

I hope you enjoy this additional social channel as another way to experience and learn about the real China.

-Sean Upton-McLaughlin

5 Reasons a Translation Career May Not Be For You

Translation is a very important part of doing business around the world. This is especially true in countries like China, where very few foreigners possess anything approaching business proficiency in the local language. Translators therefore serve as intermediaries between people, companies, and governments. They are in many ways the lubricant that allows international business communication to flow smoothly.

The Chinese language is now being studied by an increasing number of non-native speakers from all over the world. For those with a passion for languages, translation may seem like an obvious career choice, especially as China boasts a fascinating history and culture, which are reflected in the language. However, translation is not for everyone.

Based on my own experience with the translation process and conversations with translators (Chinese natives and foreigners), I have prepared a list of reasons why foreigners pursuing a career in China might want to think twice about the translation profession.

Why Translation May Not Be For You

  1. 09f2a856ea53d6d259e1f6b9298efe6eQuantity over quality: A translator’s work is almost always billed by the number of words, not the quality of the final translation. In this type of work environment, the “best” translators are those who translate as many documents as possible, while focusing just enough on quality to satisfy clients. If a translator wants to spend extra time on a translation to ensure the highest possible quality, it will likely be on their own dime.
  2. Factories, not experts: Despite high language levels and cross cultural knowledge, translators are often not viewed as cross-cultural and language experts, but merely as cogs in a machine. This lack of understanding often leads clients to incorrectly think that all translation assignments are the same and can easily be completed at the last minute. If a young professional is looking to be eventually viewed as an expert or valued consultant, translation may be the wrong profession to get into.
  3. A lack of trust: A good deal of research and thought goes into a quality translation. However, changes are often made, sometimes arbitrarily, by clients with a less than perfect (sometimes severely lacking) understanding of the source text or target language. It is also common for clients who are non-native speakers to insist that they know better than a translator translating into their native language. For dedicated translators who care about their work, this can cause a great deal of frustration.
  4. Just the first step: For many types of content, including articles and advertisements, it’s important to remember that translation is just the first step. There are a number of other professionals that will work on a given piece of content after translation takes place. They include editors, proofreaders, copy editors, and others. Therefore, remember that a strong working knowledge of the Chinese language can add value at later stages of the process, and contribute to higher quality deliverables. For perfectionists and those who care a lot about their work, it’s important to understand that translation is only the beginning of the process, and that translated documents will almost certainly go through many changes after the fact.
  5. Machine replacements are on the way: It is currently far from certain that machine-based translation will actually make significant inroads into replacing human translators, especially for translating between complex languages such as English and Chinese. However, the risk does exist, especially as many clients view translation as simply taking a language from A to point B. In light of this, job security may turn into a serious issue, grounding promising careers before they get off the ground.

Know What You Are Getting Into

No matter whether you end up choosing a career in translation or not, I think that first and foremost it is vital to understand your own expectations and the likely work environment you will face. Only then can make an informed decision.

For young Western and non-Chinese talent with a passion for the Chinese language, while translation is certainly a valid method of doing what you love, it is by no means the only way. By raising the above issues, I do not intend to suggest that the translation  is not a profession worth getting into. However, to ensure a promising career in China, it’s critical for foreign talent to think long and hard about what path is best for them, not just for right now, but for the future as well.


Thanks for reading!

Do you have any questions on being a translator in China? Would you like to list out your own PROs or CONs for being a translator? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Don’t Let Assumptions Define Your China Experience!

Picture this: you have just arrived in China and are excited to try out the Chinese you have learned. You pop into a local corner store and ask something simple: “这是多少钱?” (zhè shì duō shao qián; how much is this?). But to your dismay, the clerk merely stares at you blankly, before asking in halting English, “Can I help you?” So what happened? Was your pronunciation off? Did you use the wrong tones? Did you completely waste your time studying Chinese only to fail epically on your very first attempt? In fact, it may be none of these things.

This perplexing phenomenon has been experienced by many of my non-Chinese friends who live and work in China, who have also attained a fairly high mastery of the Chinese language. We have all experienced this type of reaction from Chinese locals in our daily lives, and have all been unsure about what, on certain occasions, made our spoken Chinese completely incomprehensible. After discussing the issue with a number of Chinese friends and colleagues, a possible answer emerged: according to certain Chinese people, many locals simply accept as fact that the Chinese language is more or less “impossible” to learn for non-Chinese, and therefore fail to comprehend when a foreigner actually speak understandable Chinese. In short, they expect foreigners to be unable to speak Chinese.

While I’m sure this is not the case every time a Chinese person cannot understand a foreigner speaking Chinese, it explains many of my own experiences, and also raises another interesting question: how much does the same thing happen to foreign visitors to China?  How often do we unconsciously make a decision about a situation before we actually experience it? How often do we judge Chinese people before actually letting their words and actions speak for themselves? How often do we pass judgement before making any effort to understand Chinese culture or history? How often are our negative experiences in China the result of the influence of negative media coverage, or the negative stories of other foreigners?

My suggestion: anyone who truly wants to enjoy a positive experience in China should try to really listen and observe as much as possible, and try to do so in an unbiased manner. If we shut out those voices (e.g., our friends, parents, coworkers, politicians, the media) that are constantly trying to tell us what China is like, and simply try and experience China for what it really is, we may surprise ourselves, and discover a China we never knew existed.

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any comments or questions on communicating effectively in China? Do you have any stories you can share in which you overcame your assumptions when communicating with the Chinese people? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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5 Tips for Fun and Flexibility in China

Cultural conflicts are very common for expatriates, foreign students, and visitors in China. They are things that color the experiences of everyone, even ethnic Chinese who grew up overseas. However, while this is normal when visiting any foreign country, it often leads to negative experiences and results. When faced with conflicting viewpoints, concepts, behaviors, beliefs and customs, it is not uncommon for foreigners to get angry, become bitter, or simply give up.

With this in mind, I have put together several tips on how visitors to China can try to get over culture shock and acclimate to Chinese culture quicker, thereby gaining more enjoyment and knowledge from their stay.

  1. Don’t believe in stereotypes: Stereotypes about Chinese people are everywhere, largely driven by incomplete reporting in the media and biased accounts written by foreigners who have spent time in China. These descriptions view the Chinese people through a narrow and often backwards lens, and are never helpful. Once we view a single culture or people as being “only one way”, we lose our ability to view them as individuals and our fellow human beings. There is an old Chinese story which is particularly relevant here: Three blind men were placed in front of an elephant. One touched the trunk and thought it was a snake. One touched the leg and thought it was the trunk of a tree. The last man touched the tail and thought it was a rope. Each man was confident he knew what was in front of him, but in reality, each did not come close to truly understanding what the elephant was. Likewise, while stereotypes might reflect some aspects of China and its people, they also make true comprehension impossible.
  2. Don’t assume something is wrong with Chinese Culture: A common reaction to the difficulties of living and working in a foreign environment is defensiveness and blame. Specifically, I have heard many foreigners claim that Chinese culture is “wrong”, “backwards” or “bad”. And while this type of reaction may be natural, it also offers no help in adapting to a new environment. For example, the main problems I have personally faced in China involved specific individuals with bad attitudes, or my own failure to adapt. They had nothing to do with Chinese culture as a whole. It is important to remember that there are negative individuals in any culture or society, though culture shock can make it much more likely for foreigners to incorrectly remember such experiences as representative of the culture. It’s true that Mainland Chinese society may face certain developmental woes, but Chinese culture is rich, and there is much we all can learn, given the patience to do so.
  3.  Don’t assume you are the patient one: One thing that often strikes me is how easy it is for foreigners (including myself, on occasion) to become frustrated when communicating with Chinese locals. While this is of course a natural part of adapting to a foreign culture, my own experience shows that the Chinese people are often overwhelmingly polite and accommodating when trying to help a foreigner. Yet time and again, it’s also very common for foreigners to lose their temper and lash out verbally. I understand that foreigners can feel lost and confused in a foreign culture. However, being impolite doesn’t help solve problems, and it is also disrespectful to the Chinese, whose country we are visiting.
  4. Don’t object to personal questions: Personal questions are a big taboo for many foreigners, especially those from Western countries. However, there is literally no getting around this in China, as the Chinese are naturally curious about their foreign visitors, and often uneducated about what questions can make non-Chinese feel uncomfortable. Instead of taking such questions personally, I’ve found that it’s more helpful to prepare answers ahead of time, as these conversations can occur so often you often are simply repeating the same answers – just like small talk. For example, when asked for the umpteenth time whether or not I plan to marry a Chinese woman, I now always reply with, “I’ll leave it to Yuanfen (fate) to decide.” After this kind of reply, most Chinese people will give a knowing nod, and not press the subject any further.
  5. Don’t focus on your feelings; focus on getting results: After a long day of confusion and cultural conflicts, it’s very easy to get to the point where anything not from your own culture simply feels wrong. However, it’s best not to get bogged down in questions of right and wrong (culturally), and instead focus on the bigger picture. For example, if you are in China to sign an important contract, your end goal is much more important than the initial discomfort you may feel concerning drinking Baijiu or Chinese communication styles. Likewise, if you are living and working in China long-term, your end goal may be to learn about the Chinese language and culture, make money or simply enjoy life. In all these cases, trying to overcome cultural barriers, while potentially uncomfortable at first, will lead to a much more enjoyable stay, and make it easier for you to achieve your end goal.

Focus on Learning, Understanding and Adapting

Lastly, I’d like to emphasize that I in no way intend to make light of the bad experiences of other foreigners in China. Indeed, I have had my own share of bad experiences. Even the most localized foreigner will almost certainly have the odd off day in a foreign culture – that’s simply how our minds and the world work. However, I DO think is important to remember is that there are ways to compensate for the potential negative mental impact of living for a long time in a foreign environment, some of which I listed above.

While our journeys in or outside China may differ in their courses, I believe we can all benefit from a certain degree of humility and a willingness to compromise. Our goals, after all, are to enjoy life and work to the greatest extent possible, and I believe these goals can be best obtained by trying to learn more about the Chinese people, understand the reasons behind their behavior and adapting, whenever possible, to the nuances of local life.


Thanks for reading!

Do you have any questions about adapting to life in China or other countries? What has been your own experience adapting to Chinese culture? Do you have any other suggestions? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Grab Those Red Envelopes – On WeChat!

As I have touched on before, Red Envelopes (红包; hóng bāo) are an important part of Chinese holiday traditions. Usually filled with a small amount of money, these envelopes are traditionally presented to young people during China’s Lunar New Year (also called the Spring Festival), and on other special occasions. In early 2016, I experienced gifting Red Envelopes in an entirely new way – through China’s booming social media app, WeChat.

In the following article, I’m excited to share this digital way to celebrate holidays and special occasions in China. Now, even more Chinese bank cards can be linked to WeChat’s online payment function without a Chinese ID card (previously a big problem for foreigners, including myself). It’s now very easy for foreigners based in and visiting China to take part in this relatively new Chinese digital tradition.

The Basics of Red Envelopes on WeChat

  1. How it works: There are different ways to gift a Red Envelope on WeChat. First, you have the choice of sending an individual envelope or a group envelope. When sending an individual envelope, all you need to do is select a person and an amount of money. When sending a group envelope (to send to a group chat), you can select the number of recipients, the total amount of money, and how you want the money divided up between recipients (randomly or set amounts). When the number of recipients is less than the number of members in a group, members will have to tap, or qiǎng, quickly if they want to receive a cash prize.
  2. Use WeChat to send Red EnvelopesThe Chinese concept of qiǎng (; to fight over, to grab, to rob): Qiǎng is an interesting concept in China. The character originally only meant to grab, rob or fight over something. But, in the commercial landscape of modern China, it has taken on a new meaning. When stores want to sell a limited number of products quickly (e.g., a promotion), everyone must move fast (both online and off) if they want to make a purchase. This is very similar to consumer shopping behavior during Black Friday in the USA (I can still remember sprinting through Walmart at the age of 13, a brand-new Nintendo 64 clutched to my chest). Qiǎng-ing however, is much more common, and quite popular, in China. I’ve found almost universally that Chinese friends and colleagues prefer a limited number of envelopes in group chats. After all, they will feel better if they win one of a limited number of prizes, and if they don’t grab one in time, they can always beg you (in China it’s often considered cute among friends) to send out some more.
  3. How it feels: Sending and receiving Red Envelopes on WeChat can be a very exciting and rewarding experience, as I can attest to from my own time with the app. On one hand, it’s like a fun game where you get to compete with friends to win small prizes. On the other hand, it’s a very nice tool for gifting in China, especially for maintaining relationships with current friends and coworkers. For myself especially, as someone who has always felt more comfortable giving rather than receiving, I always feel compelled to send just one more envelope, simply because I enjoy it.

Advice on Getting Started

  1. Start off small: First of all, unless you are familiar with the gifting habits of your friends or coworkers, it’s better to start small, especially as larger amounts could be embarrassing (for them) or misunderstood. Anything from 10-50 RMB (equivalent to 1.5-7.8 USD) is likely fine for a casual friend or coworker. When gifting to a group don’t give less than one RMB per person. It’s always easier to start small and work your way up based on what you see other people gifting.
  2. You can maintain relationships in China via WeChatConsider hierarchy: Despite the often relaxed atmosphere of gifting Red Envelopes on WeChat, I think it’s always important to remember hierarchy, which is more often important in China than in other countries. For example, I have noticed that many people of a higher rank within a company are more willing to send bigger gifts, especially during special events (e.g. a New Year Banquet). On the other hand, rank and file employees are usually content to play around with smaller amounts. To use myself as an example, while I consider myself to be among the rank and file, I am still more senior than many Chinese members of my department. Therefore, I try to make a habit of gifting at least 50% more than my Chinese coworkers on a given occasion. I am also very wary of giving anything other than a small Red Envelope to a Chinese coworker clearly senior to me, especially if they are in a management position.
  3. Remember the lucky number 8: Numbers also play an important part of giving gifts in China. As the number “8” is considered auspicious in Chinese culture, it would be a good idea to gift amounts that contain the digit. These amounts could include 0.88, 8.88, 18,88, 28.88 and so on. Likewise, as the number “4” is unlucky in China (with a similar pronunciation to “death”), I would suggest avoiding the number when gifting on WeChat. While it is true that Chinese people do not always proactively choose lucky numbers when gifting money, I believe that doing so it not only appreciated, but actively conveys a knowledge and appreciation of Chinese culture, which the Chinese are always happy to see.
  4. Don’t be that one person who doesn’t gift: While no one should be pressured into participating in any practice they don’t agree or feel comfortable with, it’s important to remember that courtesy demands reciprocity. If you accept a Red Envelope (you can choose not to, and the gifter’s money will be refunded), it is only proper that you repay the courtesy. If a friend or coworker sends you an individual Red Envelope, you should probably send one back that day (if it is a specific holiday), or be sure to reciprocate on another occasion (if one is sent on your birthday, make sure to send the gifter a Red Envelope on their birthday). If you choose to take part in Chinese cultural traditions (and you DO have a choice), make sure to give as much as you get.
  5. Don’t forget to have fun: Last but not least, while I think it’s important to keep the above concepts and advice in the back of your mind when gifting Red Envelopes on WeChat, don’t be too serious! As I have discovered, it is generally a fun experience so long as you give it a chance and view it as a new way to experience Chinese culture and interact with your Chinese friends and coworkers.

Happy Gifting!

I hope you all have enjoyed this introduction to gifting Red Envelopes on WeChat. While the above article applies to most scenarios involving Red Envelopes on WeChat, I would be happy to hear from others about their own experiences. Also, as this is my first article dealing specifically with the tech sector in China, I would be happy to hear what readers think about possible future articles on tech in China. Therefore, if you are interested in seeing more China tech articles, or if you have a specific tech subject that you would like me to introduce or comment on, please feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email.


Thanks for reading!

Do you have any questions about gifting on Wechat or China’s gifting culture? Do you have any personal experiences you can share? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The Pull of the Cantonese Language

In previous articles on the Chinese language, I have focused exclusively on Mandarin (also called pǔ tōng huà, literally the “common tongue”). Today, Mandarin is the official language of life and business across China, from Shenzhen in the humid south, to Harbin in the frigid north, to Lhasa in the arid west. But other prominent dialects also exist, the most widely spoken of which is Cantonese. To learn more about this widely spoken dialect, which is an important part of southern Chinese culture, I recently sat down to talk with my friend and fellow sinophile, Jeremy Ryder.

Jeremy is a native of Perth Australia, and originally became interested in China after living in a multicultural Asian environment (Chinese, Cantonese, Malay, Hakka, etc.) while attending university. He has lived all over China, though more recently he has made his home in the Guangdong province, where Cantonese originated. As a Chinese-English translation professional, Jeremy has devoted a large amount of his time over the last six years to studying Cantonese and southern Chinese culture. 

China Culture Corner: What originally drew you to Cantonese?

Jeremy Ryder: The answer to this one goes back a long way. I had a life-changing period of about two years while attending Curtin University in Perth, where I found that all my flat mates spoke Chinese. Actually, only one of them was from China. The rest, along with their classmates and friends, were mainly ethnic Chinese from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. During these two years, and in particular the last six months we spent together, I experienced something I had never known existed.

I became like a family member to these guys. After my classes, I would ride my bike home as fast as I could and I just couldn’t wait to arrive. As I rode closer to the flat, I could hear them all speaking in Mandarin and Cantonese, and when I heard it I just loved it so much. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying but I just loved being around them. They would only explain what they were saying to me occasionally in simple English, and would even sometimes laugh or gossip about me without me being any the wiser until they all started looking at me and laughing their heads off. They shared their culture, their food, their time and their stories with me, and we had the time of our lives. I also took them around Western Australia, showing them the pristine beaches and wineries that we have down there.

Go to KTV to sing songs in CantoneseGetting back to your question, the Cantonese seed was really planted in my heart early on. These guys took me to underground Hong Kong-style KTV places and Chinese clubs at two in the morning, places that no normal Australian would even know existed. I was exposed to the language when I couldn’t even differentiate between Cantonese and Mandarin. I had to keep asking them “are you guys speaking Cantonese or Mandarin?” After a while, I got used to who spoke what but one thing was for sure: I did not know then that I was going to study Chinese or Cantonese. I was 18 and I had no idea whatsoever what would happen next. I thought I’d simply get a job, get married and just have a simple life. But, I did say to myself, at least 20 times during my last six months with them, “Jeremy, your life will never ever be the same again.”

For some people, it’s hard to understand. Though my parents have been very supportive about the whole thing. I know when most Australians hear that I came to China to learn Chinese they think it’s strange and don’t understand why. In short, the experience I had during university was magical and special and I could honestly write an entire book about it, but that’s the best way I can explain the special passion that I have for the Cantonese language. So, it was natural that one day I had to start learning it.

China Culture Corner: You have just now referred to Cantonese as a “language”, while it’s much more common in English to refer to it as a “dialect.” What distinction do you make on this?

Jeremy Ryder: Many of my Cantonese textbooks refer to Cantonese as a language and Cantonese is the official language of Hong Kong and Macau. Interestingly, when you speak Cantonese, the local people in Guangdong, whose mother tongue is Cantonese, will tell you “wow, your Chinese is pretty good.” In other words, to them, Cantonese is the Chinese language. From my personal experience in Australia, when people refer to the Chinese language, a lot of people respond and ask “Do you mean Mandarin or Cantonese?”

When I was at IBM, and I did an interview to work on a project in Suzhou, one of the interview questions was “So you’ve got no problem communicating with the local staff in Suzhou, do you? Do they speak Mandarin or Cantonese?” That showed me that some foreigners are not sure about which languages are spoken in which parts of China. For me, I consider Cantonese as a language due to the large population of native speakers all over the world, and the widespread influence of Cantonese speakers throughout history.

China Culture Corner: How did you start studying Cantonese? What were your first steps?

Learning Cantonese is a big time commitment Jeremy Ryder: The first step was making a decision in my heart that “I am going to do this.” And not only that, but I had to reaffirm the decision and be sure about it. Having Cantonese idols, such as my favorite, Sammi Cheng, made it even easier to get motivated and follow my passion before starting this “marathon.” I also gave up Japanese, which I had been encouraged to learn previously at IBM Shanghai, to allow myself to commit to Cantonese fully. Next, I asked a school, where I went to previously for the HSK exam, to find me a VIP Cantonese teacher and give me 100 hours of lessons within two weeks.

I then took two weeks off work to start learning Cantonese. I had a wonderful teacher from Foshan who then went on to teach me every week after our first 100 hours for about a year. He was very patient and I looked after him by paying him well, focusing on my studies and taking him out for nice meals. Unfortunately, he later moved abroad to study Spanish so I then found two other teachers. I went to all the bookshops in Shanghai and Guangzhou and bought every book on Cantonese, but I could only find about 30 books. The best books were written in Chinese, not English, though later I found a great Cantonese-English dictionary which I studied – all 600 pages – in six months.

My teacher at the time told me “if you really want to study Cantonese, move to Guangzhou.” So I moved to Guangzhou, but I ended up living in the wrong part, the Tianhe district, where a lot of people spoke Mandarin. Later, I moved down to Foshan. In Foshan, I found that 99.9999% of the time the only thing I could hear around me was Cantonese, and I fell in love with the place. It’s not the kind of place, such as Beijing or Shanghai, where foreigners are popular or a novelty. It’s quite the opposite. If you walk along the street for an hour, nobody will look at you or acknowledge you at all. I found it to be a very traditional and conservative Chinese style. But Foshan, and in particular Shunde, has really maintained traditional Cantonese culture.

China Culture Corner: What were your key difficulties learning Cantonese? How is it different from Mandarin?

Get out and explore Guangzhou to practice CantoneseJeremy Ryder: Cantonese is a very rich language, with more tones, making it harder to remember the correct pronunciation for each word. Cantonese is very colloquial and is constantly evolving. There are so many idioms and metaphors and there is so much slang to keep track of. The other thing is that there is a major lack of resources for studying Cantonese. Unless you’re competent and can sustain a decent conversation for a while, the Foshan guys will just slip back into Mandarin to overcome any communication or language barriers. That’s the danger.

Unfortunately I haven’t gotten good enough to have a decent conversation without the other person being reasonably patient with me, so even if you are immersed in a place where everyone is speaking Cantonese, you really have to keep learning, going to classes or watching all the Cantonese TV series to try to keep up with it. Moving to Shenzhen has almost killed it for me although they still have the Cantonese TV channels and some people who speak the language.

China Culture Corner: How useful can Cantonese truly be, when Mandarin is the national language?

Jeremy Ryder: I wouldn’t say that Cantonese should necessarily be the national language, but to me Cantonese is ”international Chinese” because ever since Cantonese spread all over the world hundreds of years ago during the gold rush, the language has spread and maintained itself with about 100 million speakers worldwide. In Australia, there are a lot of jobs advertised which require Cantonese. And, no matter where you are in the world, you will always be able to hear Cantonese. It has maintained itself internationally and throughout China, simply because of the number of Cantonese speakers and the fact that native Cantonese speakers know that their language really does have that edge and that power to it.

China Culture Corner: Recently, it’s been reported that many Chinese young people no longer speak the dialects of their parents, including Cantonese. What are your thoughts?

Ghuangzhou locals didn't let their language disappear Jeremy Ryder: This is the saddest thing and the worst possible scenario. When I grew up in Australia, I was friends with the one or two Chinese kids in my classes and I realized very quickly that none of them could speak Chinese or Cantonese at all. Even with surging numbers of Chinese people around the world, the language gets lost through the generations. I think it’s terrible because they’re losing something so valuable. Sure they want to integrate into the societies of Western countries, but I wish they knew how rich and valuable, in cultural terms, their language is.

The same thing is happening in cities in Guangdong province and in Shanghai: the young kids are getting worse at speaking their native dialects. Their parents are encouraging them to answer their phones in Mandarin, and even speak Mandarin to their own kids. This is cultural degradation and must be stopped. Conversely, at one point when there was a plan to exclude Cantonese from the media, the people in Guangzhou made a big fuss and fought to save their language. It really is important to the people in Guangzhou. Guangzhou is where Cantonese originated and is now being maintained, especially in Yuexiu and Liwan and other parts of the city. Of course, it’s not only about the language, but also maintaining other elements of the culture.

China Culture Corner: Do you have any advice for non-Chinese people who are interested in experiencing the Cantonese language and culture?

步行街-1Jeremy Ryder: Keep practicing on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid to speak out and look for opportunities in your life to use it. For example, talk to taxi drivers in Cantonese when you can. Use Cantonese in shops. Get a teacher and pay for classes. But above all, find something within the Cantonese culture that you are passionate about and keep coming back to it for motivation. For me, it’s listening to Cantonese songs that I like, but for others it could be watching TV series, watching movies, finding a Kungfu master to teach you Kungfu in Foshan or Hong Kong. Perhaps you like using Cantonese when shopping in Hong Kong.

It’s a hard language to learn and you’ll probably feel like giving up sometimes, but when that happens, go back to the source of your passion to “refuel.” Get motivated again and then keep going. Let go of western ideas or behaviors and keep an open mind about different aspects of Cantonese culture when you’re talking to the local people. Try not to think of yourself as an outsider in areas where Cantonese is the native tongue. Find as many different ways to learn as possible. Get into the food culture especially by going to the Yumcha restaurants or Cantonese restaurants and ordering in Cantonese.

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any questions about the Cantonese language or culture? Can you share your own experiences learning Cantonese? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Book Review: Notes from a Beijing Coffeeshop

unnamed-1I recently picked up a copy of Notes from a Beijing Coffeeshop, by Jonathan Geldart, who has worked as a branding and strategy expert in Beijing, China. I have previously read a number of books by Westerners about China and their unique experiences in this exciting yet sometimes confusing country. And while most books focus on the story of a single individual, either the author or a local, Geldart’s book offers a refreshing change of pace. Instead of describing his own experiences in China, he focuses on the stories of a number of Chinese citizens. The book’s 24 chapters (except for chapter 4, eliminated because the number is unlucky in China) describe the unique stories and experiences of Chinese people from many different walks of life.

This book shines through in revealing who the Chinese people really are, and in doing so is able to strip away misconceptions resulting from decades of biased media coverage and political maneuvering. For too long (and still), the Chinese people have been thought of as mindless drones or followers, and lumped into a single group. Thankfully, the many interviews in this book serve two purposes. First, their breadth allows the non-Chinese reader to clearly understand that there are many types of Chinese people, all with different goals, hopes and dreams. Second, they help highlight a common theme: the grit, determination and perseverance of the Chinese people, and their desire to find a place for themselves and their country in the world.

Some of my favorite stories from the book include:

  1. jongeldart
    Jonathan Geldart

    Sam Yang, a Chinese entrepreneur who markets his unique business over the WeChat social media platform  – preparing Chinese couples for the mental pressures of having children.

  2. Zhang Lijia, a former “reactionary” student-turned-writer, who discusses journalism, censorship and social divides in China.
  3. Lu Pinshen, a Xi’an native determined to make raspberries a hit in the Chinese fruit market.
  4. Huang Yingxia, a Chinese professor who witnessed the rise of the Chinese film industry.
  5. Shao Ma, a former rich kid who lost everything and is now eager to create something all his own.
  6. Susan, a Chinese woman who eats less so that she can save up enough money to purchase the latest fashion accessories.

This book is great for almost anyone in the world, as there are few places that do not feel the influence, sometimes imperceptible, of the Chinese economy and nation. More specifically, those who plan on visiting or working in China will benefit by gaining a deeper understanding of why the Chinese people act the way they do, which can help reduce culture shock. I feel the best way for anyone to move forward in interacting and collaborating with China is with a comprehensive and accurate understanding of its people. If you understand the Chinese people, then everything else starts to make sense.

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any comments or questions on this book review? Do you have any interesting stories you would like to share about Chinese people you have met? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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2016 is the Year of the Monkey!

monkey02The Chinese New Year has arrived! I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Happy Spring Festival, and a prosperous 2016! Every year during the Spring Festival, millions of people in China and abroad embark in a mass exodus, traveling back to their hometowns. Decorations will go up, food will be cooked, family and relatives will be visited, and Baijiu will be drunk, often in copious amounts.

About the Monkey

According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, one of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. According to the Chinese Zodiac, monkeys are thought to be cheerful and energetic by nature, and can represent flexibility. People born under this sign are thought to be intelligent, confident, charismatic, loyal, and inventive. However, those born under the sign of the monkey are also thought to possess certain weaknesses, including being egotistical, arrogant, and crafty.

The monkey is actually a rather famous animal in China, due to the ancient and well-known tale, Journey to the West. In this story, the legendary Monkey King, Sun Wukong, was a mighty immortal being, so powerful that he defied all of heaven. Finally laid low by the Buddha, he was imprisoned under Five Elements Mountain before finally gaining redemption by escorting the Tang Monk to India to retrieve the Buddhist Scriptures.

Well-wishing in the Year of the New Year

The Chinese New Year would not be complete without the customary visiting and greeting of family and friends. And while the Chinese people use many different expressions and phrases to ring in the New Year, I’ve selected several easier ones and listed them below. If you are spending the Spring Festival in China, or if you plan to visit Chinese friends abroad, these phrases will be a big help in creating good will and properly celebrating the New Year, Chinese style!

  1. 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè): Happy New Year!
  2. 猴年大吉 (hóu nián dà jí): May you be very lucky in the Year of the Monkey!
  3. 万事如意 (wàn shì rú yì): May all your hopes be fulfilled!
  4. 心想事成 (xīn xiǎng shì chéng): May all your wishes come true!
  5. 阖家欢乐 (hé jiā huān lè): May your entire family be happy!
  6. 吉祥如意 (jí xiáng rú yì): May you be as lucky as you desire!
  7. 大吉大利 (dà jí dà lì): May you have both great luck and great profits!

If you are interested in learning other short greetings in Chinese,  take a look at this article.

Once again, Happy Year of the Monkey!