It’s been one week since I stepped foot into a foreign land for exchange, speaking a foreign language. Although technically, Chinese isn’t a foreign language… But for those of us struggling to even form a coherent sentence at the hawker centre, it sure seems like Greek to us. Anyway, one week here and I have already experienced more new things than I did in Singapore in the entire 2016. Talk about culture shock.

The internet

There are two things that you got to see in China. The first is the Great wall. And the second is the Great Firewall.

The Chinese government has a robust system preventing outside ideologies from coming in, and curious Chinese minds from reaching out. Google, banned. Instagram, blocked. Youtube, forever loading until you see a sad pixelated face that says “This site can’t be reached”.

It makes you wonder how Chinese people spend their free time when they can’t access all the things that make the Internet wonderful. But walls are made to be jumped; and where there is a wall, there is a way. With my not-that-reliable-but-still-can-work NUS VPN in hand, I no longer have to shout “hello from the other side! What is happening out there? Can someone update me pleaseee???”

Apps

We always hear that China has undergone rapid industrialisation in the short span of 30 odd years. That line conjures an image of grey factories pumping out pollutants against a grey backdrop (cough cough). Yet, China is much more modern than I realised.

Wechat is the supposed equivalent of Whatsapp in China, but nah, they are not the same. Can you use Whatsapp to pay for a prata by the roadside? At the supermarket? At high end restaurants?

Wechat can. All you have to do is scan a QR code, enter your password and beep, transaction authorised. The QR code is good not just for paying, but for finding out information too. I went for orientation in Peking university and the coordinator flashed a QR code on her powerpoint. I scanned it (from 5 metres away) and beep, I am her friend. I went to a China church on Sunday and there was a QR code on screen. I scanned it and beep, I found myself added to the youth fellowship group.

There is also a bicycle renting app that allows you to grab the nearest yellow bike, cycle for a distance and then “abandon” the bicycle at a location that is convenient for you, for the next person to use. I used it three times already, in the short span that I was here (as a gauge, I have only taken the bus once), simply because it is so convenient and so cheap.

These two apps make life so much easier. It makes you wonder: why hasn’t Singapore rolled this out yet? Don’t we want to be a Smart Nation? Import these please!

And have I mentioned the things I bought on Taobao? Here in China, delivery no longer takes two to three weeks. Instead, your parcel can arrive within a matter of a few days. And like opening a Pandora box, there is no going back once you download the Taobao app. I find myself surfing Taobao at least once a day, and so far my most extravagant purchase is a Yamaha keyboard that costs 600Rmb, or around S$120. Cheap, yes. Worth it? Definitely! But at this rate I am going, I think I will need to sign up with Taobao Anonymous soon, where I join fellow Taobao addicts in a circle and talk about our addiction problems (sob).

 The food

Don’t worry, dog lovers, I haven’t tried any dog meat (and I don’t intend to try). The only exotic meat that I have tried here is rabbit…

Will you please stop looking at me as if I devoured a baby? In my defence, the rabbit meat was on stick, looking exactly like chicken satay. It bore no resemblance to the cuddly furry little angels that we see in pet shops, and in that form, it is easy to give in to temptation.

The people

The only word I can use to describe Chinese people is variety. After all, China is a big nation that makes up a fifth of the world’s population, and you can’t expect them to all fit snugly into a single mould. (If they did, you can conclude that genetic mutation does not occur in China.)

In Beijing, I saw people dressed in fur coats, carrying Chanel handbags, and walking around in Sanlitun (China’s equivalent of Orchard Road) like peacocks on parade. Just five metres away were grandmas and grandpas begging for money with their bare hands, and looking at you with eyes so lifeless you wonder what they are living for anymore. I saw the very well-educated in Peking University, and the less civilised who spit like they own the roads. I saw people who look at me warily when I asked for directions and people who offered to help me carry my 10 kg Taobao parcel back to my hostel.

The cost of living

China may have been the factory of the world in the past, but now cost of living (and consequently, wage requirements) has become so high that many MNCs have left to seek greener pastures in Brazil and Vietnam.

On the international market, China things aren’t exactly cheap, unless you come from the US where the exchange rate is 1 to 7. Perhaps cost of living isn’t as high in the less developed parts of China, but here in Beijing, I feel the pinch of the local people every time I go shopping at brick and mortar shops. One winter coat—1500Rmb. One meal – 50 Rmb. One cup of instant noodles – 8 Rmb. Sigh, time to go back to Taobao.

The scenery

I never knew I like photography until I came to China. Looking at the scenery around me, I can’t help but go click, click, click.

Here is a photo from Peking University. Do you see the lake? Do you? Which university in Singapore has a freaking lake inside the University itself???

And here is a photo from Yi He Yuan, also known as the Summer Palace. My friends and I walked for 3 hours in the cold and only managed to cover a third of the entire place. It is that big.

Overall, I will say coming to China is like looking into a kaleidoscope—multi-faceted and full of colours. You will have fun – provided you aren’t a rabbit lover.