China travel

Published on July 19th, 2011 | by Paz


Living in China Reality Check – 6 months in China Report

We have now been living in China for 6 months. It is time for us to give you all our reality check on what we thought it was going to be like and what living in China actually is like.  If you were going to move to China or another country what would you expect? Remember living and visiting are completely different and that is why we choose to live versus visit. 

We were given contrasting information from lots of people. People who visited, people who read about China and those that actually had lived in China. It was all different and everyone had their personal experiences. What has ours been?


Okay so now that we are here…what are we happy we brought and what are we sad we brought? See what we brought to China.


  • English books (we have found many in a local bookstore only $2.00 more expensive)
  • Too many clothes (we barely wear some of them and now most of them don’t even fit us) 😉
  • One suitcase too many. We should have only brought three for the four of us.
  • My coffee cup! It didn’t survive…a waste
  • Jewelry – I ended up sending all of it back (other than my simple wedding band) back with my mom
This is but a taste of our feelings on what we brought and what we shouldn’t have brought. Check out our full post about what we should have brought.


Everyone had something to say about Chinese food. It went from one extreme to the other.

A fruit stand right behind our building.

The truth!
1.  In Southern China…they eat everything. Yes, everything!
2. Most Chinese people don’t eat everything. They are selective as well.
3. Pretend you are a vegetarian, that is real Chinese food. Not an Olive Garden vegetarian either….you eat all types of vegetable prepared differently at all meals. We never have less than three different vegetables at every meal. Yes! 3 at our table is the minimum. In the states we might have eaten a vegetable on accident every other week.
4. Street food is not as bad as you think. Now…be careful and use your common sense.
Here are our street food rules.
1. It always has to be busy…and in China that means like 5,000 people minimum remember there are over a billion people here
2. Always get cooked food. If they cook the hell out of it most likely they have cooked off all the germs
3. If you can, check out the place a few times before diving in, then you know if it is always busy
4. Try not to scarf…that way if the food is bad you won’t get that sick
5. Don’t be afraid!! Chinese street food is awesome and cheap!! We have not gotten sick. We only eat from the street and the local market along with a billion other people.
5. Food is cheap!! You can go to very fancy restaurants and spend more, but if you want to eat and live like the locals do you can eat very healthy delicious food for less than $6.00 a day. That is going out and eating good food.
6. Eating out is actually cheaper than buying bottled water at a convenience store. hmmm interesting isn’t it?

Public transportation


Lupita waiting for our train to come.

We thought public transportation would be easy and it is!! The public transportation system in Guangzhou is not only easy but it is clean and very very safe. The attendants in the metro stations are also quite nice and helpful. They do speak more English than they pretend to…that can be annoying, but hey I should know more Chinese.

I lived in Tokyo for 6 weeks and had to take the metro to and from school everyday so I have been on crowded trains before so I wasn’t extremely surprised. Guangzhou is a large city so obviously the rush hour time is going to be very busy.

Rush hour with kids is hard because we have to take Abe out of the stroller to get on and off and we worry about Lupita getting pushed or stepped on, neither has happened, if the train is too full we wait. When traveling with kids…you need to relax about being a little late or your day not going quite as planned.

Non-rush hour is great! If we have Abe, he stays in his stroller or I carry him. Someone always gives up their seat for us. They are very kind. Lupita has also learned how to read a subway map and knows which stop is ours. We encourage her to follow along on the map when we go places. It keeps her busy and is a great skill to have.

Without public transportation

This is way more difficult than we ever would have expected. Here are the top three reasons.

  1. You have to have your destination written down in proper character form.
  2. Chinese have very very bad eye sight, so sometimes they can’t read the business card/directions you are handing them.
  3. If you try to speak your address or destination and your tone is just a little off they also have no idea what you are saying, you might as well have been speaking English.

So it is very complicated getting around via taxi or on foot. Although, we have never not arrived at our destination. Again patience is key!

What to wear in China?

We had no idea what people wore or didn’t wear in China. When we were packing our clothes there were many times we thought about trying not to stick out too much or offend a culture with our western get-ups! WE WERE SO WRONG!

Girls wear anything in Guangzhou and maybe I should say they wear nothing. We see mini-skirts and dresses where you can see the bottom of the girls butt cheeks! Yes I am not joking. This isn’t just at night or on certain street corners. We see these women walking around at 8 am in the morning with 5 inch heels on and we see lots of them. It is very common for girls in China to wear very very short skirts and shorts. Also see-through clothing is also very popular. A white dress that is short and see-through with black underwear is very common.

The funniest part about it is that no one stares at them. While Zeek is busy closing his jaw (because he can’t believe it) I look around and try to see everyone else’s reaction. They don’t even send a disapproving glance.

Men walk around with their shirts off a lot. First none of them are over weight or have hairy chests…so it isn’t that gross. It is very hot, but still keep your shirt on. No six pack abs in China to look at either. hmmmm


We were not really concerned about pollution when moving to China. Now that we are living in China we have learned to take a few precautionary measures regarding pollution and the acid rain especially.

  1. We now own umbrellas, rain boots, and a rain cover for Abe’s stroller.
  2. We bring an umbrella out with us..even when we hate umbrellas.
  3. If it is raining we try to stay inside…it sucks when it rains.

There is acid rain in Guangzhou. It is at its worst if it hasn’t rained for awhile. Your skin itches and has a little burning sensation when the acid rain touches your skin. No reason to run away screaming from acid rain, it is just something we didn’t expect or know anything about.

 Kids Adjusting

We have learned a lot about our kids and their personalities. Somethings may never have come out if we had stayed in our comfort zone. It has tested our parenting and taken us by surprise at times. We now know more about our children and believe that we have created an environment were we are learning and growing everyday.

I have no idea where she gets those crazy faces.

What have we learned about Lupita? 4 yrs old

  1. She is actually a bit shy. She tends to withdraw when in large groups and unfamiliar settings more than we expected.
  2. She loves having a very structured schedule and knowing what she does every day!
  3. She doesn’t like things to be unorganized…even her clothes. She can be a little obsessive sometimes.
  4. She now understands the concept of learning another language as a valuable part of communicating and wants to learn languages so that she can communicate on her own. A love for language we never could have taught her.
  5. She is a very empathetic person and cares about others feeling and well being.
  6. She loves being outside and actually misses our yard at home the most. She wants us to move to a new house in China with chairs in our back yard…like our blue house! Funny the things that were important to her.
  7. She likes to learn in a calm setting. She watches, digests, and then will produce. She needs to observe maybe a bit longer than other children, but once she does she has learned the concept and is ready to move on. Even though she isn’t responding quite as fast as other children do…it doesn’t mean that she isn’t grasping the concept.
  8. She has an amazing imagination as most 4 year olds do, and is even very organized in her imaginative play.
  9. She is interested in computers and hopes to launch her own website like mommy soon. Zeek is giving her computer classes twice a week so she learns how to properly use a computer. Last week she learned what a CPU is…I had to sit in on the class as I am a little behind.

What have we learned about Abe? 17 months old

  1. He doesn’t sit still ever! I mean ever! Good thing our apartment is small.
  2. He loves balls, any kind of ball and is actually very coordinated.
  3. He can throw a ball overhand already. I am still working on this…obviously not one of my traits.
  4. He also is loving languages. He currently can obey commands (when he wants to)  in Mandarin & English and is getting better in Spanish. We recently have re-introduced Spanish.
  5. He has NO fear. We have to keep him away from heights…he is not afraid of them.
  6. He loves to be read to…in all languages.

Could we have learned some of these things in the states...yes…would we have…I don’t know. When you are taken out of your comfort zone you pay more attention to everything. You have to! Everything is different! You notice your strengths and your weaknesses. You notice your partners strengths and weaknesses, you notice the gaps in your marriage and your relationships with your children. You also realize how important each member of your family is and the puzzle that you create. It isn’t a pretty picture unless it is put together. Isn’t that what being a family should be about?

Chinese Society

Lihu Park, Guangzhou

Although we did a lot of research on living in China…there were some things we were not prepare for. Here they are.

  1. We weren’t prepared for the stares and the pictures that people would want to take of us and especially Abe. (He has big blue eyes & blonde hair…taking after his Nonna Penny)
  2. Most Chinese people have never seen someone with round eyes. Yup we all have them..although Zeek’s and Lupita have more almond shape eyes. Some people think Zeek is Chinese. He blends in anywhere.
  3. We weren’t prepared for how much people push to get where they are going. If you are in line for an elevator you better put your football gear on.
  4. Chinese people loves their babies. They are a very kid loving society and everyone is very concerned for their well-being.
  5. Chinese people avoid confrontation at all costs. We see cars cut people off and bikes almost run other bikes off the road and a few harsh words might be exchanged, however that is as far as it goes.

Everyone is very eager to help us and very friendly. We do struggle because of our language barrier, however if someone can help us they do.

Safe in China

We feel very safe in China. Locals worry mostly about having their wallet stolen. People do not worry about being shot, or harassed. It is illegal for any civilian to own a gun in China. If anyone commits an offense against a foreigner the penalty is far more severe than if they committed the same offense against a local.


Moving to another country with your entire family is not easy. If you want something easy go to a McDonald drive through and order a McFlurry. Done!
However, if you are looking for an experiences that will make your family grow closer, bring adventures that you would never find in your back yard, learn another language, experience another culture, explore the unknown, and learn how to truly live with less than you ever thought possible (material things that is) then DO IT!!!
At our 6 month mark we feel at home in China! Our children are becoming trilingual (English, Mandarin, Spanish) we are saving money and living with less, every time we walk out our door it is another adventure, and we are making memories that will last a lifetime.
Zàijiàn, Adiós, Good-bye!!

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About the Author

Paz is an avid adventurer in life and food. Traveling across the globe with her family they enjoy cultural immersion and checking out the local eateries.

24 Responses to Living in China Reality Check – 6 months in China Report

  1. Sara says:

    Excellent post! There were so many parts where I found my self nodding “yes, yes, I know what you’re talking about!” Very good advice for anyone moving to Guangzhou!

    One thing I have to comment is that I didn’t really know about the acid rain and haven’t felt anything out of the normal when it’s raining.

    p.s. Would it be possible to have a plugin (or something) that allowes readers to subscribe to comments they have commented them selves?

    • Paz says:

      Sara- Ya acid rain in Guangzhou…so many people warned us when we arrived with the kids. Also…ask and you shall receive. We added the subscribe to comments feature last night. Let me know if you have any other thoughts or suggestions on how to make the site better. It would be much appreciated.
      Thanks, Paz

  2. Angela White says:

    Great post girl… The next 6 months will go just as fast. It’s currently 96 degrees in WI! Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter with a heat index of 105+. Is it this hot in China? Unlike China most men who walk around with their shirt off in this crazy WI warmth are hairy and overweight:-)

    Miss you,

    • Paz says:

      Thanks Hun! You don’t know how much I love getting your comments. Makes me smile really big!! It is very hot in Guangzhou…like a 95 day everyday and 100% humidity. We don’t have a dryer and everything is hung dry…so none of our clothes of dried in days. We had to bring some inside next to the AC. lol
      Hugs, Paz

  3. Matt says:

    Great Post. What a great experience you are having.

    • Paz says:

      Matt- Thanks! Living in Guangzhou has been awesome and everyday something interesting happens. It will definitively make our stories much more interesting.
      Thanks for checking us out.

  4. Helen says:

    haha!about the girls’ wearing in Guangzhou become really general and acceptable to lot of people.
    Coz now Guangzhou becoming more and more International
    You can see differnt people come from everywhere, so lots of
    different cultures spread in Guangzhou.

    • Paz says:

      Helen- You are sooo right! Guangzhou is very international and we see lots of people from all over the world. I have to say our Chinese friends are some of our favorite though!!! :)-

  5. jimbojones says:

    there aint no fat people in china. at least not compared to Wisconsin “fat”.

  6. Janette says:

    There is a Chinese story about a girl with golden hair that brings good fortune. It is a common story.
    We used to set up an amount of time for our very blond children (5&7) to have their pictures taken. My husband would hold up his hand and count down. When he was done he waved people away—it worked! BUT- don’t be surprised if someone wants a snip of the hair. That was the thing we were most surprised of.
    We dried our clothing inside in July and August.
    I am glad you are enjoying your time there!

    • Paz says:

      Janette- I don’t know anything about that story. I am going to have to look it up. I think we might start using your trick. I don’t think anyone has tried to take a piece of his hair but I don’t really know since we don’t speak the language. At least I haven’t seen any scissors. Yes…we are enjoying our time and our experiences it is something we will never forget. Where in China did you live? Thank you for the tips!!

  7. Cathy Stagmer says:

    Paz-a little delayed in reading but I loved hearing your take 6 months in. I love what you’ve learned about your kids. I see a lot of you in Lupita, though it is easier for me to see you than Zeek since I know you better 😉 This is such an amazing experience and I admire you both so much for taking the leap, it is something your kids will always remember and gives such a great perspective on life. Sending you love!

  8. Pingback: 9/11 A Different Approach – International Cravings

  9. SHEVYLL says:

    Hi Paz,
    It was great running into your blog and reading all your wonderful adventures in CHina. I am from the twic citires and I am particularly interested in how you and your family adjusted to life in GZ ( esp weather, pollution, kids’ education, parks, greens, etc – all this things we enjoy here),
    ny input will be great!
    Thanks again.

    • Paz says:

      Hi! Thank you for reading. Adjusting to China is different for everyone. You have to have a very open mind and be flexible. Every corner of China is different, so if something isn’t working for you then change.

      • shevyll says:

        Hi Paz, thanks for your prompt reply. My greatest fear is not knowing what I will face. I heard it is hot and humid in GZ, but how much different is it than out here in the Midwest? I heard about the bad pollution in Chiina ( in general) but is that that bad that you would rather have your kids stay inside the house rather than let them play outside? I like our park and recreation systems here in MN, what about in GZ, what do you guys do on the weekends? Do your kids attend international school? They are adorable btw, was it easy for them to adjust to the change in environement/classmates/ friends?


        • Paz says:

          FYI…no matter how long you are in China, you won’t know what to expect. lol But in all seriousness there is serious pollution in China and the parks are not anything like what the midwest park system is, not even close. There was acid rain in Guangzhou, but we still went out. We never stayed in because of pollution, however I have been reading that in Beijing they are strongly suggesting it now. The best adventures were just walking out our door. We lived in the middle of Guangzhou which is home to roughly 15 million people.

          Taking walks to nearby parks was lots of fun, but they are concrete with nothing to climb on. So kids play ball or bring toys and then play with other kids. A trip to the market or down a new alley you never noticed before brings you to adventures you never could have guessed.

          One weekend we went to the fishing port or would go check out a new district. In Guangzhou with 15 million people there are lots of little places to explore. For example we would get on the metra (city public transportation train) and just get off at a stop that we hadn’t yet. Sometimes there would be nothing there and we would hop back on and get off at another station, just to see what was there. We did very little western activities such as; swimming, parks with jungle gyms, birthday parties, and did more eating at food stands, Chinese massages, walks looking at live animals for sale to eat (very very interesting) and made friends with all of our local vendors. So buying pirated DVDs and stopping to pick up some pork filled buns felt like a wonderful outing as we practiced our Chinese, went down a new alley, and just absorbed our surroundings.

          Our kids adjusted well, but we kept the focus on us as a family being together and a team. I think that is very important. My daughter did not like the school and we had to take her out and get her a private tutor. We had a nanny that watched our son.

          Hope that helps a bit. Another note, not sure if you are moving to GZ or not, but a city under 10 million is a much different experience and is rural.

          Take Care,

  10. Paz says:

    Anytime! If you have any questions just let me know. Wish you and your family the best adventure! It will change you forever. 🙂 The best thing we ever did.

  11. Mike says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your adventure with the world! We’re moving to Ningbo in two months with our 9-year old daughter and 15-month old son, and your blog has been really helpful in getting new insight into the experience. I can’t wait to share what we find there!

  12. Chantal says:

    I stumbled on your post while perusing to prepare myself for my upcoming move to China.
    It was so informative, and I feel so much more at ease! It’s just me, but it’s nice to hear that it would be possible for a whole family to move and feel comfortable in a new place.
    Thank you 🙂

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    We are a family of four: dad, mom, sister, brother, who decided to leave our job, home, and community to live life in China. After a year abroad we decided to become permanent nomads. We road school our children and try to enjoy every minute.

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