08/11/17

What should you really bring to China

Guangzhou

That’s Guangzhou recently listed 18 Things All Newcomers Absolutely Need to Bring to Guangzhou and I would like to add a few words of my own to the list. Do you actually need to bring all of these?

1 Hand sanitizer

I don’t personally carry hand sanitizer around with me, but I have seen it being sold on Minisoto and Watson’s for example. Feel free to bring a bottle, but no need to stock up.

2 Skincare and make up

Brand products are more expensive in China than abroad so do bring your favorite products. I don’t do make up my self so I buy the skincare products I need here. I even found face cream with UV protection at Watson’s.

3 Deodorant

Deodorant might be cheaper elsewhere, but it’s easily to be found in any supermarkets, Watson’s, Mannings and so on.

4 Tampons

Difficult to find 7 years ago, but now easy to find same as the deodorant. All Watson’s and Mannings have tampons, mostly ob brand so if you prefer something else, you can consider bringing them with you.

5 Painkillers

Do bring your important medication with you, but for an occasional headache it’s easy to find ibuprofen tables (布洛芬片) in any local pharmacy.

6 Unlocked cell phone

If  you are staying long term, get a Chinese SIM card for your old phone or get a new Chinese brand phone.

7 Photocopies of your passport and visa

You should carry your passport with you, but if you are worried losing it, at least carry a copy of it with you. You might be fined if the police find out you don’t have your passport with you.

8 VPN

Yes! Definitely do download and register a VPN before you come. I have used VyprnVPN since 2015. Click her to get it with a nice discount!

9 Extra clothes and shoes

My shoe size is 38 and in clothes I use M or L (European size) so I don’t have too many troubles finding things to wear. I usually shop at Uniqlo and H&M. If you have a large shoe or clothing size, you probably want to bring more with you, especially nice shoes. Also if you are much taller than the average Chinese.

10 Basic Mandarin

You can learn a few phrases before you come, or even better, join me at Expat Chinese and register for my courses!

11 Baby powder

Guangzhou is hot and humid, but I’ve never used baby powder after leaving toddlerhood. I do use roll-on deodorant for my thighs to avoid rubbing the skin.

12 Antidiarrheals

Same as with number 5, take the medicine you are used to using back home too. For sudden stomach pain, Chinese pharmacies have better remedies than I’ve been able to find in Finland.

13 Portable fan

Very useful during the Summer, but much cheaper to buy once you arrive!

14 Adapters

Depend on each country, but coming from Finland I haven’t needed any adapters. Many Chinese extension cords are suitable for any kinds of sockets.

15 Gifts from home

Always a good idea to bring special gifts from your hometown, but remember Chinese have a very different style compared to Finns for example. Finnish design isn’t that big of a deal here yet so I often just buy Fazer chocolate for everyone.

16 Extra space in your luggage

Sure, if you are coming for a short trip, you probably want to do some shopping over here. If you live here, you most likely want to bring more stuff from home to China. Besides chocolate, I always bring rye bread with me.

17 An open mind

Absolutely! This is the most important thing to bring with you. China is huge, China is amazing, China is different, be ready for a culture shock. I’ve lived here more than 7 years and there are still parts of the culture that shocks me or surprises me in a good way. It’s constant learning that keeps you going when living in a new culture.


Sara’s short list of things to bring to Guangzhou or China in general:

  • Open mind!
  • A good VPN
  • Personal medicine and hygiene products you can’t live without
  • Some comfort snacks
  • Well… that’s it!
08/10/17

So how easy is it for foreigners to study in China?

Sun Yat-Sen University North Gate

Recently Lena from Lenaaround shared an interesting article on Facebook: White Privilege as a Western Student in China. The article shares the experiences of foreign students and what privileges they felt they got during their studies, just because they were foreigners.

I’ve done my university education in China first as an exchange student, then as a bachelor and master’s degree student. Did I get privileges as a white foreigner?

As an exchange student

Back in 2009-2010 it was easy to come to Guangzhou as an exchange student. My university in Finland had cooperation with Guangzhou University, but no one wanted to come. Officially you could stay for 1 semester with free tuition (pay for accommodation and living expenses), but I managed to stay for 3 semesters because no one else wanted to come.

Because Guangzhou and Tampere (city in Finland where I studied) are friendship cities, everyone coming from Tampere got a big scholarship each year. I don’t remember how much it was, but it must have been at least a few hundred euros.

As a language exchange student all of my classes were with other foreign students and the teachers did check our attendance. In the end eveyone did pass their exams one way or the other. But it’s quite relaxed for non-degree students no matter which university.

As a bachelor degree student

Back in 2011 I got into Sun Yat-Sen University and their bachelor degree for foreigners simply by applying and paying the tuition. There were no scholarship for the BA available. I have heard that they are making it a bit harder to get in these days, because they are losing reputation as as the 10th best university in China if they let any foreinger in.

Again I was studying with other foreigners only and our attendance was strictly monitored. But just getting in to Sun Yat-Sen University so easily can be seen as white privilege as it’s very difficult for Chinese nationals to get in through the official exams.

As a master’s degree student

Again it’s easier for foreigners to apply and Confucius Institute offers good scholarship espeically for my degree, Teaching Chinese as a Second Language. They want to educate more foreigners to teach Chinese.

Getting in definitely took more effort than for the BA. I had a HSK6 already so that wasn’t a problem. Then I needed recommendation letters from my professors. As I was a good student during my BA, the teachers had a good impression of me so they were very helpful in getting me in for the MA degree. The final confirmation came from the Confucius Institute and I received a full scholarship that included free tuition, free dormitory (which I didn’t take) and monthly pocket money (first 1700rmb and later 3000rmb per month.)

This time I was studying both with foreign and Chinese students. Compared to my Chinese classmates, I definitely got in easier and I received a big scholarship which made it sometimes a bit embarrassing to mention to my classmates.

During our courses I didn’t feel that it was easier for me to pass them as a foreigner, I was a good hard working student in any case. I know other foreign classmates failed some of their exams and had to take them again, the teachers didn’t let them pass based on the color of their skin.

Outside the campus

In the original article they mention other privileges outside the campus like free entrance and drinks for clubs. It is true that as a white foreigner in China, I do have some things easier here, but that is for another blog post. Stay tuned for more!

08/5/17

Change through the years

Photo with a Chinese girl in 2010

Living a Dream in China is a 7 year old kid already and even though blog’s birthday was two months ago already, a friend inspired me to look into the changes that have been happening.

On of my first posts was Are they looking at me? and it discussed the problem of being watched no matter where you went. Now 7 years later more and more foreigners live in Guangzhou and I don’t get nearly as many looks as back then! Perhaps I’ve grown older, but it’s true that seeing a foreigner on the streets in Guangzhou isn’t as big of a deal anymore.

The first apartment I rented defintely wasn’t the average expat home in China. It cost 600rmb per month and in the end I had to move out because foreigners weren’t allowed to live in that village. What has changed? 7 years later I’m living in another village just 5km from the first one! At least our new home is a lot nicer and we are renovating it bit by bit to build a dream house of ours.

Back in 2012 I was wondering how immersed I truly was in China. Back then I estimated I spoke Chinese 80-90% of the time, right now it might be a bit less as I need to speak more English when I teach beginners. Perhaps 70-80% is still a good number. Eating Chinese or Western food was 50/50 back then and after that I’ve eaten more or less the same amount of Chinese food. With people I’m denitely spending a lot of time with foreigners now, being a teacher and all.

I also touched the topic of being a poor westerner in China. I came to China as a student and I know what it’s like to count your coins even though I still consider my self lucky. The amount of money I use for eating out in 2017 would have terrified me back in 2012.

Finally in 2013 I met my future husband, visited Hengshan snowy mountain with him and the rest is history.

During the years Guangzhou has changed a lot, but even more I have changed as a person. I have finished my degrees, started my career and business, got married and started a family.

I best the next 7 years are gonna be even better!

08/1/17

First day at Japanese Daycare in Guangzhou

Today was our daughter’s first day at daycare in Guangzhou, a big day for all of us. The past year she has been at home with a full time nanny, but now it was time to join the kindergarten.

Why Japanese daycare then? In Guangzhou, perhaps China in general, finding a good daycare isn’t easy. First of all you need to consider if it’s safe, unfortunately violent punishments  might still happen in some daycares. On the other spectrum there are paradise like kindergartens that cost 1000 euros per month!

For us this daycare combines safe environment, nice teachers, good location and in our budget. We also had a strong recommendation from a friend of mine. 

We dropped Anna off around 8am (which requires us to get up at 6.30am). She cried when we left but soon stopped. For newcomers they appoint a designated teacher that takes care of him or her. Anna was in a close distance with her teacher the whole day, often in her arms. 

During the day we got 5 short video clips from the teacher to assure us Anna is doing okay and safe. To make us nervous parents to feel a bit better.

Unfortunately Anna wasn’t comfortable enough to nap there so she was very tired when I picked her up at 5pm. She fell asleep in the car on the way home.

At the daycare each child had a notebook where teachers will write what happened that day. It’s in Japanese, but luckily my husband is fluent in the language. (The teachers do speak Chinese too.) They also record body temperature, food eaten, bathroom visits and nap time. I believe Finland has a similar habit in the kindergartens though not necessarily recording so many details.

The teachers send daily video clips to the parents so moms and dads know what happens in the daycare. That’s especially important as our daughter can’t yet explain or tell us her self. I like to go over the day during or after dinner with her.

First day was quite nervous was us all, but we are still happy with our choice and think Anna will enjoy the daycare soon.

07/29/17

Polyglot Toddler

Our daughter Anna is 1 year 9 months soon and experiencing her learning to speak is super exciting. I always thought I would know what her first word is, but in the beginning it was hard to say what counts as a word or not. 

At the moment she can understand Finnish, Cantonese and Mandarin. I speak to her in Finnish. Her dad speaks to her in Mandarin and Cantonese, his family uses Cantonese. Our nanny who worked for us almost a year spoke mostly Cantonese with Anna.

Here is a list of words she can say in each language.

Mandarin: cellphone (no other words yet)

Cantonese: wash hands, to hug, raining, go upstairs, small bird, dog, fish, water.

Finnish: boob, poo, pee, finished, more, cat, bag, flower.

She uses the word she knows, no matter if the person understands that language or not. The concept of language will develop much later. 

She is in a stage where she points at things and wants to know what the items are called, both in books and in real life around her. She also uses sounds to mean certain things too, like meow for a cat.

Next week Anna will start in a Japanese kindergarten which brings a new language to her mix. We weren’t planning on introducing Japanese yet (her dad speaks it fluently), but the daycare was the best option for us right now. It will be interesting to see what Japanese words she will pick up. They have English lessons too so let’s see if she starts speaking English as well!

I’m a monolingual parent, only spoke Finnish at home when growing up, it’s fascinating to see how my daughter learns to speak.