Is it absolutely necessary to know Chinese when living in China?


Exchange students from Finland, Japan and Indonesia with a Chinese writer

– common language Mandarin Chinese

There are many kinds of foreigners coming to China: students, English teachers, travelers, business men, expats of international companies and their families. I’m sure everyone agrees that it is beneficial to know Mandarin Chinese when you live in China, but is it absolutely necessary?

Thank you Jennie for the blog post idea!

 It’s possible to live in China without knowing Chinese

Lots of expats live here without knowing the language, it’s absolutely doable but it has a big effect on your life. You will most likely eat in Western restaurants where the staff speaks English and rely on photos when you visit a Chinese restaurants. Haggling the prices on markets isn’t that easy because the language barrier and you can’t hear what prices the other customers get.

You will need a Chinese friend to help you with many things like renting an apartment, going to the post office and communicating with your cleaning ayi if you happen to have one.

But you will miss out a lot

You can have a perfectly happy life in China if you stay in the expat bubble, but is that really what you want to do? Why to move to a new country if you don’t explore the culture and meet some locals?

Even learning simple phrases like 你好(ni hao, hello),谢谢(xiexie, thank you) and 对不起 (duibuqi, sorry) the Chinese people will see you in a completely different light. They are always happy to hear us foreigners speaking Chinese and will do their best to cheer us up by complementing our language skills even after your very first ni hao.

By learning some Chinese you will show your respect to the culture and the people. Show them that you are willing to learn new things in order to communicate with them. It makes me very happy every time I hear a foreigner speaking Finnish, which is also regarded as a difficult language.

No excuses, learn the basics!

We all have our excuses not to do something, I can very well relate to that. But I’m sure we all can find at least 5 minutes every day to learn the basics, right?

You can start by:

Have any questions about learning Chinese? Ask away in the comments!


Reader’s Question: Hong Kong Travel Tips

Today it’s time to answer some Hong Kong related questions from my reader Alysa. If you have questions about living in Guangzhou/China, feel free to send me an email: sara(a)sarajaaksola.com.

Hi Sara!

Its me, Alysa, I’ve been following your blog for a while, commented on some articles, and asked you all the questions about your school and the student visas :) Well, I have to go to HK to try to renew my visa, but I had such a great visa before I didn’t have to go back for…I don’t know, 5 years? Anyways, I was wondering if you knew any good budget places to stay there, and are there any shopping centers you recommend I check out? I’m not interested in souvenirs…anyone who’s lived in China this long isn’t. Where do you usually go shopping while you’re there, for good deals or western products that are hard to find in GZ?

Thanks for taking the time to read this. :) A short reply would be great, but maybe some others would also like your thoughts on this?
– Alysa


Dear Alysa,

Glad you asked!

Cheap Accommodation

Recently I’ve always stayed at the same place when I visit Hong Kong and that’s Cosmic Guest House. They have excellent location at Mirador Mansion in TST and their rooms are cheap. Of course these cheap rooms are super tiny, but that’s what you get in Hong Kong. Prices start from 180HSK per room.

Don’t believe the photos on their website though, the rooms aren’t as big or clean as they might seem. Check out reviews and photos from tripadvisor before booking.


I personally don’t do that much shopping when visiting Hong Kong, but where I always go is the Swindon Book at 13-15 Lock Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Of course books in Hong Kong are expensive, but you can get many books there that are impossible to find in the mainland.

As I’m far from expert at shopping, you better check this site for shopping areas, malls and street markets.


What if you could eat and drink as much as you like for 50HKD? That’s possible when you head to Mr. Wong’s in Mong Kok. Get a group of friends and let the cook prepare “some food” for your. No need to look at the menu! This place is famous among the exchange students as it’s cheap and even includes beer. It’s the only must restaurant I recommend in Hong Kong and you can read more about the place with photos on The Adventures of Abby.


I personally think that the best Hong Kong can offer us visitors are the great outdoors. Clean air, blue sky and excellent hiking trails. There are so many islands and routes to discover, like Tai O Village, Family Trail on Lamma Island and the Dragon’s Back Hike.

If you have other tips for Alysa, please leave a comment!


Reader’s Question: Living in Guangzhou

living in guangzhou
Today I’ll be answering to some questions from my reader Ellen who is moving to Guangzhou. If you have questions about living in Guangzhou/China, feel free to send me an email: sara(a)sarajaaksola.com.


Hi Sara!

Greetings from Estonia!! :) I’ve been reading intensively your blog for the past 2 years now and I have to admit that your blog is truly fascinating and unique. By chance, I’m coming to Guangzhou as well, to study Chinese at SCUT. I was wondering if you could help me with some local questions. Firstly, I wanted to ask what’s the weather like in GZ in January and February? What kind of clothes would you suggest me to take with me? I know that generally it’s very hot in that place, however, I’ve seen some pictures in your blog, where you have pretty warm clothes on… Is there point in taking my autumn/winter coat with me?

Secondly, do you happen to know if there are shops in GZ where I could buy Eastern European food (dairy products, sausages, sweets etc)? It’s not like I’m coming to GZ to stay with Westerners and eat my food :P rather that I want to prepare a meal for some friends of mine in GZ and hence it would be good to find that kind of shop. Finally, if by any chance there’s something you badly want from Finland, then please let me know. I’m taking the flight from Helsinki, so I could grab something for you on my way to the airport :)

Cheers, Ellen


Dear Ellen,

First of all, thank you so much for your sweet words about my blog! It makes my very happy to know that I’m being able to help someone by writing these posts.

January and February are usually the coldest months in Guangzhou, but the temperature can vary every year. But in general it’s usually about 15 Celsius during those months. What we have to remember, coming from the North, that when it’s outside 15 Celsius, it’s the same inside too!

There isn’t any heating in the Southern China, so when a 15C feels nice outside, it can feel freezing inside. I remember once sleeping with my hat on when it was too cold inside my room. I didn’t have a proper winter jacket here with me, I thought I don’t need it, so I just wore a lots of layers. I would go for some Autumn clothing and remember a hat and mittens.

Check the weather forecast before you come, for example last Winter wasn’t as cold as two years ago. Of course it also depends on your apartment and if you are willing to spend a little to buy a heater. When its sun shine, go outside as it can be warmer than inside.

Then about the groceries. It’s surprisingly easy these days to find some basic dairy from shops, supermarkets and 7-11. Supermarkets like Carrefour and Park’n’Shop have a good selection, but be aware that anything imported is much more expensive than back home. It can be a bit pricy to be a cheese lover in China for example. Drinkable yogurt is easy to find anywhere, skimmed milk only in the biggest supermarkets.

Shopping for Western food is not so much about finding it or not, it’s about spending the money or saving it. For example at home in Finland I often ate cereals with milk in the mornings, but here it would be too expensive to eat that everyday.

Of course there are things that you can’t find here. As a Finn I’m missing rye bread, Karelian pies, Finnish chocolate and Finnish milk. But I believe that it’s possible to find almost everything you need in order to cook a meal for your friends. It might take more time to shop than back home, but for a special dinner it’s also worth it.

For other questions about whether and food in Guangzhou, feel free to ask in the comments!

Best, Sara