Living in China

Take your patience with you to China


There is one things that will make your life in China much easier if you have enough of it. No, not money. Patience. This almost magical thing that seem to run away from you when encountering enormous differences or difficulties. Wikipedia says patience is “persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way”.

During these past two days I’ve needed all the patience I’ve got while I was out buying products for my customer. Waiting was the big word no matter if I was at the bank, wholesale market or waiting for a taxi. Sometimes things just don’t work in a way and speed you want them to, especially when it comes to China.

Chinese people are optimistic, when ou ask when something happens or arrives, it’s always 马上 mǎ​shàng, right away.When is are the products going to arrive? Mǎ​shàng! When it’s going to be my turn? Mǎ​shàng!

The funny thing is, that mǎ​shàng can be anything from a minute to a week. When you want your landlord to fix your leaking AC mǎ​shàng seems to be stretched to the limits.

Speaking of time in China, always be prepared that something you need to do takes more than you tought. For example today I had agreed to pick up the products at noon, silly me for taking it graded that noon is around 12 o’clock. I ended up waiting more than half an hour.

Sometimes it’s not anyone’s fault but just bad timing or luck. In Guangzhou the time around 4:30pm is the worst for finding a taxi. Day drivers are finishing their day and can’t take you anywhere far as they have to go back. Of course I was once again in a need of taxi during this hour.

I had two big packaged with me and first waited for half an hour in front of the cargo company I use. I know the spot is almost impossible to get a taxi and didn’t want to take an expensive and unsure black taxi (meaning illegal non-official taxi). Instead I took a three-wheeled tuktuk kind of electric vehicle to the closest metro station where there would be more taxis.

I started waiting.

Taxis were full, finishing their shift or just didn’t want to go my direction. I admit that I live far from the city center, but I needed to go home anyway!

I waited for one hour and wheeled my two packaged to the metro station where I started to lose it a little bit. Didn’t know you’re not allowed to take in packages when the total weight is over than 30kg or/and height+length+depth is more than 160 centimeters. So back to the street.

After waiting for another half an hour, it has gone two hours already since I left the cargo company, I manages to find a black taxi diver to take me home for 120RMB. Normal taxi rate would be around 80RMB, but I was willing to pay the extra to get home.

The driver ended up being really nice and asked me a lot of questions about where I’m from and what I do. He also said my boyfriend is such a lucky guy to have me! I ended up giving him 10RMB extra as I think he deserved it.

Without patience you are going to lose your temper in China many many times, if not even daily. Things work differently than back home and we have to be prepared for that. It’s their country and they aren’t going to change just for us, so we better try our best to immerse in the new culture with all of its characteristics.

Being patient in a new culture will make everyone feel so much better and your life in China so much more enjoyable. Try not to get angry when things go the other direction. I know it’s easier said than done, but what I know for sure is, complaining about everything in China won’t get you that far. It will just make all of your days Bad China Days.

I think making all of my days Good China Days is a much better goal.


  • Jim

    I took my big suitcase on Guangzhou subway. Was that not allowed?


    dandmcd Reply:

    My experience with suitcases is they will often inspect to make sure what is inside is what you would expect, socks & underwear, clothes, shoes, and small gift items or books. If they find you raided a wholesale market and hid it in the suitcase, they may not let you in if it is oversized. I’ve only seen them actually enforce the policy during peak hours or near holiday events.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    They want to keep large packages off the metro during rush hours especially. The rule is at package etc can’t exceed 30kg or/and height+length+depth can’t exceed 160cm.

    Suitcases should be fine, they usually target Chinese that have lots of stuff from the wholesale markets for example.


  • Chris_Waugh

    “It’s their country and they aren’t going to change just for us, so we
    better try our best to immerse in the new culture with all of its

    Well, quite. And I think that’s a point that a lot of expats forget… or never learn, or perhaps even refuse to accept. Yes, it’s different, and that difference can often be frustrating (especially in the early years), but you’ll just have to learn to deal with it. And if you don’t like it, you can always leave.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Well said, like it or leave it. Even though I want to see China improve, I’m just an observer here.


    R Zhao Reply:

    It’s not so easy to “like it or leave it” when you have established a life and a family here. You may feel like an observer now, but that may change if you get married and have children here, start a business, etc. The longer you stay, the more entangled you become. And I don’t know that it gets any easier, as new issues will continue to arise (especially if you have a business or a child) though hopefully you’ll get better with dealing with problems.

    I generally agree with the sentiment that you can’t expect things to change, but I do think it’s okay to sometimes want them to. Many of my Chinese friends have expressed to me that they wish people wouldn’t cut in line or spit everywhere. They wish life was fairer and the education system was better. There’s not much I can do to change these things and I try never to complain to Chinese people about these issues. But I DO stick up for myself when people cut in front of me in line and I DON’T participate in some of the things that go on at my step-daughter’s school (forcing kids to take extra classes on the weekend, expecting parents to buy lavish gifts for teachers, etc).

    I think there is such a delicate balance of trying to immerse yourself in the culture, accept differences, and be true to your own moral and cultural beliefs.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you for bringing up an important point R! Life anywhere is much easier before you have a family, and for us that don’t have kids yet, it’s hard to imagine how much our lives will change after we do.

    I think you put it very well in the end:

    “I think there is such a delicate balance of trying to immerse yourself
    in the culture, accept differences, and be true to your own moral and
    cultural beliefs.”

    I’m always going to be a Finn and there are things that are absolute no for me, things that I can’t make compromises in. My boyfriend’s mother said it well two days ago, to take the best features of both cultures would be the best choice.


    Chris_Waugh Reply:

    My initial response to your comment, R, is that although “like it or leave it” is considerably more complex after time, marriage and kids (14 years in China, married, 1 daughter in my case), the principle remains the same. Getting out if you decide you don’t like the situation here takes a lot more time and effort, but it can be done, and should be. But then looking again at your comment, I see I agree with you.


    R Zhao Reply:

    But when you have a family, is it really about you? What about what is best for your wife and child? I’m not disagreeing with you, but I think there is more than one option here. If you don’t like something, you should do your best to find a way to change/improve the situation or adjust your attitude. It’s pointless to just sit around complaining, which perhaps is the underlying message here.

    Frankly, I can’t see myself staying in China for too many more years, simply because I don’t want my step-daughter going to high school here. I can figure out any other solution, so we will, as a family, eventually take the steps to leave.

    I find it interesting, because in my home country (especially after a president election) people always throw around things like “if you don’t like it here, leave.” This makes me feel sad, because if we don’t like something, wouldn’t the best thing to do be to work to make things better?


    Chris_Waugh Reply:

    Well, of course, when you have a family it’s about the family as a whole rather than yourself. The rest I agree with. I guess “like it or leave it” is a short, glib way of saying what you just said. If the situation isn’t working, figure out a way to change it – is that better phrasing?


  • chinaelevatorstories

    Have you ever been traveling in Tibetan areas? I’ve learned that 马上 there might take an even longer time than it does in in many other areas (such as a small minivan being late 2 hours and then waiting at the close-by square for 3 more hours – had I known that 马上 means 5 hours, I would have tried to find a restroom much sooner). It does test your patience, but I think once you’ve been in many similar situations, you’ll become much more patient. Actually, I don’t think 马上 means very fast, rather, if someone says 马上 I’m prepared to wait for a long, long time.
    Oh, and although many Chinese can be very patient sometimes, othertimes they can also be very inpatient, eg. when it comes to ordering food (“Why is my food not ready yet?), or waiting to get on trains, planes, etc.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Not yet, but thnK your for the heads up! Gotta keep that in mind when traveling so I’ll be sure to have a flexible schedule or no travel schedule at all which would be even better.

    Good point about the resultants, I often hear customers shouting why their food hasn’t come yet.


  • T

    I think, and I believe most Chinese people would agree with me here, that it’s okay for foreigners to voice criticisms about China if such criticisms are born of a genuine desire to see the country and its people better themselves. It would be rather closed-minded and absurd to suggest otherwise. The problem, however, is that many — if not most — of the foreigners who criticize China do so from a condescending or even outright racist position, and it’s particularly offensive to the Chinese people when the foreigner is also one of those typical “professional white person” who uses his white privilege to make a living and indulge himself in China.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Yes T, the latter kind of situation was what made me to write this post. I’ve heard so many complaints about China and Chinese, that could be avoided with being patient. Or at least we would all feel much better if we were more patient and understood that things are different than home.


    21tigermike Reply:

    “I think, and I believe most Chinese people would agree with me here, that it’s okay for foreigners to voice criticisms about China if such criticisms are born of a genuine desire to see the country and its people better themselves.”

    What else is there? When I complain about people littering/pissing in the streets or jaywalking and nearly getting plowed over… isn’t it obvious that I want what’s best for the Chinese people. This notion that 老外 would come to a place they apparently detest, only to complain non-stop, is such BS. We came to China because we read all the great press (ahem!) and were devastated at what we found when we got there. The complaints should not be some kind of joke about ‘the locals’ but voiced directly to the Chinese people. I genuinely want to see China, clean, healthy and strong, and am consistently baffled that my wish isn’t exactly shared by the locals. Go to the 故宫 and scratch your head at the … littering (?!) everywhere in one of the most breathtaking monuments in the world. Try to cover your eyes when you see a middle-aged mum walking her baby into a busy street (jaywalking) risking his/her life, and paying no regard to traffic.

    No one is laughing. This isn’t some drunken bitch-session. I genuinely want China to be great. After living there several years, my only conclusion is that Chinese themselves don’t see this country as ‘theirs’ but rather the government’s. So when they treat it like shit, they’re not destroying their own stuff, they’re destroying Beijing’s stuff. Some protest.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you tigermike for bringing your voice to the discussion.

    Speaking of safety and that mum walking her baby into a busy street, this is something I’ve been thinking a lot too recently. Parents with kids on a scooter without helmets, driving a car without seatbelt for the kids etc. Perhaps I’ve grown so protected in Finland, but if I can have kinds of my own, I wouldn’t want to expose them to such risks.


    T Reply:

    “What else is there? When I complain about people littering/pissing in the streets or jaywalking and nearly getting plowed over… isn’t it obvious that I want what’s best for the Chinese people.”

    If you say so. While you may have a genuine desire to see China better itself, it would be rather naive to believe that the sentiment is shared by the average foreigner. In many cases, the contempt for the Chinese people is obvious and the foreigner is just in the country to have his fun, to indulge himself by doing the kind of things that he would not be able to get away with back home.

    “No one is laughing. This isn’t some drunken bitch-session. I genuinely want China to be great. After living there several years, my only conclusion is that Chinese themselves don’t see this country as ‘theirs’ but rather the government’s. So when they treat it like shit, they’re not destroying their own stuff, they’re destroying Beijing’s stuff. Some protest.”

    That’s a mischaracterization of how the Chinese feel. Chinese people most definitely regard their country as “theirs”. The problem, however, is that Chinese people are cynics at heart and there is not a lot of mutual trust in the society particularly in the current phase of China’s social/economic development, where everyone is out for themselves in the struggle to climb the socio-economic ladder. Hopefully, this is something that will see improvement as the people become more educated and have the traditional moral values restored.


    gracesunny Reply:

    Yes, I do agree with that. Chinese people in general are very patriotic. They can critize the shit out of their own country and yet they dont like it when foreigners do the same. But most educated Chinese are very open to foreign opinions, and they could listen in modestly, that is when they are true. Unfortunately we have so many Western media, for example CNN, who is so devoted to trash China, and only “advertise” the things that are not true. I wish more blogs like Sara’s would appear in the near future, so people can actually get a close and real look at China, its people, its culture, and its food.


  • Alysa

    ahhh, pateince. So important. As I’m writing this, I’m in a service center in Comic Mall waiting for my brother’s phone to get fixed. Despite all the “马上”s, we’ve been waiting for over 3 hours, and after getting up at 5:30am and a long day of classes thats the last thing you want to do. it’s 7:30 and it will take an hour and a half to get home and I just want to get out of here :(

    Btw you have a customer? That sounds interesting…how did you get hired? What are you helping them with?


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Alysa, how long did it take to fix the phone in the end?

    The customer I mentioned I found kind of accidentally and he happened to need help when I happened to live in the right place. I help him by products from Guangzhou and ship them to Finland. Besides him I also help my friend who is doing business in Finland.


  • Sanneke☺

    Hi Sara! Thank you for taking the time to share your amazing adventure with us. I am interested in moving to China for a couple of years. I would like to study the Chinese language. I would like some more information from you. Maybe we could communicate privately? Please feel free to e-mail me at



    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Sent you an email :)


  • Nommoc


    Where do I begin…

    This post hits home.

    So many emotions, experiences, and thoughts come to mind.

    1) You are so, so, so correct. Patience besides self-control are invaluable when in China.

    2) In China, we are visitors. Temporary residences, outsiders looking in.

    However, this reality is not one we create ourselves.

    1) China does not make it easy for foreigners to stay long-term in China. Admitted, neither to a lot of other countries, still, the topic at hand is China, and why perhaps we as expats living here, no matter how many years we live here, still feel so “temporary”.
    2) Overall, percentage wise, there are not a lot of foreigners living in China. Therefore, be it our speech, or our look. We are “different”. Forever, different than a local. So to some extent unless there would be a massive change in this “foreigner vs. local” ratio, things are what they are.
    3) I know you don’t discuss politics here, so I’ll keep this as concise and on topic as possible… in the not so recent past, foreigners were not permitted to come to China. Thus even today our presence is a sensitive issue, with opinions as to the positive or negative nature of such presence daily in flux.

    However, as it relates to patience, be it in China or elsewhere, cultivate it. Patience is invaluable.

    Reading your post, a few thoughts:

    1) Having waited only a half hour for your package was actually pretty good in my “China” opinion. For me, had you waited hours, or even, “had to go back another day”, I would not have been surprised.

    So many times when I have to take care of business in China, I never expect to complete the task on the same day or in the first attempt. Rather, be ready to try several times and deal with many, many variables. Ever so often, I go somewhere and in the first attempt it gets done, wow, surprising and fun. This way, I’m happily surprised by the fast results, instead of massively dismayed by the late or uncompleted result.

    2) Your description of the Guangzhou cab situation sounds so similar to Tianjin. Likewise, there are several times getting a cab in Tianjin is brutal: 1) 8/9 am. Too much traffic, many drivers choose not to drive during this time. 2) 12-2pm. Drivers go home to eat and sleep. 3) 5-7 pm. Again, too much traffic, so drivers choose not to drive at this time, in addition they go home to eat dinner, and/or change drivers as they split shifts with another person.

    Add to above issues the following: 1) it is raining, so they don’t want to run the meter but rather charge an illegal rate; 2) it is snowing, so they don’t want to run the meter but rather charge an illegal rate; 3) where you want to go, isn’t where they want to go. This last one happens about everyday, countless times, before I ever even get in the cab, they roll down the window still unstopped and ask “去哪儿?”, I now know this game, and don’t even acknowledge them. 9 times out of 10, if they ask before I even get in the car where I’m going, I don’t want to have anything to do with them.

    Thus, cabs are not in anyway a “luxury” in China. Taking a cab in Tianjin is about one of the most dreaded aspects of my life here. I know, many will probably having something to say about this, still, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine is simple… if I can, I will choose any other means of transportation, including, subway, bus, even walking, other than a cab. Unfortunately, all too often, I must take cabs… and well, your post reads like a chapter out of my daily life.

    Ah yes, that reminds me, yet another reason sometimes cabs won’t take me is that like you that day I have boxes, packages or suitcases.

    This is related to several reasons from what I can deduce:

    1) Sometimes they just don’t want to get out of the car and open the trunk. I’ve found a lot of cabs need to unlock/open the trunk using the key which they drive the car with, meaning, to put things in the trunk, literally they need to turn off the car, get out and open the trunk manually. For some, I figure this “ma fan” exceeds the reward, and well, no cab for me.
    2) Sometimes the have no room in the trunk. Besides just personal items, many cabs in Tianjin have illegally installed natural gas tanks in their trunks to lower “fuel” costs, thus their cabs do not burn gasoline like normal, instead burn gas as in the vapor not the liquid, this additional “gas” tank is big, mounted in their trunk, and takes up pretty much their whole trunk, thus, they see you with luggage on the side of the road, and well, that’s a signal to keep on driving.

    Ah, enough of about cabs… back to patience.

    Be patient. Yes, everyday, all the time in China. You will be happier, calmer and avoid a lot of fights.

    The way I look at it, living in China is a complete “lifestyle’. It includes not only a new language, new diet and new culture… it also includes a new “pace” and “mental state”, one aspect is the great need for patience. We all need to know, at current this is China, it isn’t changing for us, so we can only choose to deal with it.

    For me, I have memorized some words of wisdom which help me stay calm and help me remember that if I wait long enough, this too will pass. So rather than lose my cool, just accept that for as long as I choose to live in China, things will just take longer, I’ll get less done when compared to what I could get done back home, and things that I once thought were “given” are just not…

    Somehow this topic about patience and how we feel as foreigners living in China reminded me of DaShan’s ( fairly famous saying: 虽然我是个外国人 但是我不是外人。(Interview Here:

    DaShan’s comment is interesting and well, for me an ideal at best. If despite our “foreigner” legal status, we could somehow be viewed as an “insider” vs. an “outsider” temporarily living inside China, well, that would be a real step in the right direction… however, for me, based on my time here… that’s a cup of tea which is still brewing.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Wow, thank you nommoc for your comment that could even be a guest post!

    I have to admit that I don’t have to put up with that much because right now I’m spending most of my time at home. No daily cab, metro or bus rides to test my nerves. I find it hard to get used to the business side of things in China, anything can change at any times without no one telling you about it.

    I’ve also been wondering if you can grow tired of being the ousider in China at some point.


  • Kelby

    Here here. Can’t count the number of times where I’ve benefited from letting go of my exasperation and just let things happen naturally. I found that meditating every day helped me get some of the patience I needed. Oddly, going with the flow helped my meditation practice out too.

    It’s worked out much better than getting pissed off, that’s for sure.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I have never really tried meditating, but so great it has worked for you Kelby. For me avoiding conflix has allowed me to stay calm as I think it’s the better option.


  • gracesunny

    haha, so funny, because I think Chinese are the most impatient people of all! they always walk fast and seem to be such a hurry all the time.


  • NicolasBourbaki

    I disagree with this. The reason there’re so many problems in China is BECAUSE people don’t complain. They just take it. There’s too much of a face culture where no one holds each other accountable. It’s a very silly and primitive superstitious system. Chinese look to westerners for a view of their culture and take into account their views. If foreigners show them that many behaviors in China are not civilized they take note. From my experience, complaining works very well in China. This is because people are so afraid of losing face. Face is a two way street. It prevents Chinese from complaining but when someone, especially a foreigner complains, it tends to work very well.


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