Keys to the Castillo

5 Years Living in China: What I Liked, and What I Loathed

Table of Contents

Are you planning on heading to China anytime soon? Ever been curious about what the most populous country in the world is really like? Are all the news stories and speculation about China being a totalitarian dictatorship true?


What’s ironic, is that seasoned China expats will chuckle and, if they’re honest, admit that the more you deal with China, the less you know about it.


Actually, I guess you could say that about pretty much anything.


Regardless, I want to offer my perspective for those who want to broaden their knowledge of this vast and wonderful country, whether simply for pleasure, or for preparation.


Why should you listen to me?


Well, I first moved to China when I was 19. I lived in Shanghai for 5 years. I speak, read and understand Mandarin and am totally comfortable conducting all my daily business in this language (I honestly can’t write much by hand, but as I’ll reveal soon, this is actually becoming more common throughout China).


I also received two scholarships and attended some of the top universities in the country, such as Fudan University (I don’t recommend it, though…).



Lastly, I slept with countless Chinese women, met a number of ultra-wealthy Chinese, and got a deep, inside look at the ESL industry. Is this just me bragging? No, I’m telling you this to get my experience out in the open, in case there’s anything you’d like to ask me.


Let’s begin.


What I like about China:


People are curious and genuinely interested I getting to know you.


A little bit of Chinese and interest in the culture goes a long way and can make everyday, otherwise mundane tasks quite entertaining when you chit chat with shop owners, waiters and the like


The women are much more pleasant and kind


You can also meet people from almost every country on Earth and get involved with certain ethnic enclaves. In my case, as soon as the latinos knew I speak Spanish well, I was welcomed into their group and as result met tons of new friends and attended events I wouldn’t have even known about


Wechat pay. So convenient


This industry gets a lot of hate, but if you do it right and are at least not some scumbag who does class drunk/high and shows up on time, you can make it work well for you, especially if you use it as a springboard for other interests, such as business or artistic pursuits. For me at the time, ESL was a Godsend


Although I haven’t lived in any other major city, I think I can safely claim that nightlife in Shanghai, especially for broke young people, is absolutely phenomenal. Not only is transportation cheap and reliable, but there’s always a party going on somewhere. ON top of that, it’s perfectly safe to be out at all hours of the night


Lax drinking laws. The park, the street, the mall, the movie theater, the subway… you can drink anywhere you want, and no one bats an eye.


Now, when I first showed up, anyone could get an ebike, in various sizes. Nowadays, as far as I know, you need to register your bike with the authorities, which can only be done if you have a residence permit to work or study


I used to believe that the Chinese where just pretentious pricks when it comes to food. Even when they’re abroad, they prefer to eat Chinese food. Honestly, I can understand why now. Some stuff is disgusting, but for the most part, there’s so much variety and delicious dishes to choose from, there’s always a surprise around the corner


This one ties into food, but I gotta say, Chinese do dinners RIGHT. Good wine is always flowing, people are toasting each other non-stop, and not to mention also that business deals are always done and sealed over a drink with others.


Proximity to other countries. IN fact, couple this point in with the amount of holidays the Chinese have. If you have the financial means, which most foreigners do because travel throughout Asia is relatively cheap, you can pop into tons of countries while living in China. Bangkok, Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Tokyo, Japan

Seoul, Korea

Hong Kong


Taipei, Taiwan

… All lie within a 5 hour flight of the mainland, depending on where you are!


Public transportation. Holy shit, coming from Vancouver, I thought I knew what great transportation was. I was dead wrong. Not only is clean, reliable, fast public transportation super cheap in China, but the subway system is so much more spread out that what you get in other countries.

To give you some perspective, Vancouver has 3 subway lines, and it usually costs about $3 or so for a one-way ticket downtown. In Shanghai, you have 15 subway lines, with the average trip costing you $0.50


Just as we in the west are enamored with the wonders of Amazon, Taobao provides the Chinese populace with a way to order practically any physical object in existence that their heart desires, and have it delivered in record time.

But that’s not all. I can’t say for sure, but it seems to me that the idea of ordering food from apps also took off in China much earlier than it did in the west. Hell, one I realized everything I prepare at home could be delivered, I no longer had to make bi-weekly trips to the grocery store!


The experience of being an international student. If you’re in college, I wholeheartedly recommend you get this experience before you get too old. Being an international student was probably one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! I absolutely loved meeting tons of new faces and getting to engage with others in a fun classroom setting.

It’s kind of cliché, but you really do make some lifelong friends and memories in school. Good ones and bad ones. I mean, where else are you going to land a date with a gorgeous blonde-haired Russian girl on orientation day, besides Russia?


The people you meet. This is one of my top favorites. I met such a vast array of people in China that truly made the people I came into contact with back in Canada seem dull in comparison. I met billionaires, actors, painters, singers, dancers, rappers, models, you name it.

People from all different walks of life, with the most incredible stories to share. Rags to riches stories. I also saw some ugliness, too. I met drunks, weirdos, cheats, liars, thieves, and just a bunch of good-for-nothings.


The energy. I tell you, things move insanely fast in China. People are HUNGRY and want to move up in life.

They see everyone around them getting rich and hitting it big, and they desire their piece of the pie as well. When you’re in the city, you feel the electricity in the air. Life is happening.


Cheap cell phone plans. God, I still reminisce about the days when an unlimited data plan cost me $12 a month. That shit was so fast, I could connect my phone to my computer and stream Youtube through my VPN!


Things I Could Not Stand


The lack of manners. The spitting. The disgusting public toilets… but then again, this is present almost everywhere. People shoving and pushing in lines. Yelling and being obnoxious in public.


The pollution. This is just a fact of life in China. Solution? Buy an air purifier.


Lack of tranquility. Living in a big Chinese city can be noisy as hell. The contrast I notice every time I come back to visit the suburb I grew up in in Canada is just so striking.


You never know. Let’s be real – nowadays, more and more people are becoming aware that food labels and government regulation and the news are full of bs, and that corporations will do anything to make a buck, even if it means killing people. That being said, I think most would agree that western foods and consumables still merit more trust that their Chinese counterparts, because in China, you honestly have no idea how shitty some things really are. The tomatoes you eat might have been grown in radioactive soil with water filled with lead and mercury. Who the fuck knows. Even imported products vary slightly in comparison to the same imported products found elsewhere. A bottle of Fiji water in China does NOT taste the same as a bottle of Fiji water in Canada, for example.


Jaded expats. Avoid these people like the plague. As I said, I ‘ve met my fair share of people, and that includes depressed, negative, grumpy, fat, crestfallen expats that rant and rave about everything they find displeasing in China… yet, they stay.


Relationships tend to have short lifespans. Not all of them, but for the most part, the foreigners you befriend won’t stay for more than a few months to a year at a time, before they go back to their home country or continue on to another destination. Either that, of the people you know who do stay end up falling into the ‘jaded expat’ category.


It can be hard to befriend and see eye to eye with the Chinese. Even if you speak the language fluently, like myself, you may find it challenging to enjoy relationships with Chinese people in the same way you can with pretty much anyone from any country. This is a whole monster of topic in and of itself, so I’ll be writing more about it in the future, but for the most part, some of the core values and education of Chinese people differ drastically from other countries.


Not to mention also that the entertainment and stories that almost everyone in the west is familiar with (think The Beatles, Metallica, Terminator, Tupac, and so on) are usually completely unknown to most Chinese, in the same way that virtually no westerner without an interest in Asia can name more than a handful of famous Chinese actors, songs, or movies


This is a personal choice and I actually agree with the lack of restriction on where people can smoke in China, but I still don’t like being exposed to that shit


Ugly architecture. I’m going to get some hate for this, but I am not a fan of the buildings in China. Things often feel cramped, construction seems shoddy, there’s paint peeling off lots of places, there’s garbage in a lot of places, lots of objects appear cheaply made, such as garbage cans, chairs, and faucets.


If you want an aesthetically pleasing environment, you have to pay for it, and it’s probably going to cost more than it would in the west.


Horrible fashion sense. Honestly, the more I look around, the more I realize this is not an isolated phenomenon, however, it’s just a pet peeve of mine how so many Chinese take very little care in looking good, or even just completely lack sound concept of what looks good. Mismatched clothes, bad haircuts, unwashed hair,



This girl was actually pretty interesting – she’d gone to a military college, then started her own production company. She was also looking into buying a gold mine.

Chinese girls can be pretty dumb and naiive. Another monster post, but in short, in situations where you expect a girl to pick up on subtle hints of flirtation or sexual advances, Chinese girls take your words and actions literally and don’t follow your lead… Case in point, if you bring a girl back to your place at night, you are typically aware that sex will happen. However, I’ve had plenty of girls act genuinely shocked that I make any moves on them, and then scramble out of my place in a panic.


They lack individuality. Again, not all of them, but to be totally honest, for the most part, the Chinese are drones. There’s often not a lot about an individual that distinguishes them from the rest in a healthy way.


Bureaucracy. Everyone loves good ol’ fashioned bureaucracy, right? ….Um… yeah, I thought not. Well, if you thought getting the proper forms and papers together for filing applications and the like in your country was difficult, then you’re not going to enjoy China , at least for a bit. Almost everyone needs a visa to get into the country, whether it’s just for a few days of sightseeing, or for laying down some roots for a year or two of work. Don’t worry, I’ve outlined everything you need to know about getting the proper visa for China right here.


Plastic surgery. Again, not something that affects anyone directly, but god damn, some of the girls in China have completely fucked up their faces and bodies beyond anything that could be interpreted as ‘beautiful’ by any sane, self-respecting man

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