10 Surprises for an Englishman Buying a New ‘House’ in China


1. EVERYONE lives in apartment blocks but they still talk about their ‘house’ rather than their apartment or flat.


2. I’m very lucky to have a wife who does all the negotiating with the architect and builder, since I have no workable Chinese myself!

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3. New property comes as a bare concrete shell which then needs significant work to convert it into a liveable house (re-configuring walls, electrics, plumbing, heating, lighting, air-conditioning, flooring, windows, decorating etc etc). 3 months estimated work and then there’s the furnishing!

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4. It is quite common to buy all new furnishings rather than transfer the old to the new house.

5. Building/furniture stores are huge and more like malls than individual big stores. Be prepared to wear out a couple of pairs of shoes before you’ve decided on what you want, AND be prepared to get lost – again and again. Interior layouts and signs leave much to be desired. Areas of the city seem to be dedicated to small shops supplying various aspects of the building industry. Smaller items can be significantly cheaper on the internet (via TaoBao).


6. Many Chinese enjoy ‘Victorian/Georgian’ elaborate styled furnishings known as ‘European style’.  Lighting shops are crammed full of chandeliers! We seem to be a little unusual in wanting modern styled things.


7. A whole wall is often dedicated to the large flatscreen TV in the living room. Much like the fireplace of old!


8. In southern China built in heating is unusual, particularly underfloor heating. However many brand new properties are having it installed. While summers are hot and need air-conditioning, winters still feel cold and seem ‘freezing’ without central heating. The reality is that winter temperatures are not that different from London’s.  Thick quilted PJ’s provide personalised insulation, and are very cosy too!

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9. Contractors seem to be able to work at incredibly short notice. In terms of home repairs, expect someone to be able to come over and fix things on the same day! Many in the building/construction industry appear to work 7 days a week and only take a few days off occasionally!

10. I’m terrified watching window installers, air conditioning engineers etc work at high levels without safety equipment. What about Health and Safety at Work? I’m also terrified by the colour coding used in Electrics. I can’t work out what the convention(s) are and whether anybody follows them!



10 Surprises for an Englishman on the Street in China

1. There are textured paving stones on the pavement to indicate the direction of the path and junctions with the road for those with sight difficulties. They’re also there on the Metro!
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Surprising as the city seems generally pretty unfriendly for disabled people. Very few ramps, no low-entry or wheelchair friendly buses, poor maintenance of footpaths, often the footpaths being blocked etc forcing pedestrians to walk in the road.

2. A Starbucks’ Cappuccino Grande will set you back at least 30rmb (£3.25). It must be the high wages that are being paid in China. NOT! And in the airport it’ll be more than double that!


3. The PA on the Shanghai Metro (and the new one in Changsha) is in both Chinese AND English (yay)!

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4. Stepping out of the Metro in Shanghai the first thing I saw was a Victorian church and other English styled buildings. Where am I?


5. ‘Mind the gap’ is there on the Shanghai Metro too. Not just on London’s Tube!

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6. Shanghai Metro tends to travel in straight lines instead of meandering all over the place as on London’s deep Tube lines, is smooth, and has ‘normal’ sized railway carriages unlike the ‘mini’ claustrophobic carriages on most of London’s Tube. It’s also got a huge network and is cheap (5rmb – 55p – from airport to city centre). The stations are large and the passages are wide. They need to be. There are 28 million in Shanghai!


7. The MagLev line to Pudong International Airport travels at 300km/hr. They’re also building one in Changsha to serve the airport, but it’s shorter and not so fast.



It’s not perfectly smooth but as good as most high speed trains.

8. You are quite likely to be run down by an electric bike (rather like a scooter) when walking on the path marked for pedestrians. Cars park on the section marked for bikes! For the same reason many pedestrians choose to walk in the road; it’s safer!


9. A traffic light controlled pedestrian crossing is a good place to get killed as a pedestrian when the light is green for walkers. Often you will have to cross one lane at a time and hope that there’s a break in traffic to get across the next lane. Likewise at intersections a green pedestrian light indicates that you are unlikely to be killed by cars coming straight across the junction, but will be killed by traffic turning right as they have permission ‘if it is safe to do so’.


10. Electric bikes appear to have a dispensation to ignore all traffic regulations especially the ones indicating the direction of flow! And on the highway, there don’t appear to be any rules governing lane behaviour for any vehicle. While traffic generally does not speed (as in the UK) it’s very difficult to predict what another motorist will do.


10 Surprises for an Englishman at a Restaurant in China

1: Most people rinse their crockery and chopsticks with the green tea provided at restaurants – a bowl is provided for draining them, even though the crockery is often vacuum packed. Sometimes they drink tea well!


2: At restaurants a bottle of wine is often decanted into several small jugs for easy pouring into glasses thus avoiding the drips

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3: No-one orders individual dishes exclusively for themselves. Everything is shared and laid out on a Lazy Susan. You pick as you eat and respectfully turn the Lazy Susan if you want something on the opposite side of the table.


4: Be prepared to make several personal toasts to individuals at the table throughout meal

5: Be prepared to eat everything on the bone (but not the bone itself) especially the pigs trotters which are very tasty and succulent. Your plate will be full of bones by the end of the meal

6: Your wine glass (and tea-cup) will be on your LHS as you eat with chopsticks in your right hand – unless you’re left-handed of course

7: Be prepared for hot and spicy food in Hunan Province (quite a different sort of spicy to Sichuan dishes)

8: A little box of tiny tissues is provided at restaurants as paper napkins

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9: The person at the far corner of the table (which is round) facing the door is either the special guest or the host who pays for everything. No going Dutch here.

10. A large restaurant will have many individual rooms for parties up to 12 for privacy and so that you can hear yourself speak (if you CAN speak Chinese, that is)!

10 Surprises for an Englishman in China

1. No toilet seats.

OK, in modern homes it is a little more likely to have a seat but most homes have a squat loo. And in public loos there is no paper; you have to take your own. If you’re new to the country that can be an unwelcome surprise! And don’t expect hand towels.

2. Quilted PJ’s
In Changsha and other central/southern provinces there is no central heating. Everyone wears thick quilted PJs in the home. Very cosy!
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3. Kuai Zi
OK this is pretty obvious but I was surprised that it’s pretty rare to find a knife fork and spoon. Chopsticks are the order of the day plus occasional spoons.
4. Loo Rolls
Loo rolls are in containers where you pull the sheets from the core of the roll, not the edge. It’s an art getting the cardboard core out first?
5. Bathrooms and Electricity
Electric sockets in the bathrooms (usually just a shower). Haven’t heard of any electrocutions yet!
6. Electric Sockets
All electrical sockets have a 2 pin socket and an Australian type 3 pin socket; and enjoy the light show when you insert and remove plugs!
7. Live Premier League
A Premier League channel is usually included in standard TV package. I’ve never watched so much footie! Unfortunately it’s Premier League only; no FA Cup (though it might be available occasionally on another channel.
8. No tea towels.
Everyone has dish driers (not washers). And don’t be confused; to the unknowing eye they look like ovens (which don’t exist here either).
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9. Water Bottles
Don’t drink water straight from the tap. Always boil it.
10. Laundry
Every home has a drying rack that you hoist to the ceiling.