An international student teaches English to pupils at Xiaochengzi Primary School in Nongan County, northeast China's Jilin Province, on June 7 (XINHUA)
It's easy in China, especially Beijing, to go through the motions each day and become just one of 1.3 billion experiencing ordinary daily routines. In a country going through one of the biggest industrial revolutions known to man, things happen so quickly that the ones who just watch it go by get lost along the wayside. One thing I have learnt during my four-and-a-half years in China is to get involved, no matter what it is—a conversation at the local shop, a game of Frisbee in the park, a football club, a roadside game of Chinese chess, an invitation from some locals for dinner, a hike through the mountains on the edge of the city—any activities like these will break up those predictable daily routines and allow you to participate, and feel good about it.
It can be daunting, especially as a new expat, to pluck up the courage to get involved in activities in China. The language barrier, the fear of not understanding or fitting in, and the fret of losing face are all worrying emotions that can float through your head. But what I've come to learn during my time here is that Chinese people are some of the most hospitable in the world and are more than happy to help you fit in. They appreciate the effort of a foreigner trying their best to speak a few words of Mandarin, learn about Chinese culture, make new friends and make the most of their time in China, no matter how brief or long it may be.
In all the cities in China there is a lot to do, and I mean a lot—sometimes it just takes a little more effort to find out what is out there. By sitting at home watching Netflix or playing computer games, it is easy to miss out on all the opportunities and excitement going on outside. It's understandable that during the long, dark cold winter months most people prefer to hibernate at home huddled up next to the heater, drinking endless cups of hot water. However, as soon as the first lily buds start to blossom and the warm spring breeze shoots through your hair, it's time to get out and explore. No excuses.
A little tip I would give is to be nosy. I don't mean being rude, but simply curious, at times. For example, the other day as I was walking to my apartment, I noticed a door wide open three doors down from mine and felt the unmistakable smell of fresh paint searing my nostril hairs—so I decided to take a look. The apartment was being completely revamped from ceiling to floor, and I had seen these workers every day for the previous week working long hours. As I poked my nose in, one of them invited me in for a chat, I duly obliged, despite the nauseous smell of paint. He offered me a cigarette. I politely declined. He offered me some tea, which I also politely declined. Then he handed me his paintbrush and I thought, "Sure, why not?" For the next 30 minutes, I, along with three other workers, painted the walls and chatted about many subjects such as jobs in China, the weather and if the postal service in England was reliable. After our mini painting session, I bid my new friends farewell and headed back to my own apartment with a sense of satisfaction that I had chatted and made some new friends.
The next day, as I walked past, I didn't poke my nose in but walked straight in and said a big hello to my pals, feeling confident they would greet me with a big smile. And I was right. Even the simplest things like this can make me feel a great sense of pride for gaining the courage to participate, and as I've witnessed many times, the positives are endless. So, the next time you see an opportunity arise for any sort of involvement or participation, I say—go for it!
The author is a Briton living in Beijing
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar