Goodbye, expat friend. Your bags are packed. Your flight is waiting. But are you sure you can leave China yet? Not so fast, hao pengyou. You've still got some unfinished business.
“What business?” you ask, nervously checking your watch. Well, there are some things all expats should do before they leave China. And though immigration might give you a final exit stamp in your passport without having done these things, the lack of their completion will haunt you like an internet stalker. You won't be able to truly say you're done with China until they're accomplished. In no particular order, you can't leave China until you have...
1) Eaten something out of your comfort zone
Sure, not everyone has the fortitude of stomach to slurp up scorpions on a stick, stir-fried Fido or still-living shrimp without upchucking, but Chinese cuisine has so many eccentricities, it would be a shame not to try one or two.
2) Climbed the Great Wall
Sometimes it's fun just to be a tourist. Another tick in the box for globetrotters out to conquer the Wonders of the World, the Great Wall is an icon of Chineseness. And, it is probably the first thing people back home will ask about.
3) Sat through a live performance of Cantonese/ Beijing /Sichuan opera (extra points for all three)
If your eardrums can take it, buy a CD and use it as a soundtrack for your photo slideshows of life in the Middle Kingdom. Or play it at home as a way to get rid of dinner guests who've overstayed their welcome.
4) Posed for pictures with complete strangers
A rite of passage for any expat travelling through or living in China. Usually initiated by rural Chinese who may not have had many chances to see a foreigner in the flesh. However, if your time in China is almost up and you've yet to accomplish it, go to a local park, find some camera-happy individual and flash your best two-fingered peace sign.
5) Mastered a public Chinese toilet
A former coworker told me he did his whole 6-month contract without ever using a public toilet in China. While I have no idea how he accomplished this without rupturing internal organs, I also feel like he missed out on part of the reasons of travelling to a foreign land – to see how different cultures provide for basic human functions. The squat may not be as comfortable a commode for our un-springy Western muscles, but it's a heck of an anecdote when you get back home – though probably not material for dinner conversations.
6) Gone to a local tourist destination
Most people hit the highlights: the Yangzte River, the Bund, the Forbidden City. That's great. But China is full up with smaller, domestically-oriented tourist destinations, some of which may seem humorous to foreigners (a neighbouring town attracts busloads of domestic tourists to look at a big door. Yep. It's big!), but others have charm and offer a chance to meet newly affluent Chinese discovering their own country.
7) Gotten in a ganbei (drinking) competition
While binge drinking is, in part, a societal problem, it can also be a heck of a lot of fun. These drink-offs usually happen at work – or at family-related banquets, where the host feels a need to personally welcome each guest with a 'ganbei' or 'down-the-hatch' of fiery baijiu or (if you're lucky) lukewarm beer and the guests in turn feel the need to toast their host for his or her hospitality. Face demands that if someone toasts you, you must drink the whole glass in one go (gan bei literally means 'dry glass'). If your time in China is really running out and this is still on your to-do list, you can inveigle your way in to someone else's celebration by going to a restaurant or bar, finding a table of already drunken people and shouting out 'gan bei' with your glass raised. Works every time.
8) Spent an afternoon in a village followed by…
…a day at a spanking-new shopping mall. The contrasts of China and the rapidity of its development are two things that make it such an interesting country. Make sure you leave China knowing its huge extremes.
9) Tried to write Chinese characters
Most foreigners make an attempt at speaking Chinese, not only to be polite to their hosts but also to make life in China easier. But not everyone attempts writing characters. For complete beginners, it takes you straight back to kindergarten, when you didn't even know how to hold a pencil. The experience ranges from frustrating to good fun, especially when you show your efforts to your Chinese friends and then watch them try to say something nice about your childish scribbles.
10) Practiced and performed a song for KTV
Karaoke bars are a must-do for nightlife in China. Unlike the West, however, it's not a chance to lampoon yourself. Most Chinese KTV-goers belt out their favourite pop songs with no sense of irony at all, and most of my friends won't sing a song at KTV unless they've practiced it at home before. This is also a good opportunity to get Item #7 taken care of, especially if you've got a bit of stage fright.
So there you have it, my tall-nosed friend. Ten tips for how to leave China with a clear conscience, knowing you've experienced the country, the expat way. Man zou ( 慢走| have safe trip home/take care).
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