How can I say this without sounding rude or smug? I guess, to put it bluntly, I will never live in America again. And, no, it’s NOT just because I gained close to 10lbs while I was home. Thanks for force-feeding me tamales, grandma!

It’s not that I didn’t have a great trip. I mean, I loved seeing my sister be a mother to her goofy kids, and my brother telling me about his travels in Dubai and Spain. Seeing my family proud of all of us doing our own thing was really cool. Plus, getting a beer with my friends was long overdue. I was even excited about the nostalgia caused by driving up and down streets I used to take everyday. It’s just that, sometimes, suburban America is a little depressing, and somewhat underdeveloped.

china vs america beijing sanlitun soho american expat chinese culture

Sanlitun, Chaoyang, Beijing

Since I’ve moved to Beijing, I can pretty much get everything I was used to having back home. All of my favorite things are here, transportation is simple and cheap, and the people are hustling and bustling. The only thing missing in my life is just my loved ones. But as we’ve said before, missing them is kind of fun in its own bizarre nomadic way.

After spending nearly two months in the states, with an absence of almost four years under my belt, I finally feel confident enough to explain how America could learn a few things from the Chinese:

China Vs America

1. Everyone is Doing Something

Maybe it’s that Americans aren’t feeling motivated enough. Maybe it’s because they’re scared. One thing I had totally forgotten about were the people that just aren’t doing anything at all.

Remember that person we always had to bum a ride to? Remember the person that never had any money? Remember that person that just lost all motivation to find a job? Or even still lived with their parents?

That person does not exist here.

When I meet someone in China, I never have to worry about asking, “What do you do?” with fear that they might say something like, “Erm…I’m in-between jobs right now.” If someone is in-between jobs, it’s likely because they’re waiting on visa finalization, not because they just literally can’t find a job.

The people I meet are studying the language, going to university, traveling, starting a business, starting a second business, or teaching. It’s impossible to have nothing to do here, because everyone here is getting something done. Sure, not everyone I meet I have an amazing connection with, but the fact that they took a step outside of their comfort zone shows quite a bit about their character.

2. Walk. Get a bike. Take the bus. Ride share. Something?

Most Americans, particularly in suburbia, cringe at the idea of walking or riding a bike to work, school, or to take care of errands. And who can blame them? Cars are a symbol of high status everywhere in the world – even China. Just imagine carrying five grocery bags home from the inexplicably large “one-stop shops” weekly just to make sure your family has all of their necessities. It’s really not practical there, which is kind of the way the whole system is built in America.

But on the other hand, hearing people in drive-thrus ordering “skinny sugar-free fraps” was like nails on a chalkboard. C’mon, if you honestly cared about how many calories that drink put into your body, you’d at least step outside of your Range Rover, walk into the coffee house, and use some real effort to order the beverage you’re about to indulge in while you’re sitting down, doing nothing.

Speaking of which, convenience stores are everything but that. The main purpose of them is to fuel vehicles, and if you’re not going in one of them to put gas in your car, you’re likely pumping yourself up with some kind of toxic snack or carbonated beverage to hold you over until the processed/overpriced meal you’re about to have. Bringing me to the next point.

3. Put fruit, vegetable, and nut stands in the middle of your hood.


Random coconut vendor in Wudaokou

I’ve only been to two countries in Asia so far (hooray for Vietnam next month!), but both China and Thailand have fruit and vegetables stands everywhere. Even if you’re next to a bar or club, you can likely buy a head of cabbage within arms reach of the doorman.

Don’t get me wrong, the little corner stores in most countries are now loaded up with sugary and salty treats from aisle to aisle, but you’ll have to pass by several whole food vendors, butchers, and spice stands before being hit with one. And guess where most of these corner stores come from? America. Way to fatten up the Chinese, guys!

Currently, I live in a hutong, which is by far the coolest community I’ve ever lived in. Here’s a Vine showing just how quickly I can arrive at my favorite vegetable vendor:

Look at all those people in one tiny place! I really love seeing everyone in my hood just takin’ care of business. Which kind of rolls over to my next suggestion.

4. Why did I always feel like I was about to get mugged?

I come from Phoenix, Arizona. The 6th most heavily populated city in America. So why is it that I could walk or run an entire mile in both daylight and night time without passing by one single other person? I already mentioned that nobody was doing much outside in suburbia, but even after going to a college town like Tempe or even downtown Phoenix, I still noticed that people weren’t really out, which made me feel unsafe.

I remember stumbling through downtown with a friend and having that erie feeling you get when someone is creeping on you. Now, Phoenix isn’t necessarily known for being the safest city, but it was a premonition I hadn’t had for years. I’ve walked around countless times at night, both in groups of people and by myself here. Not once have I ever been worried, which makes sense, being that Beijing is the second safest city in China, falling right behind Shanghai.

Let’s not forget that China is still a communist country and that we are being watched. Just ask the cameras lining the streets of Beijing. And while the old freedom-loving Monica might not have agree with all the cameras, I’d much rather have 24/7 surveillance rolling in the streets than risk no one seeing something bad happen to me. Maybe America can practice surveilling people in the public instead of on the internet? *puts foot in mouth*

5. A stronger sense of independence.

I might get some flack on this one, and that’s okay. What I really mean is that the youngest and oldest generations of China are very independent for their ages.

Here a just a few examples to illustrate what I mean by this:

a.) I once saw an old lady carrying a watermelon home by herself. She didn’t even have guns! She was just…doing it. She didn’t expect anyone to help her. And she was old, like, really old. After watching in awe for a couple of seconds, I asked if I could help her, and she declined. Woah, lady!

b.) Little kids take the city bus and subway by themselves regularly. This might not sound like a big step, but there aren’t school busses here, so there’s really no other way unless biking or walking is an option, if you live close enough. Reading this article perfectly highlights ways that Americans tend to coddle their kiddos too much, resulting in needy, greedy adults.

c.) Old folks are really social here. It doesn’t matter how cold it is outside. These guys are usually caught outside enjoying their golden years with a game of mahjong, like so:


Old guys gamin’

So what do the older ladies do for fun? They dance!:

The reason this is important to me is because we often just stick our parents/grandparents in a home. Our elders here are typically very active and healthy. I mean, have you ever seen an 80-year-old riding a bike? I have. Everyday.

6. The Chinese are family-oriented.

Friends and family. Family and friends. We just kind of say it however it spills out. But the Chinese pay attention to the little things and always address their family first. Even if you have a really close friend in China, you don’t call them your friend. You either call them your brother or sister. Because family really matters here. (Cue Family Matters theme song.)

My students' grandpa and the puppy we gave them.

My students’ grandpa and the puppy we gave them.

One thing I hated about seeing my grandma and even my parents, was that they all live alone. The Chinese youth always house their mother and father once they’re old enough. Don’t get me wrong, I, like many Americans couldn’t fathom the idea of living with my mom all of my life, but it’s just nice that the Chinese know that it is expected of them to take care of the people that took care of them.

I mentioned in #5 that the youngest and oldest generations in China share the same independence trait. The reason for that is simple, when mom and dad are at work – who do you think raises you? Grandma and grandpa.

So let’s get something straight – I am in no way stating that China is perfect. It’s not. There are still countless customs I miss from America, like not cutting in line or not hawking up your saliva onto the street. I mean, is it really so hard to not snot-rocket in front of a lady? (Yes, I’m a lady.) But just like I have taken these six little things from China and hope to implement them into my American travels, perhaps the Chinese will do the same.

So which of these differences do you agree/disagree with? Anything I missed? Comment below!

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