Five things I’ve learnt on exchange

Living independently for the first time has definitely brought with it a steep learning curve, not to mention the development of lots of new skills that I previously never realised were necessary for everyday life. Here’s a quick list of what I’ve learnt so far:

1. Electricity is a precious, precious commodity

Here at the International College, we’re given 60kWh per month. I still have absolutely no idea how that actually translates into electricity usage, but it makes me think about what I’m using. I unplug everything before I leave the room, and I’m super careful about turning my lights out (Dad, aka electricity miser, would be proud). I even have a little post-it note next to my door reminding me to turn off the powerpoint!

2. Ditto with wifi

Seriously Aussie people, DO NOT TAKE YOUR WIFI FOR GRANTED. Here in China it still seems to be a relatively new phenomenon, despite the fact that Hangzhou was apparently one of the first cities in the world to have 4G internet (fun facts from Dad). We have wifi in the dorms but it is so bad – our VPNs don’t work on the Zheda wifi (for the uninitiated, THAT MEANS NO FACEBOOK ACCESS!). Some of us have managed to buy ChinaNet which is this massive, China-wide wifi network, but you have to be prepared to negotiate Taobao (the Chinese equivalent of Amazon, definitely not designed for foreigners to use) and also have a Chinese bank account (shoutout to Annie for buying me ChinaNet this month).


So far I’ve locked myself out once. Now, in Australia it’s not such a problem – just chill outside if no-one is home and pray that someone arrives home quickly. In China, not so easy. You have to go to reception, try and mime a lost key to the ladies, and then wait on the Seat of Shame (Cynthia and I christened the name last week, apparently it’s caught on throughout the whole college), next to the desk for the security guard to meander over and let you in to your room. Meanwhile, the spare key to your room is sitting on the reception desk the whole time. Cynthia waited 40 minutes last week, and as a supportive friend I sat with her the entire time. We also have an excellent selfie with Kay waiting on the Seat of Shame last Tuesday. Needless to say, we are all being very careful about having our keys on us now.

Lost key count: 

Kay – 2 (Kay asked me to add here that the second time she realised as her door shut behind her. Also that the third time she got locked out, it was actually her door that was broken.)

Cynthia – 2

Mic – 1

Celine – 1

4. Coffee really is an optional extra

Coffee here is super expensive (I guess it’s also relatively expensive in Sydney, but here it’s like $7 for a pretty shocking cappuccino). When it’s the choice between paying 30RMB for coffee or buying breakfast for 15 days (yes, breakfast here is 2RMB)…well, I’ll let you guess what wins.

5. It is possible to cook an entire meal in one pot

In Australia we’re really lucky that we can get the range of food that we can. We totally take for granted that we can get Thai, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Italian….you name it, we probably sell it somewhere. In China, they sell one thing: Chinese food. Oh and some limited Korean options. And more to the point, it’s still very province-specific. In Hangzhou for example, we can’t get Shanghai dumplings (10/10, would recommend if you ever visit Shanghai). So we’ve become very creative with the ways that we can cook our limited selection of food. One pot soups and fried rice are very popular amongst our little expat Australian group. I think that next I’m going to master some of the uses of beef in a pot. Handy hint – don’t eat food in your room, it takes at least a day to air out, and when it’s cold it’s not a fun process. 

So that’s a quick outline of some things I’ve learnt so far. I’m sure there’s many more learning moments to come. Also if you ever come to China and don’t speak fluent Mandarin, I strongly recommend you brush up on your pointing and mime skills. They really come in handy.

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