Culture,  Life

A Fly on the Wall of Daily Chinese Life

Have you ever wondered what daily Chinese life is like? Do they drink coffee? Is cafe culture even big in China? In the West, unless we live in a big city, our mornings are rather private, we get ready at home and drive ourselves to work; our streets remain relatively quiet compared to China. Read below to get a real feel for what a typical day in China feels like.

Daily Chinese Life; As the Sun Rises

Life in China begins early. People are up and going about their business by 6am. Old ladies start shuffling around picking up plastic and cardboard to sell. Food stalls start setting up for breakfast; the smell of steamed buns and deep-fried bread sticks wafts down the street. Live fish splash in their plastic buckets on the street outside small shops. 

China morning street view
China morning street view

By 7 or 8 the streets are heaving with people on their way to work. The tentative rumblings of drilling begins, later turning into full-on construction sites. School and university classes start at 8am, so parents with their children zip past on e-bikes, busses fly by packed to the doors with people on their way to work.

Beneath the ground metros equally full of commuters regularly flow from station to station. Delivery men dangerously weave through pedestrians and taxis with engaged lights speed past. People on the side of the streets book private cars on their phones. At the railway stations, people frantically (attempt to) queue up to get a seat, while fast trains shoot between cities.

Train Station Queues
Train Station Queues

The streets remain busy throughout the entire day with older people making their way back and forth from parks where they play cards and mahjong and practice tai chi. Men sit under parasols on the sides of the road fixing broken bikes; the lady selling eggs squats in front of her basket.

Old ladies looking after their grandbabies meet to get the kids home after school for the day. Old men carry their songbird in its cage to the park where they hang it in the park for fresh air. The familiar tune of the water truck jingles away as it comes to spray the roads, people scatter to avoid getting wet.

Street Water Spray Truck
Street Water Spray Truck That Sprays Water Twice a Day

Daily Chinese Life; Time for a Break

At midday the whole of China breaks for lunch. Restaurants and street stalls full to overflowing with hungry people. Smacking and slurping noises fill the air with people inhaling their noodles. The smell of chilli, spices and pickled vegetables wafts in the air.

Police stations, banks, universities and offices all close, some for 3 hours! Western fast-food chains and cafes are now used as public seating areas, while mobile phone charging hubs are surrounded with people watching Korean soap operas or movies.

Inside the offices lunch is over and heads are resting on desks while staff catch up on sleep. Supermarket staff drag boxes with string to stock shelves – blocking the aisles. Migrant workers wearing beat-up camouflage plimsoles and yellow hats smoke cigarettes and buy small bottles of baijiu to drink with their lunch.

Street Stall Vendor Selling Chinese Snack Such as Steamed Bun
Street Stall Vendor Selling Chinese Snack Such as Steamed Bun
Old Men Play Mahjong on the Street
Old Men Play Mahjong on the Street

As the taxi lights begin to advertise available cars, the older population has free rein over public transport, heaving their large shopping bags on and off busses and metros. Crowds start gathering outside nursery schools, grandmothers and grandfathers wearing Mao-style blue hats puff on cigarettes and natter in loud confident voices. Quiet young parents stare at their phones whilst waiting on their scooters and Ebikes.

Entrepreneurs begin to set up makeshift stalls that promote extracurricular training schools, or sell balloons and toys that tempt the children soon to be pass by. As the excited children pile out looking for their family, old street cleaners wearing their neon orange uniforms grumble under their breath while sweeping with their makeshift twig brooms, they pick up flyers scattered over the floor, dropped by uninterested parents.

Workers Pile High Bikes on the Back of a Truck
Workers Pile High Bikes on the Back of a Truck

Roads and public transport gradually fills up again as children are shipped off to their extra classes. They shuffle and simultaneously push through the bus to make more space for those getting on, whilst the fed-up bus driver with a red face irritatedly barks to “move down!”.

Ebikes and scooters line up three deep at the lights or swerve around people walking in cycle lanes. In the tunnels below frustrated commuters are forced to wait for the next train, after failing to push themselves on to the metro. Walking people change lanes, navigate escalators and crowds; headphones in, all without taking their eyes off their phones, totally engrossed in whatever they’re watching. 

Afternoon Snack; Fried Tofu
Afternoon Snack; Fried Tofu

Daily Chinese Life; Winding Down

As the evening falls young couples with matching t-shirts walk around the streets hand in hand drinking bubble tea. Queues outside shops selling duck necks and snacks start to tail down the streets; restaurants spring into action. Still early, at 5pm, the restaurants begin to fill-up once more, cigarette smoke mixes with the steam rising from freshly served dishes as children run up and down restaurants screaming.

Bored waitresses stare into space, pens poised to take the order as other waitresses hustle past to clean tables, fold the tablecloth over plates and bowls and carrying it all away. More people pile in Baijiu boxes in hand on route to their private rooms. The smell of baijiu puke and thick smoke from the men’s toilets clings to the lining of your nose. Music pulses in public squares and communal areas as aunties dance in a line and children ride their tricycles.

As the families happily exit the bright neon-lit restaurants and file on to the streets, night stalls set up for a shift of serving up their delicacies. High school students finally finish their day, they go home to finish their homework. The streets remain busy until the early hours until only the yowling of horny neighbourhood cats can be heard. 

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