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The most surprising things about Australia, according to a Chinese international student

Wayne Wang came from Dalian in northeast China to Melbourne six years ago for an undergraduate communications degree at Monash University.

Wang spent a year working at Officeworks and Myer, and now lives in Sydney, where he is studying towards a masters degree in translating and interpreting at Macquarie University.

Here’s what has surprised him most about Australia during his time here.

People are more relaxed, love the sun, and make really weird wardrobe decisions

  • There’s far less of a class system in Australia. If you’re rich in China, you wouldn’t talk to people working in Officeworks. There’s discrimination against poor people.
  • People like to be outdoors and get tanned. Dalian is a coastal city and you might go to the beach for a barbecue or something but every single lady would carry an anti-UV umbrella in summer. If you look white in China, you tend to be rich because you don’t have to do manual work.
  • I used to address everyone as “sir” when I first got to Australia. People used to think that was really weird – Australians just call everyone mate, and they’re really friendly and helpful. People don’t talk to you in the street in China, especially in big cities. When I was lost in Hong Kong with my friend, people would just push past saying ‘if you don’t want to walk, get out of the way’.
  • People wear thick jackets in summer and shorts in winter. It’s really confusing. Are you hot, or are you cold? Make up your mind!
  • People lick and suck on their fingers after eating. Why don’t they just wash their hands? In China, we use chopsticks!

Australian employers value creativity and people are louder about their achievements

  • In China, people try to be “humble”. So while you might say in an Australian job interview “look, I’ve been the president of blah blah blah”, in China, you would say “I was very lucky, I had an opportunity to work for ACYA, helping Chinese students make friends with local people”. You need to be careful; even if you had a lot of knowledge and experience, you’d hold it back a bit.
  • The Australian work culture is far more relaxed. You have to do your job, but people also celebrate birthdays with cakes and drinks. In China, there are many more managers and they want everything to be perfect. Chinese companies want people to obey their superiors rather than be too creative and out of control.

Low-end jobs pay really well but things like vegetables are also really expensive

  • I was paid AUD$21 an hour at Officeworks. When I worked part-time in a cafe in China, I earned 4 RMB an hour – it was probably the equivalent of AUD$0.60-0.70. That was more than six years ago so it may have changed now.
  • Alcohol and taxis are really expensive here, so it’s more fun to go out in China. In China, AUD$5 in taxi fares can take you to a lot of places, and beer is much cheaper: it’s 10-20 RMB, compared to AUD$10 here.
  • People eat a lot of meat and there are fewer fruit and vegetable choices in Australian supermarkets. Meat can be almost as cheap as some vegetables unless you’re buying expensive meat. In China, and many Asian countries I think, you don’t really worry about dieting and being fat because meals are more balanced in general. China is huge and agricultural so there is much more variety in the vegetables you see in supermarkets.

Shops close too early, drugs are sold on the street

  • When I was in Melbourne, I saw – a few times – people exchanging money and drugs on the street. That was a big shock to me; in my city, I didn’t see any drug dealing. Drugs in our minds are really bad, and illegal so Chinese people don’t do it.
  • There’s not much to do at night. The shopping centres close at 6pm. It’s terrible. In China, shops are open until 9, 10, 11pm, and there are also night markets – people usually have dinner then go out to the shops. When I first got here, I didn’t know what to do after dinner. No one goes to the nightclubs until it’s really late.

The amount people talk about politics

  • Elections. We don’t really have elections in China; we don’t vote and we have to pray for the president to be a good guy, smart, intelligent, visionary, so we don’t suffer. My first Australian election was strange, everything was new to me: the way politicians speak; commitments; the number of parties running. People talk about it every day. In China we don’t really talk too much about politics because first of all, it’s very sensitive and secondly it’s beyond our control.

There’s discrimination and street fighting

  • When I first came to Sydney I was just walking across the street on George Street and two groups of people probably meeting each other for the first time just started fighting in the middle of the road. People do fight in China, but not like this, it’s so frequent and random.
  • The Chinese culture is more inclusive. Apparently there are a lot of gay people in China, according to research papers, but most people don’t mind except maybe people in the older generation. When I was in Melbourne, I read that someone got killed because he was gay. We don’t have that in China. In Australia, you’d have some people being so nice, and friendly, and other people saying “I hate this, I hate that”. Chinese people seek the middle way – there aren’t so many people on the extremes.

*This article was originally published in September 2013. Read the original here.

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