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Five Frabjous Activities to Try as a Foreigner in China

Now that China holds the preeminent title as the world’s largest economy [according to the official recent announcement by the IMF], it is likely to become an increasingly popular destination for not only tourists, but also expatriates seeking economic opportunity in the rapidly growing country. Therefore, this listicle is meant to highlight five fascinating activities for tourists and expats alike to take part in during their time in the world’s most populous nation.

Even though this article is categorized as “you & and the city,” it really belongs in the broader context of “you & the country” since most of these activities can be experienced countrywide. An unabridged version of this listicle was published in 2012 on the Beijing Tourism website. Write to me with queries, suggestions or recollections in the comments below the article!

1. Take the HSK exam!

Any foreigner highly [or partially for that matter] interested in studying the Chinese language ought to consider registering for this Chinese proficiency exam so he or she can measure their linguistic ability, particularly before leaving China. No doubt, though, this exam is for serious language junkies. I took the exam a few weeks prior to leaving China. I took the middle level speaking test and the elementary (with honors) level 2 reading/listening. I am very confident that I passed the reading/listening test but not so sure about the speaking since it required more vocabulary and grammar that I haven’t yet acquired.

You have no real way of knowing your Mandarin Chinese knowledge unless you tackle this exam, which is offered all throughout the year and can even be taken online.

2. Try Chinese calligraphy!

I knew I had to try Chinese calligraphy when I moved to Beijing a year ago. The authentic China experience is not complete without it. It not only teaches you about the refined art of ancient Chinese intellectuals, but the practice is said to enhance one’s Chinese writing skills. My former roommate introduced me to this traditional art when he bought a reusable calligraphy set and taught me how to hold the brush correctly.

Then he demonstrated how to write the radicals that make up the countless characters we know as the Chinese writing script. I attended a calligraphy workshop at a school named: That’s Mandarin Chinese School, where I had plenty of time to practice my Chinese “Hanzi” on numerous sheets of paper that I kept as a memento of the interesting experience. You should check them out if you have time before or after you arrive in Beijing.

3. Dumpling Construction & Consumption!

Dumplings are a culinary symbol of Chinese culture. Northerners really enjoy making and eating these specialties, especially during festive occasions. The most popular kind is the prawn and beef, which can be dipped in vinegar for more appealing taste. Nothing says welcome to China like a meal of homemade dumplings, which I had the privilege of having at a special friend’s home. In fact, someone conducted a workshop on dumpling making at my company’s spring teacher’s conference during my teaching tenure there. It attracted a crowd of hungry teachers ready for lunch and the dumplings were devoured in a Beijing minute. Frozen dumplings are easily accessible in local supermarkets for people who want to relish them without the extra prep time.

4. Conquer the Great Wall!

According to a famous Chinese proverb, a man that has not climbed the Great Wall is not a real man. A sublime feat of human ability, this massive structure that spans half the width of Northern China is a must-see for locals and foreigners alike. The Great Wall is divided into various sections, each bearing its own name. BADALING tends to draw the most tourists annually, but other parts of the monument await the exploration of camping and/or appreciating the splendiferous scenery circumventing the World Heritage site, spanning nearly half of northern China and ending right at the coastline. Summertime attracts massive crowds, subtracting from the awe-inspiring experience of Great Wall glory. Wintertime is brutally cold. Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit. Check out the Beijing Hikers website for frequent trips to the Great Wall or the Beijinger website for daily event listings.

5. Volunteer!

Oftentimes, foreigners don’t realize that they can give back even though they are living in or visiting a different country. Traveling affords a prime opportunity for community service engagement, whatever strikes your passion or cause. During my first six months in China, I capitalized on the chance to travel to Henan Province in central China to provide free English classes to underprivileged students living in the countryside.

This rewarding trip gave me insight into rural Chinese life and I had the greatest time interacting with youngsters who lack so much yet still smile. For more information about how to partake in this particular project, visit Obviously, this is only one organization that offers rewarding volunteerism options. Tons more exist… all it takes is a desire to pay it forward and you’ll be well on your way to making a difference. No matter what route you take, it’ll be an experience to remember!

Happy Chinese New Year/Spring Festival! (party)



Profile photo of Charles McKinney

Travel is not just what I do but it is who I am. When I first traveled abroad in high school as a foreign exchange student, little did I know that it would serve as the threshold of a lifetime interest in globetrotting. Now nearly 10 years later, I have lived in four countries and plan to do much more traveling in years to come. The world of teaching English has given me incredible opportunity to engage in cultural anthropology and I certainly can't get enough of the language learning process as a polyglot in the making.My personal website is currently under construction but I also maintain a micro-blog on facebook that enables me to share my insights and experiences with my ever-growing following. All in all, I am most proud to be known as a global citizen, a reference I accept with humility and honor. Blogging is rad! Many thanks (muchas gracias, feichang ganxie, grazie un millon, fala menogu) to KFTW for allowing me this platform to connect with the world and vice versa. St. Augustine said it best: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page."

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