Tea and Karaoke: 5 Different Ways to Socialize in China

by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

In many Western countries, people socialize at cafés, bars, or parties. Cafés and bars are easy to find in most Chinese cities, but there are other popular ways of meeting up with friends. Here are five different ways of socializing while studying in China:

China shopping area

Shopping stores

5. Shopping

In China’s cities, shopping is popular with young adults (often women). Shopping centers spring up on every corner, and you’ll find something for every budget – from cheap clothing vendors where you can haggle for the best bargains to department stores that feature international luxury brands. Female friends like to shop together, and many a Chinese woman likes to take her date out shopping (often, Chinese women will expect their date to pay). Although online shopping is booming in China, meeting up for real-world shopping is still well liked by many Chinese.

4. Playing Pool

Playing pool is a favorite pastime of many Chinese. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who can’t play pool at all. You commonly find pool tables at bars or pool halls, but you can also find them outdoors – in the backyard of a house or at a small square. Many Chinese play pool for pleasure, but in the eyes of many, playing for money is double fun. In China, playing pool is still a male domain, so if you’re a female pool player, be ready to kick some butt.

3. Drinking Tea

Drinking tea has a long tradition in China and good tea is easy to find. Teahouses offer a variety of teas – popular choices include green tea, Oolong tea, Pu’er tea, white tea, black tea, and flower teas. Most people order snacks with tea. Sunflower seeds, peanuts, and dried fruits are only a few that come to mind.

In traditional teahouses, you can watch the waiters perform a tea ceremony for you. In China, there’s so much more to preparing tea than just putting a bag into hot water. Not only is a tea ceremony great to watch, tea prepared with a few different steps and a Chinese tea set tastes different (and much better) than tea that is conventionally prepared.

In many places, drinking tea is synonymous with playing Mahjong. You might know Mahjong from your PC, but real Mahjong is more like a combination of Poker and Rummy. It’s fun to play and if you get the chance to learn it, people will be amazed at how “local” you are. Chinese like to play for money, so take some cash with you.

Tea cups

Tea cups

2. Singing Karaoke

Singing Karaoke is one of the most popular weekend activities of the younger generations. Young Chinese love going to K-Bars. Despite its name, a K-Bar doesn’t really look like a bar. Rather, it’s a big building with rooms of various sizes. People rent a room for a few hours, sit on a sofa, drink beer or other liquids, and sing to the songs they choose from a Karaoke machine.

Chinese love singing Karaoke not just because of the entertainment factor, but because it works as a stress reliever from work. For students studying in China, going to a K-Bar with friends is not only a great way to socialize, but also offers a good chance to get acquainted with Chinese music and language.

Besides going to a K-Bar with friends, in Chinese companies, it’s also common to go there with colleagues or your boss (Hint for those thinking about Interning in China). Some of these outings might be simple invitations to enjoy some beer and sing a few songs. Others not. Some K-Bars offer hostess services, and inviting high-ranking male employees or business partners to one of these bars is not unheard of.

1. Meeting for Lunch or Dinner

Chinese love food. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that Chinese cuisine is one of the most diverse cuisines out there. Stretching over an area of more than 9 million km² and with climate zones ranging from subarctic to subtropical, there’s almost no grain, vegetable, or fruit that doesn’t grow in China. This, and the fact that the Chinese have refined the art of cooking, makes China a food lover’s heaven.

In restaurants, food is usually put on the rotating central part of the table (aka. Lazy Susan) and enjoyed as a group. It’s polite to order at least one more dish than people.

Crayfish

Crayfish

If you're studying abroad in China, don’t miss out on the chance to enjoy a home cooked meal at a family’s table. You won’t regret accepting the invitations of friends to eat at their home. One thing to keep in mind is that often, plates are not completely cleared. Clearing the plate means that the food is not enough. If all dishes are finished, your host might run into the kitchen searching for more food to serve. No matter where in the world you are, there’s nothing that beats a home cooked meal – especially if you’re far away from home.

From formal business dinners to relaxed chats with friends to a romantic date with your beloved one, meeting for lunch or dinner is the number one way of socializing in China.