So one question my friends and I keep asking ourselves, and each other, when going to pay for anything is “how much is this in pounds?” The constant mental calculation from yuan to pounds to figure out how much we’re actually spending is slowly becoming easier, but for those of you who don’t know, and are ready to go for a shopping spree in China, here’s a little guide!
So to start off: the current exchange rate is £1 to 8.62Y, so say you exchange £200 to yuan, you’ll get 1734.99Y, which sounds like a lot, and it kinda is.
A bottle of water here is usually about 2Y or 0.23 pence, which is quite cheap. However, considering you have to use bottled water to brush your teeth, drink, and boil because you can’t drink the tap water here (if you’re a westerner that is) because it’ll mess with your stomach big time, your immune system just can’t handle it, you can understand why it’s so cheap! Food is generally quite cheap, too. In the international restaurant on campus aptly named Hope, you can get a pasta dish, a side of chips, a dessert, and two drinks for about £10 which means getting a taste of home won’t break the bank. Even better than Hope is Pyro, just past the U-Centre which does pizza, pasta and sweet potato fries. It’s AMAZING. The uni canteen is the cheapest option though, but you have to be prepared to face a myriad unnameable dishes… Learning how to say “这个有没有肉？” which means “does this have meat in it?” or, for me being pollo-pescetarian, “这个是红肉吗？” “Is this red meat?” is very useful. Meals in the canteen range from about 12Y to 38Y depending how much you pile up your plate. We tend to spend more time on the 3rd of the 5 floors there. It has a couple of awesome drink and snack stalls and fairly good choices for meals, some sections have English dish names next to the Chinese, which is very useful when first getting used to it all. You can also get a tray with rice and point at what dishes you want and once you’ve got a few different things, you can pay with your student card. So for about £4 you can get a very decent pile of food that you likely will be unable to finish. However, £1.30 can get you a large plate of rice with chicken and veg, which is pretty appetising. Just remember to look at what you’re eating before you put it in your mouth, I hate to bring up the caterpillar thing again, but just trust me that it’s for the best.
For breakfast though, I’ve started just buying bread and jam, and having that in the mornings. It’s a little bit more like home, I mean not quite as they don’t have butter here (which not to sound dramatic, does upset my very soul), but it’s pretty quick and easy during my morning routine. Also on a side note, the dates they put on food products here (unless imported, I think…) are all when they are manufactured on made, not best before. So if you pick something up and it looks a few days out of date, don’t worry, that’s just when it was made.
The nearby shopping center has a ton of cool shops to look at and peruse. MiniSo (a Japanese chain store) has been a favourite so far. They sell everything from plushies, cute socks and neck pillows, to drinks, Star Sign perfumes, speakers and headphones. I Recently bought a super cute blanket for 15Y and many pairs of adorable socks for 10Y per pack of two. The cheapness of these products has meant buying gifts to send back home has been quite affordable. However, I am more concerned about the price of actually posting this stuff. A small letter is 6Y to send, so about 70p, but bigger parcels cost about £40 per box depending on how heavy it is and how you send it.
Clothes and toiletries are a bit more expensive comparatively, however if you know places where you can haggle it isn’t so bad. It’s about £15 for a shirt in the chain shops, if you can find one in your size that is. Anyone above a size 12 will find it a little more difficult to find clothes here. Their XL is about a size 16, and only certain shops go up to that size. UniQLO, another Japanese shop, does sizes up to XXL and I’ve managed to get two tops there which in total cost me about 250Y. I also found a shop called Hot Wind (not exactly sure why it’s called that, but it does have the cutest slippers) where a bought a dress for about £15 too. They did XL sizes too, but they seemed hard to find. So if you can find shops that have a good size for you it’s not so bad, but generally your size here will be one bigger than what you are back home. Toiletries like liquid soap, moisturisers and feminine products are all a little more expensive than I expected. For a floral scented liquid soap it’s about £4.50, but there are cheaper options for most things if you are on a budget. Just make sure you double check the labels.
Wifi with the uni is £12 a month and you can only use it on one device at a time, however if you go to the tech shop by the on campus supermarket you can get a personal router for around £80-120 for a semester for one person, depending which accommodation on campus you live in, which can be used on multiple devices. So if you do come here I’d advise to maybe skip on the uni wifi (unless you want to get wifi when you are up and around campus, too) and get your own router, it’s a bit faster and generally less of a hassle.
Overall, living in China is pretty cheap if you know where to go and what to look for. Food is so cheap that if you do your best to save in that department, eat at the canteen most days of the week, you can splash out a little on other things now and then. Trinkets and stuff are pretty fairly priced, and lets face it, and you can’t get them anywhere else. To be honest the most expensive part is paying for all the stuff you need to get to start you off: health insurance, student book, visa, accommodation, health check… and so on. Once you’ve settled in though, it’s not really so bad. It takes about a month before everything starts to feel a bit more normal, but if you’re patient it’ll work out just fine. I would advise making a budget though, and work out how much money you’re putting on your student card for meals (and you can use it in the supermarket, and most other shops on campus) and how often you use it. I say this because I forgot to top up my card one day and was very lucky to have brought cash with me to dinner just in case. Just don’t lose your student card. It is only £2 to replace, but it’s still rather frustrating if you do as you have to go to the one-stop centre with your ID to get a new one made. In any case, when you go to take cash out, which you should do in bulk as you get charged for using your card internationally, you will have many more notes than you are used to, and feel much richer than you are, so don’t let it go to your head! It goes quicker than you think if you don’t budget and keep track of it!