Friend: “One of my relatives owns a steel factory in Zhoushan. He earns so much money, he sells that stuff to companies abroad, but for his staff, it’s dangerous work. Sometimes one of his employees dies, they just give the family 200万 RMB and let them shut up. If they take the money, they cannot sue or anything. I remember one year, four employees died. He really knows how to do business though, started from nothing. His first factory was in Nantong, the government wanted him to move and gave him 800万, then the second factory he had the same, that time he got 2000万. His wife gave me my first computer, a laptop. But the next day she wanted it back because her husband needed it.”

Friend: “Never drink berry juice. It’s just no good.”
Me: “Ah, why?!”
Friend: “Last time I drank it, I lost my camera.”

A guy with his girlfriend walking outside:
He: “I’m one meter eighty tall!”
She: “No!! You’re one meter seventy-nine!”

~10-year-old Chinese girl: “My skateboard is so sexy”

(The sentence is spoken in Chinese, but the last word in English)

Me: “Do you know what sexy means?”
Her: “It means ‘cool’.”
Me: “Hmm, maybe go ask your mom.”

Being lectured by a Chinese kid. I told him my friend is getting a baby with her boyfriend: “Boyfriend?! That’s not possible!!! If you’re not married it’s not possible to have a baby!”

Another friend (writing on WeChat): “OMG yesterday I worked the whole day, after work I come home and look in the mirror, and I realize I’m still wearing my sleeping mask on my neck.”

Friend went to a dating event in Suzhou: “So I liked one guy and we added each other on WeChat. The first thing he wrote was ‘Do you have any nice female friends to recommend?’”

Seeing two former colleagues again for the first time in four months, two besties from Anhui: One of them: “You look good, healthy!” Second (half chewing noodles): “She means you look a bit fatter.” One: “Hm! Just a little bit!”

We’re talking about learning Mandarin among foreigners:
Friend A: “So… what is happiness?
Friend B (thinking very hard): “I think it is, … hmm, ….well…., how to say…”
Friend A: “Not philosophically! I mean what’s the Chinese word for it?”

Friend: “When my brother was born, there was still the rule that each family could only have one child. So my parents were fined 10.000 RMB, which was a lot of money in the early 90s! So in our village, even today, my brother’s nickname is 一万元 (“Ten thousand yuan”).

A Chinese kid telling me about her turtle:
“His Chinese and English names aren’t really the same. His English name is ‘Chanel’.”
“And his Chinese name?”
“王八蛋 (Bastard)!”
“Who thought of those names?”

Friend: “Long time ago I had a friend with a lot of beer that was about to expire, like a truck full, and another friend who worked in a KTV — so I helped sell the bottles. Like 0.5 RMB per bottle. Yeah, it had two months left on the label, but who’s going to see that in a KTV with a pretty girl opening the bottles for you. I bought my first car with that money and both my parents an iPhone.”

Friend: “I used to work at a store called JeansWest (真维斯) in Nanjing. I didn’t get any hourly pay, just a percentage of the clothes sold. So customers would ask: “Does this look good?”, I’d always reply “Yeah amazing!” But I always felt the clothes we sold were ugly.

Another friend: “When I was seven, my dad cheated on my mom and they divorced. If you see my childhood pictures, before the divorce I was super happy in every picture, after the divorce I look miserable, always. ”

Friend’s husband failed to get his driving license in Suzhou, so he went back to his hometown and gave the examinator 5000 RMB and a pack of cigarettes to pass, but he still cannot drive: “You know, the poorer a place you go, the easier it is to bribe people. An examinator in Shanghai or Suzhou wouldn’t dare take that money, afraid of being caught. But now he still cannot drive, he damaged both doors, I don’t even make enough money to repair that stuff.” She’s laughing but then becomes serious: “Every time he goes out driving, I do worry.”

During the summer holiday, a kid from a rich family in Shanghai has a private teacher and really likes her: “Dad, can she stay for dinner?”, “Dad, can she live here?”, “Dad, can I go to her place?” Each time after class, he grabs her hand and doesn’t want her to go.

Initially, all this seems cute, but then his grandmother tells her the kid’s dad often slaps him, afterward going downstairs to the pharmacy to get cream to ease the bruises: “I always tell him, don’t hit your child. His father also hit him, and now it passes on to the next generation. It is no good.”

The summer holiday is now almost over, and I feel so sorry for that little boy doing homework among the skyscrapers of Lujiazui.

Random guy in a busy area in Suzhou:
“Hey I can show you a parking lot, look, here.”

Me leaning out of the car window:
“But this says max 20 minutes, it’s not even your parking lot is it, this belongs to a bank.”

“Oh you just park, give me 10 RMB.”

Friend: “I had a boyfriend for three years…”
Another friend: “So handsome!”
Friend: “… but his parents didn’t want to help us buy a house so we didn’t marry. A few years later my dad got news from the doctor that he only had half a year to live, so I dated another guy, and we quickly married before my dad would pass away. He’s not ehm, so handsome.”

Other friend gives a slow nod in approval.

Friend: “We’re not really, well, it’s alright. Now that’s three years ago, my dad is still alive, thanks to very expensive medicine.”

Me: “Do you have regrets?”
Her: “No, so be it (就这样吧).”

Colleague: “(During the holiday) I went to my husband’s hometown in Sichuan, we couldn’t buy a train ticket so we drove 26 hours. On the way back we got a train ticket, just 5 hours back.”

Overhearing a teen to her mom: “You used to scold me, said I have a pig brain!”
Mom, trying to sound remorseful: “Yeah but not anymore right?”
Teen: “Only because now in sixth grade you no longer understand my math homework yourself!”

I married my first boyfriend. I kinda regret it, I only have one guy in my life. He works in Zhangjiagang (张家港), he comes home maybe one day a week. He never participates in any decisions for our daughter, like for example, where she should go to school. I have to decide that all on my own. He has never given me any gift. I told him that. Then last week he suddenly gave me an iPhone 15.

Went to the waterpark in Suzhou, for some rides you’ve to hit a certain height or weight. Overheard a ~10-year-old girl say to her mom: “45kg! So there’s a benefit to being fat!”

“My husband’s father [who’s living with us] his dementia is getting worse… he ate all the candy from my son, even ate all the white cooking sugar in the kitchen. I said you’ll get diabetes this way, he looked straight at me and said ‘No I’ll be fine’.”

Old lady: “I wish I had a daughter. My son, after he married, he never came home for dinner even once. Look at the hospital, who’s accompanying old people? It’s only daughters. Son’s don’t do anything.”

Friend: “When I was seven, my dad cheated on my mom and they divorced. If you see my childhood pictures, before the divorce I was super happy in every picture, after the divorce I look miserable, always. I live with my mom, she bought a tiny house with the money my dad gave her. Actually, the value of that house has increased a lot.

I only make a tiny bit of salary (like 4000 RMB) and give half to my mom. She and my dad’s new wife even go out sometimes.
My dad gives me money sometimes, like 5000 RMB on my birthday. I first bought some tennis classes but then gave up after going two or three times, then actually… I signed up for yoga, but also quit. The last bit I spent going to KTV alone, and I bought a cake.

My mom always says I should get a boyfriend, but she also says I should go home early, like 21:30! But a lot of events don’t even start at that time. One time I was really late, and she didn’t open the door, only after yelling for like half an hour.”

Friend: “When he returns to his hometown, my dad drinks way too much. And then his neighbors drag him to play cards, where he loses money. But he is always fine with that; ‘Aaah it’s just a few RMB, let them be happy’, he will laugh it away.

Friend: “I really wanted to get married on the tenth of October (十全十美) but there were no slots available at the Marriage Registration Office, and their staff was so grumpy to me on the phone. I then asked a connection of me to help, she works in the Suzhou government. Ten minutes later I got a friendly call back from the staff: “Dear miss, how can I help? We got an open slot for you, also let me help you preview your documents.”

International school headmaster: “Not so many foreign teachers now, even after covid. Very hard to get them cuz the requirements are higher, e.g. need to be a native English speaker. Also, they cannot have black skin. It’s not racist, it’s just the parents won’t like it, they will worry their children will be scared.”

80s-friend: “My mom never let me buy any games, I wanted Tetris (俄罗斯方块) so badly, my classmate had it. I asked her to borrow it to me for two days, and I put it beneath my pillow at night, I also let my sister play with it.”

“With two other colleagues, we buy flowers in turn. So this time it was my turn! I bought us all three a white bouquet. My husband hated them (white flowers usually signal somebody died), but I don’t care. I like white flowers, so what.”

Friend: “We had a new colleague come to our school, she was so pretty! But after a few days, she had the school uniform and she looked just as ugly as us.”

“When I was young and guys said sweet things like ‘ooooh I love you’, I believed that even they just want to use you. But when you never heard such a thing from your parent, you want to believe it.”

“My mom can retire but she works a bit more, to save money for my wedding and baby. Although I don’t even have a boyfriend yet.”

“I did my bachelor and then they said you need to do master, earn more money. But then I finished my master’s degree and now so many people also have their master’s.”

“I hope I get this job at this school. My salary will be lower but my ‘black salary’ will be higher. These parents of the kids have so much money.”

“I was almost not there. There was the one-child policy and my parents already had my sister. And when my mom’s belly was visually showing pregnancy, birth-planning workers came to her work and our house. Every day. Every day they told my mother to have the baby removed, or pay a huge fine. In the end, my parents gave in and went to the hospital for an abortion. In the waiting room, they spoke to a guy about it, who asked them how much money they had or what they owned. “Not much”, my dad said, to which the guy laughed: “Then what do you worry about? Just pay the fine with whatever you have and then have that baby.” My parents went home and decided on that. They paid a fine of 1200 RMB, which was a lot of money at the time. All their savings. The birth-planning workers also took away furniture from my parent’s home, and my mother couldn’t work as an accountant anymore, so later she followed my dad who worked in construction sites in the country. But they had me. Later, they tried to find the guy who convinced them to keep me, but they couldn’t find him.”

Primary school student: “During 心理学课 (sort of psychology class) there was a free moment where everyone could mention their inner-heart thoughts. “You can say anything you want” said the teacher, and then I said I don’t like it when the teacher doesn’t finish the class in time for lunch break, and had to report to the headmaster for that.”

Overheard someone tell this with absolute flair:
“OMG you wipe the table every day? You’re so worried about germs? (洁癖!) I don’t even clean that rigorously at home, I don’t own the house anyway, my kitchen shelves probably have a few kilos of dust on them.” (几斤灰尘)

Eva: “娃哈哈 (a classic sweet milk drink) reminds me of my childhood, we didn’t have a supermarket then, it was very expensive! We bought candies from each pot, just one! So the owner had to weigh each candy individually. But I think he allowed it because we were kids. “

Friend: “We went to a temple outside Shanghai. A monk gave us some incense sticks to burn, and later asked me to make a donation. I had no idea how much I should give, so I said 100 RMB? He asked me to double it, so I gave him 200 RMB. Then he took my friend aside: “Let me say a few words to him alone”. When we left the temple, he said he wanted to give 500 RMB, but the monk had asked him to double it, so he had given 1000 RMB! So we paid 1200 RMB for some incense sticks. We’ve been scammed. Is it a scam? We had no idea how much to give.”

Friend: “My friend works in a prison. Inmates usually need their families to pay for their meals, like a monthly payment of like 500 to 800 RMB. Some bad prison staff will charge families a bit extra and keep 100 RMB for themselves. What if families don’t pay? They just contact the families and say they must pay. Whatever you do, don’t go to prison here.”