Join now


It can take quite some while for expat newcomers to get acclimatized to their new host town of Guangzhou. Our local contributor offers valuable tips to help you make heads and tails of life in this southern Chinese megalopolis.


The mosquitoes in Guangzhou are an unavoidable and highly uncomfortable part of the settling in process. They seem immune to all foreign prevention measures and they hone onto new, Western flesh with relish. They are also tiny and you don’t feel them bite, though the throbbing, itching, mountainous mounds they leave behind mean you’ll never forget they were there. They are also keenest on the most traditionally unreachable parts of your body. In the first month, I had bites on my feet despite the shields of socks and shoes and so low down on my back I wonder how the attacker ever got out again.

The sheer number of bites must also be part of the culture shock. You will feel targeted to the point of molestation. The worst time is obviously the sweltering, humid summer months and especially at night. The basic error many people make is sitting outside the many Western style restaurants in shorts and t-shirts, enjoying the relatively cooler air and some home comforts. This is the mosquitoes’ main feasting area.

You can buy effective repellent from local supermarkets. The only problem is that it is impossible to know that the vaguely lavender smelling green liquid sits in the washing-up liquid section. Hence why I thought it actually was washing-up liquid and used it for the first week here, to the horror of my partner. And the even delayed horror of myself when I realised that it actually could have saved my pot-marked body.

The good news is that, without any further effort on my behalf, the frequency of bites soon lessened. It may well have been the move into cooler months. Perhaps the mosquitoes moved onto fresher kill. There was no room left on my body to bite.

Avoiding Diarrhoea

Two words: you can’t.

At some point you will be scampering to the toilet, buttocks clenched and then suddenly wondering how your body could possibly blast out so much foul liquid. Just hope it’s not a public convenience, with its lack of toilet paper and squatting style design toilet.

It’s indisputable medical fact that your foreign gut just doesn’t have the bacteria fauna to cope with what’s going to hit it, so ignore the following advice at your peril.

  • Avoid tap water including any served in restaurants. Yes, at home you can boil away the bacteria but the water is notoriously polluted in other ways, such as having heavy minerals and metals. It’s easy to buy bottled water and many competing companies offer deals that, after a certain amount, include electric water coolers for free.
  • Wash all your fruit and vegetables in food-friendly soap, which you can buy at the local 24 hour supermarket. The soap will wash off germs and pesticides but won’t tackle the poisons taken up from the soil. Still, better than nothing.
  • Double wash your entire cutlery, crockery, pots and pans first in hot soap water and then again in hot water with some bleach in it.
  • Avoid the Street Food. Sure it looks good, but everyone I know who has been tempted has all had the kind of food poisoning that makes you beg for death. Arguably freshly cooked noodles and skinned fruit should be safe. I argue that it’s not worth the argument.
  • Stock up on: hand sanitizer, rehydration and Imodium style tablets, and toilet rolls.

Even with all of the above, diarrhoea will happen but hopefully only a couple of brief times, allowing you to build up the bacterial resistance.

Chinese Massage

Just arrived in Guangzhou? Fancy a massage to relieve all the stress of travel? My highly recommended Zhujiang New Town based masseur was a short, firm-handed man who had an undeniable skill for finding every sore knot, nook and cranny on the human body with his iron hands.

Within minutes I was yelping like a punished puppy as he pinched and prodded my neck and shoulders. He treated the bony gaps on my back like dough, poking and pushing. He wedged his weight into my hips and buttocks. He slammed and slapped my legs, pinching the calves, pulling the knees. Other verbs spring to mind: pummelling, grinding, yanking, twisting, even fisting. He used his fist, especially the thumb, to separate each rib from my backbone.

I admit I had a dose of snivelling man-flu and was probably more sensitive than usual. Also, my partner was having a very different experience: she was at peace, not stirring, not saying a word, her female masseur taking what seemed like much greater care.

I was tapped on the back and told “OK”. Was it over? Thank God! Nope. I had to roll over. Now the excruciating neck work began. Never before have I had a painful eyebrow massage. Had I upset my masseur in some unfathomable culture-clash way? Even though I was facing the butcher, he could not look me in the face as he tenderised me.

Finally the torture ended. I staggered out of the parlour with an aching back and, oddly, a sore left testicle. My partner floated out on a teary catharsis, talking keenly of going again. Her masseur took a picture; a Western woman is a rare visitor. This Western man will never go again.


If you are an InterNations member and would like to contribute an article, do not hesitate to contact us!

Sean Henderson

"Looking for an appartment on InterNations, I met the expat community in Canton. Now I am sharing a house with another member."

Carla Echevarria

"Unlike other meet-ups around here, InterNations offers quite a few high-quality members and regular offline events in Guangzhou."

Global Expat Guide