My biggest fear when planning my Mini-retirement to Beijing China was that I was going to be extremely lonely. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make new friends or connect in a meaningful way with the people I encountered. All alone in a country of 1.3billion.
Thankfully, this is one of those instances where my imagination got the better of me and I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
Since arriving in Beijing, I’ve met loads of great people including other travellers, ex-pats and locals who have been extradordinarily generous and friendly. By far and away the best thing about Beijing is the people I’ve encountered.
So what’s the trick to making new friends fast? Check out the video…
If you can’t see the video above, click here to watch “How to make new friends fast on your Mini-Retirement, from on top of the Great Wall in China” on Youtube.
If you don’t have time for the video, here are the tips:
1. Learn how to say hi, and put yourself out there
2. Say ‘yes’ to trying new things
3. Use the resources of the internet and do the leg work before you go.
Putting yourself out there
Simply smiling and saying “hi” or in my case “ni hao” will take you a long way. But funnily enough this can be awfully scary in practice. By putting yourself out there you run the risk of being rejected but there’s a few things you can do to minimise this.
A tactic I used earlier in the week when staying at a hostel was to seat myself close to group of people in the common room at about 6pm and then politely interrupt their conversation to ask if they’d had dinner yet. 30 seconds later I knew their names and we discussing where would be good to go eat.
Avoid hiding in a corner behind a laptop and get out there and say hi.
This is my favourite, and one that my mother is terrified of. Her fear goes something like this:
You’ve just met a group of people, they seem friendly and they suggest you go for a walk with them to explore a local attraction. Next thing you know your new friends have turned on you and you’ve been kidnapped! Your fun afternoon out with new people has gone very bad indeed. Don’t trust strangers!
- Nick’s mum, 2011.
As my friend Tess mentioned in the video, there are risks to saying “yes”. But these risks are very manageable. Before leaving on your trip do a little research and understand the risks you might face. In the case of Beijing there’s 2 common scams you’re up against:
- Being approached by friendly locals who then take you to a tea house or art gallery and try to rip you off
- Catching unlicensed taxis that try to rip you off
Beyond that, I find that a big trick to having a great time is staying “YES!” as often as possible and trying not to get too wrapped up in a pre-defined schedule. Stay flexible.
So far this trip I have said yes to:
- Having dinner with strangers
- Going to a party I saw advertised on the internet, but knew no-one else who was going
- Going on a 20km cycling trip through Beijing traffic WITHOUT A HELMET!
- Going to a photography exhibition with 5 minutes notice with a woman I’d known for about the same length of time
- Going to the great wall with 3 people I barely knew and a driver that didn’t speak English
- Crashing a launch party for Burberry China with a new friend and then being invited to an all night poker game by people I met at the party
In each case there were risks that things might not have gone to plan but you need to use your judgement. By saying Yes I’ve made some amazing new friends and have a great shared experience that I’m sure will be remembered for years to come.
This one must surely be the most obvious. There are forums and message boards for every conceivable topic and hobby – many go so far as to organise meetups in local areas. Use them and start to build relationships before you head off.
As a starting point, check out these sites, but as always Google is your friend:
2 bonus tips for blog readers
Finally, I’ve got 2 tips that I think are most important of all, but I didn’t mention in the video. It’s great if you can break the ice and start a conversation but how do you turn those people into friends?
Well, here’s the secret:
- Be interesting
- Be interested
If you practise these 2 things with everyone you meet, I guarantee you’ll never have to look far for a new friend. Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog post on how to do this.