I debated back and forth with myself about if I should write this post. As I told you before, my life in China has lasted just over one year and 3 months. For those of you who do not know, there are many quickly developing ‘expat’ communities all over China. The result of a surge of English schools opening, coupled with the large amount of African and Russian students attending the universities. An ‘expat’ being a person who is currently residing in a country they do not have permanent residence in. I will be writing a series of posts about different aspects of life in China. Something that I think is necessary due to how much I have to say. I promise to be honest and fair. But buckle up everyone, this is going to be a bumpy ride.
Why I came to China
I came to China because I was lost. I don’t mind admitting it, because it’s the honest truth. After all, I did say that I would be honest. As I finished University, I realized how low my prospects were. I hadn’t been applying for jobs and lacked the portfolio to help me actually get one. When I reminded myself of a friend who herself came to China, I struck up a conversation with her. Turns out there’s a large group of foreigners all over China and together they form communities. Communities which sound surprisingly similar to a University dorm. All for a pretty good salary.
However the part that appealed to me was the concept of a large group of supposedly interesting people gathering together. A decent salary and the chance to travel. Worst case situation, I learn Chinese and come home just a little bit more cultured. Right? However for myself, this turned out to be wrong. I will explain everything in this, or future posts. But I can summarise here for anyone who I’m sure will quickly think otherwise.
Starting my life in China was the best decision I ever made.
For this first post, I’m going to mention a few of the most glaring details about life in China. I will say that I have only lived in one city, Shenyang. But I did visit Beijing twice and was able to make some solid comparisons. As such my experiences may differ entirely from yours. Just know that I do not speak for all of China, or even all of Shenyang. Though almost everything I will say references Shenyang.
What living in China means for you
The hard truth of why I, and what seems like thousands of other people, seek a life in China is simple. To escape. However, to live here, except from perhaps a few major cities, is to become accustomed to the following things.
- People will stare at you. People will be interested in you. They will take pictures and obsess over you. Particularly if you’re English or American. The lack of foreigners here means that those of us who did come, are treated like low key celebrities. Or in some instances, zoo animals. Your opinion on this will surely define the majority of your experience here. I personally cannot stand being gawked at every time I travel to work or go shopping. Regardless of your own personality, you have the opportunity to be popular. Something which I’m sure you know comes with pros and cons. This happens significantly less the more foreigners are in the location. In Shenyang it is absolutely as I stated, in Beijing I noticed less so. I’ve been told Shanghai and Hong Kong residents care very little about staring at you.
- The culture is different. Yes, everyone will tell you this. But you wont ever understand until you arrive. The people here are so vastly different from what I know, that I have the hardest time communicating with them. That’s not to say that you can’t befriend or even enter into a relationship with a Chinese person. But it wont be easy. Perhaps they will become more Westernized, perhaps you will become more Chinese. I met some incredibly kind and fun Chinese people here, but there have been a hundred situations where we were entirely unable to understand one another. Beijing seemed to be somewhat Western inclined, but not without it’s Chinese roots.
- You may end up working for a terrible, dysfunctional company. I could write a thousand posts about the state of my company. How since applying for the job and now, the company has been ran by 4 different managers. Or was it 5? I can’t keep up. Despite this, I will leave the company talk till later. Firstly I will be discussing living situations, culture and other relevant things.
For the next post I will discuss public transportation, getting around and things such as taxi’s and the state of driving. Though I have only experienced living in Shenyang, I had a short experience in Beijing. As such I can summarise that my experiences on public transport should apply to other cities also.
– Adam Pemberton