If you are an expat in China, then we probably share a lot in common.
Perhaps like you, I first came to China because I was tired with life back home in Canada. Things were predictable, systematic and at most times... boring. I wanted something new, and seven years ago... teaching English in China seemed like the best decision to change my life. Does something like this sound familiar to you?
I will be honest, I will tell you something that most expats never admit. This wasn't the only reason I chose China. I heard the pay was above average, I could live like a King (financially) and be treated like one. No more 9-5 long hours with little respect. I could stand out from the crowd like a celebrity.This is what my buddies at the time were telling me.
Now who wouldn't want that right?
When I landed in Beijing, I wasn't very impressed. All the houses were run-down (from what I saw on the plane) the air was smoggy and gloomy. But I didn't form any opinions yet... I mean, different is different right? The people seemed happy about winning the Olympic bid though. High spirts were abound.
I was met by my American friend at the airport and taken bar hopping right away. It was fun, but the mixture of jet lag with alochol didn't bode well the next morning when I was awoken by phone call after phone call of house keeping trying to kick me out early so they can clean the room. At the time, I had no Chinese ability and didn't have a clue what they wanted. "Leave me alone, I have a huge hangover!"
This was not why I flew across the world but unfortunately I find many foreigners fall into the trap of looking for western comforts. It is understandable but in my experience you will usually develop a sort of unhealthy hatred for China and its
My first six months was called the "Honey-Moon" period as many long-term expats will coin. Somtimes it even lasts a year or so. Everything was so exciting! New food, lots of girl attention (more than back home anyway), lots of parties and new sights. Chinese would always be friendly and say "Hello!". The main down side was the language barrier. My Chinese still sucked and doing small things was sort of a pain... also, I didn't work in Beijing. That was just a stop-over point to a small place in the south of the province Shanxi, where I would begin my work. A small city, with many few people capable of speaking English well, back then.
Then came the next phase, I would call this phase "Bubble Burst" period or the "Culture Shock" period. This phase usually works in a cycle with most foreigners (which I will get to in a moment), but I find a lot of expats sometimes get stuck in this phase and will fiercy HATE China with a passion that burns of 1000 suns. I am very guilty of this. Things like, "Hello!" and the stares start to get VERY annoying. The pollution feels as though it is sucking the life out of you. Trying to accomplish small tasks are either impossible or so much effort that you dread starting the process. Even if your Chinese is fluent by now, you still run into nagging illogical issues. You start to stay indoors a lot and feel like a caged animal. You start to feel like you don't belong and never will...
Maybe this sounds familiar to some of you?
The next phase and hopefully final phase, if you move past phase two, I call "Rekindling Romance" or "Why am I here?". After phase two, if you aren't already boarding a plane home, spewing hate about China to whoever will listen... you will start to ask yourself "What am I STILL here?" If you are here because you think you are a failure in Western society and can't make it, you will never be happy in China because again, you will feel like you are in a cage without a choice. However, I started to realize I had goals that I had not yet accomplished and yours may be similar. Here were some of mine:
- Master Chinese (I know, I know but at least to a level I am satisfied with)
- Truly learn to understand the psychology of Chinese people
- Interact with China on many levels (rural and urban)
- Remove my Ignorance about Chinese (and help Chinese learn about Westerners)
While I would say I have obtained a percentage of these goals, I am not finished. And there are so many things I have grown to love about China that I never thought existed. Feelings I have experienced that were unfanthomable before I came to China. The feeling of sitting in a busy nightmarket eating BBQ and sipping with Qing Dao beer with pals. A place where both rich businessmen and poor peasents can sit down and chat happily. Setting up Chinese New Year's decorations in a small village and then standing at the top of a hill watching the sky lit up with fireworks like it was World War III. Seeing a suspicious old man launch into a fit of laughter and happiness after a simple "Ni hao" greeting in his direction. China can be a choatic place, I believe it attracts people that are unsettled inside. Some people love the chaos, and some hate it. But if you stay here long enough...
I can promise you, if you go through all of this, you will change. I know I have.
I guess that change will ultimately be up to you.
Tags:General Relationships Expat Rants & Advice Expat Tales Lifestyle
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