The Times They are A-Changin': Eight Years in China

The Times They are A-Changin': Eight Years in China
Jun 20, 2016 By Trey Archer ,

I first arrived in China in 2008, right after the Beijing Olympics. I couldn’t speak a word of the language and didn’t know anything about the culture, but I was mesmerized by everything Chinese. It was just so different from everything I had known from home. Eight years later, I’m still here – fluent in Chinese and an official long-term China expat. As I look back and reflect on the country’s changes from 2008 to 2016, I’ve noticed some major transformations (some good some bad) in the Middle Kingdom.

Air Pollution is Improving
I’ll never forget my very first day in China. I was in Beijing, and the weather forecast called for a perfect sunny (yet cold) day. However, when I got off the train from Mongolia, the sky was pitch black. "Was there a major time change from Mongolia to China?" I thought to myself, making the actual time 11pm rather than 11am? No, certainly not. It was just a toxic black cloud of pollution hovering over the city. After that, air contamination became a fact of life.

Today, the pollution is better, but just don’t take my word for it: The Wall Street Journal reported that Beijing’s pollution cleared up a bit from 2013 to 2014, then reports this year saw the capital’s AQI levels improve again from 2014 to 2015. To back this fact up, according to the Washington Post, “satellite images showed that the levels of PM2.5 particles decreased by 17 percent in China from 2010 to 2015… while rising 13 percent in India.” That’s right, China is no longer the pollution capital of the world – it’s now India.

Less Opportunity for Foreigners
Previously, foreigners could easily peg a well-paying, easy job just for having a white face. These so called “face jobs” were popular in Chinese companies because they could show potential customers that their company was “Western” and “advanced” enough to hire foreign employees. As ridiculous as it may sound, this is absolutely true. This CNN article from 2010 talks about the practice of actually renting white people for the day!

Furthermore, back in the day the Chinese economy was booming with hiring left and right, and foreign companies were flooding the scene to get a piece of the action. It was easier for just about everyone to get a job back then.

Times have changed. While face jobs are definitely still alive, they aren’t as common as they used to be – the Chinese just aren’t impressed with having a random white guy on the team anymore. Furthermore, the government has made work visas harder to obtain. Nowadays, you need to have at least a university degree and two years work experience to even think about getting hired here. For more competitive jobs, they will not only require that you speak fluent Mandarin, but also have another specialized skill in that line of work.

Foreign companies are also cutting costs. So if you had dreams of getting transferred to China on a glamorous expat package and living the high life, I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s probably not going to happen. Companies are also more inclined to hire locals (who work the same job for lower salaries than foreigners), as the skill, English levels and education of the workforce improves. Also as the Chinese economy slows, hiring amongst Chinese companies is also decelerating.

More Censorship
I remember using Facebook, searching for info on Google, and watching Youtube videos in China. This may be a surprise to some of you newbies, but there was a time in China where all your favorite websites weren’t blocked. One day in 2009 I woke up and turned on my computer to check my Facebook messages and the infamous “this page can’t be displayed” popped up. I didn’t think much of it, perhaps the internet was just slow that day. But from that day on, these sites, plus so many others, have never worked again (unless using a VPN).

Based off 2015 stats from Freedomhouse, China is the world’s number one most censored country for internet usage (it was not in 2008). This same report listed upgrades to China’s Great Firewall, which include: programs to defend against VPNs; “middle man” attacks on companies like Google; real name ID registration on blogs, messenger and social media platforms; and laws that force all tech companies to provide the government backdoor access to their programs. The internet is much, MUCH more censored in 2016 than it was back in ’08.

Out With the Old and In with the New
I just looked at a picture of myself on the Bund from 2008. The gigantic Bottle Opener had just been completed, but the Shanghai Tower (currently the second tallest in the world) was missing. Also during this time in Beijing, many classic hutong neighborhoods were still in tact with hardly any foreign bars or any other Western influence (though the hutongs have been in decline for more than half a century now). And all over the rest of the country, much of the historic monuments and picturesque villages were quaint, cozy and still very Chinese.

China is much more modern than it was when I first got here. In the capital, the hutongs are all but gone. When I went back to my old neighborhood near the Drum and Bell Tower, I hardly recognized the place since entire streets of hutongs were bulldozed and replaced with 21st modernism. The Shaolin Temple, along with another one of my all-time favorite China destinations – Old Town Kashgar – have been plastered over with neon lights, concrete, and plastic. Even places like Chengdu, which pride itself on traditionalism, has gone through an extreme makeover to resemble every other city in China. Shanghai, despite already being quite modern, continues its modernization boom with even more skyscrapers.

Infrastructure Boom
China was relatively underdeveloped when I first arrived: Most major cities didn’t have subways, scooters and e-bikes were the most common way to get around town, mind-numbingly slow trains got you from city A to city B, and the airports were third-tier. China in those days truly felt like a developing country – getting around was difficult, time consuming, and very stressful. However, in 2008, while much of the world was suffering a profound economic crisis, China commenced a 600 billion USD stimulus package focusing on infrastructure.

The results of this massive stimulus program are now being revealed. In 2008, the Beijing Metro only had eight lines; now it has about twice as many and a plethora of new stops. And that’s not just in Beijing, from 2009 to 2015 China constructed 87 mass transit rail lines in different 25 cities.

As can be seen from this Bloomberg article, China has been on a crazy airport construction boom: the last five year plan (2010-2015) called for 55 new civilian airports, increasing the country’s total to 230. High speed rail links the entire eastern region of the country, allowing one to travel to Beijing to Guangzhou in less than 12 hours. Bike lanes are being eliminated in Shanghai as the city prepares for a scooter-free city by 2020. And around the country ghost cities are springing up year after year. The list goes one.

Greater Sense of Nationalism
Before 2008, Western values and laowai were somewhat appreciated, as seen with the aforementioned face jobs. In my arm-chair opinion, it seemed the Chinese welcomed the technical knowledge and business investments from the West, and were eager to learn from foreigners after living in country that had been closed off to much of the world for decades. From about 2008 until recently, I felt very welcomed in this country.

Today, I definitely feel less welcomed... and many of my foreign friends in other cities feel the same. There seems to be more Chinese nationalism and more anti-foreign sentiment. And we all remember the adds in Beijing earlier this year stating that women should beware of foreign boyfriends because they may be spies. Little things like this, coupled with the vibes of just living here day in and day out, make me and many others feel that while we may love China, China may not love us like it used to.

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Keywords: China changes China 2008 2016


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Time flies, so quick in China

Jul 06, 2016 12:22 Report Abuse


When We first landed in a tier two city 8 years ago I was a rock star signing autographs on my way to lessons. Mothers and fathers gave me phone numbers and begged me to call their sons and daughters . I was invited to everyone's house - the gust of honor (or the clown) at birthday parties. Our money was not accepted at bars because there was a line waiting to pay our tab. Business owners would capitalize on this popularity by inviting us to frequent there establishments for free. We were also exploited to a degree. English school owners and managers would exercise their contract clause to have us perform at special events especially leading up to the end of the contract. Still easier to find rewarding work here behind the Great Wall than in the western democracy's. Plus skills like business etiquette, history knowledge and other soft skills from the west are still revered. Its definitly easier save money even with lower pay scales. The trend seems to be, however, growing nationalism amongst the citizens means less tolerance and more resentment foreigners living large in the communities.

Jun 25, 2016 15:56 Report Abuse



Expat Blogger Praised for Telling “Laowai” Who Complain About China to “Piss Off”=====>>

Jun 21, 2016 15:20 Report Abuse



You expat trash need to quit exaggerating. You're not fluent. You'll probably never be truly fluent. Many Chinese people can see past your bullshit. You have a hideous western accent when you speak your crappy Chinese, which many native Chinese speakers find annoying.

Jun 20, 2016 23:29 Report Abuse



Lol, you keep calling people losers but you are the one who has to come here trying to troll because you are insecure. I suggest you get a girl/boyfriend and relax a little. Being a superior Chinese man you should easily be able to date anyone on the planet.

Jun 21, 2016 09:37 Report Abuse



I already have a girlfriend, she's Caucasian. She told me she doesn't like LBH expats!

Jun 21, 2016 13:14 Report Abuse



Good for you, you should probably focus more attention on her instead of crying on this site.

Jun 21, 2016 17:03 Report Abuse



damn dude you have some issues. just because you fail at learning Chinese doesn't mean everybody does. grow up dude.

Jun 24, 2016 13:35 Report Abuse



that's good. the way chinese people speak English is just as annoying. plus they never say anything worth listening to in the first place

Jun 24, 2016 23:02 Report Abuse



all jobs need now fluent mandarin? aha, job listing rarely mention mandarin, mostly "be an advantage". That said for the higher positions. The sea turtles are useless anyways. not to mention the high expat package... yes its gotten rare but the local contract salary (even for Chinese) skyrocketed.

Jun 20, 2016 16:47 Report Abuse



Lets get real, this guy isn't truly fluent in Mandarin Chinese. I have yet to see an expat who is truly fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Those who claim to be fluent are lying. Being fluent in Mandarin Chinese means you can speak, listen, write, and read close to a native level or at a native level. Does this person speak at a slow rate? Does this person have to constantly tell people to slow down when speaking? Can this person speak real Chinese, not Chinglish? By what I read, this guys seems to be an LBH English teacher, he just failed to mention it in his article. Chinese girls only want you for money and/or a green card. Very few actually will fall in love with you because you can't speak fluent Chinese and you don't truly understand Chinese culture. This article was poorly written! Many will disagree with what I wrote, but it's the truth. Most of you live in a fantasy world and are not willing to deal with reality.

Jun 20, 2016 10:16 Report Abuse



Don't be too tough on him. Understanding Chinese culture isn't easy . May be you could school us on some of the finer points such as being selfish, having a complete disregard for others, having a lack of personal hygiene and shitting in the street?

Jun 20, 2016 12:57 Report Abuse



Being a dirty foreigner isn't easy. Maybe you could teach us the finer points of how you wound up being an LBH. Tell us why western women don't want you. What were your job prospects in America like or any western country?

Jun 20, 2016 14:24 Report Abuse



His name is nzteacher. that would scream to almost everyone that he is not american but being that he is not chinese, i guess it is just evil and american anyway.

Jun 20, 2016 14:46 Report Abuse



Is learning English really hard and that's why you cant believe a foreigner can learn Chinese? Most foreigners who study Chinese here can become fluent within three years while most Chinese study English over 10 years and still struggle with foreign languages.. If you intentionally speak in dialects and mumble when speaking to foreigners and they ask you slow down and speak clearly, that means YOUR communication ability is low not theirs, just because you struggle with studying languages doesn't mean other people cant do better than you

Jun 20, 2016 15:54 Report Abuse



Learning Chinese is harder than learning English. You'd have to learn Manadrin since you were a baby to become truly fluent. None of you moron LBH expats are fluent. You're lying to yourself and others are lying to you. You're not fluent, get it through your fukin thick mofo skulls. Many of you can't carry on a meaningful conversation with native speakers of Chinese. You feel uncomfortable being the only LBH expat in a room fully of Chinese people.

Jun 20, 2016 18:33 Report Abuse



learning mandarin obviously is not difficult if someone as low category and with as little class as you can be fluent

Jun 20, 2016 19:03 Report Abuse



I don't think anyone from any country in any language can carry on a meaningful conversation with someone as low class as you

Jun 20, 2016 19:10 Report Abuse



You're trailer trash buddy. You can't have any conversation with anyone but your kind.

Jun 20, 2016 23:25 Report Abuse



Many WMAF relationships are frauds. Usually the white male just wants sex and the female just wants a green card and/or money. I have seen a lot of communication issues with these pairings. It's either the white guy who does all the talking in English to the Chinese girl. Or the Chinese girl does all the talking in Chinese to the white guy. The person who doesn't talk in the relationship looks likes an autistic idiot.

Jun 23, 2016 10:36 Report Abuse



The EastAsiaTribune is a fake news website, just saying. Great journalism guys, as always.

Jun 20, 2016 10:14 Report Abuse



Do some research into your sources Trey Archer and you won't come off as such a moron. The East Asia Tribune story is a hoax. The East Asia Tribune has also broken such stories as "Singapore to send astronauts back to the moon" and my favourite about the families in singapore who watch their sons lose their virginity. You'd think that 8 years in China would make you a little suspicious of unverified news sources. The East Asia Tribune has a long and illustrious, albeit fake, history. It started on March 23 2016 (almost 3 months!). It broke the story on June 8th so the CCP would've had to have conducted a plenerary session to pass such a law on a national holiday (Dragonboat Festival)and then all major news publications managed to miss the press release except for a 3 month old fictitious newspaper.

Jun 20, 2016 10:14 Report Abuse



i moved to china in 2008 too but left at the end of 2015 due to pollution of air, food and water. The air might be a bit better but it won't be healthy for a decade or two. Censorship and chinese hate for all things non chinese has become much greater. I just spent a week in shanghai in May and the internet has got worse. Block the internet, feed the populace with propaganda. What could go wrong.

Jun 20, 2016 07:26 Report Abuse



after 8 years, if one is improving oneself and actively professionally developing, as one moves up searches for higher pay and positions get harder, but in general job offers should be consistently top level

Jun 20, 2016 05:35 Report Abuse



Girls that want out, yeah, but China never loved you or any other foreigner

Jun 20, 2016 05:30 Report Abuse