China has exploded back onto the world stage over the last thirty years after a couple of centuries out of the limelight. An economy which stagnated for decades was kicked into gear and has seen the highest growth rates of possibly any major economy in history, meaning that the country now boasts the world’s second largest economy and its largest manufacturing base. As a result of China’s successful reintegration into the world economy, hundreds of thousands of non-Chinese nationals have made the country their home, as leaders in industry and commerce, international traders, bankers, teachers, students and countless other professions. But going to live in China isn’t without its challenges, and the experience can be very different from one place to another – the expat lifestyle in one of China’s super modern mega cities on its eastern seaboard is a world apart from life as an outsider in the country’s troubled rural western provinces.
Daily life in China as a foreigner is not particularly difficult, even if you don’t speak the language. Many young people know enough English to help you out and will often be thrilled to have a chance to meet someone from another country. In cities such as Shanghai you are just as likely to meet another foreigner as you are a Chinese person, whereas in rural parts you might be the only foreigner that has ever visited. As a result, don’t be surprised if the whole village comes out to take a look at you. You might have to get used to being stared at and having kids shout “hello!” before giggling and running off. In general, people mean well and will try to help you out if they can.
Having said that, in places frequented by tourists, there are a number of scams to watch out for, many along the lines of being invited to drink tea with a group of students or a pretty girl, only to find out that you are paying the bill and that a cup of tea in that particular tea house amounts to double the average Chinese worker’s monthly salary. These tricks are common in many major cities around the world and you shouldn’t have any problems in the smaller, less-visited Chinese cities.
A lot of China is either hot and humid or cold and humid. As a result it can be a pain drying clothes. Thankfully, laundry services are efficient and cheap. A majority of expats living in China probably never wash or dry their own clothes thanks to these services. If you have long hair, take care to blow dry it before you leave home. You can find a decent blow dryer at http://www.oomphed.com/. It can be so humid that your hair won’t dry a bit on the journey between home and work. In the far north, if you leave your home with wet hair in winter it will freeze instantly and could be seriously dangerous.
Traffic in most of the country is horrendous. Beijing and Shanghai have some of the best mass-transit networks in the world, but they are still at near breaking point all of the time due to the sheers number of people using them. To give you an idea of how crowded these cities are, let’s take a look at Shanghai. The city by itself has more people than the whole of Australia. Twenty minutes outside the city lies Suzhou, a city the size of London. A further thirty minutes out and you’ve got two more cities the size of London and one that is significantly bigger. It’s incredible that the Greater Shanghai Area doesn’t just sink under the weight of all those people. So be patient when it comes to traveling.
If you are planning to stay for a while in China, you should really make an effort to learn the language. Chinese grammar is relatively simple and you’ll get used to the tonal system by listening to the locals speak. As soon as you can have a short conversation in Chinese, the country and the people will really open up to you. There are cultural differences and annoyances that some expats never get to grips with. If you learn the language, you’ll understand the culture, too.