People often wonder how I happily lived in Mainland China for 3.5 years. What about the pollution/censorship/unsafe food/spitting/high road casualties, they ask?
The key is strategically low(ered) expectations.
With my personally tried and tested three-step plan, you too can successfully relocate to China.
First, spend two months traveling around India as a cheap-living, grubby backpacker. An exotic, but difficult adventure in India will serve to positively color your impressions of China. For example, after India, I was very grateful for the small things that China has to offer, such as:
- Taxi drivers who automatically use the meter without first requiring several minutes of haggling, bickering, and swearing (certain border crossings excepted).
- Males who will not stare at you and shout, “Hey, madam want to have sex?” because you are wearing Capri pants that reveal your ankles.
- Food that will not require you to spend the wee hours of the night vomiting on your hands and knees into a communal squat toilet.
(A hedging aside: I have heartily enjoyed my many travels to India for work and leisure. I appreciate the diverse culture, tasty variety of food, and rich and complex history of the Sub-Continent. Despite this, it can be a soul-crushingly hard place to be a young woman traveler on a budget. My subsequent business travel with proper contacts and hotels made later trips to India much more pleasant.)
Second, ensure that you are given the initial “look-see” tour of your new Chinese city by someone who has little grasp of life outside of China. I recommend a delightful, fluent English speaker named “Sailing Ko.” Highlights of his tour include:
- A massive, concrete sporting facility featuring an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with pensioners and a giant room of tightly, packed ping-pong tables.
- A “spa” dwarfed by a vaulted, marble foyer and filled with beautiful young women ready to provide company for the day/evening/night.
- A grocery store with amazing international products such as tinned tuna, Green Giant canned corn, and Campbell’s oxtail soup.
After this tour, when some soon-to-be fellow expats invite you to a party filled with very drunk Brits singing offensive words to the historic American Negro Spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” you will be grateful to have found them because at least they know where you can buy cheese.
Third, hire a real estate broker who will only show you over-priced apartments with the following key features:
- Tiny kitchen with a patina of ten years grease on every surface
- Blue-tinted windows throughout
- Gaudy Louis XIV-esque golden chandeliers
- Non-stop, renovation-related jack-hammering in the apartment above
You will be all the more delighted when you are forced to use your own ingenuity to find an “acceptable” apartment that is both more pleasant and cheaper than anything the agent turned up. Magically, an apartment in a building with this elevator becomes “acceptable:”
After following these three steps, you will soon happily find yourself in China:
- Laughing over the immigration-required physical exam, including a “streaming” chest x-ray in a room with a rat.
- Running along the seashore despite the heavy, brown “haze” that can be smelled as well as seen.
- Singing an off-key duet in front of 200 people at a company Christmas party.
And you will miss it all once you are gone.
(This post is my “love letter” to Zhuhai where I will be returning to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends this weekend. I can hardly believe it will be our 5th Thanksgiving spent in Zhuhai. Every word of this post is true.)