China and why we stay
China is addictive. This is why some of us stay.
We are all the same. I’m talking about the long term folks. We can have a better life in our native country. Cleaner air, safer traffic, and less stress. Short term visitors….the students, the teachers, the wanderers….well good for you. You can come, walk around, take pix, have a fling, in general observe how things are in a “Communist” country, feel better for it, and then go home.
But somehow, there is a portion of us that come, some nowadays with a PLAN, others with the “I didn’t think it would be this way” explanation. We are the longterm expats. Maybe you think you’ve been here for 5 years now and that qualifies you as “long term”. Maybe even seven years. Fine. Let’s not make this into a pissing contest. In my view, though, there is a dividing line. Pre Tiananmen, and Post Tiananmen. Pre McDonald’s and Post Mc D’s. Pre black market money exchange and post black mkt. Pre Starbucks and Post…..you get the picture. I remember when the only bar in town was owned by the PLA. And the black mkt exchange rate was 14-1…..(or 12?)
No matter. The subject of the post is why do we stay? Why do we continue to insist on staying in a country that is so markedly different from ours? Especially for men. China is a laowai’s paradise. We know this. But living that lifestyle doesn’t pay the bills. And let’s face it….alot of us still can’t speak worth a damn. Oh, we think we can…..until we leave our city that is and have to deal with yet another group of people in
another city that speak Mandarin with yet another accent. It’s like every new city is Boston!
But can’t we just go home?
Can’t we make more money in our native country? Why do we insist on putting up with the lower quality of living, and what comes with it?
These are my thoughts on why the LAOWAI is so willing to adapt to China, and more or less make it his 2nd home…..
Quite honestly, we have developed a comfort zone here. We are familiar with our surroundings. We know our way around. And what we make for a living doesn’t seem so bad now. We have our social circle, and quite honestly, we’re not willing to go home and start over again. This could be a teacher.
· There is that bunch that think they have good jobs. They work for a prestigious China company, and in their eyes, that gives them prestige they could never attain back home. Thus in this country, they are somebody, and that’s important to them. Maybe they have to impress their parents. In their view, they are making a difference. This could be anybody.
· Quite honestly, though they’ll never admit it, I think there are a substantial number of us that fit the Chinese stereotype….we’re afraid to go home, but we’re worried we won’t be able to cope with life back home.
What do I mean by that?
I mean the “fear” of going home to a “better place”, and “starting over”. The fear of facing the parents, and explaining what your 3 month plan is while you shack up with them. The inevitable anticlimax of being just like everyone else. Trying to figure out how one can articulate the “value” of his Chinese experience on a resume, without being thought of as a nonconformist. The anxiety of possibly not being able to find a job, now that you are competing with peers that didn’t whittle away their time overseas, and quite frankly, are more competitive now than you are. Because once you’ve lived in China for any length of time, the first thing that goes is your competitive spirit. You start to relax. Because living in China tends to dull one’s competitive juices, and brings out the Jimmy Buffet in us all. I saw an American the other day in 50 degree weather wearing sandals. WTF? I had to tell a potential customer of mine, who I had set up for a factory visit, that “no, you cannot wear sandals and Magnum PI shorts to the factory”.
· Than you have the type I fit into. Those of us that have our own business. Our supply chain is here, but our customers are not. We’ve made a conscientious decision to stay here. Because our customers feel quite frankly they are “getting their money’s worth” only if they see us “roughing it” to their benefit. I readily admit to all my Chinese friends(which I know makes them happy as hell to hear) that 我靠中国吃饭。 “I depend upon China for a living”. I can’t go back for any length of time.
This place is the front lines. I tell myself the opportunity here is too great, and I just can’t PASS this up. I gotta work as hard as I can now, to be free tomorrow. Because in this world, money is freedom.
In my view this is where all the action is. I literally look upon my home in the States as my 别墅, or my villa, to be visited occasionally, in order to take a step back and regain some context. But China, with all it’s inequality, constant change, and Wild West feel, is exactly why this is the place to be.
Yes, a lot of folks have been public about their “goodbye China” letters. But despite the bitching we like to espouse, if you have your own business, this really is the place to be. Those folks won’t be missed. We understand why they leave. They need to get their families to higher ground. My family doesn’t live here. But most of them will probably regret their decision, and come back again, albeit solo.
It’s like the old WW1 song abt returning Veterans….”how can you keep them on the farm when they’ve been to Paris?”
How the hell can you be satisfied with Peoria when you’ve lived in Shanghai?