Often referred to as the sleeping giant, China is a land of constant changes, contrasts and sometimes controversial ideas. As the sleeping giant awakens, some people are beginning to recognise that it is a country bursting with opportunity but because of the fact that it has been an unknown quantity for so long, it tends to still remain that way, misunderstood by much of the world. Living here can certainly be like doing a dance on a double-edged sword. A love often wells inside many foreign expats for what this country gives to them but it doesn't come without the sacrifices.
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Here One Day, Gone The Next
To say China is experiencing rapid growth, is an understatement. Things don't just change yearly and monthly, they change literally by the minute. Buildings go up and come down and it often feels like you're living in amongst a construction site, that has no end date for the build. The shop that was downstairs last week, has gone this week and will probably be gutted again at the end of the year and replaced by another business willing to give it a go. There seems to be nothing much in the way of forward planning, but an awful lot of "wing it as we go along". It makes for an interesting life in which you can plan for nothing. Anyone who is a teacher here can tell you that turning up for what you think is going to be a normal week at school, may see you confronted with a schedule that reads like a scene from "The Two Ronnies" comedy show, with Monday now being Friday and Tuesday morphing into Wednesday and don't forget to work Saturday because it's actually Thursday. This kind of thing often happens around holiday times, you are asked to work weekends because of the upcoming days off... so in other words you sometimes havent got a holiday at all. The "never know what the day will bring" lifestyle takes some getting used to but still China proves a very popular destination for foreigners to relocate to. The greek philosopher Heraclitus nailed China with this one quote
"Nothing is constant except change or becoming"
If you don't handle change well, then maybe China isn't the place for you.
Why Do People Decide To Move?
Everyone is different and there are countless numbers of reasons that may bring people to the decision to change location to "The Middle Kingdom". Here's a few common ones that I've encountered among other expats ...Boredom with life, wanting to start afresh(having a clean slate and reinventing yourself), cost of living is too high in people's own home country, looking for bigger and better opportunities, looking for adventure, looking for a partner, job offer or job relocation...I guess the list is endless.
So Why Choose China?
I have to be totally honest and say straight up, that the amount of people who seem to have question marks dangling above their heads when you tell them, "Yeah I moved to China", is higher than of those who say "WOW, AWESOME". People gauge China from what they hear on the news or from misconstrued ideas and opinions on complexed issues that they have no idea about. There is nothing like living in a country to find out the real truth. All of that aside, China is a land full of opportunity. The most common job and most basic wage for many foreigners here is ESL Teaching. In the grand scheme of things, ESL teachers come low in the list as far as income (compared to other Expat jobs) but still earn more than a usual average Chinese wage.
They can still live an extremely comfortable life, all be it at a dizzying chaotic pace . I fall into this group and can live high up in a small but modern city apartment, in the main walking street/mall in the middle of the city. There are beautiful views of the Yangtze River from the balcony and the city outside the front door. My work week totals 15 hours and that's including preparation time. I eat out nearly every day because, that's how it's done here and I earn enough to live comfortably. This is not a possible for many people in their own home countries. Expat Experts in higher positions and specialised occupations, can really often live high above what they would get for an equivalent job back home. China is growing and changing, employment here means you're right in the action, where it's all happening. It can be a very exciting lifestyle, especially for the first year or two but living in China can easily start to wear you down. With many daily challenges to face and life running at such a hectic pace, you need to learn how to cope with living in a place that is completely different to anything most westerners would ever have encountered.
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What It Takes To Live In China
There are constant daily aggravations that can easily go unnoticed for the first couple of years. I guess when you first arrive it's all new and exciting and your tolerance threshold is still high, but after sometime, the continuous attention you receive can become a real problem. Being stared at and even stared down wherever you go. Groups of people screaming "HELLLOOO" and giggling and whispering about you as you try to walk past unnoticed, but a foreigner in China can't escape unnoticed. It's really tough and easy to get paranoia issues. You have to find ways to deal with these daily challenges and stay in a good frame of mind.
Another difficulty is the language barrier. Compared to other languages in the world, the Chinese language is extremely difficult to pick up. In fact it's ranked as the #1 most difficult language in the world for native English speakers to learn. Add to that the fact that the majority of Chinese people (even though they have learnt English at school) don't speak English well and the language barrier becomes a very real hurdle that you have to get over. There are many ways to learn the Chinese language but no quick and easy way, believe me, I've tried most of them. Nothing is more effective than immersion learning, being thrown in the deep end and learning to speak your way through real life situations. You will need some extra help and if you can't physically get yourself to a language course, you will have to rely on finding a good alternative. Out of all the actual books, C.D's, Mp3's and internet websites that I've tried, the most effective by far is the Pimsleurs Mandarin Chinese. Pimsluers has many different packages, depending on how much you wish to learn and how much you wish to spend. I highly recommend working through the whole "Language Program", starting with set one but if you are limited by money, the" Conversational Chinese" package can still help you get started. Pimsleurs won't teach you to read or write but it will efficiently teach you to understand and speak the language. Couple this with immersing yourself into daily life and the transition to China becomes much easier.
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China is certainly not everyone's cup of green tea, but a very high number of foreigners who come here for the short-term, stay for the long-term. You can attribute this to a mix of low-cost living whilst earning a reasonably high wage, many new and interesting opportunities around every corner and amazing world renowned tourist destinations to visit in your free time. Yes, there are many difficulties to face but the difficulties in themselves can also be a drawcard to stay. It's a challenging, life changing experience and because everyday is unpredictable, it offers you a real chance to learn and grow as a person. The sleeping giant really is awakening and people from all over the world are grabbing their chances to jump onboard and join the ride.