On the “exodus of expats from China”

125 Comments

The debate initiated by Mark Kitto’s article for Prospect Magazine, “You will never be Chinese”, is showing little sign of dying down. Over the last couple of months we have seen more articles by well known expats explaining why they too are leaving the Middle Kingdom and replies by other expats explaining why they are staying put. There have even been articles in the New York Times and other important publications wondering if an exodus of foreigners from China is afoot.

As a foreigner who has lived in China for four years, I would like to use this space to contribute to the debate. First of all, I recognize that China is certainly no place for the faint-hearted (unless you are a Chinese with a faint heart and no means to go abroad, in which case you just have to put up with things). It is an overcrowded developing country whose society is changing extremely fast, with all sorts of unresolved issues. For those of us who are used to the comforts of places like Europe, North America or Japan, Chinese daily life can feel rough and unsafe. If you are a manager on a full expat package with a villa in Shunyi, a cook and a driver, you may be able to bypass many of the worst aspects of life in China. For the rest of us, life can be tough.

In the big Chinese cities where most of the foreigners live the air is extremely polluted, and Beijing is among the worst places. Streets can be filthy and full of litter. Hygienic standards in restaurants can be catastrophic. The traffic is unruly and congested. Public transport is also often packed to breaking point. Things don’t always work fast and well. People spitting on the street, children with split trousers doing their business wherever they want and other such unhygienic habits are still widespread. Standards of work and of service can be low. Estate agents and others who you do business with are not always honest and straightforward. Rules and regulations can be unclear and appear to change at random. Not everyone has had the chance to receive a decent education (although actual illiteracy is rare). Certain important foreign internet sites are inaccessible. And the list could go on.

While all these issues are undeniable and eventually test one’s patience, it must be remembered that many of these problems are by no means limited to China. Western expats in other developing countries often have similar complaints. I once had the opportunity to spend a few months in Cairo, Egypt. In my experience expats in Cairo complain about the locals and the living conditions with far more passion than the ones in China.

Just like Beijing and many other Chinese cities, Cairo is polluted, overcrowded and dirty. Many things work slowly and badly, and construction is shoddy. The traffic is unruly to a point where it makes Chinese drivers seem extremely law-abiding. Crossing certain streets in Cairo is a terrifying ordeal, in comparison to which negotiating any chaotic crossroad in Beijing seems like nothing. Eating in cheap Cairene restaurants is also a sure recipe for food poisoning in the long term.

Foreign women in Cairo complain about being hassled by local men on the street, even when they are doing their best to “dress modestly”. You can’t walk around the center of the city without people pestering you in order to sell you stuff, something which rarely happens in Beijing. Corruption is also rampant, and the rule of law is shaky to say the least. Meaningful interaction between expats and locals seemed to be even more limited than in China, at least from what I could tell in the relatively brief time I spent there. Nationalism was widespread, and it didn’t seem to be possible to have a rational discussion on Egypt’s problems with many of the locals.

I do not know if and how Cairo will change in the wake of the recent upheavals there, but the point is another: some of the reasons expats give for disliking China, or wanting to leave, would probably not change if they were living in Egypt, India or Vietnam. Pollution, corruption and chaotic, overcrowded cities are in common to lots of places in the developing world. And China is indeed still a developing country, as the Chinese government press loves to remind us. According to IMF statistics for 2011, China came 92nd out of 183 countries in the world in terms of per capita GDP (at purchasing power parity). This means that it came just behind Ecuador and East Timor, and far behind countries like Iran, Brazil and Mexico.

Of course, this cannot be used as an excuse for all that is wrong with China, just as the country’s huge population cannot either. But you might wish to consider if it isn’t a bit unreasonable to move to a place like China and expect life here to measure up to life in the US or Germany. It doesn’t and it won’t for a long time, and there is precious little you can do about it.

It also seems to me that many long-term expats in China become so frustrated with their surroundings that they are no longer able to recognize some of the perks of life in China, for instance the fact that Chinese cities remain eminently safe to walk around in late at night, in contrast to many other cities around the world.

I realize that some of the complaints people have about China are more specific to the Middle Kingdom, for instance the extreme materialism and individualism which seems to have taken hold of urban China, the education system based on rote learning and geared towards exam taking, and the insular outlook which means that foreigners are always seen as nothing more than guests, no matter how long they stay in the country. Foreigners living in Japan and other East Asian countries also tend to note a similar insularity in the locals’ outlook, so perhaps this last problem is also not limited to China.

In any case, I have no doubt that the predictions of a major exodus of foreigners from China are wrong. There will not be one as long as the country has jobs and business opportunities to offer for foreigners. As frustrating as China may be, migratory trends will always be determined first of all by economic opportunity.

Talk on On the “exodus of expats from China”


125 Comments
  1. Pingback: On the “exodus of expats from China” ~ Lost Laowai China Blog « CFO Daily Report

  2. Some interesting points, Gabriel. I lived in China for a year and while I would be lying if I said there weren’t frustrating elements like the ones you mentioned, I think most foreigners accept that life in China – or any developing country – is going to be a lot different to home.
    And while I was only there for a year, for me, the positives far outweighed the negatives!!

  3. Profile photo of

    Great piece Gabriel, and glad that the whole topic was finally addressed here on Lost Laowai. I had meant to approach it, but never seemed able to put my thoughts in enough order to do so.

    Perspective is a valuable thing, and appreciate your mentioning of your time in Cairo. While I’ve travelled a fair bit, China’s the only place I’ve ever lived that wasn’t my home country, and so I have nothing to compare it to — I think this is probably true with a number of expats, and getting a bit of insight into what other expat communities around the globe think is quite useful.

  4. China is changing with growth coming from the 4-7th tier cities and many overseas Chinese returning to cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Both are forcing expats out, and especially ones that don’t have any real skill sets to offer and can’t speak mandarin. What’s happening is not an exodus of expats, but a changing of the type of expat now required, and that is why Kitto left, ultimately he couldn’t make his career work in China. That’s his failing, not Chinas. If you can’t speak Mandarin, your chances of making a career here are very low. And China doesn’t need any more foreign English teachers making smart ass English language blogs here either.

    • Profile photo of

      FWIW – China never needed ESL teacher blogs. ESL teachers did/do.

      I agree though, a skill set over and above being “foreign” is becoming more and more important. I don’t think that’s the only reason expats are leaving though. Granted, there’s a decent number of foreigners that make China their home because they can get by without much financial worry and without more skills than being able to speak their native tongue; but I think a lot of long-term expats are leaving because the game has changed. Cost of living increases are outpacing development, pollution and food safety are not improving in tangible ways, hostility (or at least animosity) towards foreigners is increasing (perhaps not to violence, but to palpable levels), and regulations on everything are tightening. All things that are, of course, completely China’s prerogative to endorse or encourage; but all things that make it less attractive to a diverse multi-cultural/national community.

      • “Cost of living increases are outpacing development, pollution and food safety are not improving in tangible ways, hostility (or at least animosity) towards foreigners is increasing (perhaps not to violence, but to palpable levels)
        And yes more stories of violence on foreigners, I have felt more and more (over 5 ears of living here) that we would all be thrown tomorrow if our skills weren’t needed.The xenophobia is rampant and is regularly ramped up, by gov’t and media, so best to live in Shunyi, it’s near the airport! And it’s also 1 big toxic dump.

    • @William: you do realize that Mark Kitto can speak fluent Chinese, right? Or at least I suppose so, since he studied it at university and then spen 16 years in the country.

    • You come over as a CCP stooge pretending to be a a Laowai. First you say he couldnt speak Chinese, so hewasnt skilled enough, then you say he could but that fact made him so arrogant that be was rejected. You say he couldnt make his career work, then you say he ( because presumably he did do very well in China) should be grateful for China giving him such a succesful career. Contradictions!

      You say hus multi-millionion dollar magazine was an efl blog?

      If China didnt beed him, why was he so successful as a linguistic-orienrated businessman, if China did not in fact NEED English?

      Tour extreme tone and logic is a dead giveaway. You’re a CCP stooge.

      • Profile photo of GabrielC

        Quite honestly, I think a “CCP stooge pretending to be a laowai” would have quite a different tone, and a much worse command of English.

        In any case, frankly I am fed up with people accusing anyone who defends China in any way in any of these forums of being part of the semi-mythical Wu Mao Party (I seriously doubt they are ever active in English-language forums. If people really are paid to come on these forums and comment, they are few and far between).

      • As far as the CCP stooge comment goes, CCP stooges have an excellent command of English because they are naked officials who have fled to America to own their own property with their bribe money.

        (Im joking somewhat).

        But Chinese logic is completely different from Western logic.

        That guy William threw out an accusation ‘ Kitto cant speak Chinese’ then he says ‘ I know Kitto can speak Chinese ‘ then he says Kitto is unsucessful then he says Kitto is successful and should be grateful to China.

        Its the logic. That comment bout the Caucasians being genetically inferior is a giveaway- its Chinese nazi eugenics.

        Im surprised how little you get China Gabrielle. .

  5. Yes I know Kitto spoke Chinese. But the problem with that was he was very arrogant towards Chinese people with that skill and upset a lot of people. That’s why his publishing company turned against him. He then wrote a book “China Cuckoo” about how everything was all the Chinese peoples fault and he got ripped off, and that is not the way to win friends in someone elses country. He spent the last few years with his family in a villa up at Moganshan but that obviously was not enough to support them all and he had to leave. But there are many other expats even without Chinese language skills who have done very well. The question is why and how they prospered when they lacked a skill Kitto did have. My theory is it’s down to attitude and Kittos attitude was always a type of built-in British colonial superiority. That doesn’t work long term in China.

    • I see. It shows how there are always two sides to every story. I didn’t know anything about Kitto himself except for his article on leaving China.

      I do agree about some British people who spend years in China having a built-in sense of superiority. I’ve knows a few similar cases.

  6. Kitto wasn’t arrogant. He gave more respect to China than any other laowai I have met. He credits China with saving the world in the recession.

    Have any of you paid such a high compliment?

    Ultimately he realised the situation was untenable.

    If he complains of Chinese businessman tricking him….

    I ve been tricked every time in one way or another.

    If Cairo’s worse, Im doing jail time there.

  7. China saved the world from recession? Of course it did. Read Kittos “China Cuckoo” and his “You’ll never be Chinese” statements and tell me he doesn’t have an entire jacket potato on his shoulder.
    There are other expats who left recently who did both very well and are grateful for that opportunity. Kitto can only gripe that he’s Caucasian and his failings thus apparently genetic.

  8. …. again and again and again…
    I remember a day, back in the middle 90s where I had to put on an AF flight a friend who spent just 3 months in south Vietnam because of a nervous breakdown…
    He could just not adjust to the changes related to his temporary assignment.
    I’ve also met a guy, down in Guangzhou, professional expat having been around for 15 years bursting into tears when a bus passenger vomited through the window on his company car… He was also out, with all his family one month later.
    I could go on and on…
    What people around, considering themselves as expats, should realize is that we are not home…
    Understatement????
    Well, when I’m reading those comments I feel compelled in reminding this kind of basic fact.
    Being an expat supposes the ability to accept to be exposed to a different country and the people and the culture that go along…
    There’s no alternative. Either you comply and preserve your sanity or try to justify your failure through that kind of posts.
    There’s a big difference between migrants ans expats. The first ones decide one and for all to start again from nope and merge with the country welcoming them, and the second ones, seizing an opportunity to either gain additional experience or, more often, cash.
    I don’t want to be rude but one must accepts that reality is a little bit different than what is usually expected.
    I’ve only been around for the last ten years, having been before that in other places similar and I must say, even though in the mean time I engaged myself and now have a little boy born in China, that my backpack is ready if needs to be.
    I am not a migrant but an expat (with no package…).
    I won’t loose my (and your) time explaining why I am quitting China if I feel at some point either the environment (try Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam) or the political atmosphere (try Alger, Algeria back in the early 90s) are not suiting me. I will just move along.
    I’ve met back home (Europe) lots of folks thinking about making the big jump…
    I tend to discourage them first. I don’t wanna have to read their complaining posts afterward…
    Yes, expat life is interesting. Yes, being exposed to a different culture is valuable. Yes, it presents some challenges.
    Knowing that, either you go for it, or you just don’t. You take it as a whole, or you leave it. But just don’t complain when you made your mind and finally realized that this kind of life do not match your expectation.
    In other words, don’t be to “Chinese” on putting the blame on external factors to justify your own failure.

    DocD

  9. To be honest, I like China. Ive had the best and the worst of China. The main reason why i cant hack it is because of the food. I just think yhat, wherever I go, it takes real initiative to find a great restaurant, and i ve had so much bad quality food and food which is ugly because its all bad cuts of meat and innards. No this is the norm for Chinese food.

    Haute cuisine for Chinese are duck tongues spliced gogether with duck liver pate, as Ken Hom and his beautiful friend found out.

    Sure, some dishes are good but theres no regular good dish.

    Aft living in Thailand with its preyernaturally good street food ( roast ham salad for two dollars) Imjust a little comtemptuous of Chinese pride in their cooking and, sorry to say this, their sense of shame.

    For me, Pakistan, India, Indinesia, Malaysia – all thiese places can serve excellent and cheap food wherever you are – even in the sticks – China can manage it in all but the most expensive joints.

    Im a foody, and it just makes me angry and a little contemptuous of their so-called womderful Chinese cuisine.

    How often can you find a genuinely good gong bao ji ding? They dont even add sesame seed oil or much else.

    The amount of creative spices in China and healthy oils like walnut oil etc are virtually zero. Really unhealthy or just badly prepared food.

    Sure, you can find greatness, But its just difficult. Way too difficult compared with the rest of Asia.

    • Profile photo of GabrielC

      Ok, I have to answer here.

      “For me, Pakistan, India, Indinesia, Malaysia – all thiese places can serve excellent and cheap food wherever you are – even in the sticks – China can manage it in all but the most expensive joints.”

      I agree that in cheap restaurants and canteens in China, the food is often badly prepared and unhygienic. However, you can’t seriously claim that good food only exists in “the most expensive joints”. Have you ever tried eating in Chinese people’s homes? The food is more often than not quite delicious. This is true in all places and at all social levels.

      Restaurants which serve really good food are also not as few as you’re making it out to be (although I cannot vouch for the hygienic standards). And as for the other countries you mention, I’ve been to India – and I was quite dissapointed with the food. Although it can be delicious in expensive restaurants, I found the food in cheap restaurants and people’s homes to be bland and uninteresting. It is also much easier than in China to get ill by eating out.

      • Indian food compared to Chinese – there is no comparison. Ask anyone. Why are there more Indian restaurants in England than English ones? How many spices do they use? What are the cuts of meat like? Does this poor country use innards in their dishes like the Chinese?

        Chinese food in the West in secretly Hong Kong food aldulterated. It bears a small resemblance.

        Okay Fujian seafood soup is amazing. Their spring rolls are amazing.

        You can find greatness.

        But please, dont talk about Indian food and Chinese food as comparing apples with appples.

        No country in the world can tolerate eating genuine Chinese.

        But we can all tolerate eating genuine Indian food and its the most popular!

        Thats the proof.

      • Profile photo of GabrielC

        Well, when it comes to food I suppose tastes are tastes. If we are going to look at popularity though, it must be said that there are more Chinese restaurants than Indian ones in most countries. The UK is the exception. And the food in most international Indian restaurants has as much resemblance to the food eaten by ordinary Indians as the food in international Chinese restaurants has to ordinary Chinese food.

      • But I will say that I liked your piece. I found it thought-provoking and well-written. All I wanted to do was add my position, which needed a little fleshing out.

  10. To be honest, China made some al contributions to food. Their sweet and sour method, and the royal school of roast duck and pancakes.

    But living in China is another thing. Its just really hard to match the quality of food in China and say, in a Pakistani restaurant where I can eat excellent lamb chops and biryani rice with sesame sees buttered naan and some mixed vegetables.

    I had a lamb chop in China several times and it stank.

    I had Chinese steak. Chinese, unlike Japan, cant cook a steak. It doesnt even taste like beef.

    Are CHinese fried noodles nice? No, they are good in Dongguan sometimes, but generally they are extremely plain or greasy. They have nothing on Thai noodles or Singaporean noodles or Italian noodles.

    Is it easy to find sweet and sour spare ribs in China? It is not, And rarely do they taste anything like as good as the Western version, same with sweet and sour pork or even our Peking Duck England which is less greasy and better cut as well as Cheaper!

    Chinese language is great, Chinese cultural contributions are great and their economy is great – but their food sucks!

  11. Ha, Ive been taken out to numerous restaurants in China and not one time can I say I had a really good meal depite being treated to about ten dishes each time. Te last time I ate cicadas. Theyre okay. Just not great.

    In a Chinee guys house, I was treated to their famous Nanjing salt blood duck. Which is disgusting. Bad cuts etc. Not good taste. Which nis why only the Chinese like it. Nanjing yanshui ya.

    I was treated to a kind of duck innards with garlic dish. Gross.

    And thee was some soya sauce cabbage which was nice. But not great!

    Man, I think you havent tried good food in those other countries!

      • And Im pointing out that Pakistani food and Indian food are way better at cooking chops and curries and using spices than the Chinese.

        No country in the world, except for China, can tolerate genuine Chinese food.

        High level restaurants in China would go OUT OF BUSINESS in any other country except for China.

        In India, some Westerners swear by it. They eat the same food as they can eat in India ( as opposed to Chinese food, which in its pure and original form only the Chinese can tolerate) and they can eat Pakistani versions of common foods in England like lamb chops, or in Turkey. And it tastes good!!!!! Why in the poor countries can they cook an amzing lamb chop, like in Turkey and in China…

        it stinks!

    • Profile photo of GabrielC

      Look, what is your problem? Are you a disgruntled Indian cook who was fired after working in a Chinese restaurant? You’ve already left seven comments ranting about Chinese food. Enough already. We get the idea.

      • Chinese also hate Indians. They are extremely racist towards Indians as seen in Topix. About their religion, their food, their slums everything..

        Im not Indian no.

        But you sound like youre Chinese.

      • In fairness, I have never been to India. Perhaps the ood the general populace eat is far removed from the kind of ivory tower cuisine Ive been used to. Food hygiene there may be poorer.

        And China, to offstem the viciousness of my rant, has made sme great contributins to world cuisine and is potentially great.

        But Western Chinese food has little or no resemblance to Chinese food.(In China).

        Secondly, in terms of service, quality,availability and universal appeal ( particularly thislatter category) Chinese is below Indonesia,Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Pakistan. I have lived in China for five years, tried every food under the sun there and travelled to ten different regions.

        I said good things about Chinese food. Greatness is there,but in general there is an endemic falling foul of international standards.

      • Anyway, dont be selfish. You wrote quite a long piece about the topic of leaving China. I left China, and this is the reason. Ive written less but spaced it out in about ten posts which you partly fueled by responding early on..

        Actually, its a damn good reason.

        Westerners like myself come to China believing it will be some kind of food Mecca. They get disillusioned. Eating well can make you healthy, put a smile on your face, give you a reason to live in a country and even facilitate you marrying a girl you love or come to love through her food.

        Is China not the woman we loved through our stomaches, only to discover she had been terribly meretricious and unfaithful when we actually saw her with our own eyes?

  12. Gabriel, you are completely wrong about Chinese food resembling American Chinese food or English Chinese food.

    They is a small resemblance in some cases but jn general a large deviation.

    Indian food in India in a mid- to- high level restaurant will be the same anywhere in the world.

    Chinese English or American is almost another food. I have several whole menus I can use to prove this. I photographed them using my i pad. I showed the pictures to my friendswho love Chinese Western food. They baulked. Not one could they envisage eating.

    Chinese in China HATE Western Chinese food. Ive asked them many many times!!!

    Its not the same!!!!

    But Indian food in India and Indian food in other countries is the same, given a mid to high level restaurant.

    The funny thing is, in Ning Bo, they served Chinese Chinese versions of Indian dishes at an Indian restsurant thee, the most popular. And they were gross for me. But Chinese really liked that version. Korma with a really lumpen badly cut chicken chop in some random korma soup…but that was the Chinese version in the Ning Bo Indian restaurant.

  13. Furthermore, food in peoples homes is something we cant see.

    Every country should be judged by its publicly available food, and thats the criteria Im using.

  14. In fact I feel sorry for all you Westerners and Laowais.You come to China thinking the food will be great. But in fact, ( as every Westerner did in every school and business I ever worked for ) you all end up dropping your pants and paying for Western food which is double the price of what it would cost at home.

    It just seems like heaven is a silhouette with Chinese food. And thus the Laowai must pay more or be unhappy eating what he wishes tasted like the Western home cooked Chinese.

    Its a kind of cultural sacrifice, but its not sustainable. So the Laowai will get rich and mostly eat in foreign joints after a time or..

    leave. It isnt sustainable being a poor Laowai who likes food in China. My point has hidden depth.

    There are exceptions but thats the general run of it.

  15. Even the great Sichuan dishes like Sour Vegetable fish stew, Suan Cai Yu – how much red oil is in there? A yards worth. Is red oil good for you?

  16. Good for you. Maybe I am wrong. We would need a poll of about s thousand laowai visiting three citites in ten countries and voting.

    Wo lai da jiang you lol

    Zha jiang mien sorry.

  17. Profile photo of

    I’m hit and miss with Chinese food. Some of it is fantastic, some of it is an oily, wilted, rancid mess. I think this can be said about most cuisine in most developing countries.

    As for Indian restaurants in the UK — the reason for this should be obvious, no?

    And T, while I value your comments, please at least somewhat respect that posting 23 comments on a single post (> 50% of comments on the post) is excessive. If your goal is to write a post and share your views, you’re welcome to submit it to me or post it on your own blog. Blasting the comments section is not the right method.

    • Okay Ryan, fair point. Its just that Ive had much better experience with Indian, Thai, Malaysian,Hong Kong, Singaporean, Pakistani and West Indian restaurants than I have with places in China. I do not think that this can be said of most developing countries.

      Im angry about this, and Ken Hom OBE said there is a difference, a lot of greatness was lost in the Cultural Revolution where thousands of Chinese recipe books were burnt and simplicity was emphasized.I recently asked a Shan Dong caretaker what his favourite food was. He replied ‘baozi ye dami’, buns and rice.

      Rather than extrapolate here, I would like to put my thoughts in orderand submit a piece for the general consideration of your readership.

      Whats your e-mail?

      • Profile photo of

        My comment was coming off of a fantastic night out with the wife and kid at a local Sichuan restaurant. All said, I think our meal was around 100RMB, and it was amazing. I do think you have a point about poor food in China vs. poor food in some other countries. The tricky part is geography though. By far my favourite Chinese cuisines are the spicy dishes from Sichuan and Hunan. I also love Indian and Thai. I think in all of these places, even impoverished areas, the food is better than most 东北菜 (apologies to my 大连人 wife). I think it’s fateful that spice is such a fantastic cover-up for spoiled meat, or else all these cuisines would suffer from blandness now that quality cuts are applied to the recipes.

        There is some traces of this in European cookery as well — compare the dishes of Spain or Morocco with traditional UK or Nordic fare.

        My e-mail is my name @ the domain of this Web site. Or just use the contact form.

      • I have indeed, thanks for remembering. I have not however lived or worked there properly.

        My impression is that India is probably frustrating in many of the same ways as China, but more so. It also doesn’t strike me as the sort of place where a Westerner could really dream of living on a relatively low income, like an ordinary local, which in China is just about doable. The life most Indians lead is just too harsh in all sorts of ways. Most of the Westerners who live in India have a nice job and a nice big house with live-in servants. Either that, or they are hippies who are into meditation and yoga.

        The fact you are not forced to learn the local language in the same way as in China probably makes life easier, but in the long run it means you are less atuned to the local culture. Finding local girls willing to go out with you is probably also more difficult since the morals are more conservative.

        These are my impressions but since I haven’t lived in India long term I stand to be corrected.

  18. Chris Devonshire-Ellis. He set up his practice and publications in both countries and also puts out a China-India site: http://www.2point6billion.com. I think he’s about the only expat I can think of who did that. But I reckon as China gets tougher more expats will at least go take a lookie. Goa is way cool for a start, hippies and beach raves. That’ll work.

  19. Yeah but he’s somewhere in the US now. Doesn’t count. However I agree India will start to compete more and more expats will try out there.

  20. great analogy with Cairo, its worth noting however, in stark contrast to China, and particularily shanghai, no one turns on the tv in USA and hears about out great life is in Egypt, or about all the great jobs are in Egypt or that Egypt ia taking over. Egypt is pretty much a shithole and will be for the next 100 years. China is supposed to be much more advanced etc..so many foreigners are crushed when they get here and discover nothing works and everything was a lie. Shanghai in particular gets the best press clippings imaginable…a family friend once quipped that New York wished it could be Shanghai. Looking back im confounded as to what he might have been referring to…the Subway system?

    Leaving Shanghai and going to Cairo or Kazakstan makes no sense…going back to North America, where you wont be jeered every day on the street, and theyve progressed beyond squat toilets, makes 100000% sense. Get your work experience and get the F out.

    • Profile photo of GabrielC

      I see your point.

      I suppose the problem is with some of the overexcited reporting about China in the West, which makes it seem like the country is already more advanced than it really is.

      Then again, I can see that foreign journalists who stay in five star hotels and only experience glittering skyscrapers and super-fast trains (with nice toilets!) from Beijing to Shanghai might be enthusiastic.

      Perhaps we should require foreign correspondents to stay in cheap accomodation. It might give them a better idea what China is really like.

    • I think that is the real problem most westerners run into when they get to China – the failure of the situation to meet expectations. The bill of goods seen in the media about China and how it is the savior of the modern world, how the country is competing with the major nations of the world in productivity and life, and how the cities like Beijing and Shanghai are just like other big cities or stark contrasts to the reality. It only takes a few weeks living here in China to realize that ALL of your perceptions of what to expect are wrong. No amount of preparation or study can prepare you for how not true all of the facade really is. The ability to accept that difference and to reconcile in your mind expectations and reality determines whether an expat will make it through the first year and beyond. The bait-and-switch that we experience is huge. Admittedly there are things that make the experience worth it but depending on preferences for living those are often not sufficient to justify sticking around for them.

      • Jerry, can you explain your bait and switch idea with examples? I like the idea!

        Im a language student, drinker and i like thegood life. Shanghai came up to my expectations there. Jinan kind of had potential too! Linyi did not. Ning bo in a way did. Beijing too. Nanjing is a hive of anti Western thugs. Buthas some cool places.

        Hotels usually have great services, hot water massage etc clean and fairly cheap.

        Its impressive really.

        Its a lot better than Cairo!

  21. Actually, I did found several Chengdu Chinese restaurants, greasy spoons not luxury, to be excellent. Great honey fish. Delicious.

    I don’t want o be an asshole.

    But China in general, I found their food inconsistent, unsanitary, untidy ( internal organs,messy disreputable parts of the animal) and not overly cheap either. There were many things that on appearance I refused to contemplate.

    Malaysia, for example, can give you an excellent buffet for under two Engliah pounds. China would not be as cheap.

  22. Successful China expat life is all about a healthy fascination with the absurd and strategically lowered expectations. And (in reference to the India vs China debate), as a woman, I’d choose China as an expat location over India every time for the sheer freedom of movement without hassles that it provides.

    As for food, find a good Hunan or Sichuan, learn how to order correctly and you’re in heaven every time.

    • Well good luck with that. I hope you enjoy it.

      By the way Egyptian food has a reputation for not being very good even within the Middle East, especially compared with Levantine food. If you manage to claim that even Eygptian food is better than Chinese than you really are just biased.

  23. I will say this though. I was travelling from Malaysia to Cairo with a fourteen hour stopover in Jeddah via Saudia Airways.
    Now Saudia Airways may not look much but their food is something I would pay for in a restaurant. Tuna lasagna, lamb and chicken dishes,all superb. In economy class.

    On the other hand, I was expecting to be able to sleep in a hotel, paid for by myself,on the fourteen hour stopover. Instead i was conducted to a cold waiting lounge with no wifi or atm. I was not allowed to leave,nor had any mention of a tranzit visa,one day,been mentioned. I asked four staff and guards for a blanket. The Saudia staff told me airports never stock blankets, not even in emergency, that the tranzit visa was necessary in any country,UK included, and it was my responsibility and problem.

  24. Jeddah is very much on my hit list for places with a very low freedom index that correlates poorly with service requirement and expectation. I was not able to sleep in the lounge nor did any shop sell blankets.

  25. In fact, there are many aspects of Chinese life which impress me. In Malaysia it took two a half months to get a student visa, and i got angry with the whole system and the slightly turgid atmostphere that pervades,even in KL.

    Studying in China was easy. The Visa took two weeks,and they even waived a late fee on the residence permit out of sheer good nature, thus securing a still blemishless criminal record,useful in procuring employment later.

  26. Cairo food and pollution is abysmal. Im leaving. It tookmeforty minutes to cross a small road by Nile Street. F that. Cars are all thirty years old, no ctalytic converters, unregistered lead and mercury smelting plants all over town. But my Arabic is better.

      • It isnt. In fact, some Chinese food can be really nice. But standards vary and, by and large, they have a different criteria of acceptability. I blame the Cultural Revolution.

        But as for Cairo, China is superior is so many ways its difficult to count. Your point is well and truly confirmed.

        Cairene desserts are brilliant,though, but only in the best hotels. Chinese dont have desserts. But overall, Chinese food beats Cairene food. Cairo does understand how to use creme in desserts. China doesnt know what creme is yet,and were in 2013.

        China is not overcrowded compared to Brighton, my hometown, London or Cairo.

        Cairo is far far more polluted than China. Dont even go there.

        Cairo is a place I donot care to revisit. I dont understand how people could live here. Forty minutes to cross a road on a normal day, four oclock rush hour and two oclock and eight oclock.

        Cairene hotels are worse than Chinese.

        We are all wallets on legs. But Ilike Egyptians. From what I know. Taxi drivers do sometimes know English. Chinese taxi drivers have never in five years, except one, known any English.

        I will revisit China.

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  29. China is a cooler place by far, unless the Cairo rave scene picks up..

    Creme, though, is the cornerstone of the two greatest culinary school – Italian noodles and English desserts. Now look how a culture takes what Chinese food it finds and turns it into a gastronomic powerhouse,as Marco Polo did with the noodle.

    Creme was the missing ingredient. See how England took Chinese food and made it the mkst popular food in the world? Thats talent. Chinese food would be one of the least popular foods in its pure mainland form. I stand by that. But a better country it is.

  30. Chinese didnt work out, it seems, that the tomatoe can be used as a kind of juice to cook in, like a stew base. Many nations gor that one, I think. Chinese have hot spice, but do they have the mild cocnut curry?

    China stands alone. An American cook friend said Chinese food is very complex and interesting.

    So, that may be so.

  31. Rich Europeans use walnut oil, peanut oil, rice oil, vegetable oil and sesame seed oil.

    Do posh Chinese restaurants use this dazzling array of oils? Didnt they all come from China?

    • Profile photo of

      T, I’ve been trying to figure out your commenting methodology for months. Why do you post each sentence (or small collection of sentences) as separate comments? Why not just post it all as one comment?

      • The reason relates to the pointilist movement in art, which Im heavily influenced by. Each point makes up a picture of meaning but cannot be seen to phyically with any other. This semantic loneliness perhaps explains why Van Gogh, its pricipal exponent, felt obliged to do away with himself. The ear came first in true pointilistic fashion. Such is the way, such a tragic art movement.

        But dont worry, im moving away from it, opting for coherent all-comprehensive totemic structures of meaning marshalled in blocks.

  32. I’m desperate to leave but can’t because of Britain’s new regulations on family immigration. My wife, Chinese, cannot come with me unless I am earning a ridiculous amount of money which can’t be earned in Scotland. I don’t want to live in London for five years just for paperwork. London is a shit-hole and is worse than living in China. Way to go Theresa May! Oh man, I really want to go home… to Scotland.

    China’s not that bad, but all its got to offer me is a greater sense of safety, nothing much else. All the other stuff I like about China can easily be found back home.

    • What’s wrong with London? It’s one of the most exciting and cosmopolitan cities in the world. It’s got better weather than Scotland too, which matters, because the weather in Scotland is so bloody aweful.

      • The main reason is that London isn’t safe and it is getting worse. It is a multi-cultural dump. I’m young and I haven’t got decades of savings to get a decent home in a decent area. 80,000 pounds can buy a nice 2-bedroom home in a very good area in Glasgow, with a lovely front and back garden. What would be my options in London? Brixton (Britain’s equivalent Harlem or Crenshaw)? I’ve lived in both London and Glasgow.

        Weather is the least of my worries. Family and safety is far more important. I just want my family to be together. I need to take care of my ailing mother but if I want to then my wife has to stay in China. It is ridiculous. She’s my wife for crying out loud. Britain only cares about the rights of its foreign rapists, murderers and thieves over its own citizens and their law abiding foreign spouses.

      • The quicker Scotland separates from the rest of the United Kingdom, the further we can get away from those parasites in Westminster. How many Conservative MPs did Scotland vote into Parliament? Just one. This isn’t a democracy. I have every right to be angry when an English dominated party tells me I can’t live in my own damn country.

        It is a grand shame that politics is ruining the great bond between Scotland and England.

        For now, I will just live in China for now worrying about my ailing mother, worrying about my future… Sigh.

      • London is a “multicultural dump”? What is that supposed to mean? London attracts some of the most talented people from around the globe. That’s why it has almost become the capital of the world, and the only place in the UK which maintains a real global status. It’s the rest of Britain which is a dump if anything.

        I know that in London there is lots of violence and much of it is caused by young people from, let’s say, “ethnic backgrounds”, but from what I hear Glasgow is even more dangerous, and it’s mostly due to local Scottish people.

        Anyway I am sorry to hear about your mother. I hope you find a way to get back to Britain with your girlfriend. Immigration laws clearly need an overhaul. I really don’t see what this has to do with foreign rapists, thieves and murderers, who get locked up for their crimes in Britain just like anywhere else, and whose rights are fortunately still respected.

    • Im sorry to hear about your woes,Alundra. I am Scottish myself. Scotland has bad weather but some enjoy a good biting wind and sleet.

      Please expatiate on the issues; how much do you need to earn for your wife to join you in Scotland? Are you earning a London salary and thats enough for your wife to join you, but not if you were earning in Scotland?

      Surely Glasgow pays as much as London on a job per job basis?

      London isnt violent. Just dont pick fights and carry a tenner on you if youre in Peckam for easy robbing. Brixtons fine. I walked from Battersea to Brixton very night ten years ago. Nothing happened.

      Please explain in more detail. I though Chinese emigration was very snobby and stringent.

      • I’m not in London at the moment. I am in China.

        I need to earn 18,600 pounds per annum for 5 / 7 years straight without a dip in pay or being made redundant. It is not impossible to get a job that pays this well, but it is extremely unlikely. I am young, early 20s, so of course I don’t have enough experience to walk into a job that pays above the threshold required to sponsor my wife (I only have 3 years teaching experience). Another problem is that jobs are few and far between, I’d be lucky to get a job in Tesco or something. I would do almost any job as I can easily support my wife on minimum wage but the government won’t let me. Am I supposed to reject any job opportunity I get that is below 18,600 pounds? That’s just stupid. It does say “no access to public funds” on British visas, so why does the government not enact on that rule and relax the silly and unfair wage requirement?

        The funny thing is that I don’t want a council house or benefits, apart from JSA until I get a job. I will stay with my mother until I can afford to get a mortgage which shouldn’t take so long as I am good at saving money, even on my meagre Chinese wage.

        London pays more, although the cost of living is higher. I don’t want to carry a tenner if I walk through the streets of London just for an easy robbing. London is far more violent than Glasgow, and its unpredictable. I have been mugged two times in London and my cousin was stabbed several times in the back for his phone and bus fair in broad daylight.

        Glasgow has its own problems but mostly the same problems its always had – feral youth, i.e. neds. The older you get the less likely they will pick problems with you, and to be honest I have noticed great improvements in some areas of Glasgow. London has a lot of imported crimes and problems – Albanian pickpockets, Croat fraudsters and Somali rapists. We only want good migrants. We want doctors, nurses, engineers, spouses and children of British citizens. We don’t want Tomasz, Dick and Hussein with nothing to give our country but being a burden on the taxpayer, and/or committing crimes.

        And jixiang – you say you don’t know why foreign criminals has anything to do with this? Well, they do. They are taking the place of me and my wife, that’s why. Not all of them are in jail, they are warm at home cosying up to their stolen TVs (or free TVs from the government). We can’t deport them due to an incompetent government. You say that they should still have their rights, well no to an extent, they lost 99% of them while committing crimes. What about my rights?

      • When you commit a crime, you still have rights, for instance the right to legal representation and a fair trial. When you go to prison, you still have rights too, or at least you should do, although in practice they are unlikely to be respected. And I am sure that Britain’s “incompetent government” treats foreign criminals just as harshly as British ones, which is what it should do.

        It’s populist and silly to say that we should only get “good migrants”. There is no such thing. Immigrants are human beings, most are ok and some are bad. There is no way to discern, and if you want to build a multiethnic society, you will obviously get both. It is in the line of things, and it’s got nothing to do with you and your wife. By the way, does it strike you that if they are asking your wife to have a high income in order to migrate to the UK, they are probably doing it because they think that’s a way to stop criminals and no-goders from coming to the UK?

    • I don’t have time and the money (I have a mortgage and bills to pay) to get my post-graduate certificate, although it is a logical thing to do. What if I just want to do a job that is, let’s say, 12,000 per year? I’d be happy and satisfied to start from there and work a way up the ladder.

      What makes me angry is that EU citizens can come with their non-EEA spouses and doesn’t need to follow these rules, and gets priority over BRITISH families! Typical politicians. Weak to foreigners, brutal to their own.

      If Britain wants to stop the majority of foreign criminals to enter the country then they simply need to get out the EU, and close the borders to people who have no connections and has nothing to offer to the country… or lame connections (i.e. cousins, aunts/uncles, cats/fish)… Create a simple and fair immigration system. Skilled workers that we need. Come on in and welcome. Spouses, children and immediate dependants of British citizens, you are welcome to. You must speak English and pass the examinations.

      If you have a criminal record, or you can’t get proof of a clean record. Don’t come. If you commit a crime, you do the time and you get immediate deportation.

      The NHS should only be free for British citizens only. Same goes for welfare.

      That is fairer.

      • Alundra, it seems that your argument contains a compound contradiction; on the one hand you argue for more stringent controls on immigration and welfare access,on the other you bemoan the tight controls imposed on Chinese – that is, non-citizens.

        Surely you should be saluting the government if your principal contention is that they are too lax.

        Or are you arguing hypocrisy – they let others in easily,but are strict with the Chinese?

        It’s difficult to increase your market value in China because they aren’t that many jobs in England per se, and very few that need Chinese. Chinese is a real plus in Dubai, so it seems, for sales,as is Russian.

        So people in China make money in China, but they don’t see an increase in their own market value from having lived in China when they return home.

        This may change if, like Sweden,we all start introducing Mandarin into the curriculum.

        On the other hand, you may see Chinese helping you if you decided to try import export business in England. But this may be an already agglomerated employment sector.

        HOw is it possible to live in CHina and increase our salary potential for getting a better job back home?

  33. I laughed aloud reading “T”‘s explanation on why he writes single lines in each blog!!! T u are a smart ass are’nt ya?.

  34. Smart ass,hehe unabashedly yes.But I always pay the bill.

    Incidentally,has anyone thought about the CHinese ability to understand irony, satire etc. Does this feature in CHinese literature? I know that the CHinese writers use the concept of the absurd (cf.Albert Camus)

    Why are Chinese like that? IS irony,sarcasm – a European concept?

    To be honest, I think we have as much of a face concept as the CHinese but they endlessly pontificate on their ‘face’. So what is it about Chinese that we DON’T understand?

    And I m looking for depth here.

    • I have been living in China for only a year so far. But I opine humbly thus:

      1. Satire, sarcasm, irony etc, are western “thangs” (I struggle to find the right word!!).

      2. Chinese in general do not have a sense of humor (or is it humour?.. I digress)period.

      3. Chinese have a false sense of pride which manifests itself as “Face”.

      4. Chinese are cunning… and cynical..in that they dont trust anything.. anybody.

      5. Chinese HATE the English language.. I could not understand why .. when English is taught here at very early stage (same as in India.. where I learnt to speak this blessed language).

      I am learning more and more everyday here in Jhunguao.

      • It is a bit ridiculous to claim the Chinese hate the English language, when many of them put so much money and time into learning it privately. Considering how such an alien language has been forced on them because of historical and current power relations which have made it the world’s second language, it is surprising they don’t hate it for real.

        Unlike the Indians, who were colonized for so long that they internalized the idea that their own languages are inferior, the Chinese actually do take pride in their own language and insist on using it for all internal purposes. Perhaps you have confused this with hate.

        Furthermore, while the Chinese may not share the Western sense of humour, saying they don’t have any sense of humour is a HUGELY controversial statement. I think a culture with no sense of humour has yet to come into existence.

        And about pride, the Chinese have no more and no less sense of pride than anyone. Nor do they care about face anymore than anyone else. This whole concept of eastern face is a huge myth. Who doesn’t care about their face?

    • Thanis T. I stand corrected and I am ashamed of my complete ignorance of the Chinese language and am in awe of your immense knowledge and your willingness to spread the same among us commoners.

      • what is the big f###### deal? so what if it is the website for expats? what is so holy about it? and why can’t I make a mistake when I am not pretending to know heck of a lot on China? jeez!! pardon me for LIVING!!!

      • I think you miss the point. Your previous post seemed like a sarcastic rebuke at T. for daring to correct your appalling misspelling of China’s name. You can hardly be surprised if someone attempts to correct such a dreadful mistake.

  35. No, i mean it, I stand in awe of YOU, because you have lifted yourself out of the gutter we have inside, because you are not just another drone.

    Yes, you have decided to learn the most difficult language of this century’s most important country.

    We shall see if their enlightened despotism works.

    In a way, we’re the same because China both hates England and loathes India. India because of wars and skirmishes and democracy, England,becaue of the Opium War that really ended in 1945. If were honest.

    Oh and their self-bleaching might favour us, or,not me,coz I have freckles, but a.n.other.

    • I think you miss the point. Your previous post seemed like a sarcastic rebuke at T. for daring to correct your appalling misspelling of China’s name. You can hardly be surprised if someone attempts to correct such a dreadful mistake

      @jixiang:

      No I do not miss the point and no you shall not have the last word on it and guess what…YOU miss the point!!!

      I was sarcastic at T not so much as for correcting me but for making it a cardinal sin to make such a “dreadful mistake” as you put it and I say…what the f####??? I did not pretend to be an expert on China nor are you all!!! you and I are a bunch of laowais “lost” in China..

      Hence the sarcasm and this rebuttal to your paediatric comments!!!

      Have a great one.

      • I think you must mean pedantic, not paediatric.

        In any case, T. corrected you gracefully, but you turned it into an issue. The blame lies with you. Case closed.

        We may be lost in China, but at least we know the difference between Zhongguo and “Jhunguao”.

      • @GabrielC:

        I have used the word Paediatric in the “Diseases of children” sense you moron!!! I do know the word pedantic okay? so stop being a fucking ass hole..by the way who the fuck are you to say “case closed?”. Is it your prerogative to do that because of what??? uh?? Piece of shit!!!again let me say this…big fucking deal that you can say Zhongguao!!! wooptidooo ass hole!!!

    • @ Jixiang:

      So be it..sometimes profanity is needed to make a point…. it is no crime.. I particularly resented the effort here to diss my points of view (heck ! I can have a different point of view) and speak down to me and tell me “this is the correct answer” – right? right.

      • Right yes. I am sorry for trying to tell you that Zhongguo is not spelt Jhunguao. It’s a matter of points of view, right? Who am I to decide how China’s name is to be spelt? Maybe you’re a genius and have invented a better system than Pinyin to transcribe the Chinese language. Sigh. Face Palm.

  36. Bala, you didnt know this but Lost Laowai is sacred. It has a majority stock holding in Karma Company which China is now selling, after opening up its holy mountains and monasteries to tourism. We could be profane but were insured and dont have to be!

    So good luck with those banana skins and one way streets buddy youre gonna need it wahahahahahaha!

  37. We could unleash a concatenationof profanities so virulent it would make your nose bleed.

    Dont let your karma runover your dogma snigger..

    Have a bally good time, as the English aristocracy said.

  38. We could unleash a concatenationof profanities so virulent it would make your nose bleed

    oooooh!!!!! I am scared master!!!! please don’t unleash virulent ones…hows ’bout them non-viru.. or whatever ones!!! you know what??? bring it on… I am dying to unleash mine on you so not only your nose but your other vital organs.. such as…say brain…will bleed. Ganging up on me are’nt you?? why? because of the age old hatred towards Indians??? listen punk.. I have had guys like you for breakfast.. you don’t scare me…

    • I am only joking Bala. Actually I dont hate Indians.I think India has the world’s most superior culture, and I have said so many times.

  39. I like to congratulate Gabriel for his well thought out and balanced analysis of the situation in China His comparisons of Egypt and India to China are balanced and fair (whether it is food, hygiene, traffic, pollution or social relationship matters); I have worked in both India and Egypt as well. In 2012 alone I traveled to India 12 times on business – I can assure you Indian food in India is unlike that in England insofar as hygiene is concerned, including those served at the best restaurants including 5-star restaurants (I had “stomach problems” every visit to India). I live and work in Saudi Arabia as an expat for the last 5 years, and have been to many of the countries in the ME.

    I think Expats in China should count your blessings. Albeit China is not perfect and is still a developing country it is a lot better than living/working in many ASEAN countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand,Philippines, etc) where China’s security is better (except Singapore)- I know because I have lived in ASEAN since 1995 until I came to Saudi Arabia. I was born in Malaysia (so I do not speak ill of Malaysia unnecessarily) and have lived in USA and Canada since 1956. I wish is to retire in China – the problem is that I would not be allowed to live there on a long term basis because I am over 60 years old (thus cannot work) and cannot establish my minimum residency to qualify and buy a flat for my retirement. I have been visiting China about twice a year since 2008. Last year I toured Shanxi and Yunnan – Yunnan is ideal for retirement.

  40. I love India,but I take your comments into consideration. As for Egypt, its extraordinarily rich in terms of history. I cannot stay there for longer than a month,however.

    I have never actually been to India.

    Cairo actually depresses me. A waste of talent. Im in Morocco now.

  41. Morocco is nice, especially in Marrakech and Agadir – festive (Marakech huge open food court at night) and seaside (Agadir). The fruits and jucies of Morocco are exceptional. Seafood is fresh – try the salt baked fish needing a hammer to break it open. Mind you, there is not much variety is their preparation of seafood – grilled or with sauce in the clay pot. Use of spices mild. I like Turkish food better. When in Casablanca be careful at night, and police corruption is rampant if you drive (I did from Casablanca to Agadir (800 km) and was stopped 4 times and had to pay each time for no apparent reason but they won’t give you a ticket to see and you cannot leave until you pay (no receipt after each payment).

  42. Chinese food is okay. It’s certainly not the most delicious food in Asia, but it’s good enough. It all depends on what you like and where you go.

    Thailand is amazing for food. They have a HUGE variety which makes it a lot easier to find something that tastes good. In China, the food all tastes the same. It’s usually fried, and who knows what kind of oil they’re using.

    • I would agree that when you eat in cheap restaurants, the possibility of them using recycled oil is a huge concern.

      However, I really disagree that the food all tastes the same. If you say that, then you don’t know Chinese food.

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