Watch: The Expat Curve, coping with the phases of living abroad

The Expat Curve is a roughly sinusoidal wave that many laowai are sure to find familiar. It illustrates six different phases expatriates go through after moving abroad for work and living.Read More

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Speed Dating in an English Lesson

A few weeks ago I finished my first academic year of teaching Oral English at a university in the Middle Kingdom. There’ve been ups and downs, yadda, yadda, but it’s been, overall, good. Even the work has been okay. Here’s a short piece I wrote back in March about my favourite lesson. This week, in …Read More

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Fast Food in China: Beyond the Golden Arches

For many in China, “fast food” means McDonalds and KFC. To the average laowai, a visit to the nearest burger joint (or a phone call to the bicycle delivery man) is a periodic necessity for those craving a reminder of life back home and a break from their usual Chinese diet of rice and noodles. Even many Chinese consider fast food to be a uniquely foreign –- or specifically American –- phenomenon.

But Western fast food restaurants in China have long been outnumbered by native competitors. For decades, these Chinese chains were mostly small-scale operations limited to a particular city or province. But in recent years, a persistent handful have begun to extend their reach across the country and establish themselves as national, or at least regional, brand names. A diverse group, their menus range from American fast food staples to regional Chinese specialties, and some imaginative creations that don’t quite fit any category. Here’s a guide to five popular and fast-growing Chinese chains you’ll likely come across (if you haven’t already)Read More

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The 7 Year Laowai: Part 7 – Safety

I had an English class once where this girl interrupted me to ask what I thought of Japan, and without waiting for an answer, proceeded to tell me that Japan had killed many Chinese people, that they hated China, they were jealous of China. Then she went into Korea. Korea “stole our culture”. You’d think imitation the sincerest form of flattery, but not this girl.

I didn’t know what to say. On one hand, listening to this recorded message, it dawned on me that I was 12,000 miles away from everyone and everything I had ever known…and that according to some people, this, this, blind allegiance, blatant censorship, and self-checking all in the name of “harmony”…this is the next superpower.

On the other hand, she was speaking. I take what I can get.Read More

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The 7-year Laowai: Part 2 – Wei Wei

Those first few years were the worst. You enter a period in your life where you can’t say for sure what you’re doing or even who you are. Each day the same as the last, they blur together like a flipbook. You can only see flashes of what you did, what you were. Little isolated fragments that do nothing to illustrate what happened and everything to add to the mystery.

“Why do you come to China?”, my students ask me, which is pretty much “What’s a nice laowai like you doing in a place like this?”. Well…I suppose I came here for a better life. I suppose. It’s hard to say. It’s hard to know what I was thinking. Look at it like this: I was treading water in the middle of the ocean, waiting for a boat to come by.

China just happened to be the first.

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