Why we’re staying in China
Global Times | 2012-10-14 20:45:05
By Chris Hawke
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There are many aspects of life that expats see as charming in China, while others test their patience.  
Photos: CFP
There are many aspects of life that expats see as charming in China, while others test their patience. Photos: CFP



Foreigners love to complain about China, especially newcomers. Many of them give up and leave, but some stay on and are even quite happy here. How do they do it?

Our panel of three fictional old China hands suggest strategies for living in China, and loving it.

Meet the panel

Deanna Troy: Single, middle-aged and bilingual, Troy has dated many Chinese men, some of them very famous, although not for some time. She prefers squat toilets, feeling they are more sanitary.

Nellie Yellow: A trailing spouse, Yellow hasn't lived in China for seven years by choice, but has learned to manage its dangers and risks. She often joins her husband when he goes to KTV after business meetings, and was thrilled to read in the New York Times that home AIDS tests will be on the market soon.

Homer Rome: Rome came here 10 years ago as an English teacher, but now works as a business consultant and won't be making the odyssey back home any time soon. He feels complimented when Chinese people call him sneaky.

Public urination

DT: Urine is actually sterile. You could even drink it and it wouldn't hurt you. And think about how quick the dumps would fill up if every Chinese child wore diapers.

NY: No one comes into my apartment without taking off their shoes.

HR: I once got arrested for peeing on the street in London, Ontario. Don't need to worry about that here.

Bad service

DT: At least waiters don't tell you their name and constantly interrupt to ask "how is everything?"

HR: I want food. They are in a hurry. I like that the Chinese drop please and thank you and get down to business.

Queue cutting

DT: Some of these old ladies elbowing to get ahead in line probably had to do the same to get food during the Great Chinese Famine (1958-61). Their less pushy siblings may not have survived, so I try to cut them some slack.

NY: The bad side of China is that if you are a stranger, people feel they owe you nothing. The good side is that if you are a friend or family member, they will go all the way for you. Public spaces show the ugliest side of the Chinese.

HR: When I'm in a hurry, I cut to the front of the line too. No one says a thing.

Spitting in public

DT: Growing up in this air, you'd get in the habit of horking too.

NY: I'm just happy it's happening less and less since the Olympics.

Food security

DT: I think these extra 15 pounds on my hips are putting me more at risk than the off-chance of getting served poison milk or dumplings.

NY: I avoid processed foods, milk and meat. I wash all vegetables to remove the pesticides. I also don't eat in restaurants so cheap that they would be tempted to recycle the cooking oil.

HR: None of my friends have been food poisoned in Beijing, except at Mexican restaurants.

Air pollution

DT: No one really knows how serious the problem is. A famous blogging Beijing doctor has suggested that living in Beijing's pollution is about as harmful as smoking five cigarettes a month. But he also suggested it might take two years off your life. He added that bad exercise, high salt diets, not enough fruits and vegetables, obesity, high cholesterol and even secondhand smoke are more dangerous. So I'm going to worry about slimming down and quitting smoking, things I can control, before I start worrying about things I can't control.

NY: I have snake plants, golden palms and money plants in my house and office to purify the air, and I use a HEPA air purifier. When I go outside on polluted days, I wear a N95 mask.

HR: I'll be happy if I live long enough to worry about dying from heart disease or cancer brought on by air pollution.

Dire dating for single Western women

DT: At least the douchebags among our men are showing their true colors, so we can avoid them.

NY: Unfortunately, the odor of Chinese girls is very faint and hard to detect, and they rarely wear perfume. Fortunately, the "Find my iPhone" app can be used to track your husband when he doesn't answer your calls.

HR: Guilty as charged! Slim, younger women pay me more attention than I ever got at home. The problem is the slutty ones tend to be crazy, while the nice ones tend to take a roll in the hay more seriously than we do.

Intrusive questions

DT: When the Chinese ask me why I'm not married yet, I tell them I'm gay. I love the look on their faces.

HR: Not only will the Chinese ask very intrusive questions, but they will answer them as well. I not only know the salary of all my Chinese friends, but how much they pay in rent, their family's net worth and whether they are virgins.

Showing off wealth

DT: Why is it that the Chinese are more subtle and discreet than Westerners about almost everything, except flaunting how much money they have?

NY: Whenever a Chinese person talks about how much their car or vacation costs, it gives me a chance to feel superior because I did not spend my life chasing money.

Internet access

DT: Facebook is a waste of time. And using Sina Weibo (Chinese microblog) is great for my Chinese.

NY: Thank god my husband had to shake his porn habit after he got here.

HR: I spend 70 yuan ($11) a month and get a VPN.

Traffic congestion

DT: I doubt I would have ever learned Chinese were it not for the chatty taxi drivers here.

HR: Get a bicycle. Not only is it faster than driving, but good for your health (unless, of course, you are run over by a car).


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