Being ditto to Kitto isn’t for every expat
Global Times | 2012-11-20 19:45:04
By Geoffrey Murray
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Illustration: Peter C. Espina
Illustration: Peter C. Espina



The debate over author and businessman Mark Kitto's declared decision to leave China after 16 years and return to his native Britain greatly interests this compatriot, who feels very differently.

I'm not criticizing Kitto; he's made his choice, but "rather him than me." He says the "magic" has gone regarding China and I can sympathize, as that happened to me after 16 years in Japan. Yet, I know where I'd rather live today - vibrant, challenging and go-ahead China.

I left Britain for Australia when I was 20, and then decided Asia would be "home." Since 1990, this has really meant Beijing, after stays in Vietnam, India, Iran, Japan, Singapore and many other places. Being a "foreigner" has never bothered me - even in Japan, where they really know how to emphasize your foreignness. However, I did return to the UK three times for family reasons between 1979 and 2000. On the first two occasions, I sought work. I was then a well-known international journalist, but that didn't impress UK companies. Out of about 90 job applications, I got three interviews and one offer.

That's pretty normal. Anyone over 40 has a hard time finding a job, so I used the time to improve an education sadly lacking when young.

China revived my dead career. Unlike the UK, my writing and teaching skills are recognized here and I'm busier than ever, beyond retirement age.

I receive two small UK pensions, but, with heavy local taxes to pay for essential services, plus an extremely high cost of living, they'd meet less than one-third of the British Government-set "poverty line" requirement for survival. In China, I live comfortably on a salary modest by UK standards, and have never felt so rich in both the material and spiritual sense.

Beijing offers a safe environment compared to crime-ridden, socially- and racially-divided UK cities full of intolerance, where drugs and alcohol and no expectations in life ravage young lives.  

Admittedly, China today is less than perfect. Certainly, although life was harder then, I have a lot of nostalgia for the Beijing of the early 1990s. However, China is undergoing rapid economic change requiring big social adjustment so there are bound to be unpleasant aspects, as Kitto cites as part of his decision to leave.

Yet, Britain, at the height of its 19th century economic power, was an appalling place to live unless you were rich; and some of the old health and educational inequalities amid poverty - with much reduced job prospects - have returned.

Kitto is rightly concerned about his children's future, yet, while he heads for rural England, a significant number of Britons and Americans are moving to Singapore, Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland for a better life and to take advantage of opportunities for their children to become fluent in Chinese as part of a promising China-oriented career in the future.

They tell longtime exiles "you can never go home." But after sunny Beijing, I wouldn't be able to cope with the dreary climate for a start!



The author is a former Vietnam War (1955-75) correspondent and longtime writer on Asian affairs, who currently teaches academic writing, journalism and interpretation at China Foreign Affairs University.


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