If you’re thinking about moving to China you’re in for a treat. While there is no place safe left in the world, China is one of the safer. Many cities here have a reasonable cost of living, and work can usually be found by foreigners who speak decent English. In general Chinese people are friendly to most foreigners. The boys in the picture here were quite excited to talk with ‘the foreigner’ and happy to strike a pose for me.
Transportation is cheap and readily available most times of the year. Most things that you are used to from your home country can be bought locally, or if not, can be bought from China’s version of Amazon, called TaoBao, including foodstuffs. Finally, the Chinese people have a strong belief in the power of massage, natural medicine, and acupuncture. So if this is something you want or need, these are all readily available and all at a reasonable price, especially compared to getting the same treatments in the West. China is no longer a scary and mysterious place. It is quite connected to the world and very modern. (To the left – inside a train car)
Before you get to thinking this is paradise, let me tell you a little more. The culture of China is quite unique, and difficult for many to get used to. Most people who have driver’s licenses don’t know how to drive, including motorcyclists, electric scooter drivers, and bicyclists. Let’s just say that the streets aid population control. It defies explanation. Spitting is a national pastime, and no one is exempted. I’ve seen kids, grannies, and extremely delicate and beautiful women hock some real nastiness. Many foreigners find it difficult to stomach.
Many Chinese people are obsessed with money, so people wanting to cheat the foreigner (and each other) out of a few or many dollars are very common, from landlords to the lady selling beans at the market. Petty theft, especially of electronics like phones and computers, as well as bikes and scooters, is very, very (very) common. I’ve had personal friends get their iphones stolen while they were listening to music on them. No kidding. My wife has had her purse or backpack sliced with razor blades on the bus two times in these six years. The thieves in crowded busses slice bags then dig around inside while they are smooshed up against you. They have other ways too. You have to be pretty vigilant. People in most places in China don’t know what it means to get in line and wait your turn. If you don’t like people jumping the line, it might be difficult for you to deal with.
China can be a great place to live
Finally, there are a lot of people in China. Of course you already know that, but unless you’ve lived in a place with this many people, you don’t really know what it’s like. Sometimes the sidewalk is so crowded it’s like being stuck on the Santa Ana expressway during rush hour traffic. If you’re people shy or don’t like being around people all the time, this might not be the place for you.
There, was that balanced? Obviously there are many more details that I could give about every one of the above observations. Also, these are my personal observations and comments from people I’ve met. But the point is, like any place, China has it’s good and it’s bad. Personally, up to this point, my wife and I love it here. It’s better than anywhere else I’ve lived in recent years. My other friends don’t all feel this way. Some of them can’t stand it. They live here just for the work. I’ve found through the years that each person’s feelings about China are quite unique, mostly because of each person’s experience and attitude is different.
Work is often plentiful for qualified English teachers
Why do I love it in China? Three reasons mainly. One, there is plenty of work in the city where I live. As a native English speaker with some life experience, a bachelor’s degree in English teaching, and a white face, I am always in demand. Every month or two some school calls me asking me if I want to work for them. I never had anyone in Americal call me out of the blue to offer me work. Where we live, work is easy to find and the average wage is 150 RMB ($22) per hour for native English speakers. I’ve made as little as 100 RMB ($15) and as much as 300 ($45) per hour. Wages vary depending on where you live. In the bigger cities the wages tend to be higher.
A second reason I love it is because the cost of living is relatively low where we live. For the first time in my married life I am able to put money in the bank every month. For that reason, many foreigners come here for work. One person working two full days a week makes enough money to pay our basic expenses. But again, as I said at the end of the last paragraph, every city is different. Some are quite expensive. To live in such cities without a decent income might be difficult.
A third reason is that the lifestyle here is pretty good. While some places in China a polluted and dirty, that’s not the case everywhere. Most foreigners who move here will have to live in big cities because of the work/visa thing. In most big cities in China there are busses, subways, taxis, airports, and train stations. So, getting around is not too hard. Because of this type of transportation, I find I walk a lot more in my daily routine than I would if I lived in the USA and had to drive to get everywhere. I don’t need to exercise here, it’s just part of the routine.
Wages for foreigners are pretty good. This allows us to eat out whenever we want, and we can go to the natural hot springs (shown above) or on other trips regularly. We live in very comfortable apartments. Our first apartment, pictured below, had 4 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, kitchen, giant living room, dining room, balcony, laundry room. It was 2000 RMB ($300) per month. Other cities are a bit more expensive, but still affordable.
Food and clothing. As I mentioned earlier, you can get pretty much anything you want in most cities here in China. I’m not talking about McDonalds and KFC, although they have those too. We have a couple of good places that have great pizza, hamburgers, coffee, etc. But that’s just when we need a fix. When you’re looking just to eat daily, the cheapest thing is Chinese food. There’s a lot of variety, and a lot of amazingly delicious stuff!
The Chinese have a fetish for fresh food, so most of the meat you eat was killed either right before you ate it, or at least within the last day or so. In many restaurants you choose the live chicken or fish, etc. and then the cook takes it in the back and prepares it. Vegetables are the same, always fresh. If you are one who likes to cook your own food, the markets are everywhere and they are absolutely loaded with great varieties of fruits, vegetables, meats, spices, herbs, fresh and dried noodles…hmm. I get hungry just thinking about all the great stuff that’s available.
One of the drawbacks of eating out is sanitation. In many cities, the education level regarding food prep and handling is not so great. So every time you eat out you are taking a chance on getting lā dùzi, or diarrhea. It’s a great way to lose weight though. I lost 30 pounds my first three months in China. Nowdays I have learned which places and which types of food to avoid. Many of my foreign friends either eat excusively at home or eat out only on occasion. I have come to love and crave Chinese food, so I can’t stand to not eat out at least two or three times a week.
Chinese food is good
All in all, Chinese food is pretty safe and you can always find something you love to eat. Hey, there’s 1.3 billion people here and they aren’t starving, so don’t worry, there’s plenty of cheap, delicious food. What’s cheap? A bowl of noodle soup with a quarter cup of meat and some greens will run you about 8-12 RMB ($1.20-1.80). A full plate of noodles with meat and veggies, 12-30 RMB ($1.80-$4.50), depending on what it is and where you get it. There was an all you can eat seafood place near my last apartment, it was 50 RMB ($7.50). It had shrimp, turtle, shellfish, carp, and more, plus bunches of veggies. A whole roast duck will set you back between 20 and 30 RMB ($3 – $4.50). Again, prices vary around the country.
Finally a little about clothes and other non-edible needs and wants. As I mentioned earlier, you can get just about anything here, either locally or through the mail. A customer base of over a billion people means at some point pretty much everything on the planet will be wanted by at least a hundred people, so it’s all out there. What is available locally is different in every city. In our city the foreign restaurants are relatively few. All the latest gadgets are available, usually at a higher price than in the west, and you have to make sure to get them from a reliable store, as knock-offs are common.
As far as clothing goes, I recommend getting all you can fit in your suitcase before coming if you’re moving here. The common clothing here is much lower quality than the generic level quality in America and Europe. Bad stitching and poor fabric quality is the norm. The price of the ‘normal clothes’, the poor quality ones, is the same as you would find in the West. If you want what people in the West consider ‘normal’ quality, you have to shop at the more expensive stores, and they can be pretty pricey. If you are a big person, as in tall or chunky, you definitely should bring a bunch of clothes with you. Yes, you can get bigger stuff here, but it’s much harder to find, and your range of choices is much less. My wife wears a size 42 shoe, which is pretty big for girls, even in America. She’s pretty much given up trying to find shoes here. I’m an average to slightly smaller guy by Western standards, but when I buy underwear at Chinese shops, the ones that fit me are sometimes labeled XXX-Large. That’s funny.
Overall, China is safe and modern. It’s easy to get around. Hygenic standards haven’t reached those of the West yet, and other aspects of the culture can take some getting used to or toleration. The people are generally friendly, easy to talk to, and helpful to foreigners. The uniqueness of China’s culture is definitely something to experience, and there is plenty to see and do here. It’s great to live here and worth a visit at the very least.