Many folks back in the states seem to react in shock at times about our decision to move to China. I still meet people here (at work) who are visiting from the States :
- “Hey what are you doing here? (Cause they expect to see me in Seattle not Beijing)
- “I live here.”
- “You do?”
- “Did you bring your family?” (incredulously)
Living in Asia can be a huge adjustment for some people. Just leaving your home environment, your home culture can be overwhelming. Too much for some people to even consider. Stac and I had both lived in Asia twice before in our trips to Taiwan. This made it easier but not without an understanding at the same time of what we were getting ourselves into. When we lived in Taiwan we went with basically nothing. While we did have Kiah the second time we went she was only 18 months and didn’t attend school. We slept on mattresses donated or given to us on the floor; we drove around on scooters without helmets; we ate food purchased off the street and never cooked; we lived out of suitcases with our things stacked on the floor and in plastic “toy” closets. Things were much different this time around and being in a more secure and comfortable environment was much more important with our family.
Some of our key considerations were : where our kids would go to school and where we’d live. You can read more about what we looked for in housing here, but having a place that was close to work and school was the primary requirements. Not just the where, but how we’d live was also important. Based on our relocation budget we also wanted to feel comfortable. In a situation like Beijing when you have so much that is different or less convenient it was important to have a haven, a place that is your refuge from all the crazy and inconvenient. Having a nice place with our own art hanging on the walls, and a few nicks and things makes a huge difference.
Living as an expat in Beijing is a very different experience from coming here as a student, just like traveling on a company business account is different from traveling as a student. Amazon has a very strict rule about frugality which I really appreciate. And yet at times the entire expat experience feels like its set up a little bit like a racket. Most of the international schools coincidentally charge around the same yearly tuition. The relocation companies and the real estate agents steer you towards apartment complexes that are western oriented and are not a “local product”. Granted there is good reason for some of this. The apartment where we live has a management staff that speaks English, and its amazingly reassuring to be able to call them up and get help in your own language.
Most all of this is possible otherwise, we did it in Taiwan many years ago but you end up relying on friends and a lot more pantomime and dictionary hunting to get your meaning across. (I still know how to say water pressure from an incident in Taiwan were our water tank on the roof was broken). As noted with a family it was important to to have a place of comfort, a place to be able to call home. Your shelter from the storm. Your refuge from the pollution, the traffic and the people.
And so I sit in an apartment on the 29th floor that is larger than 90% of the population in China. I am comfortable and yet conflicted at the same time. I am close to work, around 70 minutes closer than most of the people I work with. We have hired an Ayi to help clean, and run errands. All of this can seem egregious and and exploitative, and yet the Ayi is not that expensive relative to our income and she is very grateful for the job. I remember a quote from an economics professor once : “The only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited” Meaning that we can criticize the exploitation of workers in foreign lands by foreign companies, such as Nike opening a plant in Vietnam, and yet the wage while not what they’d pay in the US, raises the base income in an impoverished situation and improves peoples lives. I suppose its the attitude with which we approach individuals and treat them that is a key differentiator. Some other time I’ll cover a host of thing that are different and balance things out. In the meantime I do appreciate the familiar and the comfort it brings among all that is not normal. I hope I can remain always grateful and keep the proper perspective on the experience.