In a post earlier this month I mentioned that I was laid off from my job in South China. Because I lost my job, I could no longer reside in China due to its exit and entry laws. We had no other choice but to leave China. Both of us have mixed feelings leaving China for Vietnam, but we feel excited for all the new opportunities to come.
In this post, I wanted to share some of my experiences and background of my time in China. My perspective on China has changed a lot since I got here, both positive and negative. Before going into detail, I want to stress that these are my feelings, and I honestly feel that we should make our judgments based on our experiences. Being in a relationship with a Chinese woman means that China will always be a part of our future, and I am happy about that.
So without further ado let me get right into it!
My introduction to China
Before I first visited China, I only knew about China from what we read in Western media. The image that the media portrays about this country is not always positive. Many American news outlets like to paint a negative picture of China and its government, which I feel is not always justified.
Before visiting China, I had visited several other countries in Asia, and I was somewhat expecting China to be a slightly similar experience. My first trip to China, however, shaped more of me and my future than I could have ever anticipated.
During my masters’ degree, I had the opportunity to participate in an exchange program in Guangzhou. Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong province and close to Hong Kong. I had never heard of Guangzhou, but a friend of mine had studied here and highly recommend the place.
To be short the exchange program was one of the worst organized programs I have ever experienced, but that is irrelevant. During this exchange program, I met Teresa, and she showed a whole new side of China. I soon learned more about Chinese culture, history and most importantly, Chinese food. I could write a book about Chinese food, but let’s keep it short, it’s awesome!
When it was almost time to leave to finish my degree, I decided that I wanted to come back as soon as possible. I had fallen love with this country where seemingly everything was possible, but nothing is easy. To me, it seemed challenging and so different from what I knew at home. I felt that if I could start my career path in China it would set me apart from my peers that stayed in their country.
China part II
I can still remember how excited I was to be returning to China after I finished my courses, most of that excitement of course because the thought to be reunited again with my girlfriend. I had managed to arrange for an internship at a big consultancy firm in China. Besides my internship, I had planned to finish my thesis and look for a job.
Whereas my first trip to China was relatively easy, more difficult challenges presented itself when I wanted to sort of settle down here for the time being. It was almost impossible to find a house where a landlord would accept a foreigner to live there, even though I was lucky enough to have someone to help me. Housing proved to be a challenge that would always haunt me during my entire time in China.
After I finished my internship and my thesis I found a job at an international engineering company that offered me a position to be in charge of business development for South China. As soon as I was fully working and living in China, I began to see China with different eyes than before.
Working in China
Working life is vastly different from the not professional life, and you see a lot of things from a different perspective. Being in charge of Business Development for entire South China as an at time 26-year-old was a big challenge and eye opening experience.
Although I worked for a Dutch company, I was the only ‘foreign’ person in our office, and the working environment felt Chinese. That is not to say that was negative because each of my colleagues were amazing. But what I did immediately notice is that a lot of people do not speak out their opinion, that is not to say that they don’t have one.
Another thing I always noticed how incredibly welcoming most Chinese were to me, especially all the people that I spoke to in a professional environment. However, on the other side I often felt not included, of course, enforced by my lack of understanding of the language.
Some of my colleagues would often encourage me to learn Chinese. Although anyone involved in the hiring process was more than aware of the fact that I did not possess any Chinese language skills, some held the lack of speaking Chinese against me. Of course, I do agree with them in a way, at the end I am a guest in their country.
Relationships are paramount when working in China, especially when you are doing something Business Development. In China, this means that you are expected to join a lot of dinners accompanied by Chinese baijiu, more than your liver will like. In the beginning, I thought that these meals were quite interesting but it was not long before I started to hate them.
The Chinese work environment is like any market based on supply and demand, supplemented with a dash of the above-described relationships. China has so many people, and anyone is easily replaceable, this means that there is often not a lot of choice for employees. If you are not willing to do anything a company has rolled out for you, you can find another employer. Therefore, it is not uncommon for Chinese employees to be ‘forced’ to work far away from their family and to have little work-life balance.
In the Chinese work environment, a lot of choices are made by a few people, who, in general, have little regard for the implications of those below them. I encountered numerous occasions where I felt little more than a number instead of a human being. Of course, not all companies are like this, and there are a lot of helpful managers and businesses out there, but based on what I see and hear around me these are but a few.
Ultimately working in China was a very exciting experience, personally I started to dislike the lack of dialogue and open communications too much. The current economic slowdown makes many problems inside companies even more prevalent. Now more than ever employers have the advantage over the people working for them. I realize that there is no such thing as job security anywhere in the world. You can’t always expect everybody to involve you in any decision, but I do feel that communication and dialogue create a better environment for everybody. An environment where people together creates a better tomorrow.
Living in China
First of all, let me state that I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to work and life in China for almost three years. China is so different from the Netherlands, and you continuously feel that you are always on the verge of something big. There is constant development around you, and you can feel this in everything around you.
Personally I noticed that as time passed by I started to dislike more and more things in China. Despite what many people might think, but China is not that cheap. Houses and apartments compared to average wages are extremely expensive and so are most products and groceries. The quality of housing compared to what you pay for it is also quite bad. If I went to a normal bar in the weekend, I would easily pay over 6 euros for a beer. A bar that could be considered nice would be easily double the price. Of course compared to local peers my age, my salary was a little bit higher, but I would often feel that it is simply not worth it.
Another thing that I slowly started to miss in my life was convenience. More and more I realized how spoiled we are in the west. Convenience interpreted in the broadest sense and touched every facet of living in China. Back home a lot of things are very convenient; you want something you get in the car and drive to get it, something much harder here. Practicing sports or any other hobby is relatively easy to do in the west but feels impossible here. China is so big, Chinese cities are so big, and China has so many people.
Another point I can’t help but feel is that I feel China is getting more and more difficult for foreigners to live in. Whereas a lot of years ago it was easier for young professionals to find a good job in China, recently it has gotten a lot harder. The so called expat package that draws a lot of people to work in foreign places is slowly becoming extinct in China. There are still expats with a wide skillset that can provide with added value to local companies. I do feel that many domestic and foreign firms need fewer expats than before as the level of local Chinese has gotten a lot higher, and they too have received an excellent education in western countries.
For me at the end it came down to a point whereas I did not see myself going anywhere, I felt I was not reaching a level where opportunities offset the difficulties I experienced. Of course my change in attitude also related to the fact that I grew less motivated to be a part of a Chinese work environment and that I did not contribute enough dedication to learning the language. I am sure other people are in a whole different situation and for them China is the land of endless opportunities and possibilities that they would not have elsewhere. For me, ultimately the limitations of a career path and the lack of what I feel is life quality pushed me in a different direction outside China. I will not say goodbye to China, and I am sure I will be back soon, after all there a lot of things that I learned to appreciate.
Chinese people are in general not recognized in the west by good habits, but in all honesty I must say that this only reflects a small number of the people here. I found the Chinese in general very welcoming, very friendly and extremely hard working. Their ability to save money and the values of families are something that we could learn from. Another point is that I have never felt unsafe in China during my entire trip, no matter what time of the day. Compared to a lot of places in Europe China is very a safe place to live. I have learned a lot of new things in China, and I am looking forward to our next destination.
A new chapter has arrived
Teresa and I have decided to continue our global endeavors elsewhere and since China is no longer an option we have chosen to move to Vietnam for the time being. I have been to Vietnam twice, and I had a positive experience there during my trips. We are looking forward to all the opportunities that Vietnam will bring us.
I sincerely believe that sometimes it sparks your creativity and drive to change your surroundings. Although China has been a good experience, we do feel that we could ignite our passion with a new place that we will call home. I am looking forward to keeping you posted on all new developments!
Have you ever moved to a different place, and how did this spark your creativity? I am excited to hear your personal experiences and how it shaped your business! As always thanks for reading and stay awesome!