Living in China for Over a Year – Lessons and Learnings

I have to say that living in China for over a year has taught me a lot. It has led me to truly appreciate my Canadian roots and upbringing like never before. There are some good things here, but the sheer level of competition and a plethora of other factors makes me look forward to the day I go home.


Why am I in China then? I came for a girl and ended up marrying that girl. It was the best decision of my life.

Working as an Early Childhood Education teacher, I began to think a lot about the influence that education has on us. And not just school education, but education from parents, mentors, peers and our environment.

I noticed that Chinese people tend to be less independent than Westerners. A big reason for this might be the one-child policy where families can only have one child. This leads to 4 grandparents and 2 parents putting all their eggs in one basket so to speak. They don’t want to mess it up.

You’ll see a kid about to fall and these hovering, overprotective guardians will do anything to stop it. The problem is that we learn from our mistakes. There is a lot of theory out there about this but the point is that we need to fail and get hurt so we know what not to do. This dependency on others continues as a result with parents doing everything for their child. And in the end, the children have a large burden on their shoulders to carry out some kind of legacy that the family desires.

Fake or not? Lack of trust (and for good reason)
There is a culture of mistrust in China. People just don’t trust each other — “am I getting ripped off or overpaying?”, “do they REALLY provide what they say they do?”

Why? There’s good reason for the lack of trust because many people flat-out lie. When Nala and I were going for our wedding pictures they told us complete lies to our faces that we later had to quarrel with them over. It was the most angry I’ve been in… years for sure.

And you don’t even want to go further. Maybe you heard about the melamine they put in milk? Or the dirty oil they use? That’s recycled oil they get from gutters and then clean cosmetically and resell. Or that they use old leather shoes to make noodles? The lack of regulation in any industry really, including food. Even baby formula is dangerous. People tend to buy their formula in Hong Kong or abroad.

And also, everything here is stollen. Copyright means nothing and you can’t know if you’re buying a real or fake computer, camera or whatever. You have to do your research to make sure it’s from a good and reputable seller.

Guanxi or your Social Network
Things will happen for you in China if you know the right people. Getting on important people’s good sides is key to success — getting that contract or cushy government job.

Competition, competition, competition
With over 1.3 billion people (that’s 1,300,000,000!!) there is insane competition for jobs in China. People work ridiculous hours for ridiculous wages at ridiculous jobs. Everyone’s trying to brighten their future and work toward that golden carrot — but wait, do you have the right guanxi? Try again.

And tying into education, children here work endlessly on their schooling. It’s actually “cool” to be the kid who gets the best grades. But this leads to some serious problems. Many of my Chinese friends come out of school without having developed any hobbies or passions or knowing themselves.

What do they do on their time off? I ask them and they tell me that they “sleep,” “go on the internet” and that’s about it. With all the time in their youth focused on schooling, many people don’t know what they really want out of life or have any passion or dreams. So… they work more.

Wow, a biggie here. The pollution in China is off the scales. I read somewhere Beijing’s air quality is hundreds of times worse than New York! Not to mention that the water pollution and soil contamination. I also was reading that Chinese companies dig giant holes under their factories to dump toxic chemicals that are even illegal in China, or to “decrease” their pollution level.

When walking around Beijing, you’ll see the hazy air and even taste it. It’s that bad.

The Goods
The good things about China? I’ve definitely been going off on the bad things.

The economy is doing pretty well still. As a foreigner, it’s pretty easy to find work teaching English and doing other things. However, the government is making it harder for foreigners to get working visas. I presume they want more foreigner jobs to go to Chinese nationals.

Some things are super cheap still. Although don’t get your hopes up. I was expecting dirt-cheap prices on everything when I got here but was shocked that many things were more expensive than in Canada.

They’re more expensive for several reasons: import taxes are high, and you don’t know where to shop. The key to finding cheap goods in China is knowing where to get them. There are some massive markets and online shopping is huge. If you go to the mall, expect to be gouged. Oh, and bring your negotiation skills.

Many people in China are also quite nice. When you get to know them, they’re really great people who are friendly and always happy to buy you a meal. But, before you know them too much, they might put up a rough exterior. I think it’s because of the environment in many places like Beijing where you have to fight all day — to get on the subway or bus, get the job, etc.

Overall, I’ve had quite an experience living in China and experiencing the culture and vast differences here. I’m sure I left out many many things. But if you have questions, feel free to ask!

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3 Responses to Living in China for Over a Year – Lessons and Learnings

  1. jeritilley says:

    I still have bad dreams about the toilets in China, especially those in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in the west. Some were SO bad that you just could not go into them, and to add insult to injury, they even demanded money sometimes to use them. China is certainly a very diverse place, with LOTS of experiences, good and bad.

    • You’re definitely right about that! When were you here? How long did you stay in China for?

      • jeritilley says:

        I have been to China several times, and have travelled around a lot, but the toilets are the thing that I remember so clearly. Often showers were not much better either, and of all the places that I have visited, China has the worst toilets, even those in Pakistan were better.

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