Well my time in China has finally come to an end. Now that I am out of China I can finally give you my thoughts about the experience. I will be sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of China. For those of you in the Western world, particularly in my home country of the United States (and those of you who have never been to China) you may hold an overly negative view of China based on what you have seen in the news media. So, some of what I write here I hope will pleasantly surprise you and some of the bad things may shock you. It is my hope that after reading this you can come away with a more realistic view of Mainland China and get rid of some of those old stereotypes.
I will start with the good things: First and Foremost (in my mind anyway) their cashless payment system which is accepted everywhere. I realize this might not hold a big appeal for some people (my dad comes to mind!) but for me, being free of cash, coins and cards was incredibly liberating! I think I miss that more than anything. Here is how it works: You register your fingerprint to your cellphone (so that only you can unlock your phone with your fingerprint) then, they have a chat/messaging service very similar to Whatsapp (it is called Wechat) and within Wechat there is a payment service which is linked to your bank account (you also have to register your fingerprint to unlock your virtual Wechat Wallet that is inside the Wechat program)
So the end result is, if you want to pay for anything or pay to anyone, send or receive money you can do so virtually with your phone. No need to carry cash, cards or coins ever! If for any reason someone was to steal your phone they could not unlock your phone without your fingerprint (even if they could unlock your phone somehow, they would still need the secondary fingerprint to get into your Wechat Wallet). In my mind there are only three downsides to this virtual payment system. 1. The Chinese government is in control of the payment system (so they could theoretically lock you out of your own money if they chose to do so) however, in China government control is a fact of life. They control everything, so once you accept that fact it isn´t such a big deal anymore. I never had any problems with it. 2. If the Wechat payment system is down you cannot pay for anything or receive any money from anyone (which is why I always carried a little emergency cash on me) but in 18 months the system was only down for a short period of time, twice. 3. This virtual payment system locks out anyone who doesn't have a smart phone or bank account. Those are really the only three downsides in my mind.
The next positive thing about China is, as hard as the U.S. media (and Trump in particular) try to get China to hate us Americans, in my experience in generally almost all regular Chinese citizens still hold America in high regard. I met some extremely nice, extremely friendly, extremely kind, loving and wonderful people in China. I never did learn how to speak Chinese (beyond a few basic words) and many Chinese do not speak English but in my 18 months there I had nothing but great interactions with people. They were eager to learn about me and the United States in general. They always tried to help me whenever and wherever they could. Chinese parents love their kids just like parents in the Western world love their kids. They want the same things we want (generally speaking) really other than being separated by a vast distance, a different language and a different culture, humans around the world almost always share the same basic traits that make us human no matter where you live. The Chinese are not monsters out to get us.
I enjoyed my job in China. Working in Asia (and China in particular) is very different from the Western world. However, the students are extremely studious and hard working, they are respectful and do as they are told. Too well sometimes. Critical thinking and having unique open minded opinions is not a trait that is at all valued in China unfortunately. They strive for excellence and they all want and need to be excellent. Conformity and not looking bad or failing in front of others is something that is extremely important in Chinese culture. It was a big shock for me at first, walking into the classroom and getting absolute silence when I asked a question. However, I quickly learned to adapt (more on this later)
Something else that was really good in China (at least in Shenzhen where we were living) was the public transportation (it is one if not the only city in the world that has a full fleet of all electric city buses,taxis and trains) it was cheap, clean and efficient. In addition to the excellent transportation, Shenzhen (and China in general) is very safe. I want to clarify what I mean when I say safe, I mean the chances of getting robbed on the street and having your personal belongings stolen is practically 0%. After living almost 8 years in Colombia and constantly having to be on guard for someone trying to rip me off, this was a welcome change. In China you will see relatively few armed uniformed police officers on the streets. However, there are facial recognition cameras everywhere (Big Brother!) so I can promise you that the Chinese government knows almost exactly where each of its 1.4 billion citizens are and what they are doing. It may seem intrusive and extreme to us, but for them it is a way of life.
China has has a relatively low cost of living. It is not expensive to live there and live well if you have a good job. Rent costs and imported foods can be astronomically high, but pretty much everything else is very cheap. Eating ¨Western food¨ is not cheap so its best to eat like the locals if you want to save money.
Chinese people in general, (and Chinese kids especially) are very curious about us Westerners. They are extremely shy, but once they warm up to you they will ask you may many questions (some of them very strange) because they just have no baseline knowledge outside of what the Communist Party of China allows them to see/learn. Information that you or I take for granted, just what you would assume to be basic knowledge, to the could be something completely new.
Traveling in China is cheap and easy. There are many beautiful places to visit and China has a ton of history and culture that is very different and interesting from our history in the Western world. The bullet trains and public transportation in general is very good and not expensive. In general, it is clean and fast even if there are 1.4 billion people in China. The crowds are not something that I enjoyed but there are many positives in China and not everything is negative.
Now I will move on to the negatives of working and living in China. First and foremost, the Communist Party runs and controls the Chinese Government and the Chinese people in general. What this means in practice, is that the government controls exactly what the regular Chinese people can and cannot see, do and know. Knowledge is restricted to what is government approved. This means that the ¨regular¨open Internet does not exist in China. Of course there are ways to access it if you know how but it is not easy nor does it always work.
The average Chinese person really has no concept of what the average person in the Western world understands as ¨freedoms¨. Since they have never experienced these basic freedoms they do not know what they are missing. As foreigners, there are many things that we miss when we go to China and live and work but the Chinese have their own versions of everything that we have, so they have no need for our version of various things. Any form of dissent or protest is also strictly banned by the government so you will never see or hear of people congregating in groups to do something that is against the will of the Chinese government.
Another negative of living in China is that there air quality, food safety and various other things are not up to Western standards. That being said, China is making strides to improve the environment, air quality, food safety etc. Many countries (the United States included) are currently doing much less than the Chinese are to combat global warming etc. (hopefully this will change in the future)
The language and culture barriers are something else that can be hard to deal with. Of course this is to be expected, but it certainly is not the easiest thing to deal with. I cannot imagine living in China prior to the existence of the internet. Without technology like translators and such would be almost impossible I think. The cultural barrier is another story all together. Our Western culture is just very different from Chinese culture. Our governments and social structures are very different.
One of the last negatives that I can think of is the food culture. Chinese food in China is very different from anything we eat in the Western world and Chinese food is very different inside than China than it is inside China. They love to eat spicy food, meat with lots of bones and fat and of course the Chinese use chopsticks which can be hard to get used to if you live in the Western world. Almost all Chinese food in China is based on rice or noodles. So this can quickly get old eating these base foods everyday. Chinese also love to buy live animals and kill them to eat them. This not only is unsanitary but also creates the risk of human to animal (and vis versa) disease transmission. This was a big worry of mine while we were in China. There actually was a disease outbreak while we were there but luckily I managed to leave China without getting sick or stuck in China.
To wrap this all up, I basically just want to say that China just like anywhere has its good sides and its bad sides and don´t let your negative stereotypes of China prevent you from visiting there sometime in the future. The Chinese government is not great as we all know, but the average Chinese citizen is very nice and helpful and very similar to you in more ways than you might imagine. I enjoyed my time there and I am glad I had the opportunity to live and work there. Now we will see what Spain has to offer Jenny and I and where our lives will go into the future.
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