“Low Expectations:” Your Guide to Successful Relocation to China

People often wonder how I happily lived in Mainland China for 3.5 years. What about the pollution/censorship/unsafe food/spitting/high road casualties, they ask?

The key is strategically low(ered) expectations.

With my personally tried and tested three-step plan, you too can successfully relocate to China.

First, spend two months traveling around India as a cheap-living, grubby backpacker. An exotic, but difficult adventure in India will serve to positively color your impressions of China. For example, after India, I was very grateful for the small things that China has to offer, such as:

A fought for auto-rickshaw ride.

  • Taxi drivers who automatically use the meter without first requiring several minutes of haggling, bickering, and swearing (certain border crossings excepted).
  • Males who will not stare at you and shout, “Hey, madam want to have sex?” because you are wearing Capri pants that reveal your ankles.
  • Food that will not require you to spend the wee hours of the night vomiting on your hands and knees into a communal squat toilet.

(A hedging aside: I have heartily enjoyed my many travels to India for work and leisure. I appreciate the diverse culture, tasty variety of food, and rich and complex history of the Sub-Continent. Despite this, it can be a soul-crushingly hard place to be a young woman traveler on a budget. My subsequent business travel with proper contacts and hotels made later trips to India much more pleasant.)

Second, ensure that you are given the initial “look-see” tour of your new Chinese city by someone who has little grasp of life outside of China. I recommend a delightful, fluent English speaker named “Sailing Ko.” Highlights of his tour include:

Photo source: JinKou

  • A massive, concrete sporting facility featuring an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with pensioners and a giant room of tightly, packed ping-pong tables.
  • A “spa” dwarfed by a vaulted, marble foyer and filled with beautiful young women ready to provide company for the day/evening/night.
  • A grocery store with amazing international products such as tinned tuna, Green Giant canned corn, and Campbell’s oxtail soup.

After this tour, when some soon-to-be fellow expats invite you to a party filled with very drunk Brits singing offensive words to the historic American Negro Spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” you will be grateful to have found them because at least they know where you can buy cheese.

Third, hire a real estate broker who will only show you over-priced apartments with the following key features:

  • Tiny kitchen with a patina of ten years grease on every surface
  • Blue-tinted windows throughout
  • Gaudy Louis XIV-esque golden chandeliers
  • Non-stop, renovation-related jack-hammering in the apartment above

You will be all the more delighted when you are forced to use your own ingenuity to find an “acceptable” apartment that is both more pleasant and cheaper than anything the agent turned up. Magically, an apartment in a building with this elevator becomes “acceptable:”

After following these three steps, you will soon happily find yourself in China:

  • Laughing over the immigration-required physical exam, including a “streaming” chest x-ray in a room with a rat.
  • Running along the seashore despite the heavy, brown “haze” that can be smelled as well as seen.
  • Singing an off-key duet in front of 200 people at a company Christmas party.

And you will miss it all once you are gone.

(This post is my “love letter” to Zhuhai where I will be returning to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends this weekend. I can hardly believe it will be our 5th Thanksgiving spent in Zhuhai. Every word of this post is true.)

23 responses to ““Low Expectations:” Your Guide to Successful Relocation to China

    • Luckily, every weird event was space just enough apart to keep things interesting rather than dreadful! For whatever reason, our move to Zhuhai (the 1st int’l one) was by far mentally the easiest. Maybe we were simply too naive to fear what we were getting into!

    • Singing in public was something the US school system certainly didn’t prepare me for (!). Isn’t it funny that “performance” it seems is something that all Chinese citizens are prepared and happily willing to do!

      • I didn’t sign up for singing in front of 40 co-workers on the bus but there I was. Everyone else seemed to be excited when it was their turn. Not me. .

      • What did you sing? The first time this happened to me, I sang “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (in February) since it’s one of the few songs I know all of the words too. I was pressured on-the-spot into singing… The second time the pressure was the same, but there was slightly more time to prepare, so I sang the “12 days of Christmas” (more appropriately in December). All very embarrassing.

      • First time was on the spot for me too. They requested me to sing a pop song. I honestly couldn’t think of one I knew more than a few phrases from. They ended up leading me through a Mandarin song “Moli Hua” , they would sing a verse first and then it was up to me to do my best with it. The second time it was during Christmas also , and I also had more time prepare (our situations are strangely familiar) and I whipped out that “Last Christmas I gave you my heart , the very next day you gave it away” song. All intensely embarrassing haha

  1. Bahahahaha!… Love your photo in the “acceptable” lift! As for the pollution and running, one of my best friends (and her doctor husband) suspects her mild heart murmur was a result of her training and running the Beijing marathon and all that pollution she inhaled along the way!… Be careful running outside in the pollution!

    • That’s a scary story about running in pollution. The air in Zhuhai was ugly some days… Hopefully not as bad as Beijing though. And now, in the New Territories, we at least don’t have the roadside pollution of Central/Kowloon. What’s probably saving me, though, is that I run regularly, but not very long…

  2. Oh Jen, I so appreciate your humour. Maintaining a healthy sense of humour is helpful in adjusting to so many ‘lifestyle’ changes. It’s all about perspective and expectations. But then again, I think you already know that 😉

  3. Hey expat. Did you hear about the guy from Northern China that sued his wife for misrepresentation re her beauty? I did a blog on it this morning and you sprang to mind. I was wondering if it made news over on your side of the pond.


  4. During my time the top hits were “Hotel California” and “Take me home country road” and they never sounded like the original.

    I still have people ask me if we lived in a 4 x 4 hut while we were in Zhuhai. When I describe our house in Richmond Hill they are in shock.

    • A hut! Ha! Where do they think you moved to? The DR? 😉

      Most folks I talk to think we must have lived in a high-rise in China (which we all did to start, right?).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s