Will I Ever Leave China?

This is a question that is continually asked of me by friends, family and – perhaps most often – myself. Will I ever leave China?

The short answer is: Yes, God yes!

The long answer, however, is a little more complicated. The truth is, I’m starting to like it here. Now before the boys at Sinocidal all grab their bats and plan an intervention, I should clarify.

There is a crapload about this country that I hate, and I’ll always hate. Despite having heard the “you’re a guest in this country” line from an endless number of well-intentioned, completely full-of-it, expats, one of the things I’ve learned most about living in China is that I’m not going to sacrifice my beliefs and values to “better fit in”.

I have these values due to a lifetime of trying to figure out this fragile thing called “existence”, and so why would I give up (or even ‘suspend’) that just to “accept” things that fundamentally disagree with? To get along with people better? To not create waves? To perpetuate the illusion that it’s ‘ok’? Fuck that noise.

Having clarified that, what I have realized is that I have been over-sensitive about things, and that has begun to dull.

Since I was a youngin’, I’ve always had that critical eye. That annoyingly cynical bit about me that looks for troubles even when there aren’t any. In Canada you have to look pretty hard for that, because, let’s face it, Canada’s a pretty fan’frigin’tastic place to live (my sense of my home country has also twisted since being away).

Literally having to dig around for societal problems and injustices to pick apart while growing up in Canada, it was a shock upon arriving in China when I was suddenly suffocating in them. It was like swimming in a sea of things to criticize. National ignorance, government corruption, an etiquette deficiency, the impoverished forgotten. Everywhere I looked I could find flaws.

I’ve now acclimatized a bit, and adjusted the cynic-inside to criticize at a more balanced level. Sure I still complain, have my random racist extrapohating argument with Maggie about “her people”, but on the whole, I’ve discovered that once you find your balance here, it’s not so disagreeable.

leaving-china.jpgThis post was largely inspired by the “What Comes After China?” writing project started by Jeremy at The China Expat. It’s a valid question and one that most every expatriate in this country undoubtedly considers more than just a little.

I think I’m in the same boat as much of the expat population in that I don’t want to return home having wasted my time here. This is pushing me into using my time in China to build my knowledge, skills and employability while I’ve the relative freedom to do it.

It’s also brought me closer to realizing my dream job of being geographically independent, my own boss and doing something I love.

So, what comes after China? For me, there really is no “after China”. Maybe I’ll move back to Canada, or perhaps to some other place, but I’m married to this country now, in more ways than just through my wife.

Like it, hate it, or tolerate it, China is part of who I am now. And to be honest, I truly feel I’m all the better because of it.

21 Responses

  1. Ryan,

    Good points – you can never go home, so to speak. I’d love to get a job that makes me geographically independent / my own boss as well. Get that Dao by design site up and running!

    And I realized a little while after coming here that the problems America has pale in comparison to those here in China – completely understand what you are saying.

  2. Independence is great. Not easy to accomplish. There are always ties to the motherland and they want their pound of flesh (annually) no matter where you are.

    Falling off the radar cannot practically be done. Too many inter-connected webs and trails. But, no need to create new ones now is there?

    Stay flexible with your cash. Limit your hard assets. Every country wants a piece of the pie. Hard assets are easy to find and leverage.

    Lexus and the Olive Tree baby!

  3. Great post, and I couldn’t have summed up my own feelings any better.

    I know we come off as hating life in China over at Sinocidal, but it’s really not the case, for most of us at least. Like you, my wife is Chinese so in a sense I feel married to the country from that respect. But like Jeremy says, you can never really go home. China has become home, and while I miss the friends and family back in the UK, if I moved back I know I would miss China terribly. Imagine having that variety of (reasonably priced) food taken away suddenly, or popping down the shops to buy a few DVDs and coming away $100 lighter. I also think it would take some time to readjust. I know people would find me ruder than when they knew me – I’d hang the phone up without saying 9 goodbyes, or drink my soup out of the bowl at the dinner table, to much tutting, without even thinking about it.

    Yes, life here can be annoying, and there are some things I have learned to tolerate, but will never agree with, and there are others which I will always find intolerable. But overall life in China is good, and it has been a very liberating experience. I’m not ready to leave just yet…

  4. Yokie: Not all governments tax their citizens globally you know! I’ve never understood how American expats can put up with that.

  5. Yokie: huh huh, you said hard ass.

    Tai Tai: I think you nailed it there. You can never go home, and China has become home. The part that I’ve yet to figure out how to deal with is: we’re never really “home” here, are we?

    I want to shake Chinese people when they say “Welcome to our country.” I’ve lived here for two and a half years. A pittance, perhaps, but really – “Welcome”? Bit late, no?

    I get extremely tired of being treated as a “guest” or assumed to have been just arrived. I hate that despite having a hugely vested interest in China, I’m expected to have no opinion nor should I even remotely consider affecting change (not my country, not my problem).

    That, more than all the other quirks of this place, irritates the hell out of me.

  6. Taitai,

    The american expat tax thing follows the Clinton-era gays-in-the-military code: don’t ask, don’t tell! (just kidding, I’m just glad my chinese salary is low enough that I don’t have to pay american taxes, but I’d rather not have to file in the first place)


    those things that annoy you annoy me too. I’ve found it works to just be assertive. I tell people I’ve lived here long enough that I’m not a guest. I participate in our apartment complexes meetings (I think I’m one of the most active tenents). Whenver people tell me I shouldn’t express my opinion on XXX issue, I tell them that just like they can say their opinion about XXX american issue, I have the same right to talk about China. I’ve found that if you’re direct yet polite, they’ll respect you. And the ones that don’, they’re not worth your time anyways.

  7. After you left your home country for a couple of years, nothing will be ever again like it was back then.

    Since moving to Asia (born a German) I lived in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Yet Germany I can’t imagine to go back again. For visiting my family, yes of course. But for longer term – no!

    It’s really addictive to move on every few years to a different location and inhale new culture into a growing global mind.

    Next stop Philippines?


    Cheers from Bali,


    Life is what you make it!

  8. @Chip: Good advice!

    @N4E: I’m starting to feel that as well. It would be tough to settle back into life there. Right now life back home is foreign, so appealing, but after a few months or a couple years, I’d be itching to go somewhere again. Nice site by the way.

  9. There’s another issue those of us living here need to address: Can we go back? And this begs another question: Even if we can go back, how long can we stay in China?

    Some readers may think I’m kidding, that these two questions are a joke, but I’m not kidding. If someone is a 20-something English teacher, no problem (well, maybe not as much of a problem). But if someone has built a career in the States or elsewhere, they might be considered obsolete if they stay in China (or any other developing country) for too long.

    I’ve held some fairly senior positions in the IT sector (Director, Strategic Planning at Samsung; Director, E-Business at Oracle; Manager, New Markets at Microsoft; VP, E-Business Strategies at META ), and although I’ve been able to stay in the IT sector in China as a VP with the two largest U.S.-focused, China-based ITO firms (Worksoft and Beyondsoft) and as SVP with Tsinghua’s outsourcing hub (my current gig), I’ve been warned by many in Silicon Valley that at 3 1/2 years in China, well, maybe it’s time to come back to the real world — well, center of the IT/Internet universe might be a more accurate description.

    I even hear this when people move from Silicon Valley to Los Angeles or Atlanta or Chicago or even New York: Can’t be away from the Valley for too long. And being in China makes things worse, at least according to exec recruiters in the Valley.

    So potential words of caution: Too long in China could be damaging to one’s career. Doesn’t have to be, e.g., if someone becomes fluent in Chinese and wants to be a China country manager. But it certainly could be damaging to one’s career. Something to consider.

  10. David,

    That’s something that definitely scares me. If you stay too long, then the only real way to go is to make your own way…

    Starting your career back home when you are 30? Most people have 7 years on you by that point, and it’s probably what I will be facing when going back home.

  11. What people don’t realize is that ex-patting is not a career. And neither is fleeing a country and then blogging about that country’s cultural/racial superiority in comparison to the one you just chose to immigrate to.

    Let’s not glorify an extended sex tour for rich White nerds who couldn’t hang in their own countries…but call a Peking duck a Peking duck. White guys ex-patting = cultural escapism from countries where the sperm competition is far too fierce and racially diverse for local omega males to hang.
    Is this a temporary diversion from real life? Sure. Is it a moral pilgrimage or astute career move? NO.
    At the end of the day, all you end up with a bunch of cliched “culture clash” stories, a big blank space on your resume and a leechy mainland wife and her extended family in tow. =D

  12. @Rebecca: You forgot to mention that as an expat (with a blog at least) you also tend to amass a blog full of comments from jaded, ignorant, racist cunts like yourself.

  13. Pingback: The China Expat » What comes after China: Responses

  14. Sounds to me like rebecca either got her little heart broken by an expat or can’t get laid.

    Your generalizations are so off the mark little girl.

    I am an expat. I am neither a white nerd or fleeing my country. I have never had trouble meeting women in America, nor did I come here on a sex tour. Actualy, Chinese girls don’t do much for me.

    I am here taking advantage of global market economics.I will stay in China as long as it is profitable, or until I have amassed enough personal wealth to leave. China will never be home, nor will it ever compare to my home. America is a beautiful country. China is not. Plain and simple.
    I have young mixed race son that I will not subject to the pathetic excuse of an education system that exists here. I want him to have opportunities to experience life as he grows not just study state sponsored propaganda. I want him to be involved in sports and experience nature, and not just study seven days a week. I’d like for him to have an open mind and the ability to think for himself. That will not happen if we stay in China.

    Think before you write girl. Thare are many reasons why expats come to China.

  15. @Fred: Rebbecca was repeatedly ‘fucked’, in every sense of the word, by whitey… she’s just a dumb chick that can’t see past her own ignorance and self-victimization.

  16. I’d bet dollars to donuts “Rebecca” is NOT a she…(but in China one DOES get confused in the classroom!) 😉

  17. Rebecca Yu: I actually loved your post. It certainly got under the skin of these arrogant American lads. For Ryan to call you a cunt is so apropos. Anyone who runs a blog of pure self-aggrandizement such as his must be a pathetic little fellow. BTW, this is my first and last visit. The only ignorance being displayed here are by the whiteys who bring their values and expect others to respect, share, honor, WTF. Trite and sad.

  18. Tarheel13: Not real clear on what you mean by “apropos”, as it means “pertinent, or appropriate”, which I agree – it is.

    As for why I said it, if you read through her posts, or take the long trip through this blog’s comments, you’ll see she generalizes all “Americans”, or “White Guys” as a certain way (racism), and does so in a negative light (ignorant cunt).

    Your later comment on my video blog seems to have changed your mind about me. Which, in my opinion, is beside the point. This blog is not at all about self-aggrandizement. I’m a pretty humble guy, but if I speak with passion or authority on something it’s because I’m quite sure of my position.

    Ms. Yu, on the other hand, works to position herself as some sort of expert on cock size and the re-education of the masses of stupid girls out there that get involved with white guys… (I return to that racist ignorant bit above). As my wife is Chinese (and obviously involved with a white guy), I find her insulting not only to myself, but also for insinuating that my wife has somehow betrayed her race, or done a stupid thing by falling in love with me.

    I didn’t think this needed to be stated, but people of any race or culture background can be in completely healthy and respectful relationships with each other. Ms. Yu promotes otherwise.

    If she was saying the same thing about another racial group or if she was a guy saying it about women, she’d be considered a complete dick… but somehow she’s considered a liberal truth-sayer? Bullshit.

    She’s a racist, a sexist, and a spammer (she routinely posts comments on this blog and on others not to add to the conversation, but only to ruffle feathers and plug her site).

    As for me bringing my values and showing my ignorance. If open-minded, tolerant and egalitarian views are considered ignorant, I’m happy to be called such.

  19. @David Scott Lewis :- You say you have worked in samsung. But looking at it from your point of view does’nt working in a non-american/korean organization probably reduce your silicon valley prestige. Also you yourself quote :- “Being in china makes things worst”. Does that mean that the level of IT infrastructure in china is much lower than your expectation.

    @Fred :- You say that America is a beautiful country and china is not. What makes you say so? Also i do not think everything chinese study is state sponsored stuff. I mean Beijing University is ranked 15th in the world and Chinese Academy of Sciences as far as i know does world class research. Even in US universities chinese students are generally very hardworking and secure pretty good scores(I am not generalizing). It is just tare not very good at synchronizing their research with manufacturing. Even today it is a shame that china has to rely on cheap ineffective proucts. Do not believe it is a lack of talent,only a lack of proper application in my opinion,though i am not sure the chinese government is doing anything to remedy this problem. But even in the aspect of work culture and education i think taiwanese are far ahead of chinese.

  20. Sorry for the spelling mistakes in the previous post. But Ryan’s live feed lags on my computer,characters only appear a few seconds after i press the keys causing me to skip some essential words.

    “It is just that they are not very good at synchronizing their research with manufacturing.”

    “I do not believe it is a lack of talent,etc……”

  21. A bit late reply to this post, but Ryan, thank you for expressing your feelings.  I truly am shocked and appalled by the injustice and social problems of China.  I am Chinese-American myself, and I will have to say, I never will ever call China my home.  I think it is not my Western views, but pretty much my own beliefs through years of learning and discovering.  Although, I do agree China is making me into a more wiser person about the world, and it has given me more understanding about the lower end of society.  I really look forward to going back, and gladly I’m married to another country, I say kudos for those that have spend more than just a year in this country.  If anything, it is an experience worth trying out at least one time in your life, but I believe there is a life after China.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *