As a huge proponent of advancing one’s live and career through intermittant-travel and living abroad, one of the biggest questions is always “where to?”
My home for this year is China, as I want to add the notoriously difficult language to my personal (and professional) resume. In my brief tenure here I’ve become convinced it’s one of the best possible destinations for creating a better life.
So today we’re going to feature a friend who knows much more about China than myself, who can give you the full rundown of pros and cons of moving to the land of the waking dragon.
Over to Furio:
If you’re thinking of adopting a “digital nomad” lifestyle or have already initiated the transition from the 9 to 5 to a job that allows you to work exclusively in the internet, perhaps you’ve toyed with the idea of moving to Asia.
Each of these countries have their advantages and disadvantages. Japan, for example, is very safe and orderly. You will however have to deal with a high cost of living, which is sometimes prohibitive.
India is a fascinating country, with tremendous culture. But you’ll have to get used to being the center of attention 24/7 – the Indians like to observe you up close – and you’ll have to live with conditions of extreme poverty.
Thailand… Ah, Thailand. Beaches, mango shakes and miniskirts. But unless you “escape” each summer, you’ll be subject to the monsoons and the torrential rains that come with them. Among other things you’ll be constantly hassled by tuk tuk drivers and the girls placed outside massage parlors that see in you, a white devil, the chance to make some $$$ instead of a person that lives or works in their country.
Today I would like to explore another reality, something that I know better: China
Why Living in China Is A Great Career Move
The language and opportunities that can open up for you
When you’ve never been to China you might be inclined to think that Mandarin will be a problem. All those hard to understand sounds and esoteric characters to memorize.
Yes, learning Chinese requires an initial effort greater than what’s required to learn Spanish.
But, like all languages, Mandarin is nothing more than a means of communication. And as such it can be learned. And in 2015, those who speak Chinese possess a superior weapon for the battlefield called “the world of work.”
The road that leads to a location independent lifestyle is paved with existential doubts, abandoned projects, and failures. It requires a learning curve that can last even a few years.
Knowing China, it’s culture and language makes you more attractive to all those committed entrepreneurs that are thinking about exporting their products or services in the largest market in the world or de-localizing their production in Asia.
Imagine being able to communicate effectively with both the Chinese and “westerners”, knowing the customs and cultures of both worlds. Don’t you think that would open many more doors for you too?
The art of getting situated: Teaching languages
I know you dream of changing the world with your free messenger app for smartphones.
But when you’re at the beginning stages and are still trying to see the economic fruits of your nightly efforts, a more dignified way make ends meet is to apply as a language instructor.
In China the demand for learning foreign languages is through the roof and for part-time work from about 20 hours a week, you can earn from 1,000 to 2,000 USD, which is usually enough to survive even in Beijing or Shanghai, the most expensive cities in the country.
Certainly, you could also teach a language in Thailand or Indonesia. But keep in mind that in the majority of Asian countries the demand for teachers is much more limited and, something that can’t be neglected, reflects an hourly wage of a much lower cost of living.
If you’ve been to Vietnam, you’ll realize that the infrastructure takes time to get accustomed to. The airports are ancient, the trains come and go as they please, high speed roads are just a dream and the traffic… forget about it!
In China, to the contrary, the government has invested an enormous amount of resources in the creation of a first rate infrastructure: high speed trains (the Beijing-Shanghai route takes five hours, while by air it will take you two), highways, cutting edge subway systems (the subway system of Shanghai is already the largest in the world) and modern airports.
Much of this infrastructure is still funded by the state, so moving around China is relatively cheap.
To give you an idea, a subway ticket in Beijing costs only a few cents and an air ticket from Beijing to Shanghai (2 hours flying time) costs less than fifty Euro, if it’s bought at least a few days before in the websites Elong o Ctrip, the companies who at the moment offer the best prices for domestic flights.
Cost of Living
Despite the fact that in the last few years China has undergone an elevated rate of inflation, the prices are still much less than those in Europe (if you exclude imported items such as Monte Arcosu myrtle or prosciutto di Parma). Here you’ll find more detailed information on the cost of living in China.
For example, in Shanghai you can still eat for a few Euros (a plate of ravioli in a tavern can be had for less than two Euro), a twenty minutes taxi ride costs about five Euros and you can still find a room for rent in the city center in an apartment with three bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and living room for about 300-400 USD a month.
If you then move to a “smaller” city – I’m still talking about cities larger than San Francisco – such as Kunming, Chengdu or Changsha, the cost of living is reduced by 30-40%.
I don’t know if it’s because of the Chinese nature or the unforgiving judicial system, but in China you always feel safe, even at night.
Connections with Asia
So long as you purchase at least two to three months in advance, you can find a round trip air ticket for the United States or Europe for about 700 USD.
And, leaving out the return home, flights that leave from Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou (the Chinese manufacturing industry capital that’s located just north of Hong Kong) for Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam or Thailand are very frequent and generally inexpensive.
The reason for this is likely due to the economic importance of China and the constant air traffic that it generates.
P.S. At the moment I buy almost all my international flights on Expedia because, at least on the China-Europe routes, they usually offer better rates than I manage to find on popular sites such as Vayama or Skyscanner.
To the center of the world
As I often say, if I were born twenty years earlier I probably would have wound up in the United States. One of the main reasons that I wound up in China was the desire to feel like I was at the center of the world. Today it is here that history is being written. And I want to be part of it.
Disadvantages Of Moving to China
If the first part of this article has already convinced you that China is your ideal destination, wait before you buy a one-way ticket from NYC-Beijing. In the Middle Kingdom we also have a few little problems.
As you probably already know, China is not a democratic country. It has never been. And to preserve the harmony (a word that is used and abused in these longitudes), for many years the government has enacted a policy of internet restrictions. While some websites are completely blocked (Facebook, Youtube or Twitter,just to mention a few of the more famous ones), others are accessible but load very slowly (I think of Gmail or sites that at first glance seem innocuous such as La Repubblica).
Internet censorship can be bypassed by means of a technology called VPN (Virtual Private Network). Here you’ll find a list of the VPNs that, at the moment, work best in China.
Keep in mind however that these are paid services and from one minute to the next could stop working due to a change in the control algorithm used by the Chinese.
[Andrew’s note: They’re also technically illegal. Many foreigners use them, but do so at your own risk and understanding that – while the government isn’t looking for you as a foreigner – you’re not dealing with the democratic courts of law you’re used to].
As opposed to countries like Thailand or Vietnam, that depend on tourism for their gross national product and have no interest in “keeping out” foreigners, in China things have changed.
The government’s priority is the country’s stability. This translates into a periodical tightening of visas, which is usually foreseeable. I remember for example that during the Tibetan revolts before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there was a tremendous hold on tourist and business visas (even on renewals for those who lived in China for some time) and many were forced to leave the country.
Even with much lighter arrangements, during the convention (every ten years) to elect a new president and new Party executive committee held in the autumn of 2012, another tightening of visas was recorded.
That time there was a change in the documents to be presented for obtaining the visa. For example, for tourist visas, before it wasn’t necessary to have a round trip air ticket or hotel reservation for the entire length of stay. All you needed was a valid passport.
What I recommend is that you use an agency that, for a few bucks will help you resolve any bureaucratic problems you might encounter.
China is an extremely polluted country. There’s air pollution, mainly due to energy production that is based mainly on coal along with city traffic; ground water pollution caused by the runoff of industrial chemicals; to finish with food pollution due to the massive use of pesticides and not always transparent practices (I think for example at the silicone scandal where chicken legs were injected to increase their weight).
You’ll almost always be forced to live in a city
Living in a city is not obligatory, but let’s say that a Chinese city with less than a million inhabitants usually equates to a dormitory town where it’s hard to even find a bar. The only exceptions are towns that live on tourism such as Yangshuo, Dali or Lijiang.
I can vouch for this many times over, living in a village of 1.5 million people. At least there’s 1 movie theater here in Yueqing!]
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. If Thailand is too stale and Japan too expensive, then China might just be the perfect “next” destination for you.
Furio is an entrepreneur, speaker of many languages and founder of Sapore di Cina, a website that focuses on traveling and living in China.