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Why I Left China After Seven Years


Camel in Dubai

There was a brief period of time when I thought I might remain in China forever. That occurred during my second year of teaching at Hainan Island’s eponymous provincial key university in Haikou, the capital city and arguably the best place to live in China.

At that time I was engaged to a Chinese girl and, during the early stages of that relationship—despite the occasional miscommunication—we were generally happy with each other and life was good. My students and colleagues were extremely satisfied with me and I with them. Even the University’s foreign affairs office and my department’s administration uncharacteristically (for Chinese) voiced pleasure at how well things were going. Due to the relatively low cost of living in China (back in 2005), I also knew that whatever monies I had saved back home would last me a lifetime in China. How quickly things can change in the PRC.

Less than six months later, I knew that I would leave China as soon as it was advantageous for me to do so (basically, as soon as I could land an appropriate position in another country with conditions I knew would be far superior, i.e., in any developed country where English was spoken).

In March of that spring semester, I was verbally invited to stay on at the University at the same terms, to which I readily and happily agreed. Three months later, once the University officials knew that it was too late for me to find other employment in China, they presented me with a written contract stipulating 20 percent more work for the same salary. I objected adamantly to their dishonesty and refused to agree to anything other than the same terms I had started with two years earlier (the terms we had agreed to verbally just two months prior). I called a cousin in California and made tentative arrangements to move in with him in San Francisco on a temporarily basis if I had to. Just one week prior to the current contract’s expiration date, they dropped their demand for the additional hours and agreed to the same terms as before but with an enormous sense of anger and resentment. Much to my amazement, they acted as if I had held them up instead of the other way around.

As I look back on it now, I realize that that second renewal period at Hainan University was a turning point for me in China. It was at that time that I had no choice but to accept that I would always be an unappreciated and unwelcomed outsider in China. That is not to say that a licensed Western mental health professional with over 30 years of clinical and academic experience isn’t desperately needed in China (we are, far more than the Chinese can and will admit)—but it became obvious to me that I would never be wanted, not by the very people who signed my checks. Trying to stay where you are neither wanted nor appreciated is never a good (or healthy) position to place yourself in. It was at that time that I decided to stop making excuses on behalf of my Chinese hosts for what was terribly inappropriate, even dishonest behaviors. Related, two months later, I ended my year long relationship with my fiancée. In the end, between the tremendous language barrier, the enormous cultural differences between us, and the persistent disapproval of her family, I felt we would both be better off. I knew I could not live out the rest of my life in China and I also knew she could never leave her family behind or adjust to life in the United States.

In 2006, I met and fell in love with a Filipino teacher while vacationing in Hong Kong. We would marry one year later, which turned out to be both a blessing yet also an unforeseen impediment to moving back to the States (or even to another foreign country) on a moment’s notice.

In 2008, after four years there, I left Hainan Island with regret and sadness to accept a position at Jinan University’s International School: a position that had been offered to me a year earlier but at unacceptable terms. In would take an additional two-and-a-half years of making plans and visa arrangements before I could leave China on my terms with both my wife and dog.

Top Three Reasons Why I Left China

Jinan University Workshop

Fast-forward to January 2011. Just days before I left China, my boss, the dean of Jinan University’s International School took me and my wife out for a very nice luncheon as a way of expressing his thanks for five semesters of teaching. Towards the end of the lunch, in a very somber tone, Dean Tang asked me to honestly tell him what my “most negative and positive” impressions were of China. He stressed that he wanted me to give him an honest answer. I think we were both surprised by how quickly I answered. My immediate response was that at no time, in more than seven years, did I ever feel truly welcomed or appreciated in mainland China. I was forever, quite literally, the lǎowài (Chinese word meaning "old outsider” that is used to refer to foreigners). If I had to come up with just one reason why I finally decided to leave China, this would be it. (For those who are wondering, my most favorable impression of China centered entirely around the genuine friendships that I made with several of my students and colleagues.)

My second reason for leaving China centers around a history of chronic upper-respiratory infections in the context of a very poor and corrupt healthcare system. Basically, owing to the presence of terribly unhygienic conditions in mainland China, I was sick the entire time I lived in-country. Far worse is that due to the proliferation of adulterated antibiotics, I can no longer take amoxicillin or azithromycin ever again. I am very angry about this and, for this reason alone, I am very sorry that I ever moved to China. Next month I will have to undergo two to three hours of endoscopic nasal surgery so that the otolaryngologist can remove more than seven years of built-up infection and scar tissue as antibiotics are no longer an effective treatment for me.

My wife also came away from China with a very unpleasant souvenir: the bacterium Helicobacter Pylori. Just two months before we left Guangzhou, my wife was diagnosed with a 2cm long peptic ulcer, courtesy of the contaminated streetside food stalls she used to eat at. She is still taking antibiotics and an antacid for this disease and will have to go back to the hospital for a third follow-up gastric endoscopy next month. It seems to me that if the communist regime invested as much time and money in protecting its people as it does in controlling them, China might not be a bad place to live and work (for Chinese anyway). Right now, between the ubiquitous air pollution, public spitting, coughing, urination, and crotchless panties (in lieu of diapers) on babies in restaurants and other public places—especially in the absence of any real enforcement of public health and safety regulations—China is a terribly unhealthy and unsanitary place to live. Living out the remainder of your life in China, will—on the average—shorten it by five years as compared to living in the United States.

Finally—and while this is last, it is certainly not least on my list of reasons for leaving China—I grew unimaginably homesick over the years. Even after one thinks he has successfully adjusted to China’s major cross-cultural challenges—for a Westerner who isn’t fluent in Chinese (or married to a Chinese national)—day-to-day life in mainland China is emotionally and physically exhausting. Virtually no one speaks English, most food items in their grocery stores are unrecognizable (and labels unreadable), and one has to pay four to six times the fair U.S. retail price for a taste of home (due to punitive import duties). Sometimes, just to alleviate the homesickness, I would actually find myself fantasizing about walking around Publix Supermarket (a major U.S. grocery store chain) and I hated grocery shopping.

Western entertainment is limited to downloading movies and music from the Internet, buying poor quality pirated DVDs (which Customs will confiscate when you leave the country), or dealing with unscrupulous satellite pirates (Communist Regime doesn’t allow foreign cable and satellite companies to sell real subscriptions in China—the Chinese might start thinking for themselves).

Related, tasks that are logistically simple and that we take for granted back home are remarkably complicated in China. Whether it is cashing a check (China has, arguably, the most primitive and unreliable banking system in the world), paying a bill, buying a train ticket, ordering a container of drinking water—it doesn’t matter—the Chinese have figured out a way to complicate the logistics of the most mundane matters beyond recognition and belief.

In great part this can be explained by the fact that most Chinese operate from a mindset of mistrust (i.e., if I can be cheated, I will be cheated) so many “steps” are added to protect themselves against being cheated and deceived. But it’s more than that I think. There are too many unnecessary layers of bureaucracy in China. Low-level administrators unnecessarily complicate matters so as to justify their existence and also because they have been given a modicum of power and control in a society where most people have none. (I believe this also explains why China has the highest rate of motor vehicle related deaths per capita in the world: out of sheer frustration over the powerlessness in their lives, everyone drives like he is the emperor.)

Are My Eyes Deceiving Me or Is That Cheese That I See?

Cheese display in Deli Department

I’ve been teaching in the United Arab Emirates now for about three months and it is difficult for me to describe how wonderful it is to be living in a rich Westernized country again after having endured life in a developing communist country for so long.

All signage is written in English first and Arabic second, and English is the country's official language of commerce. Consequently, everyone here can communicate functionally in the English language and in a country where 89 percent of the residents are foreigners (mostly from Asia, Europe, and the U.S.), English language proficiency is an absolute necessity. I can walk into any grocery store and recognize virtually everything on the shelves (or I can freely read the labels of those items I don’t recognize). I had almost forgotten what a deli department looks like and how wonderful it is to be able to (once again) order a pound of Swiss cheese "sliced extra thin."

I am relieved to be living in a part of the world where the physicians are highly qualified and the medical technology is cutting-edge (a pressing concern for people at my age). Every morning, when I open my front door, I have a copy of the International Herald Tribune (the international edition of the New York Times) waiting for me with my cup of coffee. I feel I am back in civilization again (the Herald Tribune is not available for delivery in mainland China, only Hong Kong).

I can’t describe how great it is to be able to buy personal electronics and Western goods again with confidence (at 75 to 80 percent of the cost in China), knowing that what I am buying is real and not some fake knockoff that will fall apart or burn up in six months (I went through eight “Grade A fake” computer motherboards in China over a seven year period). I can watch real television again, with real legitimate and legal equipment (including a cable receiver with a built-in digital recorder), without having to deal with dishonest satellite pirates and—owing to the fact that the entire capital emirate of Abu Dhabi is hardwired with fiber optic capability—my Internet connection is much better here than what I had back home before I left the States. My current Internet capability is a blazing 30mbps/3mbps. This means I can download the latest episode of my favorite drama or sitcom in just a few minutes.

Many have asked me if I miss China. The sad but true answer is that there is absolutely nothing at all that I miss about China outside of a few personal and professional relationships. From a Westerner’s perspective, the only thing that China has going for it is the widespread availability of low-cost personal and domestic services. Body and foot massages, haircuts (for men), and household maid, cooking, and cleaning services are dirt cheap in mainland China, even relative to salaries paid to foreign teachers. I truly suspect this is a major reason many Western men stay on, year after year, living in what are otherwise extremely adverse conditions (that and also because, as I can personally attest to, it’s not so easy to move back home after living in China for years, especially if you have a foreign wife. It took several thousand U.S. dollars and months of planning and legwork to move from mainland China just to the UAE. After I arrived and received my residency permit, I still needed a "letter of no objection" from the U.S. embassy in order to apply for my wife's visa, which wasn't approved until two weeks later).

Real Kitchen and Oven

Aside from being surrounded by real Western amenities and the creature comforts of home again, it is really nice to be living in a country where I am not only appreciated but treated like a VIP (as are all American and European senior managers and professionally-degreed people). I respect the fact that the Emiratis go through a great deal of trouble to authenticate a Westerner’s credentials. All supporting documents must be legalized by a government body and contain an Apostille (official authentication) from the UAE embassy. In all the years that I worked in China, not once did any government or private employer check my credentials. For all they knew, that digital copy of my degree that was sent by e-mail could have been Photoshop’d. Not once in more than seven years did anyone even ask if they could see the original diploma or transcripts.

It’s not that the Chinese don’t have the resources or technology to verify credentials or conduct criminal background checks: The truth is, they just don't care. It's an ethnocentrically contemptuous stance: Any White face who looks the part and can reasonably complete the work will suffice. (Much to my wife's chagrin, this is how I buy clothes, i.e., if it looks okay and fits reasonably well, it will do. After all, one pair of pants is as good as any other and they all look the same to me anyway.) Owing to the UAE's painstaking, time-consuming, and costly procedures for verifying the credentials of their foreign faculty, it’s truly wonderful to have a real peer group of professional colleagues again.

For me, having lived and worked in mainland China was not a total loss. I acquired a degree and quality of patience I wouldn't have previously thought was humanly possible. I now smile and even laugh at situations that would have provoked anger in the past (especially in regard to incompetent and unknowledgeable service and wait staff, which are common daily occurrences in mainland China). I also developed a deep appreciation for how truly blessed I am to have been born in a developed Western country. Never again will I take the simplest of pleasures in life for granted and I have mainland China to thank for that. If you had told me eight years ago how grateful I would later be to once again have a real kitchen with a real oven and stove, I would have politely smiled and thought to myself that you were crazy. What an indescribable relief and pleasure it is to live in a country again where labels actually mean something and can be trusted.

It’s true what they say: You don’t know what you have until you lose it... and I'm not just referring here to ovens and cable TV. I am referring to a way of life and, in particular, an ethical and moral mindset about how people should regard and treat each other.


+1 # Out of ChinaRovingDove 2011-05-22 14:25
Congratulations on a great article and your new position in Abu Dhabi.

If you think you were unwelcome and unappreciated as a foreign professor in China, try working there in the private sector as an architectural engineer on a joint construction project. The work produced by our foreign team was constantly sabotaged. It was out of childish jealousy and incompetence on their part.

I also worked in Dubai for two years and while I think you are romanticising things a bit about the UAE, you are definitely correct that the latter is a much nicer, cleaner, and healthier place to live.

Unlike you, I spoke fairly good conversational Chinese and I still couldn't wait to leave. Even without the language barrier, China is still a very difficult place to adjust to.
+1 # Best of LuckPam 2011-05-22 23:23
Very interesting article and everything you wrote rang true.

I only lived and worked in China for one year and by the time I left, I was more than ready to leave. I also think it's different for women alone in China unless you are attracted to Chinese men and I wasn't. I was so lonely all the time.

The thing about this article is all my Chinese friends complained about the very same things; pollution, poor medical care, fake goods, terrible sanitary conditions, crappy overseas internet, being forced to work more and more hours for the same money, etc.

This doesn't just affect foreigners in China. The Chinese complain about these things all the time. But most can't afford to do anything about it.

Best of luck in the UAE.
# StoneCold 2011-05-23 11:56
I taught English in the UAE for three years and was ready to leave when my contract was over. The heat in the summers is unbearable and unless you are interested in Indian or Filipino women, there is no one to date.

I am now teaching in Hong Kong and prefer my life here 100% over Dubai. For me, the culture here is so far more relaxed. Also, I am not a religious person and I had had enough of listening to the Islamic call to prayer five times a day. I also prefer Chinese girls to other Asians.

The UAE does pay more because they add housing and very good health insurance to the package. My gross salary in HK is actually a little more but I don’t receive a housing allowance, I have to pay taxes, and the medical insurance sucks. The ability to save is more in the UAE if you stay more than a year or two but money isn’t everything.

I also had the opportunity to teach at an international school in China but turned it down. Based on everything I read about China (not just from this site), I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the mainland. I’ll do another year or two in HK and then back to Canada where I belong.

I think if I was a middle-aged content course professor like you who was married, the UAE would be my first choice over Hong Kong because the total salary and benefits package is much better if you’re not looking for a social scene. The food however is a no-brainer. You can find really great western food everywhere in Dubai. That’s not true in HK unless you are willing to pay a lot of money. UAE wins on food variety and overall cost, hands down. For single men and especially women, if money isn’t everything, I’d give Hong Kong the advantage.

Best of luck in Abu Dhabi.
# RE: Why I Left China After Seven YearsSaxman 2011-05-24 12:20
I was in China a few years ago on an exchange program through my university. At this university was a middle aged foreign "English teacher" who we later found out didn't even have a college degree. I Google'd this guy's name and quickly found out that he was a registered sex offender! It was right there on the first page.

After discussing this with our adviser, we reported him to the university's foreign affairs office. They seemed very shocked and surprised when we first told them about it but, later on, nothing happened. He was still there when we left and he was even given a second contract!!

You are 100% correct when you wrote "They just don't care." The Chinese don't care what type of foreigner they bring in to teach English if they are white and can speak English natively.

I made some good Chinese friends I still email and chat with but by the end of the semester I couldn't wait to leave and get away from the foreign teacher community there.
# brianncoxbrianncox 2011-06-21 22:56
Some people aren't psychologically suited to live in foreign countries as they always seek to compare the foreign country (usually unfavorably) with their own. Although much of what the writer said is true, much of my experience has been the exact opposite when living in mainland China. First of all, you will always be an outsider if you live in a country seven years and never learn the language. (You seemed quite upset that few spoke English; your hosts were probably upset that you didn't learn the language of your host country.) Life on the mainland differs from region to region. The difference between Shanghai, Haikou and Chongqing is like night and day. By the way, Laowei is not a belittling term. The prefix "Lao" (old)is a compliment. In Chongqing where I lived for over four years, I always felt welcome. I can't wait to go back. BTW, I was 60 years old when I started learning Chinese, and although my Chinese is not good (I call it survival level) is quite sufficient to interact with people on a daily basis.
# RE: brianncoxDr. Greg 2011-06-21 23:26
Hi Brian,

You've drawn a couple of false conclusions from my article, one leading to the unfounded assertion that anyone who is critical of the poor quality of life and prevalence of Hans chauvinism in mainland China is necessarily psychologically ill-suited for world travel.

My comments in regard to the absence of English language skills in mainland China were not intended to suggest that I don't speak the language at all. In fact, I can speak decent conversational Chinese--perhaps more than what would qualify as "survival Chinese."

The differences I illustrate between the functional use of English in China vs. the UAE are intended to draw attention to the fact that the English language is held in contempt in China. That's why the only real requirement to teach English in China is the good fortune to have been born in a Western country and the willingness to tolerate (perhaps by default) life in an oppressive developing communist country. Middle Eastern countries demand real English teachers because their citizens actually need to use the language to survive and thrive.

You will probably be surprised to learn that both my dean and his assistant acknowledged and confirmed the realistic basis behind my perception of being needed but not wanted (not by them personally but "by the university administration and government"). Any Chinese university or government official with a modicum of honesty will tell you that foreigners are not truly welcome in China (this is also officially evidenced by the fact that foreign residents in China receive only one-year permits at a time. By contrast, Middle Eastern countries extend two- to three-year residency permits).

This is not to suggest that every foreigner who lives in China feels unwelcome, depending entirely on his or her particular set of circumstances and reasons for being there (even if he is in reality unwelcome).

I know an elderly American man in Haikou (not coincidentally a blue-collar worker who had lived most of his life in a trailer park) who is far more satisfied with his life in China than he ever was back home. Despite the fact that he has been married to a Chinese national for years and even owns an apartment, he must go to his local PSB every three months to have his tourist visa renewed. The local government's repeated refusal to issue a long-term residency permit is not exactly what you'd call a metaphorical welcome mat--but he's happy with his marriage and retirement and it's not as if he can even afford to retire back in the States anyway.

As an aside, I wasn't suggesting that the term "old outsider" is itself necessarily derogatory.

My point is that cultures with an ancient history, like China and Greece, are referred to (by cultural psychologists) as "monumentalistic ." These are highly collectivistic cultures that regard themselves as superior to all others and are, therefore, extremely ethnocentric (I once had a student tell me in all seriousness that China invented the Olympic Games). Like the Chinese, the Greeks also refer to foreigners as outsiders, i.e., "ξένος" as in xenophobia or fear of outsiders.

Congratulations on having found contentment in Chongqing, China. I wish you continued success there.
# brianncoxbrianncox 2011-06-22 00:58
Dr. Greg:

If you want excellent medical treatment in China, go to the military hospitals. Many of the doctors I encountered had degrees from prestigious western universities, including Harvard. All spoke English, and if your problem is one they couldn't deal with, they would refer you to a TCM doctor as the Military hospitals are integrated medicine. I agree that the rural dwellers, migrant workers and people in transition to urban life have, for the most part, disgusting hygiene habits, but the longtime urbanized middle class have hygiene habits as good or better than North Americans.

There are a lot of viruses floating around China that we westerners do not have immunity to...I often had an infection whereas my Chongqing wife did not. When we went to live in Canada, she was continually sick with infections she had no immunity to.

Incidentally, in Chongqing and most other places I have spent time, speaking English was a matter of pride and status. I can't count how many people who bragged about some friend or relative that could speak English. Incidentally, I don't think you have to be a "blue collar worker" to find contentment living in China.
# RE: Why I Left China After Seven YearsDr. Greg 2011-06-22 01:18

If had married that Chinese girl back in 2006, I think there is a good chance I'd still be living and working in China despite all the challenges I made reference to and, like you, I'd be making the very best of it as I had before I found a way of leaving for something better with my foreign wife and pet in tow.

No, Westerners needn't be members of the lower SES to find contentment in China but my empirical research suggests that it helps considerably. There is a strong inverse correlation between social class and satisfaction as an English teacher in China. Fifty percent of all Western expats (those sent here by foreign companies and, presumably, members of the middle and upper-middle classes) leave China before they are supposed to.

Speaking English in China is associated with good future opportunities and prosperity (and that is based far more on perception than it is reality I believe), which is why poor Chinese parents go into serious debt to send their children to English language school. That is true. But let me ask you a question: What do you think would happen to the careers (and possibly lives) of two government employees who, despite the fact that they didn't need to communicate with foreigners, decided to speak English between themselves as much as possible? Related, are you aware that the Chinese government recently issued a regulation that prohibits all public television announcers from using English words including the acronyms WHO, WTO, and NBA?

Relatively speaking, China is a filthy country, one of the most polluted in the world, aside from whatever immunities foreign nationals from any country have yet to acquire. What makes China such an unhealthy place to live in is not just the excessive abundance of airborne diseases and environmental hazards but the government's refusal to do anything about them (see Lead Poisoning in China: The Hidden Scourge). Due primarily to differences in physical environment, nutrition, and healthcare, average life expectancy in North America is five years longer than it is in China.

As for healthcare, yes, you can find very good medical care in China--but you can't take it for granted as we do back home: you have to deliberately look for it and you better exercise extreme due diligence. I no longer have this problem. I no longer have to bring a local with me when I go to the hospital, not only as an interpreter but to prevent me from being cheated.

The longer I live outside of mainland China, the more relieved I feel to have finally left and it's not because I couldn't order my meals, get a haircut, or communicate with taxi drivers in Putonghua. What a relief it is to no longer have to indirectly engage in academic fraud by pretending I was unaware of all the failed students who were allowed to retake the same final exam without any further study or without needing to re-register for the course. Yes, in a manner of speaking, you are right: I was psychologically ill-suited for life and work in mainland China.

It's so nice just to be able to see the stars again. Funny, but I never realized how much I had missed that until I looked up one night quite accidentally and noticed them again.
# brianncoxbrianncox 2011-06-22 02:20
Hi Dr. Greg:

We all view life from our own perspective. Although I came from what was probably an upper class family, I myself am not...I was an Canadian intelligence officer and later a college instructor. My "turn on" was adventure so I took to life in China right away. An American friend, a retired CIA, loves China and would move back in a minute if his wife would agree.

My wife's family ranges from professors and wealthy businesspersons to unemployed, poorly educated factory workers. I enjoy learning about China from each perspective.

My wife is the most hygienic person I have ever met and has taught me how to avoid infections from the ever present filth. Actually, I have experienced government employees switching to English in my presence, I presume to show off their language skills.

My neighbor (female) is a high ranking communist government official married to an American...a right wing Republican. Life has many strange bedfellows. I love every day in China because just going for a walk is a new a different planet.

I have met numerous Americans and Canadians, all well-educated, who tell me they will remain living in China for the rest of their one reason for that as all have personal stories. Even those of us who love China realize it has one very major problem it must solve...corruption amongst government officials whose self-serving agendas have made life miserable for the poor in their area.

They say the farther the official is from Beijing, the more likely they are corrupt.
# RE: Why I Left China After Seven YearsDr. Greg 2011-06-22 12:36
"Each to his own" said the old lady as she kissed the cow. What you call adventure, I call aggravation.

I cannot begin to understand how a former Canadian intelligence officer and college instructor could prefer life in China to that in Canada but, hey, there are a lot of things I don't understand and, as you pointed out, life is often stranger than fiction.

The trick to surviving the ubiquitous filth of mainland China is to become a compulsive hand washer. I finally learned never to touch any part of my face when outside and especially after handling their money. Once I returned home, I would wash my hands twice with hot water (as if I was preparing for surgery) and then several times after that throughout the day.

Prior to starting this new hand washing regime, I was sick with a new head cold or upper respiratory infection every three to four months. Afterward, I went as long as 18 months without getting sick (and it would have been longer if I hadn't left China). Incidentally, it's not just the farmers and transient workers who spit and urinate in public. I've seen well-educated government officials spit often and, once, I even witnessed a student spit inside the classroom.

As for the ubiquitous noise pollution, that's another story. For those who are contemplating a visit to China, bring heavy duty ear plugs and a big bottle of full strength aspirin with you.
# brianncoxbrianncox 2011-06-22 19:46
Hi again Dr. Greg:

Although we agree on the atrocious driving, the disgusting lack of hygiene and the noise (no one talks in Chongqing...they shout), one big difference in our experience is that it is my experience the Chinese care for each other and are not only looking after themselves. Unlike people in the western industrialized countries, they are not preying upon each other.

About seven years ago, a Brit running a coffee shop in Yunnan said "unlike Britain, people here look after each other." That has definitely been my experience.

In Chongqing, people are very generous with their money when they pass physically disabled beggars on the street. When someone is crying and in distress, people stop to help. The "hue and cry" is present in Chongqing.

In 2003 I was walking with an American woman and a thief grabbed her purse. She was chased and caught by about 20 people and held for the police. The people were very angry with the thief who had caused their city to lose face in front of a foreigner. In 2009, a relative witnessed a woman attacked with a syringe (rumor was that it contained AIDS virus). The attacker was chased by a crowd and held for police. Two weeks later, a similar attack occurred only this time the crowd beat the attacker to death.

I have often watched street pedlars leave their portable table or mat to buy lunch or visit a public washroom. Nothing is stolen in their absence, even though many of the passer-bys have nothing.

In any North American city, nothing would be left upon the vendors return. I have spent time in many large American and Canadian cities, and groups of thugs and aggressive drunks are present in all of them. I've never seen this in Chongqing.

I can only assume, therefore, that the city of Haikou where you experienced life in China, is a horrible place with horrible residents, and I will cross that off my list of places to visit. (Although I have heard the weather is nice.)

Editor's note: Please be strongly advised that this poster's experiences are not representative of life in mainland China.
# AgreedWisedragon 2011-07-29 16:08
I support your right to opinion. I fail to understand the editor's comment attached below yours. I have been to many cities and 4 times to Chongqing. Chongqing is famed amongst the Chinese for it's friendliness. The taxi drivers chatted !! People smiled. Chengdu is some 100kms from us and most ex-pats say they like it there. My city, Mianyang is the cleanest and safest in all china. The winds blow from the Himalayas and one can swim safely in the rivers. The tap water is drinkable 'though no-one does. I have been to Haiko and driven from one end of the island to the other. Cross my heart it was a disappointing place. And I stayed in a 5* hotel by Sanya beach. I went to Lhasa on the first train and I could live there happily. I have never, ever been ill. My in-laws love me as family and we are generous towards them as we should be. I do think of myself as an immigrant just as those who sailed to open lands to found America or Australia; or immigrants in the 21stC to the UK. I have not returned home since my arrival in Cathay. I spread my wings and made my niche and am content. My one sadness is that I shall not live long enough to see the next chapters as China uncurls from it's deep and traumatic sleep. Oh, to see how the World shapes as the West recedes and the Dragon roars with fiery breath. Interesting times? You bet.
# Silver spoonsWisedragon 2011-07-29 15:49
Him and greetings from N Sichuan.
I read with interest your feelings about your sojourn in China. I do understand how a developing country such as this can differ from the sanctity of the US, UK or Canada. I also find it disturbing how a site which professes to be hallowed in the field of ex-pats who dwell in China can be so negative.
No mention on the whys and wherefores of history here. The present generation are not responsible for centuries of those in power treading and stomping on the have-nots. China as everyone ought to know is dragging herself from the most aweful mess and half her population experienced those terrible times. China is just late coming to the table. 100 years ago London and New york; Boston and Manchester; Philadelphia and Birmingham were cesspools of filth. The air was full of acrid and cancerous smoke. The water killed and street urchins played and preyed in utter squalor. The din was unbearable and the hawkers screamed about their shoddy wares. There was no healthcare for 90% and life expectancy was 45... 45 !! It took a long time to escape those days and millions in our so-called developed lands are still in poverty and many sick. The bounteous US of A uses up a huge % of the world's dwindling resources. The have only a quarter of China's population and have only just been overtaken by China at the top of the list for polluters. Number 2 is pretty bad. It is catch-up time here and they are rapidly doing it. A country with $14 trillion dollars of national debt and another with the earth's highest per capita debt believe they have the God given right to tell others how to behave.
So China develops. She pours $100b into my area for reconstruction after our quake. She build 1000s of skyscrapers and hospitals. Bullet trains and motorways appear overnight. Slowly but surely it happened in our West. Quicker and quicker it is happening here. Now there are cars and a/cs which once were the preserve of whites. She needs energy and to house the citizens better. She creates pollution. That's what happens and if history is to be believed there comes a time when it all slows and one becomes lethargic and a trifle high-minded.
It is true the Chinese do many annoying things. They have had such a bad time that they must be more selfish towards themselves and theirs. The common people have no time to consider manners or the state of the toilets or rivers. Their lives are too busy surviving just as ours did in days of yore. The Japanese had bad habits and manners after they got bombed by the Brits and Americans. All the occupiers commented on it. Gradually the children were educated about good behaviour and then their children too. Give China time and that tooi will filter down. Already the government here has ordered etiquette and manners to be taught in all schools. ( I see some dreadful behaviour amongst the ex-pats here though).
UAE..... not the best comparison to use. A desert land previously controlled by the British until 1971. A history of slavery and little compassion. Oil ! Of all the luckiest places they got it and with iot immunity from criticism. 7 absolute monarchs joined together with an absolute purpose to just get rich and richer. 80% of the population are outsiders ! 20% control everything. Their huge oil revenues exploit to an extreme. They are reckoned just about the most racist group of people anywhere. They use an indentured system to do all the work. Millions of Indians and Filipinos;Chine se and Pakistanis. They take their passports and house them in ghettos outside the cities. Do they even mix with the white interlopers? Do they want to invite any into their homes? They use their wealth often in such immoral ways. Ski slopes outside ! Mad islands to house footballers and oligarchs. It is a facade and foreigners gawp with rose-tinted goggles. They see 20 cheeses..... why not live in Holland? They feel comfortable in icy malls. Their companies pay for health packages and yes, they have ovens. They exploit to an extreme and both ways. Just do some reading on little Dubai and learn.
I have only been in China since 2003. I married an educated local lady in 2005. Yes, I did teach some 5,500 classes ( according to the computer records). I must have been reasonably successful as Beijing TV sent a team to record my class after it won a national English competition over 10,000 schools. I started my own business in 2005 and it is now a successful group and expanding. China is wonderful. It is exciting to be here and part of this renaissance. I have never experienced racism nor felt maligned. It is an old addage for gusts of a country to never compare openly with their homeland. Of course some things are better. I spent 24 years abroad and believe me my 5 years in Iceland makes me still yearn to return. My year in a wild place in Greenland made me say to myself: " I can live anywhere without complaint".
I would have preferred a comparison between, say, China and Chile. Comparing 2 absolute dictatorships is.... well
# Question of External ValidityDr. Greg 2011-07-29 18:30
For a balanced and objective account of life and work in China, take a look at the 400-page eBook The Foreign Teachers Guide to Living and Working in China (

This particular article is written strictly as a personal story and is categorized as such. It is very simply a summary and personal commentary on my cumulative experiences as an American mental health practitioner and professor in mainland China over a seven year period, one that expresses my personal reasons for having decided to leave the country and why there has been such a strong and continued sense of relief in having done so.

There was no attempt to compare China with the UAE, to offer an explanatory history lesson, or to present a balanced view: I was simply expressing my personal reactions to life in Abu Dhabi as a Westerner who had just spent the previous seven-plus years in mainland China. I would have approached this article from the same comparative perspective regardless of where I was living and working now.

Continued success to you and your bar in China.

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