Newbie Going to China

March 15, 2011, 09:59 PM posted in General Discussion

I am in need of some realistic information about relocating to China.  We currently have a great job offer in Macau but my family and I are concerned with some of the realities of living in a communist government.  What are some of the most critical considerations to make before making a decision about moving our family with small children to China?  We have traveled internationally and understand difference of culture and living (i.e. food, custom, tradition, shopping etc...)  but have never resided in a country other than the US.  Please help us in making an educated decision regrading the more complex aspects of living and working in China.  Thank You very much and very kindly in advance for any input!

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March 15, 2011, 11:53 PM

'the realities of living in a communist country' 

There are some differences that you need to be aware of before making a major change to your lives and relocating (from the US I assume?)

The Government requires you to live withing the laws of the land so if you have some problems with the laws of the PRC and you think that you cannot avoid breaking those laws you do run the risk of being asked to leave. This could be such things as writing anti-government tracts and distributing them, or even working actively in a religious enterprise (eg. preaching) outside the registered religions.  (Although from what I have observed over the past couple of years there is tolerance for a wide range of illegal religious activities.) Generally speaking if you are good 'citizens' (behave in a civilized manner) you will encounter no problems at all.

Much more to the point is the need to gain an understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture - this runs much deeper than the laws of the land.  You will find practical information here at ChinesePod (a good place to start) but you should start to educate yourself in other ways as well. Perhaps enrol in an evening course of Chinese language, start watching Chinese movies, read the China section of your national newspapers. Good luck in your adventures.    

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March 16, 2011, 12:44 AM

I agree with Bodawei on dealing with the government. The government isn't in your face about many things that you have do deal with on a day to day basis (or you could go the opposite way on this, but choose not to), so your biggest challenges will be in encountering the cultural differences between your home country, and China. Were you able to get around town by driving your own car, but in China, you'd take taxis everywhere? You were used to pancakes and syrup for breakfast, but now you have to eat something completely different? Everyone around you is Chinese, but you're not, and you're used to being around other people that look like you? What if 2 family members love Macau, but the other members hate it, then what will you do?

Another twist is that you say you have a great job offer.  If this job offer is so great that it comes with perks that abstract you from being in China, then you might not have that much of a lifestyle change. But then you miss out on the point of being in a foreign country.  Or maybe I should say that you miss out on the benefits associated with living in a foreign country. Will you get things like a driver, like an enormous westernized apartment (think dishwasher, oven) in a building with other english speaking westerners, supported by english speaking staff?  Will you get an english speaking ayi? Is there a nearby expat store with things like pancake mix or blueberry muffin mix (even if its 3-5 times the price)?

It sounds like with your international travel experience, you'd have a good sense of how the family reacts to changes like these.


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March 16, 2011, 12:57 AM

So, I'm a U.S. citizen currently living in HK, and haven't made the 1hr ferry ride over to Macau yet, so I'm going to make some assumptions based on what I know living here.

The first thing that you should know is that Macau is a Special Administrative Region (S.A.R.). This is very important! Like Hong Kong, it is a part of China - but it is also separate to a large extent. Even if you have a Macau work visa, you will need a Chinese visa to enter the Mainland. If you want to visit the Mainland, I recommend applying for your multiple-entry year-long tourist visa before you leave the U.S. You don't need a visa to go from Macau to Hong Kong and vice-versa.

There is a great deal more freedom in the S.A.R.s compared to the mainland - freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of press, no blockage of the internet (the Great Firewall of China does not reach here - which is great!!!).  Hong Kong has it's own government - and I'm assuming Macau does as well. Although I believe the key figures have been appointed by the Mainland government. But unlike living in the Mainland, (at the moment) you don't have to worry about saying/publishing things that are political - (i.e. that criticize the Mainland government).

Weather is nice - springs and summers are hot and humid (>85F). Although today it's a bit chilly. There is some danger from typhoons in the summer and fall. Fall is nice - it gets cooler, kind of like summer in the northern U.S.  Winter can be chilly - <50F, and there is no indoor heating.  So don't leave your warm clothes at home.  Also, I don't know if Macau is the same, but Hong Kong has this crazy love of air conditioning. It can seriously be about 20F cooler inside compared to outside.  They like the temperature at about 68F for some reason. Coming inside from 90F - this is a bit of a shock to the system. I always carry a shawl with me.

I think it is not difficult to adjust to life in the S.A.R.'s - especially compared to moving to parts of China (excluding Shanghai/Beijing).  I have been able to find almost every food I like to eat in the U.S. - my only limitation is that I don't have an oven. But you can buy a toaster oven if you want to. Mass transit here is WONDERFUL! But with small children you might want a car...guess that's up to you.  In HK they drive on the left side of the road (opposite to the U.S.) - I don't know about Macau. It's fairly easy to get a driver's license here if you have a U.S. license.

Most of the time it isn't, but on occasion, the language can be an issue. Most people here speak Cantonese - but people either also speak English or Mandarin (sometimes both) - so if your English isn't working and Mandarin is good enough, you can usually switch. It might be in Macau that they speak Portuguese instead of English - or they speak both - I don't know.

But I love living here in HK. I would recommend to anyone to move here.  It is a great mix of East and West and a much milder adjustment compared to moving to the Mainland.  Feel free to ask me if you have any specific questions - I've lived here for 6 months, one month of which I was in the Mainland.

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@ cinnamonfern

You forgot all the good things about HK! ;) I like the wilderness spots, the little villages, and travelling by ferry. A few Western foods I can't get in western China. Cheap electrical goods. The subway. The harbour. Protests (with Chinese characteristics.) The city skyline. I like the 粥 (congee). Love the 粥. Love the climate. It's a global city - a peek into the future of big cities. Chinese culture persisting.

There are a few downsides, I don't like the institutionalised class system. Poverty. Huge anonymous humourless characterless shopping centres. Can't get a decent feed apart from 粥 and Indian. Expensive for what you get, except electrical goods. People are way too orderly, not enough chaos. Peak hour crowds. People speaking English to me. :)

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@bodawei - You're right! I didn't mention the Country Parks! I love them! Of course - Macau is this itty bitty island that doesn't have the green spaces that Hong Kong does, which is why I didn't mention them.

Well...I prefer 馒头 to 粥. They put seafood in it here! For breakfast! I can't get over it. Seafood and breakfast will never mix in my opinion. The same with seafood and pizza (also something they misguidedly mix here). But there are lots of places to get good food! - you just need a friend who lives here to tell you where to go. My friend took me to this little hole-in-the-wall street stall that was selling these fantastic 锅贴 - so good. And there is also this fantastic mango dessert chain - Hui Lao Shan (许留山). And there is dim sum everywhere - but not all of it is good - you have to find a good place. There's a great shop on the island that sells 蛇汤 and other tasty things - expensive, but also very good. And you can get gelato everywhere - and I think I love it more than ice cream now.

I'm not sure that the electrical goods are cheap - maybe cheaper than China, but the prices are similar to the U.S. prices. Compared to the U.S. - cheaper: mass transit, food (in general); similar: clothing, electronics; more expensive: housing, ice cream, makeup.

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Our Macau bound friend will still be only a ferry ride away from those country parks.

I can't really compare 馒头 to 粥 because 粥 is a complete meal in itself. I eat 玉米馒头 with Vegemite (you do know I'm Australian?) OK, so with Vegemite you have a fair comparison. :)

My usual 粥 has both fish and chicken 片 and yes, I eat it for breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.

It does help to have a local to take you to the best places granted.

Those price comparisons make interesting reading - I forget sometimes that the US is cheap - and the global financial crisis has certainly had an impact on prices in recent years. But cheaper mass transit - there is a story there too - HK governments have effectively subsidized mass transit by giving transit builder/operators real estate rights to develop. (It is still maybe 10 x the cost of a similar service on the mainland.) And comparison with the US is difficult - not only are funding arrangements/subsidies different but it would be difficult to find an equivalent service in the US. What I'm saying is that most US cities are so low density it is difficult to design mass transit, while HK remains one of the most compact on earth (perfect for mass transit.) HK should be way cheaper.