Moving to China
It’s been 1 year since I’ve started living and working in China (中国). Guangzhou to be exact. Looking back, I never would have imagined working in a communist country. I hope to shed some light on my experience, and share some reasons why living and working in China has been one of the best experiences of my life.
By no means is China a perfect place. The lack of privacy, control of information, and global tensions have made my time here less comfortable. However, I have grown to understand and respect many aspects of Chinese culture, and it has shaped my values and worldview in a positive way.
How did I end up here, you might ask? I seized an opportunity, took a leap of faith, and landed… at 5am in China completely jet-lagged with a full day of work ahead. Welcome to China!
The past year has had many ups and downs. It’s especially difficult being isolated from loved ones, more-so than anywhere else I’ve been. The time difference and means of communication make it very difficult to stay in touch.
The work hours can also be stressful. The notorious 996. 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. Thankfully, my week isn’t that crazy, but it’s very common in Chinese tech companies. In fact, I’ve been able to witness the “silent” revolution of Chinese tech workers protesting long work hours. Although these working conditions violate my principles, I am inspired by the Chinese work ethic.
Challenges aside, let’s jump into some of the reasons why China is awesome. And yes, there are many.
1. Incredible Food
Whenever someone asks me what’s the best part about living in China, my answer is always the same: food. China has some of the best food in the world, and it’s incredibly diverse.
Some of my favorites are:
- Xiao Chao Rou (小炒肉) – fried pork with a mix of peppers / garlic / onions / oil and rice
- Ma La Huo Guo (麻辣火锅) – Sichuan-style spicy hot pot
- Rou Jia Mo (肉夹馍) – Chinese hamburger
- Niu Rou Mian (牛肉面) – Beef with noodles
You can also find some great Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai food given their close proximity to China.
After experiencing Chinese food, I can’t imagine life without it.Roaming Techie
China also has its fair share of… shall we say… acquired tastes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try pig blood curd, rabbit head, or a century egg. There is always a new experience around the corner.
2. Cost of Living
If you think the food looks great, wait until you see the cost of living. Keep in mind, some major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are very expensive, comparable to San Francisco or London. But for most cities in China, the cost of living is cheap.
In Guangzhou, one of China’s Tier 1 cities, you can live comfortably at a low cost. Below are some general costs:
- 1BR / 1BR apartment, no lease – $450/mo
- Cost of a filling meal – $3-5
- 30 minute taxi ride – $5
If you really want to budget, you can easily get these costs lower by finding a roommate, taking public transportation, and eating at smaller restaurants.
For accommodation, food, and transportation, I’d estimate you will get 3-4 times more value for your money compared to other major cities.
3. Chinese Language Immersion
Have you ever wanted to learn Chinese? China is the place to do it.
Outside of the workplace and expat communities, English is rarely used. Menus are not in English, directions are not in English, phone apps are not in English. Unlike many other places, you’re forced to learn Chinese if you want to navigate simple tasks.
Unless you want to accidentally order cow intestines, you might want to learn some basic food words.Roaming Techie
Luckily, you can use these difficulties to your advantage if you want to learn the language quickly. You have the advantage of being surrounded by native Chinese speakers 24/7. You can passively improve listening comprehension at work. You can practice character recognition in the car (it’s like the Alphabet game, but on hard mode). You can try having conversations on a daily basis.
Did you know Mandarin Chinese is the #1 most spoken language in the world, with over 1.1 billion speakers? It is very logical and intuitive, yet humorous at times. Want to learn one translation for “head”? 脑袋, which literally translates to “brain sack” or “brain pouch”.
I’ve tried learning languages before, but none have ignited a genuine passion for persevering through the difficulties like Mandarin has. Learning Mandarin has truly been a gift, and it has already brought a lot of joy into my life. It is a gateway into Chinese culture and a useful skill that I will continue developing.
If you noticed the list header reads 3A instead of 4, then you read correctly. In Mandarin, the pronunciation of “4” and “death” sound very similar. So many places, especially elevators, substitute 4 with 3A, 14 with 13A, etc.
Let’s talk about Chinese people. Yes, there are a lot of them. But more specifically, let’s talk about how kind and welcoming they have been.
Since I arrived, I have always been treated kindly. At work, my colleagues always made sure I could find something to eat, shared a lot about China, and put up with my endless Mandarin questions.
Having traveled to many different countries, it is my experience that humans are, for the most part, well-intentioned. China is no exception. In a world flooded by “news that sells” (ie. negative media), it’s easy to have a negative outlook. But rest assured, the world isn’t as bad as it seems.
5. Travel Hub
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could buy $50 flights to Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, or the Philippines? Well in China, you can!
During the last year, I’ve taken trips to Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, and many cities in China, such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an. These trips were incredibly affordable and enlightening.
My go-to flight booking websites are:
I really enjoy Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” destination feature, which shows the cheapest destinations from a specified location.
If you plan on taking a trip to China, I would budget some extra time to visit other Southeast Asian countries while you’re out here. You’ll save time and money by not having to fly over here twice.
There are many more positives to living and working in China. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to take the leap and get ready for an experience that will change your life.
If you have any questions or need some advice, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!