Natalia and I have travelled extensively in SEA. We also spent a year living and working in the Republic of Korea. Nearly all of our experiences have been fantastic. That’s why when we had the chance to live and work in China, with a much higher salary, we jumped at the chance. How could it be so different than the rest of Asia? Sure there will be some minor annoyances to get used to but we’re adaptable, we can handle it.
1. The internet really sucks.
Okay, if you spend all day browsing Chinese web sites then the speed will be fine. I love using the internet and I use a lot of it. From gaming to watching things on YouTube to posting on Facebook to torrenting. I knew I’d have to use a VPN for YouTube and Facebook but wow is it slow. Sometimes it slows to a crawl. 5 minutes to load one image is not my idea of browsing the internet. I remember my 28k modem being faster than that – unacceptable for any city not stuck in the 90s. From Korea I was able to torrent a 1080p movie in the time it took to cook eggs.
2. The aesthetics.
We had a wonderful view of Pudong (downtown Shanghai) from the 26th floor of our apartment building. That is, we had a wonderful view on the occasion that everything wasn’t shrouded in grey soupy smog. Also, surrounding our gated apartment complex are old style shanghai housing filled to the brim with citizens waiting to be evicted in the name of progress. Often these homes have no running water and share communal toilets. It’s a little hard living in “snazzy” accommodations and coming out to see people making so little.
3. The people.
It’s time to make some generalizations. The driving culture in Shanghai is awful, terrible and horrendous. People drive more selfishly than I thought possible. People constantly turn in front of you without a glance at oncoming traffic. Countless times during my stay I had to slam the brakes or swerve out of the way of a car pulling out of a side street. Also, people love to hork. It’s not just a spit missile flying out of their mouth but a deep phlegmy roar emanating from even the smallest young woman. It happens so often that it almost feels strange when you don’t hear it. Like if all the sounds of trucks and buses on the road were to go away you’d wonder where everyone went. Lastly, many young kids wear split pants and can often be seen peeing or pooping on the sidewalk. You can also see parents holding their children over garbage cans in public areas as they relieve themselves. You can even see children relieving themselves on the subway, next to grandpa horking up a big one in the middle of a crowd of people. Needless to say, you never want to touch the ground and there is no 5 second rule.
4. You are being watched.
I like independence. That might be partly why I like bicycle touring. Getting up in the morning and seeing where and how far I want to go is fantastic. Reading about how the Chinese government sentenced two young girls for writing gay fan faction about a T.V. show they watch is not fantastic. Wanting to stay at a hotel, even a Super 8, is often not possible for foreigners. Hotels must have special permission to allow foreigners to stay and they have to register foreigners with the police. Many smaller cities will not have a place for foreigners to stay. Also, having your picture taken every two blocks in Shanghai by automatic cameras is also annoying. It’s only a minor annoyance (though the flash is quite bright at night but Chinese people love using and ignoring high beams so I guess the people are used to it) but it adds up. The government routinely blocks blogs and news agencies they deem inciteful. I think you’re getting the idea.
Everyone is in it for an RMB. Look up anything you want to do in China and you’ll find associated scams. People wanting to import their pets receive their pets from government run quarantine and see that their pet is near death after not having been fed for a week. People getting hit by a car end up having to pay the driver thousands of dollars. Take a look around the forum on ShanghaiExpat.com and you’ll see what I mean. I was also scammed by a taxi driver who nearly hit me on my bike 3 times, 2 of which were on purpose. The police were called and basically threatened me to pay him a huge sum of money or be “detained” until trial. Needless to say I got out of China and I’m not looking back.
Not everyone has a bad experience in China but I did. Some people handle the difficulties better than others. I’ve left out many things like how the huge city of Shanghai basically shuts down at 10:30pm and the pointless jobs everywhere you look. Also, visiting China can be interesting and I think most people would not be exposed to many of the difficulties of living there. There are many interesting things to see and do in China. I’m just glad I’ve done them and have no reason to go back.
P.S. The China referred to here does not include Hong Kong nor Taiwan because… well… there’s no confusing the differences.