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GO EAST! Print E-mail

Sunday, 16 October 2011 00:00

Written by Michael Totten

Now that China is the second largest economy in the world, many young professionals are looking east. However, the cultural transition can be a shock.  

Culture shock

China has a lot of people, and crowds are everywhere. People will push, stare, talk loudly, and even spit. You may feel as if you have no private space at all. Resist the urge to reciprocate. Just go with the flow, and accept that this is part of quintessential China.

If need for personal space becomes overwhelming, choose one of the interior provinces of China instead of the crowded coastal cities. However, the further inland you go, the fewer westernized facilities you will find. What passes for basic plumbing can be a shock, even in the coastal cities. Outside a few enclaves, toilet privacy can be nearly non-existent.

Everyday life

You'll adapt best if you learn the local Chinese language as fast as possible. Bring an English-Chinese pinyen dictionary from home, which includes transliteration of the Chinese characters. in China, the dictionaries don't have pinyen.

If you join a local group which does Chinese cooking, ta'i chi, or another Chinese cultural hobby, you'll not only be learning about your adopted homeland, you'll also be building your social network.

Calculate costs based on your salary, not on how much the same thing would cost at home. Local food usually costs less than Western food.

Major international banks have ATMs in all large cities and many of the inland provinces. Alternately, you can open a bank account at a Chinese bank, such as China Construction Bank (CCB), which has branches in most parts of China and Hong Kong and is partnered with the Bank of America.

Watch out for hefty ATM fees at ATMs which are not affiliated with your bank. Make all your deposits face-to-face with a teller. If you must make an ATM deposit, always save the receipt , and be prepared to spend a lot of time sorting it out if the deposit gets lost.

If you are visibly non-Chinese, you will stand out. On the streets, you will be the target of small vendors and scam artists. In marketplaces, you will be charged more than a local would. Expect to bargain everywhere except department stores. But when you are dealing with officials and things are moving at a snail's pace, you are not being singled out as a westerner. That's just how life is in China.


In China, most schools are local schools, which include Chinese schools and government schools. Government schools provide the bare minimum in education, and should be avoided.

On the other hand, Chinese schools have a strong study ethic and strict discipline. Their curriculum is fairly rigid, with little break time. The subjects offered are comparable to a US magnet school, but with much more emphasis on memorization.

There are also international schools, which have students from all over the world. Most international schools teach in English. At higher levels, these schools offer the International Baccalaureate, an internationally recognized diploma. Because international schools are private schools, they charge tuition.


By far, the most common jobs available to foreign residents of China are English language teaching jobs. These are available at every level from primary school right up to university and also in private schools.

Growing in demand are high-end business, scientific, and technological expertise. As China's economy continues to grow, demand for these skills is rising fast.

Work attitudes are different in China. in the coastal cities, work environments are intense and hardworking. Further inland, work sessions may be filled with chatting sessions, long tea breaks, and what looks like overall indifference. It's not, but until you get used to the different rhythm of things, it can be frustrating.


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