Expat bubble busted


Expat-living in China is a unique experience.

You meet many interesting people who are all doing interesting things.

Everyone has a story to tell because everyone is living in China for a different reason.

Some have lived here for 10 years – started out teaching and then found a niche market in Beijing and opened a business.

Others have been here a shorter time and are using the opportunity to learn Chinese.


I met a guy the other day that came over to Beijing to teach English and discovered there weren’t any pub-crawls being run for backpackers.

He saw a hole in the market and now hosts bar-hopping nights out for people who are passing through.

You also get the opportunity to meet people that you may never associate with in your everyday life back home.

One of the great things about expat living is the sense of community.

Everyone is away from family and friends and so we seek each other out to develop support networks.


One of the dangers of living abroad in China however is getting stuck in the ‘expat bubble’.

You see, many ‘Westerners’ who move with the expat crowd never associate with Chinese people.

I’ve discovered you have to work harder at friendships with Chinese people – not because they are difficult but because, culturally, friendships are developed and sustained in a different way in China.

You might meet an Aussie at the bar and have a few drinks and the next thing they’re your best friend.

Chinese friendships take a little more time – respect and trust must be built.

One reason I really wanted to move to China (aside from the opportunity to work in international journalism) was to develop my Chinese language skills.

It is so easy however to always get by with just a few words of Chinese.

Some people have been here for years and can’t hold a conversation in Mandarin.

I think it would be such a wasted opportunity not to develop some degree of fluency in my Chinese while I’m here.

But back to the positive stuff because most of it is!


The travel opportunities …

China is a huge country and you would never be able to see it all on holiday.

Living here however you get the chance to see a few places that might not be on the regular tourist beat.

China, with a dash of Moscow.

Last weekend I travelled to a city called Harbin.

It’s right up near the northern Chinese border and used to be occupied by Russians.

The city was full of amazing Russian architecture and had a unique cultural background that I had never experienced before.

In recent years Harbin has become famous for its ice-sculpture festival.

In winter the temperature in Harbin barely goes above minus 10.

And so huge castles and giant beer bottles made entirely of ice are able to survive the winter.

Lights are embedded in the sculptures and at night it is a spectacular view!

(And I went with a British girl who thought the same – it’s not just because I’m from Perth and have never seen an ice block before.)

So what have I learned in the three months I’ve now been in Beijing?

Living abroad is great.

Expat living is fun and unique.

And there are so many wonderful and crazy opportunities to be had  – some of them just take a little more work!

– Emily completed her Curtin Journalism studies in 2011 and is now working as a reporter in the Chinese capital. You can follow her updates on life in Beijing here on InkWire.

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