Expats

23 Oct

One thing I understood in Tianjin: life as an expat can be lonely. Beijing and Shanghai have growing populations of foreigners now, and there is a grain of good among the numbers. But – Koreans excepted – they still think of Tianjin as a frontier town; and as such, it appeals to a weird mob.

Roughly speaking, there’s four types of expats in Tianjin. The first are the mechanics. Aerospace technicians flown over from Toulouse to train local staff in the new Airbus factory. Or similar profiles, I suppose, from other countries. In France, they’re normal people – a good job, but no particular status attached. In China, they think they’re on top of the world. And so come out with a string of pseudo-wise judgements about the country: ‘they just haven’t evolved’, ‘it’s hard to get them to work’ or even ‘it’s a new country, that’s what I like about it’. Painful.

The second are the Gold Diggers. They read about the Tianjin boom – 15% of GDP growth per year in the middle of the GFC. They heard it will be the main Financial centre in East Asia – some time in the future. So they came early, to get their shares in the local market at early bird’s price. I met one of those in a bar, receding hair and Lenin-style glasses, a waitress hanging on his neck. He thought he was inventing cool. His bar-snack was opening soon. There would be kebabs.

The come the spouses, a more interesting and varied mix. They come in two kinds: European partner, or Chinese partner. The first are handbag housewives, who spend their husband’s expat package on maids and manicure. Most are not working, and spend their days complaining about the life of luxury they live in China, pining after a proper baguette or a nice cup of coffee with milk.

The second are more colourful – and come in both genders. They came first as a student, or on a visit; they met a Chinese partner, and they decided to stay. Most of those work as language teachers, or in some sort of mediating role. As time passes, they become more and more Chinese, and talk of how everything is changing. They have a touch of sadness to them – life in China can be tough – but they’re settled here, have respect for people around, and make an effort to understand. The one problem with them is – newcomers endanger their exceptional status; and though they are a worthy lot, they tend to know better than you.

Finally come the students. They’re in China to learn Chinese, for a year, or just a few months. Either Tianjin was not their first choice, or they come from a remote place. But they’re enjoying it, or try to. They write blogs, go to cafes, and have a try at market food with adventurous internationals. On week-ends, they train to Beijing and hang out around the cool bars.

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4 Responses to “Expats”

  1. beaufortninja October 23, 2011 at 2:54 am #

    I guess I’m the English teacher! But I do understand what you mean about the expats. I think I’ve met maybe 5 or 6 Westerners in China that I actually liked. The rest, around 20 or so, are losers, jerks and idiots.

    • julienleyre October 23, 2011 at 10:32 am #

      Too bad I’m back in Oz – maybe we would have liked each other. But I’ll be back… meanwhile, say hi if you’re coming down to Melbourne for fresh air.

  2. Juan October 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    I´m going to ttTianjin for six months next year for a workshop at the Fine Arts University.
    I¨m from uruguay, South America and I´ve already been in Chine for a month a few years ago and it was difficult to meet people and I´m a very social man.
    Hope this time is going to be better.
    It´s very interesting your blog.

    • julienleyre October 23, 2013 at 12:01 am #

      Good luck with the stay in Tianjin! I found it’s actually a remarkably beautiful city – hope it inspires you. If you want to learn more about China I’m now running a collaborative translation platform called Marco Polo Project – go and have a look some time :-).

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