Tag Archives: expat

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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Dumb

20 Aug

It is always enraging when you see someone bluntly missing opportunities.

I was having lunch with Keanyen at a middle-eastern restaurant in SanLiTun, ‘Bite-a-pita’. The food was nice, and the place OK, though it was in one of these sleazy SanLiTun expat dens.

Our waitress-in-a-pink-top had a beautiful smile, and an engagin, open, friendly attitude. I though she was ozzie – she was. Her teacher-parents had lived with her in Indonesia first, then Singapore, now Beijing. She had just graduated from high-school, and she was going back to Brisbane in December.

She was a real pleasure to talk to, and I thought, wow, smart girl, four years in Singapore, six in China – she’s gonna rule Queensland Uni.

But when I asked her, she said she didn’t really speak Chinese. ‘I didn’t take Chinese at school’, she explained, ‘the level’s just too high here, so I took French instead, I mean, I needed good grades for uni, and it was just too much.’ So the smart girl, 6 years in China, 4 in Singapore, doesn’t really speak Chinese, cannot read or write it at all.

‘I’m really glad I can work here,’ she said, about her waitering job at bite-a-pita  ‘it’s a great experience, it’s really gonna help me get a job, when I go to Brisbane.’

Sure is. More so than fluent Chinese, right? Who needs it in Australia.

SanLiTun

19 Aug

The word will be familiar to any foreigner who’s been to Beijing – and probably to many Chinese people too. SanLiTun is an area of Beijing located around the ’embassy area’, three kilometres north east from the centre of the city – literally, the name ‘SanLiTun means ‘three milestones’.

When you’ve been in China for a while, SanLiTun is a happy respite. You can find everything there, like:

a trendy cafe that serves a decent soy latte.

a silver porsche

posh apartment buildings with matching vertical and horizontal white lines.

It is a backpackers’ paradise (it started as ‘a bar street’), as well as a playground for the children of brand-conscious aspirational Chinese people – and their parents.

Incidentally, many diplomats and journalists hang out there a lot. Some say the Village Starbucks is full of spies, or mikes. No doubt Many discussions that will end up having a profound impact on the world take place around these ‘puccinos.

Yet – surprisingly? – the place is also quite boring, and seriously daggy, like a cheap holiday resort in a sunny place.