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The business of growing up is something we normally think comes to a close when we get to 18 or so, and finally turn into those fully finished products called ‘adults’. Yet in truth, we never stop having opportunities to grow, especially if we move to the ‘Middle Kingdom’. This time we ventured to ask a few expats to share what life in China taught them. The most common, recurring, intelligible answers we received were…


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You got used to living in a humble 50 square meter apartment back home, but now you are challenged to fit all your life into 25 square meters of personal space, mainly because the price of a bigger apartment in a centrally located area will kill you. Or you finally decided to move apartments to save on transportation costs using the only economical vehicle you can afford, that tiny little electric scooter you’ve grown fond of despite all its inherent hassles. If you have experienced and successfully accomplished even these 2 tasks – congratulations – you deserve to call yourself one ingenious human being.


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This is the art of keeping going even when the going gets tough, and accepting reversals as normal. Most probably each and every one of you has had to deal with overwhelming paperwork and stamping required to do most everything official here in China. Something simple like opening a bank account turns into a monumental task when you don’t know the language, although it must be said, significantly less so of late due to cash flush banks in Shanghai hiring fairly fluent English speakers. However, don’t even get me started on the onerous new visa rules or this article will have no end. Or how about that struggle with changing your humble abode at least 3 to 4, if not more, within last 3 years? Jiayou, you resilient people! Keep at it!


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We lose our temper because we believe things need to be perfect. The human race has grown tremendously in some areas, like putting man on the moon, and performing heart transplants, yet the day to day inertia exhibited by all human specimens truly boggles the mind. I mean, if aliens are watching, this channel must be like the Jerry Springer of the Milky Way Network! My point is, now that our expectations are for things to move at an ever-accelerating rate, we are even more flustered when things go wrong, or too slowly for our liking – traffic, the internets, or even that pesky ‘meibanfa’ attitude which seems to be all-pervasive in this manic modern era. We find ourselves clenching our jaws and squeaking out the most violently polite ‘buhaoyisI’ any form of life could ever hope to muster. Fortunately, life in China forces us to learn how to be more realistic and forgiving about these often minor annoyances.


Many great achievements haven’t been the result of superior talent or technical ‘know-how’, but mainly this strange buoyancy of the soul which we call ‘confidence’. In fact, for most if not all of our high-school or university classmates, coming to China itself is a sign of significant confidence. Ok, could be, however, this is what allows us to take on jobs we would never think we are capable of doing anywhere else, or expressing our thoughts in a language that has virtually no connections with any Western linguistic system. Without confidence, Shanghai would quickly become such an insurmountable obstacle.


It may sound contradictory at first, to learn confidence and humility at the same time, but that’s life in China. Whether some macho laowai learns this lesson the hard way by picking a fight with the wrong guy or some foreign woman who thinks she’s hot stuff, treats her boyfriend terribly and gets dumped for a petite Shanghainese gal with poor English. Shanghai has a way of teaching us to have confidence in our daring endeavors and humility in accepting the fact that despite misleading signs (the number of years spent here, local friendships or social status) we are never really done with the tricky business of becoming fully emotionally equipped and adapted to life on planet China!

Agree with us? Or maybe life in China taught you something else? Leave a comment below!

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