The Blog

An Abridged List Of Expats' Complaints About China

There is very little the average China expat enjoys more than complaining and on the top of our list of complaints is all the ways we think China has wronged us.
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The expatriate lifestyle in China can be divided equally between three pastimes, with the odd cheap foot massage thrown in:

1) Drinking.
2) Watching pirated DVDs
3) Navel gazing

There has been a great deal of expat navel gazing in the past few weeks, in the wake of Mark Kitto's articlein Prospect magazine, "You'll Never be Chinese."

Here are the basics: Kitto moves to China in the 1990s and launches a chain of successful English-language listings magazines, only to be screwed out of said magazines and losing a bunch of money in the process. Later, Kitto and his wife move to Moganshan, a mountain retreat 100 miles from Shanghai that served as a summer escape for wealthy foreigners back in the early 1900s.

Kitto builds a home on the mountain and later opens a guesthouse and café, an experience he chronicles in his book China Cuckoo. But after 16 years, Kitto's evidently had enough of trying to pretend he is a Chinese person and has decided to head home to England.

"I won't be rushing back either," he writes. "I have fallen out of love, woken from my China Dream."

This article is representative of the foreigner experience in China: There is very little the average China expat enjoys more than complaining and on the top of our list of complaints is all the ways we think China has wronged us. Following closely behind are the royal three: Smog, traffic, and the sheer masses of people.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to record some of the lesser-known expat complaints. (I use the inclusive "we" here because I am as guilty as anyone.) This is not a definitive list.

- The quest to find decent deodorant in China.

- Finding batteries that last more than twenty minutes.

- Beijing or Shanghai, depending on which city we call home. If we live in Beijing, we abhor Shanghai, and vice versa. Understand this: We would never live in (Beijing or Shanghai, depending).

- English teachers. Actually, we don't really complain about them. Just laugh and sneer.

- Expats who have been here for less time than we have. Nobody is worse, we think, then another foreigner who has lived in China for a shorter period of time than we have (especially if they teach English.) They're just bandwagon jumpers. We were here back when it was the real China, in the era before the Hooters opened, when corner store beers cost three Yuan instead of four and nobody rode fixed gear bikes. Those were the days.

- How much we've been smoking. Man, we've been smoking a lot lately. You see, we don't actually smoke. Only because we're in China, and only when we drink. But since in China we drink most nights, I suppose we do smoke pretty much all the time. But we never buy our own packs. Oh, what, this pack? Well, they cost less than two dollars here, and besides, breathing in the air is like, what, smoking a couple cigarettes a day anyway? So might as well light up.

- Brunch options. Nothing grates us more than the lack of good brunch options in Chinese cities.

- People complaining about the lack of good brunch options. Really, nothing grates us more than people's incessant complaining about the lack of brunch options.

- The quality of pirated DVDs. It seems to us that whoever stocks this country with shipping crates full of pirated DVDs doesn't fully understand how important these things are to our collective sanity as foreigners in China. If one more illegal, copyright-infringing DVD freezes fifteen minutes before the end of The Social Network, we just might snap.

- Price of coffee. Don't even get us started on the price of coffee in China.

- Unavaiability of coffee in second- and third-tier Chinese cities. We can only do Nescafé so many days in a row.

- Foreigners who become famous after appearing on Chinese TV. (See: Dashan). What do they have that we don't, besides amazing Chinese and a stage presence?

- The general abysmal quality of Chinese apartments. Among the creature comforts we are forced to give up as expats in China - sanitary public toilets, reliably safe food, properly fitting clothes - the most basic are in the home. Unless you're on a cushy expat package, most of us here live in normal, Chinese-style apartments. The quality varies greatly, and sometimes we just want an apartment with an elevator, a kitchen with an oven, a shower that doesn't spray directly onto our toilet. We want a little sunlight through our barred windows. Maybe a microwave and a dryer. How about a washing machine that doesn't eat our clothes, or a mattress that doesn't feel like a medieval torture instrument? Would that be too much for us to ask?

I could continue for hours, actually, but that would just be more navel gazing.