InterNations Featured Blog
Gabriel: The Capital in the North
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to China, etc.
I grew up in Italy, right next to Rome. My father is Italian and my mother British, so I have double nationality. I moved to Beijing in 2008, after completing university in Britain. I originally moved to China because I received a scholarship to get a master’s degree here, but now I work as a researcher.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I actually started blogging the moment I arrived to China. It was probably a mistake to start immediately, since at the time my understanding of the place was limited, and it shows.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
This one details my stay in a tiny village in Shanxi province. The experience was really fascinating. I don’t know if the blog entry is too.
Tell us about the ways your new life in China differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I had already been to China a few months on a previous occasion, so I had some idea what to expect. I find I can get along well enough with Chinese people. Of course there are some things which I find irritating about China and Beijing, i.e. the absurdly crowded public transport and the traffic, the bad hygienic standards in most restaurants, the bitterly freezing winters, the censorship of certain sites on the internet, the stressful life style, people who reply to me in terrible English even though I spoke to them in reasonably good Chinese etc…… But to be honest, most of these things only became annoying recently. In the beginning I didn’t mind.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in China? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Like I mentioned, I had already been to china a few years previously for a few months, so I was already prepared enough. Of course, any Chinese you learn before coming is useful.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Being woken up at 5 in the morning on a train from Guiyang to Chengdu by a train attendant with a microphone, attempting to sell Chairman Mao memorabilia to the passengers (this was her own little side business, not an official duty). Not only nobody complained, but some passengers even bought her Mao Zedong badges.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in China?
- Take every chance to learn Chinese; don’t put it off until you have some free time.
- Don’t make a fool of yourself by lecturing Chinese people about what China is like and what is wrong with China when you have only just arrived here and don’t have a clue.
- Don’t spend your whole time with other expats. If you make friends with expats, you will find they come and go from China. If you make friends with Chinese people, they are far more likely to stay put, and it will give you more insight into the country. They are also more useful in emergencies.
How is the expat community in China? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Well, I can only talk about Beijing. In Beijing, the expat community is very large, and you will certainly be able to find people from the same culture and with the same sort of interests.
How would you summarize your expat life in China in a single, catchy sentence?
入乡随俗 (rùxiāngsuísú) = When in Rome, do like the Romans