Phill: An Unweeded Garden
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Beijing, etc.
My name is Phill Lane. I’m originally from Yorkshire in the UK, but have been living in London for the past 12 years – that is, until I moved to Beijing at the start of 2012.
I work in advertising & employer branding and was looking for a move into a developing economy having worked with a number of global clients in APAC and, perhaps more pertinently, looking at the state of the western economies after the GFC I decided that I’d rather go east. I’m now getting to grips with the China economy and business challenges – a whole new proposition.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging a number of years ago as I work with clients on their social media strategies; but moving to China was a real incentive to buy a decent camera and go looking for interesting experiences of my own. Sharing those online is not only a natural step, but it’s also a good way to keep up to date with friends and family back home – especially since Facebook isn’t quite the option it is in other countries!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Isn’t that a little like asking someone to pick their favourite child? If I had to pick one that a number of friends have talked to me about, it would be my observations on IKEA in Beijing.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Beijing differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Beijing has been surprisingly easy to integrate into. The language was a challenge for the first couple of weeks – i.e. trying to get taxi drivers to understand what I was trying to say – but London’s also a major world city, so I never felt stranded here. There’s the odd amusing difference, but they just tend to make me smile. I moved looking for difference so I think I would have been more shocked if I’d found the place too Western.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Beijing? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I didn’t have huge expectations of coming out. I’d never been to China at all before moving here, though I thought it would, quite rightly, be significantly different to Hong Kong. So was I fully prepared? No, of course not. Would I have changed anything? Not at all. If the little bumps and hiccoughs along the way hadn’t happened, it would probably have felt too sanitized for it to be fun.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Well, there was the initial challenge of buying dairy products in a country whose population is overwhelmingly lactose intolerant. Gold, pink, blue, green or red packaging for semi-skimmed? With cartons containing nothing but Chinese characters – save for a picture of cows and the calories per 100ml, it seemed sensible to choose based on the latter.
266 must be whole fat compared to the 238 semi-skimmed right? Sadly not. It’s actually the difference between strawberry and plain yoghurt.
Lovely stuff, as it happens, but probably best not added to tea.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Beijing?
- Jump in. You can end up not doing something because you think it’ll be scary – but once you get involved, you wonder what you were working yourself up about in the first place! That’s especially true if the language barrier is holding you back.
- Eat in local restaurants. If there’s a place on an alley that has chairs and tables outside, it’ll probably sell food that tastes amazing. The expat bars are OK too, especially if you’re just after a drink, but you’ll be missing out if you don’t stop in at the smaller places to eat.
- Everything will be further than you think! The number of days to begin with that I got back to the flat exhausted because I thought I could walk back from here, or just see what was at the end of the next road are not few nor far between. Don’t make your life so difficult by trying to squeeze in too much at the same time – it’s a big place.
How is the expat community in Beijing? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I’m lucky in that I work with a couple of westerners who have been in Beijing for nearly twenty years – and they have good connections, families & friends. There’s also always the possibility of meeting people through language courses – I’ve certainly met a few people in that way, and joined a few trips out to places like Chengdu through them too. That’s actually how I found out about InterNations in the first place.
How would you summarize your expat life in Beijing in a single, catchy sentence?
Smile, keep an open mind and what will happen, will happen; if you make the mistake of thinking you can tame Beijing, think again.