Relocating to China when you don’t know the language may seem crazy, but it can also be crazy fun, says our contributing writer Loretta Marie Perera.
Moving to Beijing was never the plan. When I was in Singapore, I spent most of my years working in advertising as a copywriter before moving to specialise in social media in both advertising and PR. However, on a trip to North Korea, I was offered a job by the travel company I traveled with (the company is based in China). It was such a random job offer that I couldn’t NOT do it. I hate “what ifs” more than anything, and I knew once the offer was there, I absolutely had to do it. I accepted the job offer in January 2014 and began planning my move to China.
I arrived in Beijing in April 2014 to start work at the travel company but that didn’t work out. However, I’d already fallen a bit in love with Beijing and wanted to stay. So, by August 2014, I’d found a new job, which is also my current job. I now work for an English entertainment lifestyle magazine called City Weekend where I’m in charge of managing their website content.
The Nitty-Gritty: visa applications, house-hunting …
“Getting your visa can be tricky. It used to be a lot easier, but recent crackdowns have made it more difficult for foreigners to get visas or to work in Beijing. A lot of people used to be “teachers” without the proper qualifications, but now a more stringent process is in place. For my visa, I needed a referral letter from my previous employer, proof of at least three years of work experience, and a LOT of paperwork. The process took about two months and involved trips to Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as almost all of my patience.
As for accommodation, I’ve lived here for 1.5 years and have moved three times. It’s easy enough to find a place but in terms of quality, it’s really hit and miss — roommates, landlords, location, cost — it can be tricky to get a good balance of all of these. I’ve still yet to find the perfect mix. I lived in a proper Beijing hutong for six months and while it was a great cultural experience, an old house without central heating in Beijing’s harsh winters is no place for a girl from the tropics to dwell in. Fortunately, most newer places have central heating that come on and off on specific winter dates.”
Dealing With Challenges
“Besides language, I also had to adjust to how open people are about things, for example, toilets with no doors. If you told me before I arrived that I would eventually have no issue with using the loo right next to a stranger with nothing between the two of us, my response would have included disbelief and a fair amount of swearing. Now, it’s not a big deal. The only way to overcome it is to realise that the only person who’s embarrassed is you. After all, when in China …
That said, there’s still the issue of people gawking at foreigners. Beijingren (Beijing people) don’t do this as they’re used to seeing lots of laowai (derogatory slang for foreigners). It’s usually the domestic tourists from more rural parts who are amazed to see non-Chinese people. It’s always disconcerting, and often annoying when they take pictures and stare. However, I try and remind myself that we come from very different backgrounds, and perhaps I’d be excited too if I lived in a place without a large variety of kinds and colours.”
Biggest Surprise About Living In Beijing
“The people here have been incredibly patient with me. When I arrived, I only knew a tiny bit of Chinese, but the Chinese spoken in Singapore is nothing like in Beijing so I was starting from scratch. In Singapore, we’re so impatient with and intolerant of foreigners who don’t speak English. In China, the majority of people I encounter are so happy when you so much as try. It’s very humbling.”
Clearing Up Some Common Misconceptions
“First off, people here don’t run around eating dogs; they practically worship them. Seriously. Everyone has a dog and everyone’s dog has its own wardrobe, which includes more shoes than I have. Second, people aren’t always being rude. They are loud because, well, it’s a loud city. And people are pushy because, I mean, there are more than 20 million people here. You have to push if you want to get anywhere, and sometimes you have to be loud if you want to be heard. It’s not personal.”
Finally, 4 Tips For Singaporeans Relocating To China
1. Embrace the strange. And there is A LOT of strange.
2. Stay calm. Situations are regularly infuriating but losing your temper won’t get you anywhere.
3. Ask for help. People are more willing to help than you’d think.
4. Oh, and get a VPN before you come, not after.