Everyone knows the downsides, or “challenges” if you’re feeling charitable, of living in China. However, as my students were so fond of saying, “Every coin has two sides”. This particular coin must be weighted, however, as we very rarely see the elusive “other side”, at least not in conventional expat discourse. So, what are the positives of living in China, or, more specifically, what are you likely to miss once you leave?
If you’re still in China, this is a very worthwhile question to ask yourself. “Knowing that I’m free to leave any time I like and be carted off to a land where traffic regulations are more than just suggestions, where eating out doesn’t come with a lurking possibility of contracting some rare and terrible illness; knowing this, what is it that keeps me here month after month, or even year after year?” Asking yourself this question could achieve two things: it could change your perspective, giving you a more positive outlook; and it could help you to decide on the appropriate time to leave. When the rough side of the coin starts to overshadow the smooth side, perhaps that is the time to say zai jian to the Middle Kingdom.
Eight months ago I decided that the reasons to leave China finally outweighed the reasons to stay, but even now there are a few things I miss about living there. I miss being able to save half my salary without even trying. I miss feeling like a genius just because I speak English fluently. I miss unwinding at the end of the week with a cold beer and a few dishes from my favourite dumpling restaurant. I miss the first day of term when the students were at their most attentive and when I learned what hilarious English names they’d given themselves. I miss the last day of term when I realised I had made a difference to someone without even knowing it. I miss getting to practice my Chinese with enthusiastic taxi drivers. I miss having the opportunity to travel at no great cost. I miss being told I look like… [insert ridiculously handsome celebrity here].
Making your own list of things you think you’ll miss when you leave China is an excellent way of getting the most from your remaining time there. Alternatively, if like me you have already left, reflecting on the things you miss could well change the way you think about your overall experience. The question is, are these things enough to tempt me into going back to live in China? The answer, for now, is a resounding “hell no”.