Snapshots from Abroad: Impossible to Do Alone

Snapshots from Abroad is a column exploring the real stories behind the clichés of foreign travel. Here we’ll profile interesting ex-pat personalities in Q&A format, delving into the reasons they left home and the new perspectives they’ve gained from their experience.

Rick Plautz

Shanghai, China

1.Where are you originally from? Merrill, Wisconsin, USA.

2.How long have you been in China? Four years in China.

3.What do you do in China? I’m an English teacher and business instructor.

4.Why did you go to China? The economy in the U.S. was crap and I needed some way to survive. After completing my TOFEL exam I went to Vietnam to teach and manage a language school for 2 years. I came back to the U.S. but the job market in small rural areas still was too soft. A close friend of mine was working to start a project in Shanghai and wanted me to come help. I decided to continue to help but also do some teaching because it would take a long time before his business would be solid. Good thing I did because he and his Chinese partner were on opposite ends of the world when it came to getting the project started.

5.Do you speak Chinese or are you learning? How is that going? If not, how are things for someone who doesn't speak Chinese? As an English teacher it is not difficult for me (compared to others) to survive without knowing Chinese. I know a few words and phrases. If I need something more complicated I have a number of students who are willing to help me.

6.What is the best thing about living in China? I love learning about culture and history. The city I live in has a 2,500 year old history. China as a whole is around 5,000 years old. It is reasonably cheap to live if you can live and eat like the Chinese do. It is relatively cheap to travel around and the train system is excellent.

7.What is the worst thing about living in China? I don't know where to begin. Sanitation, clean air, food quality, rude travelers, horrible driving, thousand year old culture that has people do things that are not logical because “that is what we always do.” There is also open discrimination for jobs, being handicapped and assistance for the elderly. Anywhere in any city parents will let their children do their business ANYWHERE in the street, sidewalks, path, etc. It's one thing to go in the grass but the preference seems to be right in the middle of the sidewalk. I was once walking in Walmart when a mother was holding her small child over a garbage can so the child could pee. Diapers are still not commonly used here because of the cost. Young children have crotchless pants that allow easy access to “GO”. The problem is when you go to the store and use a cart, there is a very high chance that a crotchless kid was sitting in your cart and it wasn't cleaned. You can't drink the water directly from the tap. All water must be boiled before drinking. When you go to a restaurant the routine is to wash your dishes with hot tea before using them. Most Chinese never use hot water or soap to wash their dishes at home. Restaurants also don't seem to have a sense of good sanitation and using one knife for everything is common. The better the restaurant the better your chances of not getting sick.

8.Where is the coolest place you have traveled to there and why? I have traveled to many places in China and the natural beauty is outstanding. It is a cultural tradition for Chinese to climb mountains so you will see them everywhere going to any mountain. The big name mountains are excellent to see and depending on the time of year, you will see it differently each season.

9.What do you think the future holds for China and what are the biggest opportunities for American and other foreign students, professionals or expatriates? The government has been changing the policy of expatriates in China for the last couple years. Some will tell you that it is more and more difficult to stay and work. Even the requirements on teachers have gotten stricter. There is a huge difference between working in a 2nd or 3rd tier city compared to a 1st. Do your homework before you come to China. Whatever you think you know about it, unless you have facts and know people that have been here, you don't know anything.

10.What advice would you give people back home who are considering a move to China? It is relatively easy to study in China and many foreign students do come here. It is expensive to start a life here in a 1st tier city. The usual rent is three months payment in advance plus one month deposit. They also use an agent to help find your apartment and you pay for that too. Setting up your gas and electric isn't difficult but paying for it is. From what I've seen all kitchens in China use gas cooking. Some kitchens are so small that you have to use bottled gas, and this is not convenient.

11.Has living in China given you a fresh perspective about your home country in regards to things that it does well (or things it can do better)? It is good to see and understand the differences in culture and how things are done. I can tell you as a businessman, doing business in China is nothing like we do it in the West. So many mistakes will be made if you think you can. It is impossible to do it alone.

12.What are your future plans? Right now I will continue teaching as I look to continue to build a private business of consulting for businesses who are looking to do trade or manufacture for western companies. Because of my age, China has a strict limit on the age of foreign workers. Some schools are capped at 45, others 50 or 55. My future needs to be flexible.

Joey Campbell

As one hand of the co-founding tag team behind Internships In Asia, Joey is the resident talker, commentator and opinionator who gives voice to the site's perspective on all things international travel, education and...

More about Joey Campbell