What comes after China: 7 Problems
Living in China presents many challenges. One that is usually not thought about deeply before coming here is… what comes after China? I know I had ideas and dreams of what to do after China, but no concrete plan. And that has left me in a predicament.
This question also led me to arrange a group writing project on this same theme. Originally this writing project had a time line, but I’m extending this to an indefinite date in the future.
Before I hear back from you, I’d like to share with you why leaving China will be hard for me, and then tell you what I am doing to prepare for life after China. Instead of cramming it all into one post, this will be the first in a two-part series on what comes after China. Even as a series, though, I have a lot to talk to you about in this first post, including the following:
7 Problems I will face with life after China
- Saving for the future with money made in China
- Supporting two people on one salary
- What skills will I take away from China?
- Asking my girlfriend to move away from home
- Reverse culture shock
- Unfulfilled promises / Unachieved goals (as of yet)
- Going back to America in the midst of a recession
This is the most personal post I have ever written, so let’s get on with it:
1. Saving for the future with money made in China…
… is like trying to climb a mountain with a wheelchair. It just doesn’t work very well.
While for some this is not a huge problem – you might be able to move back with the folks or room with a bunch of friends when going back home – for others it is a significant problem. How so?
Some of us are not going to be going back home alone. Although it definitely wasn’t the plan to make the trip home with a wife in tow when first coming to China, that is about 100% certain to happen now.
Thus saving for the future becomes a necessity and brings you and me to the next point:
2. Supporting two jobless people with only “RMB” savings
At some point, I will leave China and go back home. At that point, unless I can get something lined up ahead of time, I will need to spend some time looking for work. Having enough money to support two people while looking for jobs (with only one person able, at first, to find a decently paying job) is hard enough for most people. Try taking the savings mentioned above and doing this.
There is no doubt that people in my situation are a thousand times better off than immigrants from China who have to pay off a passage fee (from China to said developed country), send money back to their aging parents, and support themselves – but worse off than those in the States who have saved up money on a US salary and are looking for new work – especially those without an extra person to support.
I guess I’m just saying I’ve got it better than many but worse than some.
3. China Skills?
One of the things that makes me most worried about leaving China is applying for jobs back home. Not only do I not have regular references (my coworker and I are a two man operation here in Shanghai, soon to be one), but I used to have trouble figuring out exactly what skills I have developed during this time. Chinese language skills are useful to an extent, but in the end it is only a tool. Beyond that, what have I learned?
Recently, this question has gotten easier to answer with more of a real job. But during my first two years in China, I was first an English teacher and then later a part time English teacher and exporter.
While a small handful of expats may thrive as an English teacher, I felt like my skill-set and future were shrinking by the day. I gained some competence in speaking in front of large groups of students, but felt like there wasn’t much else I got out of the job. If you teach English in China, I hope you got more out of it, but know many fellow teachers have not.
Trying to set up a small export business, I started to learn how to interact with smaller Chinese factories, and a little bit about how China works – but these are not skills you take home with you, and they are only really useful if you can come up with something to sell that is going to make you a decent amount of money.
So in addition to money and job issues, what are some other challenges I face whenever I leave China?
4. Asking Lucy to leave China
While you might think this is not such a big deal, this is one of the bigger challenges I face. Although she is willing to leave, it won’t be easy. China is her home, and like many people of her generation, Lucy is an only child.
Seeing my Mom or Dad after a year (or more) is hard enough over the courses of several years in China. I can see them visibly age. Asking Lucy to put herself through this for a lifetime is not an easy thing to ask or do.
She’ll also go through some pretty significant culture shock, after all, until now Shanghai is the farthest she’s ever really been away from home. It will be much, much harder for Lucy to leave China than it will be for me.
5. Reverse culture shock
I might not be the only one who finds it hard to leave China. While I miss home greatly, and enjoyed it even more the one visit back over the past three years, things will be at least a little different when I get back home.
People will have moved on with their lives. Many people who were once friends are now just memories. Even my closest of friends are no longer so close – we just touch base every now and then. Lasting friends from China are just as hard to keep – the expat population is one that doesn’t stay in place so much, and Chinese friends will likely remain in China.
Although I keep up with some kinds of news and some TV shows (just finished watching the end of season 3 from Lost, and it’s amazingly good), I also know that there is much that is passing me by – things that people have experienced that I will never experience – reading about it on the news is not the same as going through it with the rest of the nation.
Things are also slower back home. I’m from the DC area, which isn’t exactly New York, but it’s not the middle of nowhere either. Yet when I went home things seemed eerily quiet, and slow paced. That’s probably something I won’t mind adjusting back to, but it will take at least a little bit of an adjustment. I might even end up missing the craziness that is here.
6. Unfulfilled promises / unachieved goals
When I came to China, I had this insane idea that I could master Chinese in three more years (I had already studied it for three years full time before this). Since then, I’ve come to realize that this is an impossible goal. Yet it still tantalizes. The problem is, my time spent studying has gradually been replaced by other things (like work), and significantly improving my Chinese from this point would require a focus I feel is better spent elsewhere.
As to unfulfilled promises, I promised at least two years to my current boss. That means at least another year and a half in China (if not two to three years), which brings me to the last problem I see with leaving China:
7. Walking straight into a serious recession
I believe a serious recession is in store for the US economy, and likely the world. If this is true, it’s not exactly going to be easy to get a job upon leaving China in approximately two years time as mentioned above. First, let me digress (if you don’t want to read doom and gloom about some serious unfolding economic problems just skip over this, I put my own words in quote form so you can easily skip over them):
There is no doubt in my mind that America, and likely China (although there will be a delay before China starts to feel the pain), is headed for a serious recession. The problem is a complex one, but basically boils down to an imploding housing bubble. The biggest problem with the housing bubble is not high housing prices as was once believed. It is the massive amounts of poor lending (which is NOT confined to subprime lending) which has been made in the past 6-7 years.
The blowups with subprime lending (most recently seen through the Bear Stearns debacle) are only the most recent incarnations of a problem that will have far worse consequences than what we have seen so far. Hedge fund blow-ups are just a part of the darkening picture (but won’t be a pretty part). Liquidity is likely to dry up soon, and once the massive amount of bad mortgages (in the form of mortgage backed securities) show their true colors (it will take another 4-5 years to see the true extent of bad lending that took place), China among others is not going to be willing to continue financing Americans, especially mortgage borrowers. Interest rates will at least remain level even as we enter into a recession, and will likely go up, in order to compensate for the extra risk inherent in such loans.
Things will likely get ugly in China as well, as American consumers run out of money (relative to the past several years, they don’t have much right now, with a negative savings rate and the quickening disappearance of the ‘housing ATM’). However, China does have a large reserve of American dollars it can use to try and deal with these problems. America has massive amounts of debt.
In my overly pessimistic view of things (I would say realistic), I face trouble by going home in several years (a shrunken job market), and I face trouble by staying in China after several years have passed (a shrunken job market and significant stability issues). But while this is not exactly a great situation to be walking into, it’s not the end of the world.
So how should I deal with these problems? What do you think?
It would be great to hear from you how I should deal with these problems.
In about a week, I will follow up with the ways I plan on handling and am already handling these issues. But I’d like to hear from you first.