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John_Lombard
04-21-2013, 05:58 AM
I've seen in a few other threads that there are people here with various connections to China. Some are overseas Chinese. Others are expats living in China. Yet others are living in Singapore, or Taiwan, or Hong Kong, or Macau.

I myself am Canadian, but have been living in China for 20+ years (since 1993). I'm very much the stereotypical 'foreigner' in China -- pale white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, etc. But for all that, I've experienced tremendous success in China, most of my friends here are Chinese, and I really consider China my home.

I figured that having a thread for everyone that is connected to China in some way, be it direct or indirect, would be cool. And there may well be others who would have questions about China, related to their writing, who could use us as a resource.

I am currently working on a series of YA novels for the Chinese market (hope to be able to say more about it in future, but don't wanna' reveal too much until I've got an agent/publisher). I also have plans (no idea if or when any of these plans will come to fruition) for other China-based books, both for Chinese and foreign audiences. These include:

* A biographic novel to describe my various adventures and experiences in China, and highlight the amazing changes (and the incredible pace of change) that have taken place during my time here. From my arrival in China in 1993, at a time when China had just started to open up to the outside world, and there were still very few foreigners, through to modern China.

The title will be "Watch Out For Pigs In The Toilet", based on one of my most memorable experiences when I first came here.

* A book about the Mosuo, a fascinating ethnic minority group that I work with here, and have established a non-profit organization to help. More info at our website, www.mosuoproject.org (http://www.mosuoproject.org). In brief, the Mosuo are one of the last remaining matriarchal cultures on the planet; do not practice marriage; and uncles take paternal responsibilities, rather than the biological father.

The Mosuo also live in one of the most remote and undeveloped regions of China, in small villages high in the Himalayas. Some villages there still have no electricity or running water, the people live pretty much the same as they did 100 years ago.

I would like to write a book that tells the stories of 8-10 Mosuo, all from different perspectives and backgrounds. A Mosuo who has left his home and abandoned his culture, to live in the big city and embrace 'modern' life. A Mosuo grandmother who's never left her remote village, her only knowledge of the outside world being what others have told her. A Mosuo woman who lives in a tourist area, presenting a bastardized version of the Mosuo culture in order to attract tourists and make money for her family. A Mosuo academic who has dedicated his life to recording and preserving important aspects of the Mosuo culture, before they disappear. The first (and so far only) Mosuo woman to study in an American university, contrasting her life in both worlds, and discussing what both sides can learn from each other. And many others.

I hope that by telling their stories, rather than my own impressions, I can demonstrate both how very unique their culture is, and the complexity of the issues facing them today.



So...I'd love to hear from others with an interest in or connection to China. Share your stories, ask your questions, interact with others...just get involved, and enjoy yourselves!

JoNightshade
04-21-2013, 06:21 AM
Guess I'll put my info here in case I can be of use to anyone. I spent 2004/5 teaching business English to adults in China. Specifically in Tai'an, which is the city at the base of Mount Tai, or Tai Shan. This is considered the greatest of the five holy mountains in China, and it was customary for all emperors to make a pilgrimage to the top. There's also some ancient Chinese writing on rocks that figures into the story of the Monkey King. (Story goes he placed the scrolls on the rocks to dry, the words transferred.)

I got lucky in that the program I taught hosted students from all over China, so I was able to interact with folks across a very wide spectrum of education, income, and geography. I had students from Xinjiang, Guangdong, and everywhere in between. Even taught several bigwig CCP folks from Beijing.

While in Tai'an I got involved in the local orphanage - not one prettied up for foreign adoptions, which is very rare. Basically we were able to get in because the local staff was very kind and my teaching partner, who spoke fluent Chinese, was able to win their trust. We visited about once a week. Conditions were not the worst they could have been, but they were bad. I'll go into more detail for anyone who's curious or needs it for research.

Since I've been back I have stayed current with the state of Chinese adoption, so I know a lot about the subject (and know other people who know a lot more than me). Like everything else in China, the face of adoption changes quickly and no longer fits the American stereotype of "abandoned baby girls." (In fact, good luck getting a baby, period.) For the most part the changes have been good.

While in China I also spent a week traveling in Gansu province, which is in the far northwest of the country, and incorporates part of the Gobi desert. While I don't have a whole lot of knowledge here, I can describe the landscape. The population is much more obviously Muslim than the eastern coast of China, and many of the people are still very amazed by the sight of a Caucasian person. (Think eating at a restaurant and having a crowd outside the window by the end of your meal.)

John_Lombard
04-21-2013, 06:59 AM
...and many of the people are still very amazed by the sight of a Caucasian person. (Think eating at a restaurant and having a crowd outside the window by the end of your meal.)lol

My first year in China, in 1993, white people were still very much a rarity. When I got my first hair cut, the barber collected the clippings and sold them. In 1994 I visited a village where not only had they not ever seen a foreigner, but they said in 5000 years of Chinese history, they believed I was the first white person to set foot in their village. This is actually the setting for my "pigs in the toilet" story, mentioned above.

Even today, there are many places you can go where you are effectively treated like a zoo animal. You can either go with it (or even have fun with it), or you can let it bother you, and quickly go crazy :-)

JoNightshade
04-21-2013, 07:19 AM
You think that's inconvenient... try navigating the country with two small blonde, blue-eyed children. My other teaching partners were a couple with a 4 year old girl and 2 year old boy. It didn't matter whether we were in the boonies or Beijing. Nobody could keep their hands off of them, their clothing, their hair. That was entertaining for about, oh, two weeks. Then it was like, people, GET THE F*CK AWAY. We basically had to be bodyguards.

John_Lombard
04-21-2013, 07:34 AM
You think that's inconvenient... try navigating the country with two small blonde, blue-eyed children. My other teaching partners were a couple with a 4 year old girl and 2 year old boy. It didn't matter whether we were in the boonies or Beijing. Nobody could keep their hands off of them, their clothing, their hair. That was entertaining for about, oh, two weeks. Then it was like, people, GET THE F*CK AWAY. We basically had to be bodyguards.
Ah, yes. I've also known families with blond kids, and yes, it can be a nightmare. Total strangers walk up and touch their hair, even pick them up. I've also noticed something of an direct ratio of "familiarity with foreigners" and "treatment of blond-haired kids". That is, the more familiar they are with foreigners, the more likely they are to treat their kids like this. If in an area where foreigners are rare, the parents will be subjected to more direct observation and commentary; but in an area where foreigners are common, they'll ignore the parents and go straight for the kids.

I knew an American family in Beijing that, kind of half-jokingly, had t-shirts made that said, in Chinese, "We are not zoo animals." Most Chinese failed entirely to understand the reason for these shirts, and it generally just attracted more attention to the family (with several Chinese helpfully informing them that they perhaps had not understood what was written on their shirts).

Anyway...enough anecdotes for now....looking forward to hearing from others!

Urnathok
04-21-2013, 09:19 PM
These posts sound like the peregrine journal of a 19th century adventurers, it has to be said.

That said, I've never been to China, but it's somewhere I certainly plan to travel (I won't yet say 'live' lest I sound presumptuous). I do have a few questions for those residents of you out there, however, and I'm an English with eyes on medical school so they're in that ballpark.

I've been looking at a few 'study abroad' programs, but I'm concerned that a foreign student would get a narrower view of the country in university cities that might be possible by diving into the countryside independently; is there any truth to that, from the impressions you have of the cities versus the rural majority?

I'm also interested in traditional medicines, and a deeper look into them is part of what has been drawing me into medical study -- how prevalent is 'folk knowledge' for medical treatment in China as opposed to 'orthodox' modern medicine? By Chinese standards, that is, though I'm entirely ignorant as to how prevalent Western medicine is there.

On a lighter subject, how widespread is the Mandarin language? I know India, for example, has three to four major languages spoken throughout the country with hundreds of local languages mixed in, and I'm curious as to whether that's the practical case in China, or if Mandarin as a trade language can get you by throughout most of the country (and neighboring countries as well for that matter, like its use in Korea and Mongolia being analogous to the use of English in Germany and France).

Lastly, how is the job market for expatriates? For a lot of us Western students with an interest in getting out of our native countries, going East and being a teacher is generally the go-to ideal, but it's sometimes viewed as a sort of pipe dream to others. Is it any easier/harder to find a living in China as a foreigner -- and not just in teaching/writing fields, but also healthcare and the like? (I know the last bit is a shot in the dark, considering this is a writing forum, but thought I'd give it a try!)

Thanks, I look forward to keeping up with this thread.

JoNightshade
04-22-2013, 01:46 AM
I've been looking at a few 'study abroad' programs, but I'm concerned that a foreign student would get a narrower view of the country in university cities that might be possible by diving into the countryside independently; is there any truth to that, from the impressions you have of the cities versus the rural majority?

I think for China you have to adjust your idea of what "urban" and "rural" mean. Where I lived, Tai'an, was... well, considerably more "rural" than Beijing or Shanghai - but it's still a city of five million inhabitants. I think what you're asking is not really about urban vs. rural but about Western vs. traditional Chinese. The major east coast cities like Beijing and Shanghai are very westernized. You can and would be exposed to traditional culture in these places, but they are so large that there are significant populations of foreigners that basically have their own micro-cultures there. You can go to a Westernized church in Beijing, for example. In Tai'an, there was one McDonald's downtown and one KFC way out on the edge. That was about as western as it got. I did run into a few other foreigners, but not many.

So would your view be narrower in a major metropolis? It honestly depends a lot on your personality - would you naturally congregate with familiar people and things, or would you go out of your way to seek new experiences? I'm the sort of person who has to be forced out of my comfort zone, so living in Beijing would not have been the same experience as living in Tai'an.

Still, living in a "small" Chinese city is still living in a city - rural life, like farm life, is VERY different. I don't know if that answers your question, but maybe reorients your perspective a bit?


I'm also interested in traditional medicines, and a deeper look into them is part of what has been drawing me into medical study -- how prevalent is 'folk knowledge' for medical treatment in China as opposed to 'orthodox' modern medicine? By Chinese standards, that is, though I'm entirely ignorant as to how prevalent Western medicine is there.

China has both traditional and "orthodox" medicine and most people partake of both. What I found was that little traditional medicine clinics and acupuncture places were quite common everywhere. You could walk down to something that would be analogous to a local pharmacy, tell them what your complaint was, and get some mix of traditional herbs and whatever else. Then there are also hospitals, but I got the impression they were used, in general, for more serious medical problems.

If you want to be a doctor in China, it's basically the same as here. You go to school to become one, you practice in a hospital, etc. This is separate but not really "at war" with practitioners of traditional medicine. The two systems exist side by side.


On a lighter subject, how widespread is the Mandarin language? I know India, for example, has three to four major languages spoken throughout the country with hundreds of local languages mixed in, and I'm curious as to whether that's the practical case in China, or if Mandarin as a trade language can get you by throughout most of the country (and neighboring countries as well for that matter, like its use in Korea and Mongolia being analogous to the use of English in Germany and France).

If you speak putonghua, or the standard Beijing dialect of Mandarin, you will be understood pretty much everywhere. However, understanding the locals is something entirely different! :) I don't speak more than your basic "survival" Mandarin, but my teaching partner spoke both her native dialect of Fujianese an putonghua. However, the local dialect in Shandong province had different pronunciation, and she often struggled to understand the locals - people at the market, taxi drivers, etc. Anyone with a decent education, however, will likely be easy enough to talk to. My survival Mandarin is actually not standard, because I learned how to say things in the local dialect.

Of course, the written language is all the same everywhere. So people often get by quite well by using a finger to write out key characters on their hand. There's also a sort of market sign language for communicating prices quickly, which is kind of fun.


Lastly, how is the job market for expatriates? For a lot of us Western students with an interest in getting out of our native countries, going East and being a teacher is generally the go-to ideal, but it's sometimes viewed as a sort of pipe dream to others. Is it any easier/harder to find a living in China as a foreigner -- and not just in teaching/writing fields, but also healthcare and the like? (I know the last bit is a shot in the dark, considering this is a writing forum, but thought I'd give it a try!)

If you speak English well, odds are you will never be out of a job in China. Really. Any industry will be thrilled to have you. While I was teaching I had people making me offers all the time.

Will you make good money? It's relative. You'll make great money... in China. You'll be able to live in a nice place, hire a housecleaner, eat out all the time. The problem is that when you get all your RMB changed to dollars or pounds, there's not going to be much in your pocket. :)

I think the more significant problem is the cultural difference. It's major culture shock - and I say that having had a couple months of intensive training before going over. The program I went with has a really good retention rate - that is, their teachers have a rep for not bailing halfway through the year. However, I heard often that there are a bunch of people who come over to teach, discover it's not all it's cracked up to be, and end up going home after a few months. Which is not nice for anyone.

If you're looking at teaching, I would very strongly recommend you find a good program to go with. If you just hook up with a Chinese university on your own or a more casual connection, chances are very high that you'll be taken advantage of in some way, even if it's not intentional. A "host" agency protects your interests as a human being by specifying your working hours and what you will and won't do. I heard stories of teachers just getting more and more work piled on them until they just snapped. Eek. It's good to have a mediator to act as that buffer in case something goes wrong or you have a problem.

If you are going to medical school, however, may I suggest looking into some kind of medical exchange? There are a ton of them - docs (or docs in training) go over to exchange knowledge and experience with local docs, and in return learn about traditional medicine. And many organizations need people to do things with orphaned kids, like teach really basic physical therapy to orphanage workers. Knowledge of disability is still very limited in China, although it's improving quickly - most of my students didn't really understand what CP or Downs Syndrome was. Those people were just "defective."

Anyway, hopefully this helps a bit. Do take all of my comments as being a bit dated, though - as I said, this was in 2005. Things in China change FAST.

Urnathok
04-22-2013, 07:30 AM
That's fantastic information, thanks! And far more than I would have hoped for.

I'll certainly look into medical exchange programs; I love teaching (or rather what of it I've been able to do), so the kind of basic teaching you describe is just what I had in mind, but flexibility is good, so it's great to know there are options open over there. Money isn't a terribly great concern, but then I suppose I'd be surprised to find someone intent on long-term travel who wanted to retain a wealth-accruing lifestyle.

John_Lombard
04-22-2013, 09:06 AM
I've been looking at a few 'study abroad' programs, but I'm concerned that a foreign student would get a narrower view of the country in university cities that might be possible by diving into the countryside independently; is there any truth to that, from the impressions you have of the cities versus the rural majority?If you're coming to study Chinese, or medicine, or something like that, then the city universities are your best choice. If you want to get an idea of the "real China"...well, then you're gonna' have to spend a lot of time traveling. It's nothing near so simple as "city vs. countryside". This is a vast country, with numerous cultures and geographies. There is, in truth, no such thing as "Chinese culture", and people from different areas of China differ quite significantly (and that's just for the Han Chinese majority...there's even greater diversity and difference among the over 50 ethnic minorities here).

I'd suggest starting in the city, getting a foundation in the language, and learning to get around. Then, depending on your time and resources, getting out to explore more of the country.

I'm also interested in traditional medicines, and a deeper
look into them is part of what has been drawing me into medical study -- how prevalent is 'folk knowledge' for medical treatment in China as opposed to 'orthodox' modern medicine? By Chinese standards, that is, though I'm entirely ignorant as to how prevalent Western medicine is there.Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in all it's various forms is still quite common here. When you go to the hospital, doctors will often give you a choice between western medicine and TCM, and dispensaries for both will be situated side-by-side. I myself am not a believer in TCM (I believe there are likely some beneficial treatments hidden somewhere in there, but the majority are just nonsense, and need greater testing and verification to be able to discern which is which), but if you're interested in that direction, there are colleges and universities dedicated to teaching TCM, and they do accept international students.


On a lighter subject, how widespread is the Mandarin language? I know India, for example, has three to four major languages spoken throughout the country with hundreds of local languages mixed in, and I'm curious as to whether that's the practical case in China, or if Mandarin as a trade language can get you by throughout most of the country (and neighboring countries as well for that matter, like its use in Korea and Mongolia being analogous to the use of English in Germany and France).Pretty much everyone under 50 speaks Mandarin to a greater or lesser degree, albeit with local accents. It's absolutely the language that you want to learn.


Lastly, how is the job market for expatriates? For a lot of us Western students with an interest in getting out of our native countries, going East and being a teacher is generally the go-to ideal, but it's sometimes viewed as a sort of pipe dream to others. Is it any easier/harder to find a living in China as a foreigner -- and not just in teaching/writing fields, but also healthcare and the like? (I know the last bit is a shot in the dark, considering this is a writing forum, but thought I'd give it a try!)The demand for foreign teachers still far outstrips the supply...getting a job is no problem. But many (I'd say most) of the schools here treat their teachers poorly, and have generally poor standards of education. Universities have the best standards, they actually care about the quality of education offered, and contracts are tightly regulated and overseen by the government; but they also require formal qualifications (teaching certificate, etc.) in order to work there. Private schools will hire almost anyone who is a native English speaker, regardless of experience or ability...but are not regulated,and far more likely to treat you badly.

I speak from significant experience, not only as a teacher who's worked in many different schools, but as the owner of my own Business English school, one of the few that actually has high standards.

ETA: Getting jobs in non-English teaching fields is far more difficult. Ten years ago it was easy, but these days hiring a foreigner is generally more expensive than hiring a local Chinese, so you'll only be hired if you can offer something that the local people can't. And given that the current crop of young Chinese have far better language skills, and many have traveled/studied/worked overseas, that can be difficult to pull off. If you don't have experience in China, and don't speak the language, your odds are honestly quite slim.

oneblindmouse
04-24-2013, 05:59 PM
Nihao! I spent a month in China in late 2011 and it just blew my mind! My son has been living in China for 3 years , working as an English examiner, and he is very happy there. As stated above, the demand for English teachers and examiners far exceeds the supply. I suggest the poster above contacts the British Council re. teaching positions.
I look forward to seeing some very interesting posts on this thread!

Petite Deborah
06-08-2013, 12:58 PM
Nihao everyone! I've been waiting to write genre novels with the contemporary Hong Kong or China setting. I love historical, but I wish to give my characters a time-travel. Maybe one or two characters inspired by Louis Cha's wuxia novels would be great, or the ancient civilization of China... :)

Snitchcat
07-01-2013, 02:39 PM
Time travel... you might check out Wong Yi's "A Step in Time" series (5 books) about a modern soldier who travels back to Ancient China, to the time of Q'in.

Snitchcat
07-01-2013, 02:39 PM
And for all those interested, there is a Chinese thread: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=184904&page=8

You'll find posts in Chinese and in English there.

Petite Deborah
07-01-2013, 03:55 PM
Time travel... you might check out Wong Yi's "A Step in Time" series (5 books) about a modern soldier who travels back to Ancient China, to the time of Q'in.

Hi Snitchcat, isn't it called 'A Step into the Past'? It was adapted into a tv series by TVB years, years back. I enjoyed watching it.

Snitchcat
07-01-2013, 06:30 PM
Probably. The English name wasn't one I committed to memory. :)

LHGalloway
07-02-2013, 12:15 AM
Hi Snitchcat, isn't it called 'A Step into the Past'? It was adapted into a tv series by TVB years, years back. I enjoyed watching it.

Do you know if there is an English adaptation for the novel? I haven't been able to locate one, but it sounds like a great story. The tv series sounds interesting, too.

My Mandarin is limited to 1 year of study, and mostly pinyin...

Petite Deborah
07-02-2013, 05:51 PM
Do you know if there is an English adaptation for the novel? I haven't been able to locate one, but it sounds like a great story. The tv series sounds interesting, too.

My Mandarin is limited to 1 year of study, and mostly pinyin...

Apparently there's no English adaptation. :(

Snitchcat
07-07-2013, 01:00 PM
Nope, no English adaptation or translation, and the series is in Cantonese.