I am currently from Canada, I teach University here in Chongqing. Further I work for the NBA looking for potential players. I am educated with advanced degrees and love to play basketball and golf.
Where are you from, Laurence, and what are you doing nowadays?
I am from Canada. Prior to coming here, I was a professional basketball coach. I have coached all over the world including Canada, the US, Hong Kong, China, the Middle East and Europe, specifically England. Nowadays, I am almost retired, married to a beautiful Chinese lady named Lyn. We have been married since several years and are happy.
When I say "almost retired", I mean I still have several projects I am working on, including writing a book in Chinese: "Coaching Basketball Successfully". Further, my wife owns and operates an English school in which I make appearances to help with pronunciation and grammar. Finally, I work with underprivileged kids from rural areas, helping them learn this great game of basketball. A service that is gratis free to anyone who can't afford it and I love it.
Actually, I had resigned as an assistant coach with the Hong Kong Women's Professional Team and was in between coaching contracts. So I decided to take on teaching English. My first assignment was in Qijiang, a district of Chongqing and I enjoyed that year immensely. I truly loved working with the kids at the different schools and this is where I met my future wife. So the decision to expatriate within China was not a difficult one.
As a Canadian national, what where the procedures you had to follow to move to China?
For a Canadian, to move here was not much different than other countries. You require a visa to travel within China. I also applied for a Z work visa and received that with no problem. As long as your credentials are up to date and you have the educational requirements, then it should not be a problem. The last thing I had to do was conquer my fear of residing in a country I had only heard about but knew little of.
For how long have you been in the country?
Lyn and I have lived on and off in Qijiang for 12 years. I have family back in Canada, including five children with my first wife. My children are all grown up now and in their own professions and I am very very proud of them.
What has attracted you to Chongqing?
The reason I ended up in Chongqing was that it was the city which offered me the teaching position. I began teaching in middle schools, then upgraded to university where I ended up teaching English and coaching the university basketball team. In 2011, I was offered a professional coaching position in Hong Kong Division 1 League. Therefore, I ended up there for 3 years prior to coming back to Qijiang and retirement. I was really never enamored with Chongqing City. For me, it is way too big. Qijiang is just the right size.
Is it difficult for an expat to find accommodation in Chongqing? What are the types of accommodation that are available?
Finding good accommodation in Chongqing or Qijiang was not difficult. In fact, the staff at the schools did most of the leg work and the houses were reasonable, clean and inexpensive. Many are gated with basketball and tennis courts, as well as a swimming pool for about 1500 rmb per month, and that is three-bedrooms fully furnished. However, if you have some time, you can look into it yourself for possibly a better deal.
How do you find the Chinese lifestyle?
To say the lifestyles of both countries (Canada and China) are different is an understatement. I am still adjusting to China. I have problems with the language which I am trying to learn as well. Some of the habits here cause me some problems, such as spitting and smoking in enclosed places like elevators, restaurants, etc. Being half North-American Indian, I am a natural environmentalist. So to see children and adults throwing trash on the ground is very offensive to me. But I am adapting.
What has surprised you the most on your arrival?
Actually, the one thing that surprised me about Chongqing was its size. I mean, I come from Canada which has a population of 31 million while Chongqing has 32 million inhabitants. That was mind boggling!
Any particular experience in China you would like to share?
The one experience with China I had was when applying for a visa in mainland with the PSB. I applied for a long-term residency visa but was turned down. The reason? I had left China. "No! I haven't", I told them. "Yes, you have", they said, "you went to Hong Kong". (You know where I'm going with this). "Isn't Hong Kong China?", I asked. They answered "Well, yes it is, but its not". I questioned "Well, is it or isn't it?" At that point, the officer looked at me in the eye and angrily told me to fill this form and return in a week. I did not get the long-term visa.
What does your everyday life look like?
My everyday life here is mundane some would call it boring. Daily, I play basketball and exercise. When I first moved here, my wife and I went to many dinners and I drank more beer than I'm used to. Unfortunately, I was gaining a lot of weight, hence the exercises. Where we live is a beautiful park with wonderful walking paths. Therefore, we walk and exercise extensively. I continue to work on my book as well.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Chongqing?
I'm an old man, so I really don't think that much about how much I'm spending. But as long as your lifestyle doesn't allow for opulence or a grandiose way of living, you can live very comfortably in Chongqing. My wife and I have our own home on the 34th floor with a roof to BBQ, so I am content.
What are the main differences between life in China and Canada?
The biggest difference between Canada and China is the obvious, the weather. Canada has very cold snowy winters and mild pleasant summers. Here in Chongqing, the heat in summer is oppressive and the winters are dull gray and boring. You rarely see the sun for months. My biggest disappointment with Qijiang is that you cant get a cold beer in winter anywhere. Although the sun is hot in summer, I really like it. I don't mind the sun, unlike my wife who scurries for any type of shade when it shines.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
What I miss most about Canada is the change of seasons. I really miss the snow. A couple of years ago, when I was teaching at the university on Nanshan Mountain, it snowed. Well, I canceled classes and all my students and I went outside and built snowmen. The Chinese students were a delight, many of them had no idea about snow. It was a great lesson.
What are your favorite local dishes?
My favorite Chinese dish is not hot pot! But I do like (phonetically spelled) pie goo and many vegetable dishes. I also have a weakness for sow kow and BBQ. Most enjoyable here are the fruits. These are plentiful, fresh and inexpensive. I can always tell that spring is coming when the strawberries come out. Moreover, I have become a better cook as I struggle with the very spicy dishes here. So I cook most of my own meals. This is Sichuan Province and the food is spicy.
Any advice you would like to give to soon-to-be expatriates in China?
In conclusion, anyone wishing to come to China for expatriation needs to have a plan. You also need to know why you want to leave your country and move here. If it's for the girls, although they are very beautiful, your rationale is flawed.
Do your homework before you leave. Learn about the country you are coming to, its culture, history, and most of all, its people. Learn some key phrases in the local language.
Don't be as arrogant as many expats are. Bring a reasonable amount of money, more if you don't have a job as you will need to survive. Finally, don't judge before you know.
You will read and hear many things about the Chinese people. Some of it is true, a lot of it is not. I find them to be warm, hospitable and friendly. Some of them are suspicious of foreigners, but they have heard things about you also.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing, I travel back to Canada yearly, as well as to Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, but I will stay in China. My wife has a difficult time adjusting to the winters in Canada. I also work part-time as an Asian scout for a team in the NBA and I will find that next Yao Ming.