Chris in Shenzhen: "It's a beautiful, clean bright and very safe city"

Expat interviews
  • Chris in Shenzhen
Published on 2014-06-26 at 00:00 by team
Originally form Malone, NY, USA, Chris moved several times between the US and Canada before heading to South East Asian countries. He visited several cities and settled in the one he liked the most, Shenzhen...

Why did you decide to move to Shenzhen?

Originally I came to Shenzhen to do trading with the US and Canada. However the economy became very bad and I found a teaching job to stay alive. Since I've been a teacher, teacher trainer, tutor. I presently work as director of admissions for an international school in Shenzhen.
I had already visited Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, Foshan, Donguan, Wuhan etc. I just really liked Shenzhen the most.

How was the moving process?

For me moving to Shenzhen was a life time decision. I wasn't coming to China with the intention of returning home in a few months or years. I sold everything I owned and bought a one way ticket to Shenzhen which I had been to previously on business. I came here with two average size suitcases, a pocket full of cash and threw caution to the wind.

What were the formalities you had to go through to be able to live and work in Shenzhen?

I decided to come to Shenzhen as a visitor. All I had to do was leave my passport with my travel agent, fill in a simple form and a week later I had a L visa.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

I'm generally an adaptable person. I spent most of my life in a metropolitan city. There were hundreds of different nationalities around all the time. In my personal and business life I had dealt with Chinese people for decades. Many had just arrived, somewhere native to Canada or the US. I had no trouble adapting what so ever. But! The locals of the sub district of Buji had a very interesting new neighbor. I may have been the first white person they ever saw in real life. Many stared at me and shouted "Hallo!" from across the street of from their home windows as I walked past them. Most of the people were shy and stared at me as if I was big white bear loose from the zoo. People covered their mouths and noses as we passed each other. But for the most part other than being curious people were generally friendly and kind. After two years nobody paid me much mind and I was no longer a novelty, but still the only non-Asian foreigner in Buji. I say that because Buji had its fair share of Hong Kong, Singaporean and other Asian visitors.

What surprised you the most in Shenzhen?

Originally when I arrived in 2009 on Business I was surprised as to how modern and clean the city is. I marveled at all the new towers and those still under construction. Shenzhen is constantly evolving and growing unlike the city I grew up in that had barely changed in 25 years. I had visited other Chinese cities prior to Shenzhen and I found them old, dirty, crowded and busy. Shenzhen is like a breath of fresh air in comparison. The average age of the population in Shenzhen is 24 years old. But the most interesting thing about Shenzhen is that everybody is a foreigner to the city. In 3 years I have met 2 native Shenzheners. Everyone else is from Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan and other parts of Guangdong Province, not to mention all the Hong Kong people that travel in and out of Shenzhen.

How did you find a job in Shenzhen?

Once arrived and had settled into an apartment in Buji, I found an internet café. I basically went on line and replied to some teaching positions to earn a little money until I decided how I was going to earn a living. Initially I had the intention of sourcing products for business associates back in the US and Canada. The economy got very bad and that idea quickly went away. I was quickly recruited by an agent in Beijing who needed native English speakers to help teach English. At first he wanted me to work in Beijing, then Guangzhou, then Foshan, I refused them all and eventually he gave up but gave my name to another agent who offered me a position in Buji teaching and tutoring on a trial basis. I had been tutoring English and French to Chinese and Russian people respectively back in Montreal for almost a decade. So it was nothing new to me. The part time work became full time; in the mean time I was also hired by a training center and now work for an international school.

How does a typical day in Shenzhen look like?

A typical day in Shenzhen is like any other day in any other city. I have to get up and go to work. I moved within walking distance of my current job. Prior to that it was a 2 hour subway ride and walk home or a 20 minute drive when I had my car. Sold the car, moved closer, saved money and time.
A typical day is sunny, very hot and rainy in the summer and perfect in the winter. Across the street from work is a park, the people sing traditional songs all day. Work is work and since I work for an international school I meet with prospective parents every day from all over the world. My job is interesting, sometimes stressful, funny, but mostly completely unpredictable.

Is it easy to make friends in Shenzhen?

One word: Yes. My first true friend is originally from Singapore. We met in the back alleys of Buji one very late night out front the Happy Bar. But prior to him I had several female friends. Not that I'm a player or anything. It seems Chinese women are more likely to befriend a foreigner than Chinese men. Chinese men remain cautious a little longer before they accept a foreigner. Maybe Chinese men warm up to foreign women quicker? I would not know, never thought of asking them. Since then I have made several Chinese friends. Only recently did a friendship with a Chinese/ Vietnamese Canadian develop over several cold Tsing Tao beer one afternoon


Could you please share with us something you like about Shenzhen and something you don't like?

Well I love Shenzhen's greenery. Every street and highway is tree lined with flowers and shrubbery too. All the new parts of Shenzhen are kept extremely clean. The roads are wide and the sun can reach the people. There are so many parks and squares where people gather and relax or play with children. It's a beautiful, clean bright and very safe city.
What I don't like is the traffic and the traffic police cameras. I despise the lack of parking in the city and the price of gas. I had car and drove in Shenzhen for nearly 2 years and sold the car after I was hit by a drunk driver. The damage was minor and the car was easily repaired. For 2 weeks I used public transportation then realized it was extremely efficient and even easier to deal with than the traffic. I sold the car to an ex-girlfriend and rid myself of a huge expense. Now I rent a car if I want to leave the city.

A common belief about China which wasn't right:

That it's communist and people live under a strict regime and everyone is poor and "ass-backwards". I came to China 2009 and found a capitalist people and a modern world that rivals most western countries. And when I look back at my home countries, I pity the people living there now.

What do you miss the most from the US, your home country?

I miss very little about the US and or Canada. Since I spent all of my adult years in Canada, it's more home now than the US ever was. Either country it changes nothing.
Because what I miss most is smoking a cigar at the foot of my brother's garage and having a glass of Spanish Porto with him. I miss those big family dinner gatherings with the family. I miss the conversations that took place in English, Italian, French and Greek with a splattering of Spanish from my sister in law while we consumed Mediterranean food and wine for hours. I miss laughing with my brother for hours at the silliest of things that were said at the table. I miss my father who at 84 years old still talks dirty in Greek with a smile to young women and they smile back thinking he's a kind old man! I miss my big ass American cars and the open roads around the city of Montreal. I miss the countryside of Lanaudiere and the Eastern Townships of the Province of Quebec and the Adirondacks of New York state.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to work in Shenzhen?

I think the advice would transcend into every part of China. Find work with a reputable company. Make certain your work visa is attainable through the company you are being hired by. Always remember your work contract isn't worth the paper you signed. Read through your work contract carefully, even have a lawyer read it and inquire about anything you doubt. Because where there is doubt, there is none.
There is lots of work in Shenzhen. Be careful of the salaries, because in certain parts of the city the rent is expensive if accommodations are not provided. In any case do your homework about your specific needs. Speak with other expats if you can through forums. If you have a Chinese contact in China; make use of them and thank them generously and graciously every time.

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