The pursuit of happiness as an expat in China

  • expat in China
Interview
Published last week

After graduating in Northern Ontario, Carmelo wasn't very happy about career prospects in Canada. His quest for a better job led him to China where he works as a teacher. He talks to Expat.com about his new adventures and everyday life as the father of a newborn son in what he calls the "Millenials' paradise", and his passion for his work.

Please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in China, and what were you doing before you arrived in China?

I am Carmelo Bono, moved to China five years ago now. I graduated from Lakehead University in Northern Ontario (Canada), needed work and decided that out of all the places I could go; it is best I go to China.

What brought you to China?

Work in Canada as a teacher is limited, especially for English, and Social Science High School teachers. Not that a person can't find work, but specifically work in the town/area I wanted. If I was going to be moving far away from home, I thought it also reasonable to travel (very far away from). 

What is the process to move to China?

The process for myself was quite simple really. However, it is getting progressively more difficult for different passport holders to move to China because of the dilution of "foreign experts" in China. My employer took on the business of getting my visa and what not-took about a month or so to get everything approved and background checked, but all in all-easy.

What is your favourite thing about China, and what is your least favourite thing?

My favourite thing about China are my students and the accessibility of travel between cities/regions. I love travelling and really enjoying teaching in China. My least favourite thing about China, in all honesty, is the "social issue" of the three "Mei's": "Mei Ban Fa"(nothing can be done about it), "Mei Wen Ti"(It's no problem); and "Mei Shi"(Don't worry about it). Ultimately this arises through shopping, renting apartments, verbal agreements, contract breaches, etc.

living in China

How would you describe China in one sentence?

The millennial's paradise.

What has surprised you the most about China?

The open-mindedness of individuals has certainly caught me by surprise since I moved to China.

What are the features of today’s expat job market in China?

The largest growing areas of China's expat job market are "Technological developments"; "Import and export of foreign goods" as well as "innovative teaching".

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in China, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

Accommodation is a small scale issue for first-time expats in China. Check out 58.com if you are planning on moving to China and want to search possible apartments in different cities, regions or specific complexes even. Most times, in Dalian the most challenging parts of rentals are the amount of money paid up front for the apartment as well as haggling for the appliances made available in the apartment (e.g. air conditioning; larger fridge; TV; new furniture). The only real accommodation (aside from hotels, and hostels) for expats are villas, and apartments.

What are the year’s biggest holidays in China? What is some essential etiquette in China?

Essential etiquette in China? It's more of actually, have no etiquette as an expat because everything you expect will at one point or another be ignored or overlooked because not everyone in China has experience in dealings with expats. One piece of advice though, when visiting family or family friends during the Chinese New Year (usually taking place in February) "Chun Jie", take Fruits if the people you are visiting do not drink and smoke; but generally you take at least, two bottles of Bai Jiu (liquor) and two cartons of cigarettes (no the cheap crap!).

October, there is a week (the first week actually), where generally people travel and build the local nation's economy through domestic tourism.
May, there is the labour day holiday in which again, people travel around China and build the national economy through travelling.

visiting submarine in China

How do you find the lifestyle in China?

The lifestyle in China is hectic and fast-paced. If you fall, you can generally expect someone to stop and observe and in more multicultural cities stop by to help you up. On public transportation, if you get a seat, you are the lucky one.

How is the transportation system in China? How do you move around?

Transportation is becoming more and more accessible to expats each year, everything from the introduction of easier vendors for transportation cards to translated messages automated over PA's in smaller Chinese cities in public transportation stations.

Have you been able to adapt to China and the society?

I would say I have successfully adapted to society. As a father to a Chinese-Canadian baby, the expectations of a father (from my point of view) are a bit silly. The whole "one-month recluse/yue zi" is a bit much for me to get behind, but I can show support for my family and people who are just simply doing what they were taught was the right way to do things. Drinking culture in China is incredible though!

How is everyday life for you in China?

Every day is generally consumed by work. To be honest, I don't think I know many expats who have most days or part of the days off. That is a real expectation of expat "foreign experts" in China. You are there to work. If you are there to travel, get a travel visa.

What do you do in your free time?

In my free time, I try to take on new hobbies and see which are exciting or ones I am good at (before becoming a father). I have done everything from learning how to play ice hockey, to brewing beer in a garage. It has been my favourite thing about China actually, now that I think about it. Take any chance you can to try something new and different.

Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

Tons of options for people who enjoy the nightlife, but generally speaking-if you enjoy clubbing, stick to larger Chinese Cities. I enjoy brew pubs-lots, and they are usually low key.

China landscapes

What new habits have you developed in China? And what old habits have you quit in China?

An old habit that came back as a new habit is smoking, unfortunately. It's an ongoing war with myself. On the other hand, I do find myself learning new languages more often. Before, that was probably the last thing I wanted to do.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in China? How much do a bus ticket, a beer, and a loaf of bread cost?

My opinion of the cost of living in China has not changed since my forum post last year. It is as a friend of mine once put it, "so cheap, that I can't afford NOT to buy things!"

What is something that you would like to do in China, but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

I have been trying to find the perfect moments to travel to all five holy mountains in China as well as train with Shaolin Monks in the west.

Share your most memorable experience in China.

I was walking through Dalian on a brisk winter day with a woman I was seeing at that time. We stopped for a beer on a Saturday afternoon; then a dinner with a coffee to top off the meal. Walking about just taking in the sites and feeling that for the first time in my life, nothing could keep me down. It was not the lady I was with that made me feel great, it was the idea of her; it was not the city lights, it was the simple fact that I noticed them; it was not the food, but the fact that I had time to enjoy it; it was not the beer but the fact that one was enough.

I had spent my whole life in constant worry, anxiety, weighing of benefit to cost. Finally, it had all dissipated, and when I realised it, I just happened to be walking about through Dalian.

If you could make the move to China over, what would you do differently?

I would find a place I am happy with and not let my company "recommend" one to me. I would also research the different areas to live in and around places that are worth going to stay around.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

DonBei (North Eastern) dishes are fantastic! Salty, Spicy, oh so good! I love it, but I hate eating out all the time, it gets old fast (especially when you are in as a small a city as I am in).

visiting China

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Everything, after this long though-family the most. I survive fine with whatever is around me, I enjoy things no matter how out of context they are in my life, but after you start seeing your family back home grow and change, you really wish you could just go back and have a life there. In reality, we need to make decisions that are beyond "just us"

Have you had a moment that you almost felt like leaving from China? How did you overcome that? What kept you in China?

I got the flu, really bad. I recovered and thought to myself "I will never again let that happen to me. OUT!" It was terrible, the worst I have ever been sick. It, unfortunately, happened again the next year-but my girlfriend (now wife, was there to help me through it). Sometimes having a support system is the most important thing.

Give us some useful tips that soon-to-expatriates in China will benefit from.

Have an open mind, get in touch with people who are already there and set up an arrangement with a shipping company to send you the things you think you will miss the most after 1-2 months from home.

If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them in China, which would that be?

A Cellphone that is region unlocked.
A gaming console that has North American Region settings.
A VPN (Astrill)
A plan of travel, know what you think you want to see.
Personal Hygiene items you can't live without.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to be in China for a maximum of five more years-total of ten. I miss my family back home, and although the time here has been great, I want my son to attend a high school in Canada, keep his Canadian heritage strong and be able to attend Canadian Universities as a citizen of Canada. Working in an international school and living abroad for these past years has really helped my wife and I clarify what it is we both want for our family.

What is one thing that you will take with you from China?

My family; my newborn son, my loving wife and job experience that extends over that of which I would have had I not moved to China in the past.