Sunday, 5 September 2010


So one week into my move back to China, did I make the right decision? Well the answer to that one is a resounding NO, but then the answer was always going to be a NO, Clarkson once said that people only become expats because they cant get a job in their own country, or they are pedophiles or jobless child molesters. As with many things Clarkson says I don't necessarily agree, of course many of the foreigners (a term used here to describe westerners living in Asia) fit the bill, and I would struggle to argue against his description. However there are those that find the fast pace of life, the opportunity not to conform to expectations, and lets not forget the financial benefits a strong pull over fish and chips, rainy summers and Coronation Street.

Some come to enhance their career, a few years working in Asia learning the culture and picking up the language can be seen as a big advantage as the world gets smaller, and we all start working for Chinese Government owned companies. Others come to broaden their understanding of life outside of no. 43 Acacia Avenue, send their children to international schools and explore the surrounding areas of beauty, diversity and history. The rest are here for the money, the lifestyle and the fact that the concrete ceiling in their own companies meant that going sideways 6000 miles was a shorter distance than the 3 meters to an office upstairs. Then their are those whom my posting today is about - the pseudo expats. who leave their brains, conscience, dignity and respect at immigration control on entering the country.

I could write for days on what I hate about China, the things that frustrate me, wear me down and at times beg belief. I probably have and most definitely will again write about the bizarre and sometimes unbelievable things I see, do or have done to me whilst here, but none of these compare to how much I detest the groups of westerners who feel that when they land here, that the 12 hour flight somehow took them back in time to the turn of the last century. Virgin/BA/United etc. etc. do not advertise the fact that not only can their planes provide you with a choice of 500 movies, but they also equip their planes with a flux capacitor that will transport you back to the height of colonialism.

It all starts at the airport, most of us are used to queuing for a taxi, hiring a car or even booking a hotel vehicle to pick us up after a long flight. Of course all of us would like that car/taxi to be there the moment we disembark and collect us from the foot of the airplane - however we all recognise that we don't sing in a rock group or run a country somewhere off the cost of Africa. So we endure the heat, the queuing and the stroppy assistant at the hire car check-in, in the full knowledge that there are several thousand other people in the same boat and complaining will only prolong the agony What we don't do is huff, puff and generally make a scene when our personal driver hasn't laid a bed of white rose petals to the car door, cooled the vehicle to 18.64 degrees Celsius, flown-in young Timmy's favorite chocolate bar from Switzerland and organised the police motorcycle outriders to expedite the journey home.
Go to any international arrivals lounge in Asia and you will see a straw hatted women with a dozen cases, two mobile phones, a worn out husband and a couple of adolescent children all pacing up and down, shouting into mobile phones, and generally making an arse of themselves because their driver failed to predict that their (fake) Louis Vuiton luggage sailed through the airport security putting them 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

On arrival at there company provided, over-priced, over-sized and over-the-top homes behind the tall security fences, barbed wire and security cameras, they leave their 6 stone driver to carry in their luggage under one arm and their 14 year old son under the other, they immediately usher the Ayi (Maid) to unpack the cases, wash, dry and iron the contents, poor them both drinks, draw the curtains, prepare a meal, run a bath, feed the dog, fetch some fresh lemons, help with their sons school project, top up the credit on their phones, kill the lone mosquito that found its way in behind the electrified surgically enveloped home, massage their backs and remind them to inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, whilst they recover from the first class flight, the 6 weeks holiday spent elsewhere because it "just gets too hot in the summer" and spending most of the time complaining about life, their driver and their maid.

What you have to remember that these people are not some gentrified, blue blooded socialites who happen to have been posted to Asia to escape death duties on one of their estates. They are generally people who have no more class than Katie Price (Jordan), an upbringing similar to all of us who have had to share a stick of candy floss with our siblings whilst on holiday, and normally live in normal houses, with normal cars, and normal lives. Only for the grace of the ability to speak English, being born in the right country at the right time, wearing the 'correct' skin colour, and have the ability to sound as if they know what end of a spanner you should use when knocking a nail into a piece of plastic, are they given the opportunity to "be our man in China".

Wealth gives no one the right to act like Major Plum of the 4th Guards regiment stationed just outside Bugaracky in 1901 - especially when the wealth comes from an over generous multi-national company who for some unknown reason think that the 30 something Chinese engineer who graduated from Stanford, then spent 6 years working for Ford designing engine ECU's , happens to speak 4 languages, will work for 60 hours without question in any country and will only go home if you hold a gun to his head, is somehow incapable of managing a team of 5 chinese only speaking engineers making cornflake boxes - and cannot compete with their 40 something year old westerner who only ever got as far as smoking behind the bike sheds, barely speaks English without every other word ending in ***off, **nt and **stard, and claims company expenses for his wife's tennis lessons, massages and nail trimming due to the hardship endured living in a developing nation.

Some of this could be seen as jealousy, maybe it could, but I live in a nice house, drive a nice car and earn a nice wage. I do not object to anyone using a driver in China its only the crazy westerners who drive themselves (me included) in the dangerous, alien and the always congested roads. I don't even object to those who have an Ayi, sure we would all like someone to do the mundane washing up, ironing of clothes and popping up to the local market to pick up some fruit, vegetables or fresh flowers. I dont even mind when companies provide the spouses wife's with expense accounts for nasal hair bleaching treatment. What I do find disturbing is how these obvious trappings become a benchmark for all other people who work here, we all become measured by how much housing allowance we receive, how many staff we employ to arrange the flowers in our houses, and the size of our winter wardrobe budget. People are mocked for not living on the right compound, street or apartment block, they are harangued for only having one driver and disowned for not taking their Ayi on holiday with them to look after the children. All of this has created an upward spiral of decadence and bizarre 'one-upmanship' amongst expats in China. I know of 'friends' companies who have spent £60k on flights home at Christmas - for 4 people, children of 6 who have fired their drivers for being late, and childless couples who have 3 Ayi's because their house is to big for one to manage - er get a smaller house?

This is what I hate most about China, people who treat their companies generosity as a weapon against those who treat China as an adventure. They convince themselves that they do it to help the local people by 'giving something back' and that they need these comforts due to the trauma caused by missing "dancing with stars on ice" on TV at home. None of the them would send there children to Chinese schools, buy a Chinese brand car (or Chinese anything for that matter) or even fly first class on a Chinese airline, all of which provide the bulk of the money that their companies spend in China, and all of which employ more local people in value added employment. I could go onto talk about how when not being chauffeured around they let their 10 year old children drive motorbikes around roads they wouldn't normally drive Sherman tanks around themselves, how they complain when despite flapping their arms around like a demented fly swatter - the local chinese cannot understand that they wanted their eggs slightly runny not hard boiled, Or how they criticise other foreigners for leaving tips greater than $0.01, as it will increase expectations - however I will leave that for another blog in the future, as I will probably have plenty of time as I have just alienated have of my neighbours!

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm this whole Aji business makes me want to move to China. A life free of matching socks and picking up lego blocks and barbie hairbrushes off the floor. What more could one need?