Month: August 2017

White Monkeys

As a foreigner there are an unbelievable amount of opportunities for work or even experiences. Once you’re an expat you find out these opportunities are usually referred to as White Monkey gigs.

The very unfortunate keyword here is WHITE. There is a premium on that milky skin, blond hair and light eyes. Y’know, Hitler’s wet dream type. But, seriously, you see advertisements for WHITE only.

These are widely varied, for example, I was offered the opportunity to be cast into a Chinese movie based in Tibet from a true story. I would play a race driver that was injured and helped by a Tibetan family.

More recently, Dwight Howard is coming to my city and they needed some foreigners who could play basketball. Unfortunately, I’m too short. Which is the deal breaker for most things here for me. I’m not tall enough and too beardy for their likes!

Many others are based on appearing and your appearance. So modeling or pretending (I won’t say acting), my friend went to some international dairy convention for a company and pretended to be a foreign expert. Being a white person at a dinner event, store openings, being a foreigner in a club or even just being offered free drinks all night to spend your night in the bar.

So in the end they are pretty helpful if you’re here already working and need the extra cash or experiences. Otherwise, you’ll probably be here on some other visa and going between gigs to make money while staying here illegally. Which, I don’t recommend that route, but is completely normally here it’s somewhat the wild west of work culture.

So the why –

There is a huge respect for western culture and the influence it has had. Although the Chinese are wildly proud of China and nationalistic values run deep they still love foreign products and aspects of our various cultures. Usually, they are consumers of luxury goods and with that there is an association when foreigners attend events. Especially in smaller cities, the bigger ones I can’t really speak for, but throughout the smaller cities, you can find more and more.

In many of the smaller cities, foreigners are quite a new thing still. We are a novelty! Often you’ll hear choruses of “laowai” or “waiguoren” the Chinese for foreigner. This is also met with camera phones and staring. Likely, people will engage you in conversation and practice their English. Or ignore your lack of Chinese and just plough through. There’s your second reason why these opportunities exist.


Why I’m in China

If you’re curious about why someone comes here, I’ll tell you why and how I came to be here in China.

It all started as I passed through China on a 4 day layover on my first trip to Australia. A friend was living in a smaller city, Changsha, and had asked me to spend Christmas with her and her boyfriend.

My short time here, I went to parties, rode on the back of crazy motorbikes, and ate so many new spicy foods. It struck me, that, I felt life in China as a foreigner was incredibly like my time at university, only everyone around me had no responsibilities and hell of a lot more money (well, most)!

As I left and headed onwards to Australia, it really stuck with me that I could live and work in China at a super high standard of living. It was my plan to explore Australia and decide if that would be the opportunity for my next life choice.

I couldn’t shake the feeling China was the right move. I had roughly planned to move to Australia for a year, then to return to my studies looking into all the opportunities for me to study palaeontology either there or in the UK/Europe. China offered me the opportunity for making and saving money to fund my postgraduate studies, learning the language, travelling and making some serious connections. It became more solidified as I convinced myself that, although I’m academically sound – I’m no stand out, so having Chinese connections and language skills could be the difference to my future work and studies. (I’m really into flying dinosaurs, all the best fossils are Chinese)

So I substituted China for Australia after thinking long and hard. The opportunity was better for me at the time, I was with no savings and no real opportunities in the UK. I had not much to lose in trying. In the end, I came for the money, the language, the connections and the life/travel experience. I know plenty who come for culture, girls (so many do), partying, and easy living.

As to WHY I am starting my 3rd year here?

While I had reasoned that, with China’s low cost of living and my high salary, I could easily save 100,000rmb in a year and still explore and enjoy my time. This is totally accurate AND reasonable…However, what I did not expect, is how woefully ill-prepared I was to move away and how much bad luck I’d have right off the bat!

I wrongfully assumed after some anecdotal stories that my bank account flowing with a few hundred pounds would be enough to last me until my first pay-day and everything would be hunky dory. In China, they expect you to pay a month’s rent as deposit and 3 month’s rent upfront. Well, this accounted for more money than I had in the bank. (This is the first session of pointing out the obvious. That researching a new place is a good idea. My blasé nature isn’t the best for this process)

So getting a big advance from my work I was able to fund everything, but money was running out quick as I paid 4 months rent, then a completely empty apartment needed pots and pans and towels… You can see it drained me. Day 3 in China, I left my phone in a cab never to be seen again. I was paying the maximum amount back to my company each month from my salary. In December I was finally free from their debt, but RENT AGAIN. In China it’s almost always 3 months at a time… So this kind of stuff carried on throughout my first year. But also, I took the opportunities I had to travel, which was the only positive aspect of the not-saving-train.

And who would think it, but Chinese is REALLY, REALLY, hard. After one year living in China – I could barely get by! I had odd bits and pieces but I was nowhere near a strong or confident user!

I had a dilemma in deciding what to do next, I didn’t have enough mandatory money in the bank to head to Australia, but I was getting there. I had no real level of Chinese and because of how poor I had been, I wasn’t able to take advantage of all the free time to travel. And now, I had a personal reason to stay and a new, better, opportunity in a new city!

Chengdu, Sichuan, the Panda city! I had the opportunity to work less (by about 20hrs) for a slightly smaller salary in this more developed, exciting place. I’d visited plenty with work and came to really love.

So I decided: I’d move. This depleted my savings a chunk as I had to move my things and again… New apartment, but this time I used an agent so I had my usual 3 months upfront, 1 month as deposit, but one month equivalent as an agency fee… So you see where this is going.

And on to why am I still here:

My Chinese is still terrible and I’ve finally begun to save some good money. However, now I have a huge goal. I’m planning to cycle from China to Australia, creating YouTube videos and two documentaries. Though I hope to gain backing to help offset cost of new cameras and equipment, I’m entirely prepared to fund it myself.

So for now, my reasons for staying another year are simple.