Saturday, 17 May 2008

Life of an expat wife

My blog used to be called "Life of an expat wife". I've been thinking a lot about my life in Shanghai over the past year. I think people think that my life is either "really good" ("Wow, you must spend all day getting manicures and going to the hair salon - erm, no. I've been to the hairdresser twice and gotten a manicure only 3 times in the past year) or "really bad" ("Oh, I could never live in China, it's dirty, polluted, crowded, people spit..." - just deal with it, people!) but in fact it's neither. Like most people's lives it's both good and bad, and has ups and downs. I know I complain about random things in my blog (mostly my health problems or the weather, I think?) but if I really wanted to I could complain even more about random stuff, but who the heck wants to read that?

I just did a google search for "Life of an expat wife" and this (my) blog is the first link that pops up which is quite surprising! As well as that I found some other interesting links.

Hardship of an expat wife in Suzhou

Even though I don't live in Suzhou I could relate to almost everything single thing that the author (Linda Ho) wrote about. The English teaching thing is a good point. I don't know how many people have suggested to me that I teach English at an English school. Well, I want to just plonk them over the head! I look Chinese. I look like a local. They don't care that I was born in an English-speaking country and was educated for my entire life in an English-speaking country from pre-school till university. Or that I can spell better than most Caucasian English-speaking people. Everyone has the same story. They've either experienced it themselves or they know of someone who has experienced the outright blatant discrimination and reverse-racism when it comes to hiring overseas Chinese people for English-teaching jobs. It's hard to get a job and even if you get one, they'll treat you like scum and pay you less than a Caucasian person, even someone from Eastern Europe who barely speaks any English let alone can read/write and teach it! Ugh. Plus I didn't move to Shanghai so I could earn 1/6 or 1/8 of what I could earn back home! And doing something that would add nothing to my career at all since I hate teaching and have no aspirations to be an educator or anything like that. Really!

Another thing. we don't have a driver or a car, and the apartment we live in although deemed outrageously expensive by the locals is only 1/3 or 1/2 of what most expats are paying. Some expats would also be paying 6-10 times (or more!) than what we are paying.

I was coming home from somewhere the other day in a taxi and had a conversation with the driver the whole way home. He started asking me where I was from (and I really really hate that question because I don't know how to answer it, people always seem to have pre-conceived ideas about what they want to hear anyway) and I told him I'm from Taiwan (I'm not really of course, but my parents are). He said he thought I was Korean or Japanese. When I told him I'm 'Taiwanese' he said, "But they're Chinese too! They're the same!" Alas, I was too tired to get into some big political debate with him (LOL).

Then he just started talking and talking non-stop and seemed really bitter. I ended up telling him I was actually from Australia (usually get the 'huh?' look and the "But you don't look Australian!") and he said he had some friends who moved there. He said, "You must have a pretty good life here if you're bringing your Australian dollars with you." Erm yes, well, kind of. He said, "If you have money you can have a very nice life in Shanghai".. I said, "If you have money, you can have a nice life anywhere!" to which he agreed.

Then he told me he earns 3000 RMB/month (the average for Shanghai so I've heard) and has lots of health problems from sitting down for 12 hours a day, and stress from having to know all the roads/streets in Shanghai and dealing with traffic. I started to feel sorry for him and all the other taxi drivers because I (stupidly) thought that being a taxi driver would be an OK job to have, if I was a local.

When we were almost at my apartment, he said, "Do you live in... (apartment compound name)?" and I said, "Yes" and he said, "Oh I knew it. Because a local would never be able to afford to live there..."

Every single local we've spoken to says that our apartment is so expensive but hubby and I don't feel like it is! For one thing, it's only about half of what we were paying in Sydney for an apartment (similar size, 2 bedrooms) that was 45mins out from the city! And like I said, other people are paying 2-3 times the price and I don't think their apartment is any better, only the location is probably more central and maybe their building is slightly newer but their space certainly wouldn't be bigger and I doubt their view is as nice as ours. I'm very very happy with our apartment and love it. I also like that there aren't billions of buildings like some compounds that have 10 or 20 buildings. Like what the-? It's like a mini-city!

So anyway he pulls up outside my building and then said to me, "See that man over there?" (pointing to the security guard) "Well, he only earns 1000 RMB/month."I'm thinking, "OMG you're kidding!" I felt so bad. They work 12/hours a day too :(

Understandably, this taxi driver was quite bitter about the difference between the haves and have nots. I can understand because I've been there. Growing up we weren't poor poor but we certainly weren't rich. We had second hand furniture from garage sales in our house, my mother made our clothes, my parents DIY'd everything, our shoes were always bought way too big so we'd 'grow into them' (I'm sure that somehow contributed to my sister and I both having flat feet and having to wear orthotics later) yadda yadda.. we were never left without necessities though and overall I think we had a pretty nice life as kids but getting older these days it's hard not to feel something about the difference between the rich and the poor. Luckily most of my friends are middle-class like myself, I don't actually know that many rich or poor people, but in Shanghai it's everywhere. It seems everyone is either filthy rich, or dirt poor, you just can't escape it. It's so sad really.

Getting back to the topic, I also found two books about expat wives, which both look like good reads.

Emails from the Edge: The Life of an Expatriate Wife

This book sounds like a great idea for a movie!

Me a tai tai?

This book sounds hilarious. Even the cover pic looks funny (hey she kind of looks like my mother). I need to track it down somehow... :)

So in conclusion being an expat wife in a foreign non-English-speaking country has it's pros and cons, it's what you make of it, really. I'm glad I've had this experience which I wouldn't give up for anything. And it's really nothing like what you imagine it to be... unless you've been there and done it.


In other news, my husband told me he donated 2000 RMB to the earthquake appeal through his work. Woohoo! I was proud of him for his generosity (But I admit I also thought to myself that 2000 RMB would be the perfect amount for me to buy that flash I really wanted.. oh well, guess I'll have to wait a while, and those poor people need that money much more than I do). And, he's gone to Beijing today, for a week. I did get my photo fix though. I looked online for the thing I wanted and the prices were about US$60-120, and I got it for a whopping 90 RMB ($12.50). Yay for bargains!

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