Interview with an Expat living in Yinchuan
Welcome to our first interview on www.yinchuan.de. Today I’m happy to introduce to you Thomas, a french teacher living and working in Yinchuan, Hui autonomous region Ningxia, China. For more information about the cost of living, you can go to this page.
Here is the interview:
Hello (Nihao) Thomas, I’m glad you had time for a short interview about your time as an expat living in Yinchuan. Can you tell us what exactly are you doing in Yinchuan and why you choose Yinchuan?
Hi, Andy. I am currently working at an International Language School in Yinchuan as a teacher for both English and French Language. The reason I chose this city is actually quite random. I’m in this period of my life where I want to travel far and wide before putting my degrees to use and start a more serious and sedentary life… Last summer, my father, my brother’s girlfriend and I rejoined my brother who had spent six month in China travelling, studying and working. We had a holiday together across the country, and when they all went home, my brother proposed that I stay and work for the same school he did, basically.
Definitely a random choice. So tell us please, what do you like and dislike about China and Yinchuan in general?
Of course, as a westerner, I’d say obviously that the political backwardness is always a problem. Liberties are lost, information doesn’t flow freely, but everybody knows that. Although it is getting better with the recent generations, I guess that the stubborn application of traditions is a bore. The land and the air, also and of course, are quite polluted as China is heavily industrial. Otherwise, I always have loved the diversity of cultures, people, languages and landscapes… You can see incredible mountain in China, beautiful architecture and so many great historical artifacts… Yinchuan is a little poorer in that regard, but there are still some great pagodas worth visiting. The diversity is also strong in the climates. You have jungles, forests, deserts, rivers, etc… It would be too long to go over everything I think of China and the Chinese, but one thing that struck me is the fraternity and solidarity. These people seem to have a strong culture of reciprocal help. I find that beautiful.
Sounds like China is worth a visit, isn’t it? But is there anything you miss about France?
Of course, there are. The main thing, obviously, would be the people. But I have traveled for long periods of time before, and that’s something you get used to. If I had to say anything, the cities and the countryside of my country sometimes make me nostalgic. The great pristine forests, the clean rivers, Paris, Toulouse, cities that I know and miss… And of course, there is the food. I’d kill for some foie gras.
What do you think about the hygiene in China? And what is your experience with the air pollution?
What do you think of hygiene in China? And what is your experience with the air pollution? Of course, hygiene in China can be quite the shock for the unprepared soul. You will see cooks scratch their backside and then prepare your dumplings, flies swarming restaurants, people picking their noses in public and so on. But it is, when you think about it, an overall progress since Mao. Mao himself brought a form of modern medicine to China and rose the life expectancy greatly, so, I wouldn’t ask for more, personally. (laughter) The air pollution is scary, but like I said, what can you expect from an industrial country with the biggest population in the world (or so) that burns coal like children gobble down candy? Everyone can read the damage the polluted air does, especially in megalopolises like Beijing. Of course, I would personally advocate for an ecological transition, but the information that such a transition is possible has yet to reach the people, and that’s not for tomorrow.
I agree with you that the air pollution in China is one of the biggest problems that the Chinese people have to solve and in fact they should solve it ASAP. – Andreas
Did you learn Chinese before you came to China? How fast did you pick up the language?
I didn’t actually try to learn before I came to China. My brother did, intensely, for six months before he came, but I just started here. At first, I used mostly two software, Rosetta Stone and Anki, which proved useful. But with the work and my natural winning personality I got lazy and let it go. Now I only pick the language up slowly, a few words at a time, every once in a while, by talking with my coworkers. Luckily I work in a place where most people speak English. Otherwise, I’d say people learn the important basics, how to talk to a taxi driver, how to ask for the price, how to order food, and the such. I just realized I don’t even know the verb “give” in Chinese.
While I probably don’t speak much more Chinese than you do, I know that the verb give is “Gěi” in Chinese. But let’s go to our next question: Do you think there are many foreigners in Yinchuan? Do you think there’ll be even more in the future?
I wouldn’t say there are many… There are a few that I have met, but I think the total population of foreigners in Yinchuan is well under one percent. The main reason, I think, is because the Ningxia province is rather remote, and because the cities aren’t as attractive as, say, Beijing or Honk-Kong. But there are other strong points here. The cost of living is lower, and there are good universities. So most of the foreigners you see are either working (like me) or studying Chinese (like my friend Hamed). Compared to other remote parts of China, I would assume there are more foreigners, mostly because this is the Hui people (Chinese Muslims) province, and many people from the Middle-East or the Maghreb would rather come here than Gansu or Qinhai, for example. In the future, thanks to globalization, I think that all regions and countries are bound to see the passing of more and more foreigners.
Do you think local Yinchuan people accept you as a foreigner? Have you had contacts with the locals?
I think that rural (or close-to-rural) Chinese are more receptive of Western foreigners, from Europe or the US. They seem to think it gives a company or a school a great image. So I haven’t had any problems linked to the fact that I am a foreigner. But I know for a fact that it can get much harder when you’re black, even if you’re a Westerner. I used to work with an African-American called Sharon, and the situations she had to put up with, you wouldn’t believe. One thing that is more difficult here than in big cities or than Europe is to make your employers respect your working rights. In regions such as Ningxia, working rights are very relative, and you should always watch out for your employer’s or company’s work integrity. Other than that, life here is rather fine, and the locals are mostly pleasant. I haven’t had contact with many locals, mostly because of my deficiency in Chinese, but like I said, they are mostly charming. You will get some round eyes, of course, when you walk down the street, kids will turn around and laugh, but nothing really annoying.
Could you imagine staying a longer time in China?
No. No, for a few reasons. Mostly, I didn’t quite fall in love with the country. it has a very important history and a major role in world politics and should, MUST be seen at least once, but I wouldn’t spend my life here. The politics are too strict, to say the least. The people are too traditional for my tastes and people bending the law and corruption are just a little too common for my taste. I could live here, and eventually learn Chinese… But I don’t want to. I miss my country’s food too much. And also, the weekly 35 hours of work.
In the future, if the situation (and it is, already, changing for the better) keeps changing, keeps moving forward and keeps evolving, then maybe I’ll come back. But for now, I have other places I’d rather be when I finish my year here.
Thank you, Thomas, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our readers a few questions about your life as an expat in Yinchuan, Ningxia. I hope you will have a pleasant stay and good luck for the future!
If you enjoyed this interview then please don’t forget to share it with your friends and if you know somebody who lives in Ningxia or has something to say about the area then please feel free to contact me at andreas(at)yinchuan.de.