Living in China,  My Life

And they forced me to leave my home

After spending my first spring in a dorm at the campus I wanted to have a real home. I rented a small apartment, meaning one room, from the nearby village and quickly started to call it home. I loved the place for many reasons. I could cook Finnish food, I had a big roof to host barbecue evenings, lots of shops just behind the corner and a feeling of place that is mine (Well, ours because I live together with my boyfriend).

But after half a year there the police found out and weren’t happy. Police thinks that it’s not safe for foreigners live in the villages like that, but I think that there must be some other reason. Maybe they just want to prevent any extra work that I might cause them by living like the locals? I did my best to get to know how common Chinese people live and joined their neighborhood, but it seems to be too much for the authorities.

So little bit over a week ago my teacher told me about this and that I had two choises. To move back to dorm or find another apartment away from the university island. I first started looking for apartments and found a lovely area near Sun Yat Sen University where I will hopefully start my bachelor degree next September. But then in the end after listening to my boyfriend, and especially my mom, I decided to come back to the dorm.

And here I am. Living in this tiny room with all of my stuff. Well, part of it is in the storage room, because this “apartment” is less than ten square meters. And I share a bathroom with my roommate, that is nice and quiet. This absolutely isn’t home and I feel kind of homeless right now. At the same time I heard that I didn’t got the internship for summer that I was hoping for. The reason is that my university back in Finland don’t give me money to do the internship because I didn’t apply for it in advance. Also this work place can’t hire anyone for free. So no home, and no plans for next summer.

My unplanned plan is to stay in the dorm atleast until I go back to Finland in May. After that I may come back and continue studying here until the term in over in July. But I am still looking for a job for summer. This might be the only time before graduating that I would have almost three months time to work. At the latest I will start looking my new home in July. I now know from what area I want the apartment and also have a better understanding of the rents.

But still I miss my first real home here in China. It’s just one kilometer away from here, but feels like a long way. I don’t like other people messing up with my plans, but now I don’t have any other choice. My mom and dad also both send me messages that do not argue with the police. Of course I never would but in my mind I’m not pleased.

Have the authorities in China messed up with your plans?


  • Zee

    I’m sorry to hear that! That is a very formidable looking policeman! Your parents are right: Don’t mess with the authorities.

    Sara Reply:

    Luckily the guy in the picture didn’t have anything to do with me moving! Actually I didn’t even see the police my self, only heard from my teacher about it.

    Yes, absolutely not good to mess with the police or other authorities.

  • C

    I’m sorry to hear about the bad news…

    I am still not understanding… why do the police have issues with you renting a place from the village?

    Sara Reply:

    The village is just too local and police thinks it’s not suitable for foreigners. I’m not sure what are the real reasons.

  • frank zhou

    that was quite normal in china.twenty years ago, foreigners can only live in some good hotels and go shopping in some good shopping malls.Chinese government want to keep foreigners safe and avoid troubles of having disputes with foreign governments when the foreigners get hurt.whats more,the government also wants to show foreigners hospitality and a good impression of china with good hotels and shopping malls, not with some small and messy local shops. time has changed a lot currently, but there is still some legacies。

    Sara Reply:

    But I really like small and messy villages. Part of me being in China is to get to know the local people and their life style, but seems that I just can’t live in the middle of it. They should also know that not all foreigners are rich and we poor students would really enjoy the cheap apartments avaible in those villages.

    frank zhou Reply:

    Things have changed a lot,many local governments don’t worry about that,but some local governments still dont want to take risks and troubles.The trend is that foreigners will have more and more freedom in china.just need a little more patience.

    Sara Reply:

    I do think the reason is that the police doesn’t want any extra risks or troubles because of a foreigner in the village. Hopefully I’ll be in China to see it change and improve.

  • sean

    Sorry you had to move. I hope the new place will suit you well. I think there is definitely more than just your safety that they are concerned of. These days the Chinese government is really uneasy given what’s going on in Beijing.

    Sara Reply:

    I am living in the dorm now, but hopefully will find a new home this summer. During the last week I’ve already accepted this because there is nothing I can do. Like many other things in China, it’s just is that way.

  • ordinary malaysian

    Poor you! Sad to read about your predicament. What are you going to do now? Can’t your bf help? Really, the Chinese government should learn to relax a little. For whatever reasons, times have changed. But have you heard or understood correctly? Never mind, come over to Malaysia lah.

    Sara Reply:

    I’m living in the dorm now and will find a new home next July when the term ends in my current university and I will start preparing to go to Sun Yat Sen University. There isn’t really anything my boyfriend can do because I wasn’t living where I was registered and that isn’t acceptable in here. I also couldn’t register my self to the village because that’s also not possible. I heard about this from my teacher and there was no room for misunderstanding. Well, I’ve never been to Malaysia :)

    ordinary malaysian Reply:

    Never mind. Whatever happens, you will be alright.照顾. You and bf are welcome to Malaysia.

  • Tom

    This is unfortunate, but at least it hasn’t led to any visa problems.
    Just curious, did you register with the police that you were living off campus? If you didn’t consider relocating a light punishment. I know a few foreigners in Beijing who lived with a Chinese family without permission and found themselves spending a few days in a Chinese prison for it.

    Sara Reply:

    Oh no, they really spent few days in prison for something like this? I have to say that if I would have known about that, I would have never moved to the village. I was registered to the dorm in the campus, because I coudn’t register myself to the village because police don’t accept foreigners living there. Finally after six months the police checked it from the dorm and told my teacher that I have to move to the dorm or find a new apartment somewhere else and register there. I think there shouldn’t be any problems with this and the same thing happened to another foreign girl that wanted to live in the village. I’m still waiting for my registration paper and after getting it things should be settled. (Other students are waiting for their papers too, so it haven’t been delayed because of me.)

  • Sarah

    Oh gosh that’s terrible sorry to hear that, hope you can get it sorted soon, I remember when I was in China me and my boyfriend tried to find a hotel to stay in Shanghai during our a trip and a lot of them said “sorry we don’t accept foreigners”

    Sara Reply:

    Thanks for commenting Sarah! I’ve heard too that some small hotels can’t accept foreigners because they don’t have the license to do so.

  • Justin Liu

    I am so sorry that this happened, I can’t believe they still reach into people’s lives like this. I can’t even imagine that if I were to live in China, I’d be treated in the same way, even though I was born there.

    Here’s hoping that the Chinese government becomes less uptight.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you Justin. I wasn’t happy when it happened, but as there isn’t anything I can do, I just accepted it. I think it takes a lot of patience to live in China as a foreigner. But I’m already looking forward to rent a new place next summer and already planning the decoration in my head :)

  • Jocelyn

    Sara, I’m so sorry to hear about this. You know, reminds me of some difficulties I had many years ago in China, when I couldn’t move into an apartment b/c my work unit would not allow me to move my registration to a place outside. I hope things get better for you soon, though.

    Sara Reply:

    Jocelyn, thank you for sharing a similar experience. I have already accepted that I will be living in this tiny dorm room until june or july and will look for a new home then. I already know what neigbourhood I want to move to and found a nice apartment building which should also be ok for the police. Just have to be patient and wait for few months.

  • Thomas Aylmer

    Really nice post. Made me both happy for you in the sense you found a real home outside of home, and sad because it was taken away. I think these sorts of things come with living in China so don’t let it affect you too much.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for commenting Thomas! I agree with you, that it is quite happy to find a home outside one’s homecountry. And even I’m little bit homeless now, I know that these few months will go by fast and next July the latest I will have my new place to call home.

  • Xi Wang

    Hi Sarah, I guess my comment is a little bit late. I think you should be able to rent an apartment anywhere you like in Guangzhou if you’re working there. Why your teacher was telling you to move back to the dorm? That is your school has the legal liability of your safety when you’re their student. When I was a college student in China, I could get discipline penalty if I rent an apartment outside. But things are changing fast, it’s kind of gray area right now, I think the most school are keeping their eyes shut, when Chinese students rent the apartments outside, as long as they don’t cause any troubles, since you’re a foreigner, the step might be a little bit behind. Cheer up, at least you have your own dorm, I had to share the dorm with other 3 guys back then. Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine. 5 years later, you look back at your life, you’ll appreciate the unique experience.

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for commenting Xi Wang! I guess not so many foreigners have problems with this because they prefer to live in a nicer apartments or houses. And you are right, should think about the bright side and that I don’t have any roommates, only sharing a bathroom with another girl :) But after few months it’s enough of this unique experience and I want a home again. Can’t wait until June to start looking :) p.s. Hope to see you here again soon!

  • Gabrielle

    That is a crazy story. I’ve never been told I couldn’t stay someone where by the government before. Maybe it is because of the area or apartment I rented, like you said. I know there are hotels where foreigners can’t stay. Hope you are able to find something that you like and that you don’t get kicked out again!

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for commenting Gabrielle! I think next summer when I start looking for a new place I will confirm from the police first. Probably it’s not going to be a problem, because there are good building in the area I am going to rent and some of them have a guard by the door day and night. That should be enough for the police.

  • BP

    Hi there,

    I ran into your website accidentally and I think it is one of the greatest things I discovered. From your writings I think I know quite a bit about you now. And gosh,you are really popular~

    I am currently in Sydney studying translation and interpreting. And I will return to my job in China in one month. If possible, please befriend me on MSN: benjaminpengyi*

    Best wishes,

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you so much for your kind words B.P.! I don’t use MSN so often anymore, but I do have a QQ account. I sent you an email so you can contact me. It would be nice to hear more from you.

  • Adam Robert Young

    I think a lot of it is about face. They want outsiders to live in places that confirm the impression of China the government wants to project. They would rather keep people away from the places that highlight any lack of development, sanitation problems, crime, or a generally unsavoury image based on their own values.

    Just like when the Asian Games came to Guangzhou back in 2010, and the government replaced the facades of old buildings along main roads so that everything looked beautiful to visitors, but inside was still the same rotting, rusted structures.

    Often the locals are the same. In the urban villages, I found many Chinese wanted me to go and photograph Zhujiang Xincheng and places like that, because it showed a “beautiful China” rather than the “real China”. Others, who were upset with the way their government had been treating them were happy to have me share the less-seen side of the city, but this sentiment is certainly not shared by the officials.

    That’s not to say that there is no concern about foreigners’ wellbeing. I think their thinking is also that foreigners aren’t as aware of how things work there, so are less able to protect themselves from dangers that are specific to China. I think it’s a two-sided thing, but even the concern for our safety may be connected with their wanting to avoid bad publicity when things go wrong, but maybe 9 years in China made me too cynical!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I think what you said is really spot on Adam. What they did at University Island before the games could only be explained by face. And still until today the ugle walls and fences they built are rotting away and making the villages look even worse.

  • Chris

    Hi Sara, I love your blog!
    Is it possible that you forgot to sign up for residence with the local police station?

    In China, foreigners are legally required to inform their local police station about their place of residence (usually within 48 hours, but they don’t sweat it if you do it later). This is also in your own interest, as the government can look for you and keep your homeland’s government up to date in case of a natural disaster (a lesson I had to learn the hard way during the Sichuan earthquak in 2008).

    I never had issues with living in small villages or so when following this rule – in fact, the police was very helpful when I had troubles with my landlord, as the police unlike many locals are educated and commited to uphold the law.

    Moreover, foreigners who don’t sign up anywhere at all and want to change their visa status or extend it may be out of luck.