Living in China,  My Life

Poor China Expat

Living in China as a s Westerner broughts up things you never considered before.

Chinese people think foreigners are rich. Foreigners think that all of us have a lot of money. Welcome to the reality check.

Life is about making choices. Do I take a taxi once or ride the bus 10 time? Do I go to an international meeting and buy a 30RMB can of coke or drink 12 cans at home? Do I go to a Nordic BBQ event (next month) or eat lunch for 15 days? (Ticket to the event is 200RMB, one delicious lunch with potato, tofu and cabbage is 13RMB).

The hardest question of all is: Do I want to live a comfortable life in a nice apartment near the university or do I want to go home once a year?

I’m lucky to be a Finn and my government have supported my studies and life (in Finland and in China) for the last four years. The final year is beginning and after that, well, I have no idea. I’m trying to get a scholarship in order to finish my studies (Jan 2014), I’m trying to work part-time in order to make a living. Both of them not so easy to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I am living my dream. But living a dream doesn’t always mean it’s a rich dream.


  • Cyril

    Asians have the mindsets or stereotypical ideas that Caucasians or Westerners are rich due to colonial imprints that were left behind by the colonialists such as the Americans, Britons, Germans, Dutch and others that carved up China and other Asian countries. Try telling them you’re not rich and haggle with them.

    Justin Liu Reply:

    You sort of know to expect gibberish when a sentence begins with “Asians/blacks/Jews/Muslim have the mindset… etc etc”

    Thanks for the insight cyril.

    Cyril Reply:

    Well, we the human beings are discriminative type. We discriminate.If we all can be equal to all then we will fight less. Is not about skin colour but how we treat and see each others. Sara is seeing the differences and agreements in China and in Finland.Many Caucasians see Japanese tourists as wealthy in the past but not today rather PRC tourists are richer. So there we have it.

  • Elizabeth

    if i were Chinese, i would think the same. No offense,but this is a reality. Thinking most of the foreigners on Chinese streets, that is the only option for Chinese, i suppose. They look good with good clothes, eat what they want to eat, go wherever they want and receive special treatment. But Chinese are not that carefree, they have to count everything.

    I agree with you, this is a wrong generalization and there are foreigners like you who lives in a dream, a dream not like a stereotype of a crazy foreigner having great time living in night clubs, sleeping in the daytime.

    Well, i am nearly the same with you. I work as a part-timer and every time i receive the same old question from my Chinese co-workers: Why do you work?!

    Because i need money! is the way i want to yell at them but my foreigner-looking-face does not let me do this, they don’t believe me :)

    Sara Reply:

    They really ask you why you work? There’s not many people out there who doesn’t have to work at all. Or maybe they think you have a rich boyfriend/husband to pay for everything? :)

    Alva Reply:

    Its funny cause thats so true, regarding clothing i have been asked so many times, in a nice way always.

    “Oh thats nicee I bet you bought it in Europe”

    Before I answer there is someone else:

    “Sure this is not from here I have never seen it:


    Thanks but actually I bought it here, in a local shop..or market…or…

    People dont believe I just gave up and when someone tells me ” my clothes are from spain, or my bag..” I just say yes I like it.
    Last time a guy was telling me about how beautiful was my bag..and is so spanish..i said..maybe we like this style in Spain but i bought it here in Shanghai, is handmade
    Man: oh then is expensive
    me: not 40cny..

  • ebrock36

    Yeah, I hate that my students think I’m rich. I make a decent Chinese monthly payment, but it’s literally nickels in dimes in US$, which means I’m constantly in debt if I want to go home every now and then. I am so far from being rich!

    Sara Reply:

    I think I’m rich compared to the major of Chinese people, but still it doesn’t mean that I can reach the expectations of Chinese and fellow foreigners.

  • Chopstik

    Yes, you are very fortunate that the Finnish government helps to fund you while you study in China. You may not be rich (and many of us are not) but you have opportunities that most others (including Chinese) do not thanks to your government. Would that others were as fortunate.

    Sara Reply:

    I do know that I’m fortunate and if I compare myself to the rest of the world I could never complain about anything. So I’m only comparing myself to the box I’m being put because I’m a foreigner living in China. Suddenly living in China makes me have a face and now I have to worry if I have it or lose it.

    Chopstik Reply:

    Sorry, Sara, that was not meant as a criticism or anything. It was more of an observation. I wish I could have had a similar opportunity. ;-)

    Sara Reply:

    I’ve noticed that there aren’t many people in the world who are satisfied with what they have, we always want something others have, but we don’t :)

    Alva Reply:

    We always want what we dont have, and what we want is not necessarily what we actually need.
    Chopstik do you know which kind of taxes they pay in Finland? I can tell you they are not similar to Chinese taxes.
    The good thing is that they pay taxes but is easy to see where money goes, education is a big thing in Finland.
    Chopstik I am sure you have lots of opportunities, you just need to research about it. And well if you dont get support for “free” you need to work it, thats what I did, I paid my studies and my time abroad. I can tell you thats the way you learn to value things.
    Part time jobs, second hand, saving up, everything you can do in your hand to get what you want or need. Dont expect others to give it to you.

  • Jack

    I think you are already rich Sara! You are rich in experience that majority of the people on this earth don’t have! Living in a foreign country immersed in a foreign culture and learning a new language!

    That’s not all, all those experience you are having now, are an asset you will treasure for the rest of your life. You will be able to use it in your resume, either in China or Oversea or back in Finland! As China continue to prosper and become an important country in the world, your language ability and first hand experience living in China will be the most important asset you have and may very well make you rich! Think about that!

    Like I have suggested to you in the past, take a few Business or Economic paper in University if you can. Have you eyes set on a corporate ladder – I am very certain with your language ability, big corporations in Finland (Nokia perhaps?) will want you to be their expert in China.

    Follow your dream, look for opportunities and chase it! You are in the most opportune time and places with the right skill sets!

    Sara Reply:

    You are right, when I count in experiences I’m really super rich. How many people are there that can say they have achieved the biggest dream in their life?

    I can’t take a Business course because I’m on a 教育方向, so all of my experience about doing business in China have come through doing business here. It’s only a part-time thing at the moment, but I do hope to continue making business here after I graduate. I also want to learn more about the business culture, that’s one part of business I think is very interesting.

    Alva Reply:

    I learned about business in Asia in Tampere :) I undertook a diploma during my year at University.
    I became very interested!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    You’ve studied at Tampere? Wow, I used to live and study there before I moved to China.

  • Alva

    The problem is the concept “expat”, before people who move to another country seeking for a new life were called “migrants”, expat is a trendy term.

    To me “expet” could describe foreigner who move to China (in this case) with a contract from their own country, this implies (probably) better conditions and a “better” life in China, a package lets say.

    But then this is not the case of everyone, some foreigners come to China and find a job, locally, once they arrive here, that means you wont be able to negotiate (usually) a expat contract.

    Are all the expats rich? No, and …how do people define rich? That is always confusing to me.

    I know a Chinese girl, she has a very good job, she works hard, and she has a pretty good salary with lots of holidays, still when she talks to me about her career, she says we “expats” are so lucky so rich (does she even know my salary? I know hers…), it is the image that we portrait.

    Another example of this. When we organize our wedding here in China, the wedding photography studio has different styles for the session. Almost every studio has one style they name “European style”, this is the first one they show to me, the first one I deny.

    Usually is a fake background with a luxury armchair / lamp / walls that remind me of France or some Palance in Russia..But is all a background, and scenary.

    I think this helps to see how we are seen…in every little detail.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Generalization does have the problem that not everyone is like that, but still we often fall in the trap of generalizasing people around us. Students, expats, European etc.