19 December 2011
I've left Kunming after four years. I've left China after 13 years. It was time. It was not doing me good.
Why now? The immediate reason is the timing of the seasons. The northern hemisphere winter cools Southeast Asia, reduces the rainfall, and reins in the mosquitoes. Perfect for a short bike trip from Kunming to Singapore.
Longer term, I need to spend some time in my homeland, the UK, get to know how it has changed, and get to know how I have changed. I realise it's not all going to be Full English, real ale, open fires and cosy pubs.
External factors aside, inertia means you don't leave a place without a push. So, what's the push?
An equation to calculate the probability of departure, while complex, would factor in time invested up to the present versus opportunities that may present themselves in the future.
Swing by Kunming for a few years, study some Mandarin, teach some English, maybe moonlight as an actor/model/club greeter, and generally things will go smoothly for you and life will be good. But make the mistake of believing that you can make a productive life external to these pursuits over the longer term and you risk coming unstuck.
Thus the long-term China expat is a dreamer. A dreamer in the right, ironically - the opportunities over the long term are surely huge. Then again, over the long term, does one remain an expat?
Over the short- to medium-term, you'd best be involved in some form of ripping off the proletariat - mining, tobacco, manufacturing, English teaching, floriculture, etc. Doing much the same as local successes, in fact.
Should you wish to run a pizza delivery service, a magazine website or an online green foods grocery, do not expect that your P&L account will determine your fate. It'll be determined far sooner by the politics of business: the partnerships, the licences, the time spent merely to stand your ground with valid immigration paperwork. It's a lot of work.
If you have large amounts of investment cash, your chances are greater. Organic growth is not welcome here.
Layer onto this the traffic situation: in Kunming, one thousand newly registered vehicles are going onto the roads every day. Illiberally sprinkle on some internet censorship. Then bake in an oven with no decent education options, especially if your kid ain't 100% Chinese, and what have you got? A compelling set of reasons to depart.
Over and out.