Miss­ing China

Even when ex­pats re­turn to their home coun­tries, they take a piece of the East with them

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Ka­trin Büchen­bacher

His name is Ras­mus Daniel Taun and he’s a “Chi­na­holic.” Or at least he was for the past five and a half years un­til a job op­por­tu­nity

called him back home to Copen­hagen, Den­mark. In less than a week, he de­cided to quit his ad­dic­tion to China, but that does not mean that he has had enough of it. In fact, it is quite the op­po­site.

“I left when I was still happy about be­ing in China,” Taun said. “It was a good time to leave.”

Quit­ting his life in Bei­jing meant no more last-minute WeChat mes­sages to grab din­ner spon­ta­neously, but sched­ul­ing meet­ings with friends days or weeks in ad­vance. It also meant buy­ing an apart­ment and cre­at­ing a “nor­mal Dan­ish life.”

This was not some­thing that came eas­ily to Taun, whose “ad­ven­tur­ous side” took the up­per hand when he went from be­ing an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent to a free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher in Shang­hai to a mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional in Bei­jing.

“It’s been re­ally tough to move back,” he said. “It’s hard to de­scribe. Noth­ing re­ally changes back in Den­mark. But you feel like you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced so much and then you just drop back into the same old rou­tine.”

Never home again

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal gov­ern­ment data cited by the South China Morn­ing Post, 65,000 for­eign res­i­dents were liv­ing in Bei­jing in 2015. But that is not a sta­ble num­ber. The stream of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, for­eign work­ers and longterm back­pack­ers flows in two di­rec­tions as peo­ple are mov­ing in and out of the coun­try. While me­dia re­ports of­ten write about what at­tracts ex­pats to China and how they go on about their lives here, they rarely fol­low up on what hap­pens to them once they move back home.

There­fore, Met­ro­pol­i­tan talked to a num­ber of ex­pats to trace back their sen­ti­ment to­ward their time in China, how it im­pacted them and how well they re-adapted in their home coun­tries.

Lamiya Sa­farova moved back to Azer­bai­jan al­most a year ago and says she still ex­pe­ri­ences re­verse cul­ture shock.

Af­ter study­ing and work­ing as an English teacher in China for three years, she has got­ten used to the con­ve­nience of in­ter­net ser­vices and mo­bile pay­ments China has to of­fer.

“The other day my elec­tric­ity went out at home. If I were in Bei­jing, I would use Ali­pay to recharge my elec­tric­ity, and it would be back on in two sec­onds. But here, it took me hours of call­ing peo­ple and try­ing to get them to tell me why,” she said. “I was telling my­self, ‘Why did I ever leave China?’ I miss it every day.”

On the other hand, she does not re­gret leav­ing China. The com­fort­able life­style was also one of the rea­sons that made her leave in the first place.

“It has got­ten way too con­ve­nient for me. I wanted to get a lit­tle bit out of my com­fort zone again,” she said.

Other rea­sons were the fact that she got more health con­scious, valu­ing out­door ex­er­cise and or­ganic food, but saw that those needs were com­pro­mised by the air and food qual­ity in Bei­jing.

What she val­ues most about be­ing home again is her so­cial net­work of friends and fam­ily and be­ing able to speak her mother tongue.

“Some­times it’s good to feel like you be­long,” she said.

But for her, Azer­bai­jan still does not feel 100 per­cent like home. “Once you have moved to an­other place, you never feel at home again.”

Old world, new eyes

For eco­nom­ics stu­dent Charles Robert, home is clearly in Brus­sels, Bel­gium.

He came to China for an ex­change se­mes­ter at Bei­hang Univer­sity. In a mat­ter of months, he ex­pe­ri­enced

cul­ture shock twice.

The first time was when he ar­rived in Bei­jing. The big­gest is­sue he had was with pri­vacy, which started with shar­ing his room in the dor­mi­tory.

“There are a lot of peo­ple every­where all the time,” he said.

He also did not like the con­stant change.

“Classes and ex­ams were chang­ing all the time, and shops were open­ing and clos­ing with­out no­tice,” he said. How­ever, he started to miss the

pos­i­tive as­pects of his Bei­jing life as soon as he stepped foot on Euro­pean ground. “I was a bit de­pressed be­cause for a week I was still liv­ing like I did in China – go­ing out for din­ner every day. Af­ter a week, I re­al­ized that my wal­let was cry­ing, and I couldn’t main­tain the same stan­dard of liv­ing,” he said. Ab­del­hak Benikhlef said he felt “home­sick” af­ter he re­turned to his home in Al­ge­ria. He lived in Bei­jing for two years where he stud­ied and worked at the Chi­nese Academy of Space Tech­nol­ogy. In his free time, he played soc­cer and sup­ported the Bei­jing soc­cer team. “I left Bei­jing in July 2016, and now I live in my mem­o­ries. I can’t for­get Bei­jing,” he said. Even though he prefers Al­ge­rian food, weather and be­ing with his fam­ily, he car­ries the things he learned from the Chi­nese “about han­dling money, hard work and re­spect for fam­ily” with him. “A for­eigner in China is treated as a guest,” he said. Af­ter hav­ing been “the for­eigner” for a long time, for­mer ex­pa­tri­ate Taun now pays spe­cial at­ten­tion to the way for­eign res­i­dents are treated in his own coun­try. “To be more open around new peo­ple is a skill I some­how learned in China,” he said. Taun, there­fore, rec­om­mends that every­one should spend a few years abroad. “It makes you see the world with new eyes.”

Con­fes­sions of for­mer China ex­pats about their China jour­ney, re-in­te­gra­tion and what “home” means to them.

Pho­tos: Cour­tesy of Ras­mus Daniel Taun Pho­tos: Cour­tesy of Ab­del­hak Benikhlef

Main and left: Many for­mer ex­pats un­der­es­ti­mate the time it takes to re-adapt to their home coun­try af­ter hav­ing lived in China. Right: Benikhlef on the Great Wall Benikhlef at the Bei­jing Si­nobo Guoan foot­ball club

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