What Sino-Japanese tension looks like from China

Shanghaiist recently published an article about Japanese businessmen getting attacked by some drunken Chinese guys while having dinner on the Bund. If patriotism can overwhelm reason on the Bund, it can happen anywhere in China. Here’s what all this tension feels like from Shanghai.

For nearly a month, the news in China and the US seemed to only focus on the Sino-Japanese dispute about the small set of islands at the center of increasing tensions. Although I was in China when things started to get tense, at the height of the dispute my wife and I were on vacation in the US. But when we returned to Shanghai things were still tense, so I wanted to share how it feels for a foreigner living in China in the midst of this drama.

We live in a part of Shanghai that has a lot of Japanese residents, so I would expect tension in this part of town. Interestingly, I haven’t personally witnessed anything overt; though the attack referenced in the Shanghaiist article did occur while we were here. Despite not seeing anything recently, I’ve always felt like the majority of people in China are wound up so tight that they can snap at any moment.

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Maintain your sanity by occasionally visiting the expat bubble

While living abroad, if you’re making an effort to learn the language and about the culture, it’s ok to occasionally visit the expat bubble. I even recommend it to maintain your sanity and increase your endurance: a reprieve from the inevitable daily annoyances of living in China, or any other developing country.

I may have sounded a bit fanatical in my previous posts in this series. When I first moved to China, I probably was a bit of a zealot about immersing myself in the language and culture. But after becoming conversant in the language, and getting a feel for the culture, I realized I needed to find a balance. I was past the honeymoon phase and needed some space. That’s where the expat bubble came in.

I haven’t ever really lived in the expat bubble, so for me, rather than having to escape from it, I found it was my escape. If you’re only living abroad for 3–6 months — in China, or some other developing country — you should probably stay out of the bubble and soak up as much of the culture and language as you can.

But, if you’re going to be abroad for a while, you’ll need to make regular visits to the land of foreigners to maintain your sanity. If you don’t, one day, rather suddenly — you’ll have a meltdown. It might happen right after the thousandth time someone cuts in front of you in line, or maybe it’ll happen after you get nearly run over again, or it could happen after you have spent four hours in a Chinese bureau leading to no tangible results — one day, you’ll just hit the wall. While frequent escape won’t prevent the meltdown, it will help make it less severe.

Here are some ways to inoculate yourself.« Continue »

Going native — getting to know the locals while living in China

To understand China you need to get to know the people and the culture. You can do this by frequenting holes-in-the-wall, making friends with locals, and traveling throughout the country. You’ll have opportunities to use the language and get even farther out of that expat bubble.

Now that you’ve popped the expat bubble and are starting to speak the language, it’s time to take the next step: getting to know the people and the culture. There are many ways to do this, but the best one is to spend more time with locals. It’s time to go native.

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6 tips for learning Mandarin Chinese (or any other foreign language)

Learning a new language requires putting in a little effort every day, and practicing whenever you have the opportunity. In this post, you’ll find six tips you can use to learn Mandarin, or any other foreign language, on your own.

When I first moved to Beijing in 2001, I didn’t want to spend hours in classes learning how to say “I have a red pencil,” so I chose self-study over formal classes. (I do have a red pencil, though, and I talk about it all the time.) In this, the second post in the “Getting the most out of living abroad” series, you’ll get advice for learning a new language on your own. Along the way, you might also earn a restraining order, but by the end you’ll hopefully know how to talk your way out of it.

Even if you’ve already been living in a different country for a year, but don’t yet speak the language, these tips will help you get out of that expat bubble so you can learn the language, and get to know the people and culture of your temporary home.

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How to get the most out of living in China (or any other foreign country)

When you move to China, or any country with a different language and culture than your own, you can choose to live in an expat bubble, or you can try to get the most out of your time in that country. If you want to live in the expat bubble and not learn the language or experience the culture, you might want to just go back to watching cat videos on YouTube; this post probably isn’t for you. But hey, enjoy those cat videos!

This post is the first of a four-part series on how to get the most out of living abroad, whether you’re in China or some other foreign country. Let’s start by looking at two different foreigners, Erica and Lily, who have each been living in China for two years.

Which one want do you want to be like?
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