How did your opinions change after living in China?
Arman Siani, Engineer, Entrepreneur, Traveler
Answered Jan 22
I changed my stances from being neutral about China to completely pro-China during the time I lived there.
Growing up as an Aussie (yes my name is Arman but I am a white dude with a Turkish mother and an Italian-American dad who immigrated to Australia), my experience with Chinese people was mostly positive.
In my university, most of the Chinese students I came across were extremely intelligent and hard working, and these are characteristics that makes me like a person almost instantly, either because I myself am intelligent or hard-working or because I am lazy and dull and I like people with characteristics I desire for myself.
Without going into much details, I moved to China as an Engineer (the company that employed me in Australia shifted me to China) and then shifted careers and started working in quantitative finance, before coming back to the US.
Here are some points to note (which addresses my preconceptions before coming to the country and also some other issues):
The education system: While I had this opinion that Chinese education, especially in math and science would be tougher and superior to Australia, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the difficulty. The Chinese entrance exam, Gaokao was a tough nut to crack, and I witnessed first hand, the amount of effort that students put into cracking it in order to get into Tier 1 university. One of my colleagues’ younger cousin studied 8 hours a day and I was told that some Chinese students studied much more than that. The Gaokaos were orders of magnitudes more difficult than the ATARs or UAI (Australia) or the SATs. The physics question sets on the Gaokao were incredibly challenging, especially considering that they were to be answered by high schoolers, And I say those physics questions were challenging as an Engineer who graduated at the top 5–10 percent of his class. Oh and the collegues’ cousin couldn’t get into the university of his choice and had to settle for a Tier 2 University.
Infrastructure: I arrived during the early-mid 2000s and while I had preconceptions about China’s “third world” infrastructure, most of those pre-conceptions didn’t turn out to be true. Yes, things weren’t as good back at home, even though I was living in one of the prominent cities in China. But the roads and streets were clean (doesn’t apply to public toilets, which were exceptionally dirty) and construction of new buildings were taking place at a rapid rate. An “expat’s salary” did afford me very good facilities, including good housing. In any case, there was a huge difference in terms of infrastructure between the time I came to China and the time I left China.
Poverty and wealth: Before coming to China, I thought of China to be an incredibly poor, but rapidly rising nation. When I went there, I did feel that people in general were poorer than the West. A car was considered a luxury. American fast-food joints like McDonalds and Pizza Hut were considered “fine dining” (and yes, that would be the only time I would ever use McDonalds and “fine dining” in the same sentence). Owning a car (even tiny hatchbacks) was considered to be a status symbol. But there were also incredibly rich people and people working for certain private firms and owning businesses were extremely wealthy. However, the affluence of people increased exponentially in the years I stayed there.
Expats in China: Western expats in China came in two varieties. The first type were the incompetent, unqualified Westies who came to China to gain some “international exposure”, and usually they dropped into this country to teach English (although it doens’t apply to all English teachers in China). These folks would usually whine about the “oppressive” Chinese gove* and say how much they hated this place. The random Western woman who was here would complain about “misogyny”. But curiously, they would never leave the country. On the other hand, there were competent expats who came to this country as skilled workers who wanted to develop their careers and try their hands in China. These were the small to medium scale business owners who would often travel between China and the US, or international executives working for multinationals, or translators and business consultants and journalists.