Greenhouse Days

Heat gets in.

Temperatures have been back in the mid 30s again, but unlike the second half of July, the sky is partially overcast, which means that the heat gets in, but doesn’t get out, and the resulting humidity is stifling. These are the days which keep me at home for as much as possible because even just standing outside has me sweating profusely.

News that long-time fugitive, Zhou Kehua, has been killed by the police has me wondering how it’s possible for anyone to remain under the radar for so long in a country where everyone’s lives are public theatre. Perhaps they head out into the countryside where they have friends.

There was a story in the South China Morning Post a few years ago about some crime boss in Guangdong who had operated with impunity for years before he was finally tried and convicted. I could only imagine he was able to do that because he had friends in high places, and I could only suspect that his downfall came from losing those friends.

There’s been a bit of chatter in the expat blogosphere about various long-term expat celebrity 宝贝 departing, and whether this is merely a blip or a trend. It perhaps depends on what you do here, and what your prospects are like in the Real World™ (in spite of the dire state of the economy). I assume that most foreigners still don’t last more than a year or two in China; few last five; and very few last as long as I’ve been here. But even those expats who have managed to survive for ten or more years may suddenly go stir crazy and find that their patience is exhausted. They’ve tolerated conditions here, but decide that enough is enough.

I’ve put together a list of things which might have expats running for the hills. I won’t pretend this is exhaustive or informed, but it’s what comes to mind.

  1. Environment. Bloody dreadful, of course, and you can’t go to Hong Kong to escape it. When I lived just outside of Beijing, the air quality was much better than I was expecting, but I hear that since the Olympics ended, it’s got much worse. This is likely to get expats with children fleeing.
  2. The climate. Roughly speaking, five months of the year it’s too hot; five months it’s too cold (in spite of the latitude), and for the remaining two months, it’s about tolerable.
  3. Culture. There’s a whole range of stuff here such as conspicuous consumption; noise; spitting; disorderliness (e.g. pushing in at the front of queues to make enquiries instead of waiting; lack of traffic courtesy); a lack of consideration; a lack of attention; chicken coop culture; and I’m sure there are other things as well.
  4. Pests. Here we have people who stare or expect that foreigners are a source of amusement and entertainment. How bad it gets depends on where you go. This may not have expats scarpering, but it’s one thing they won’t miss, and it reflects badly on the locals, exposing their utterly lack of sophistication.
  5. Internet censorship. As I’ve said before, this almost certainly affects expats more than it affects the Chinese. It’s bloody annoying to have to fire up Freegate to see some harmless YouTube video, or visit some harmless WordPress blog, or visit any number of innocuous sites online. We don’t really give a damn about those things which make Nanny hot and sweaty, and most of the natives don’t care either.
  6. Medicine. I am a little sceptical about the quality of medical care in China. I also know that hospitals will take you for a financial ride if they can although it’s not just foreigners who might find themselves gouged. This is another one of those things which probably isn’t uppermost in the minds of expats, but could be if they have some sort of long-term illness.
  7. Education. Really one for expats with kids, but if I had a Chinese wife, and we had children, I wouldn’t let my imaginary children near the Chinese education system because of the length of the school day, the length of the school term, and the dubious curriculum. (Hongkongers, beware! You should be worried about the nonsense the Mainland is trying to peddle through your education system.)
  8. Government. This may be where expats trying to run businesses in China come to grief as they try to negotiate their way through an opaque system where the rules will be applied rigorously to you. You, in turn, may not use the rules in the same way.

Ultimately, I don’t think we are seeing anything but a coincidence. A few celebrity expats have decided they’ve had enough at about the same time, but they’re hardly a representative sample.

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