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Home Living in China Foreigners in China Foreigners in China Understanding a different culture: Dutch expat Arnoud in China
Understanding a different culture: Dutch expat Arnoud in China
Foreigners in China
Arnoud, who comes from the Netherlands, is on a quest to learn about other cultures. His three years -- and counting -- in China certainly have added to his store of knowledge and experience. He describes what city life is like in Guangzhou and offers some helpful hints on issues like getting a visa and job opportunities for foreigners.

-Where were you born?
Somewhere in the middle of the Netherlands, about one hour from Amsterdam

-In which country and city are you living now?
Guangzhou, mainland China (about two hours from Hong Kong)

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I share an apartment.

-How long have you been living in China?
I’ve been in Guangzhou for a little over three years now.

-What is your age?
I am 31.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in China?
I thought up the idea in 2003 when I was residing in Sydney, Australia and surrounded by many Chinese roomies and friends. It increased the level of curiosity for the entire “China thing”… 1.3 billion dark-haired people, over 5000 years of history, a language that’s strange to most westerners, plus the fact that China is a big market for people who’d like to teach English. I needed a job after all.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Visas are fairly easy to obtain in Hong Kong. It’s also possible to do this in the Netherlands, for instance, but this is far more expensive and time-consuming. I think a lot of Dutch folks are not aware of this Hong Kong visa option.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Medical insurance is quite easy in a way. You just apply for one of those globetrotter/backpacker insurances in your native country. I’ve never really needed it however. Partially because medical costs on the mainland – at one of the zillion Chinese hospitals - are relatively low.

For example, I had food poisoning a couple of times and each time they hooked me up to the IV for an hour and added a few painkillers and so on it cost me around 200 RMB, which is about 20 Euro.

-How do you make your living in China? Do you have any type of income generated?
Most foreigners end up teaching English. It’s by far the easiest way to get a job and earn some money. It helps if you are a native speaker and have white skin. If you are tired of teaching, you could try to become an actor (extra) or for instance an editor at an English language magazine. At least that’s what I did. But then again, it’s not easy. Another thing that has kept me busy is setting up a site about Understanding Yourself and Others:

-Do you speak Chinese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I don’t speak Cantonese, the regional dialect, but I happen to speak a tiny bit of Mandarin. It’s by no means fluent enough to have a decent conversation, but it does give you the basic survival skills that are a must in cities on the mainland. Without it, it might be impossible to actually live here. You can’t, after all, depend on interpreters all the time. Of course, speaking Mandarin is also a way of showing respect, even if you can just pronounce “hello, thank you, and good bye”.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Home is wherever you feel comfortable. And besides, I’ve been away for quite some time now (years) and you sort of get used to being away from the Netherlands, the place I was born. Having said that, at times I do miss my family (+dog) and friends in Holland. But what to do? It’s like I know I need to be elsewhere… learning about other cultures… to make sense of Planet Earth and its inhabitants.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
I have lots of plans. For one, I’d like to see more of China (and the rest of the world). So many places to go, so little time.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
See question below.

-What is the cost of living in China?
Still relatively low, but the food prices have been going up lately with about 10 to 15 percent. So this means that a 9 inch pizza at the Pizza hut is now 42 RMB (4.2 Euro).

Transportation is also decent. Metro and bus are 2 RMB (0.20 Euro cents) within city limits though they might be packed oftentimes. Cabs are a little more pricy – a 15-minute ride might be around 15 to 20 RMB (1.50 to 2 Euro), but more comfortable (that is when you are able to hail one, keeping in mind that Guangzhou has a rapidly growing middle class).

Accommodation can be split up between buying and renting. Buying is very expensive now… I believe 11000 RMB per square meter (1100 Euro) is average for Guangzhou now (September 2007). Renting, good areas, goes for 3000/3500 RMB (300/350 Euro) per month for a 90-something-square-meter apartment.

-What do you think about the Chinese?
Locals are kind to the extent that this is a big city and city life can be tough at times.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in China?
* Warm climate in the south
* Affordable
* Interesting culture

* At times you are overcharged (people think you are a walking bank when you are white)
* Still not completely developed yet (crazy traffic, noise, manners).

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in China?
* Learn a couple of Mandarin phrases. Those are life savers.
* Ask the locals how they would do certain things. You need to learn.
* Be careful with ice-cream, juice, salads, and quiet restaurants – unless you like food poisoning.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about China?
My favorite question - You could check out my Guangzhou, China blog at:

And if you have any China or World related questions, feel free to drop me a line.

God bless,
(Source: Expat Interviews)


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