Reinventing myself- again

Great resource for expat partners that need to reinvent themselves when moving abroad. See www.careerinyoursuitcase.com

Great resource for expat partners that need to reinvent themselves when moving abroad. See www.careerinyoursuitcase.com

The clock is ticking. Nine weeks until the arrival of Beijing baby number 2. And 4,5 months until DB-Day, Departing Beijing Day. Mr Copat’s contract ended a while back, and we will be relocating to a tropical oily backwater after the birth. One person told me she already said goodbye to me mentally.But I’m not ready for departure yet.

Instead, I’ve made a few new friends here in the past week. A welcome change given that all my old friends have either left Beijing or are on holiday for the summer. One is even my new blog buddy! Hence this post. Thanks A Cuppa Ti!

Of course, the upcoming move brings lots of advantages. Clean air! Summer clothes only! Our own pool! But it also means saying goodbye to a beloved city with its myriad opportunities and discoveries, dear friends and special memories- starting my motherhood journey first and foremost. And quitting my job, again.

It is time to reinvent myself- again. In order to prepare for my move, I’ve recently embarked on a coaching journey. To become a professional coach myself that is to say. More about that later. The upcoming move has also made me look back at how I prepared for this move. Here’s some resources that may help you prepare for restarting your career abroad:

  • Career in my Suitcase- Jo Parfitt: this book helped me tremendously 3 years ago, when I was preparing to move to Beijing. Rather than looking at what you are losing, it makes you explore the opportunities that you have, making use of your strengths to create a portable career. I am planning time to re-do some of the exercises before departing.
  • A Portable Identity- Debra Bryson and Charice Hoge. If you have never lost a job before, you may be totally unprepared for the negative emotions that will come up when you move abroad without a job. How do you define yourself when you do not have a (paid) job? This book may help you find an answer.
  • Talk to people who have done this before- This can be really insightful. Through volunteering with my husband’s company, I had the opportunity to interview inspiring women (and the occasional man) who had been expat partners for years. They did not sit around drinking coffee and moan about the air pollution. They started new universities, did PhD’s, wrote books, were volunteer museum guides, became successful photographers or yoga teachers. One Mum in my baby group recently opened Little Oasis, a fantastic family club, right here in Beijing. Allow yourself to get inspired.

I held myself back in my professional development some time because of the idea of my lack of work permit in Beijing, rather than the actual situation which is that there are always things to do, wherever you are. Don’t be put off by your official status, many new opportunities may present themselves. Perhaps unpaid, perhaps on a different path than you trained in. It may be hard work, but you can make it happen. And don’t overlook the fact that not working means getting to spend more time with your family. Because that is one thing that my coaching journey reminded me of: the importance of my loved ones ♥

 

 

Beijing survival: Bike on!

Beijing also has a public bicycle rental system.

Beijing also has a public bicycle rental system.

The best way to get around Beijing? Bicycle. For trips up to 30 minutes I prefer cycling. It saves me a walk to the metro or being stuck in a Beijing traffic jam in a taxi. It has also helped me connect to the city, understanding where I am in this vast place, and allows me to get off the beaten path and take short cuts through what’s left of old Beijing. And sometimes it is faster than a taxi.

Nevertheless, it was daunting in the beginning. Here’s my survival strategies for arriving in one piece:

  • Pay attention. Yes, good old fashioned, living in the moment, paying attention to your surroundings. No phone calls or WeChatting, no day dreaming. Keep looking left, right and center. It’s the best way to avoid colliding with cars, tricycles, pedestrians who step on the street without looking, trash collectors or balloon sellers.
  • Wait behind the bus. I don’t like cycling along the Third Ring road, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The fast moving buses can scare the hell out of me. I used to squeeze between buses and the sidewalk, or whirl around the bus squeezing between it and taxis. No more. I wait with one foot on the side walk behind the bus until all passengers have stepped in or out. Safest for me and others.
  • Don’t Expect Courtesy. Nobody will give way to you. So be very careful, but also sometimes it is needed to cross as you never get through. Try to make use of numbers, e.g. go together with a group of jaywalkers.
  • Watch out for potholes, especially in the rain. You won’t see them when they are filled with water (and it may ruin your tyre or worse).
  • Off the beaten track? It’s not always necessary to use the bicycle path. Of course, it is preferable and safer. But often the paths are blocked by cars, pedestrians or unidentified objects. In that case, use the road (but be careful).
  • Toot you too. Don’t be offended by honking horns. Where I come from, cars honk horns out of impatience, or because the cyclist does something very dangerous. Not so in China. I have come to the conclusion that it is often more of a “careful, I’m behind you.” The driver wants you to know he’s there, so that you don’t make unexpected movements toward the middle of the road.

Happy cycling! And use a helmet if you are not (yet) confident. For a decent bike or a seat for your kid, try the Giant stores all over the city.

Not convinced yet? These two companies can arrange guided tours:

Expat DNA?

Expat DNA

Interesting infograph, but where are patience and sense of humour?

Just came accross this visual via Iwasanexpatwife- Do you have Expat DNA? Factors include (obviously) the ability to adapt to change and enjoying the life like locals do (eating, going about). Interestingly, it explicitly excludes being well travelled- I thought this was certainly beneficial to expats, as it has exposed them to other cultures.

What I miss in the graph is patience and good humour (or at least the ability to remain smiling in stressful circumstances). I think to be succesful as an expat these qualities can make or break your expat experience. Here in China, patience is needed when trying to figure out what people mean and you are not sure what is happening. A smile will help more than becoming upset or angry. Then again, these qualities also come in handy at home, right?

Expat magazines in Beijing

the beijinger

One of the many expat magazines, The Beijinger, has an active forum

Currently, there are five expat magazines published in Beijing- and I may be missing some. They are all free, published bi-weekly or monthly and can be picked up at expat oriented restaurants, language schools, shops et cetera. They provide a good overview of everything that goes on in the city, though some seem to focus mostly on new restaurants. Two magazines are aimed at parents, but also contain articles of more general interest. The websites for the magazines usually provide an overview of things to do in the coming weeks and a directory of restaurants and shops, but also sports clubs and schools.

5 questions to ask yourself before moving to Beijing

emotions and questions

Moving to Beijing can bring about questions and confusion.

Let’s face it, moving to China is no piece of cake. Transitions will be made easier by good employers, but in the end, you find yourself on your own in a strange country where you do not know anybody and (probably) do not speak the language. Looking back at my first year here, I would advise everyone considering the move as a “trailing spouse” to ask themselves the following five questions:

What are MY needs?

As an expat wife or partner, it is easy to get caught up in other people’s needs, especially your kids and your partner’s. Moving to China is a great opportunity for his/her career! The children will benefit from being exposed to other cultures! Let’s live close to the school/ the office to minimize commuting time! Don’t get me wrong, these are all good and reasonable thoughts. In the end, you will be the one spending most of the time in the house though. So make sure you like the neighborhood too, not just because it is convenient. Will you have a car and driver (for your partner mostly?), or is it easy to jump on the metro or even bike to get around town? If you had hoped to explore Beijing, take classes in town or work and you find yourself in Shunyi from where the commute into town can take quite some time, you may end up feeling frustrated, unless you have made the conscious decision to live there also taking your own needs into account.

Do I want to work?

If you come here on a Z (dependent) visa, you will not have the right to work. Of course, you may find a job and get a work permit. However, do realize that it may not be as easy as you like to find a job if you do not speak Chinese. There are many local, qualified people with decent English nowadays, for whom an employer does not need to go through a work permit procedure. Also, some companies are not allowed to hire foreigners, or only a limited number. Part time jobs are not as common as in e.g. Northern Europe, and you may need to work many hours with few holidays for a pay much lower than what you are used to.

If I want to work, what will I do?

Sorry if the above has discouraged you, that is not my intention. However, it is better to realize beforehand that the days where just being foreign could be a good enough reason to be hired in China, are definitely over. The main career option still seems to be teaching English, but if you don’t like teaching or your English is not that good (or, unfortunately, if you do not look Western), it may be harder to find something. Do research whether you can do the job you did at home in China. In a company here, or discuss with your employer the possibility of freelancing for them at a distance. Could you do consultancy for clients in your home country? If you wish to do something completely different from what you were doing at home, consider what this might be. Starting your own business? In what? Teaching yoga or aerobics? Start a cooking school? Check job sites to see what other jobs attract you. Continue reading

What I like about being a Beijing expat wife

Panda in a bamboo forest nails, cute! I've stuck to more conservative colours thusfar. Image comes from http://weheartit.com/entry/12828584

I wasn’t really looking forward to becoming an “expat wife” or as my sister mistakenly heard a “trailer spouse.” It did not feel good to give up my job. And even though I’d been with Mr Expat for years, it felt (and sometimes still feels)  as I’ve given up my independence. My residence permit depends on his work visa. I always thought I’d move abroad someday, but then for my own career. Now, I had to tick the “housewife” box on the visa application form for the first time in my life.

Now that I’ve been here almost six months, I do see some of the advantages of being an expat wife:

–          Time: while some things take more time in Beijing due to the distances and different culture, now that I’ve somewhat settled I do have more time. Time to make new friends, read about China, learn Chinese and go to the gym (no more excuses). All those things that Mr Expat has a lot less time let alone energy for when he returns home from the office in the evening.

–          Work: I’m privileged that I don’t have to work if I don’t want to. I have found a freelance unpaid position, but this project is still in its early stages- although it does give me a good reason to get out of the house and meet new people. I could probably find a job here, but it’s not easy when your Chinese is not fluent. I research interesting companies and establish contacts there without the necessity to land a job immediately. I thought I‘d really miss it but I don’t (yet- though this is probably thanks to my new project).  I’m still in the driver’s seat. And although I miss having colleagues and interesting work projects, I do not miss horrible bosses.

–          Opportunities: I have more time to focus on things that I enjoy doing, finally reading some great novels and work related books that I never had time for in the rat race back home. I could take up a new study, work or volunteer in this new country with a completely different culture or make a hobby into a new career. The opportunities are there, it’s up to me to make the most out of it.

–          Great women: I get to meet many new people, including so many inspiring women. They came here as expat wives and have chosen to take time out to spend with their family or to start an exciting new business or to finally write that book. Definitely not Desperate Housewives!

–          My nails have never looked better and I’ve had some great lunches ;). This is the part about expat wives that is true: they do have their nails done and they do go for lunch with other expat wives. I just hadn’t thought it would more than a way of getting through the day, but I have fun with the ladies and we share the culture shock and dependence experiences.

Even with all the difficult moments, so far I’m enjoying myself. And I know I’m lucky, because Beijing has a high quality of life as opposed to some other places in the world. However, it is as one of my new found friends said: “you can’t expect too much of your spouse, he’s busy at work most of the time. So you have to make the most of it by yourself.”

Beijing a Sexy City?

Somehow the words Sexy and Beijing do not seem to fit in the same sentence. Shanghai is sexy, Hong Kong could be described as stimulating. But Beijing?

Sexy Beijing talks building

Sexy Beijing was featured in The New Yorker too

Where people walk around the hutong in their pijamas? However, watching Sexy Beijing will shed a whole new light on this. The series, starring Su Fei (or Anna Sophie Loewenberg), has been running for a few years and is a must watch for any new (female) expat in Beijing. Its format is based on the early episodes of Sex and The City but Su Fei interviews real people. She asks frank  questions about love, relationships and many more issues. I wish my Chinese was good enough to talk to people like that. My favourite episodes include Lost in Translation (how Chinese people choose their English names) and Be my Chinese Valentine.

Blogging in China

Many sites are blocked in China, impacting on blogging

The first essential lesson when moving to China: WordPress.com accounts (and Blogspot accounts) are blocked! Wordpress.org can be accessed though. Second essential lesson: try to find a solution for your blog BEFORE moving. This will make your life easier, especially if you also wish to use your blog for keeping your family and friends up to date about your adventures in the Middle Kingdom. Those people that will start emailing you incessantly if you do not update your blog upon arrival. So get a VPN account or find another webhost.

1) One solution is to get a VPN account. This account allows you to bypass the so-called Great Firewall of China. I am no IT expert, but VPN gets you an IP address in one (or more) other countries. It is much harder to access info on VPN through a non VPN account in China so read up before leaving. If you have identified a provider you like (google VPN China for a list, Hide My Ass and Strong VPN are names ushered by other expats in Beijing), check with them whether you should download anything before leaving, or they can give you a list of mirrorsites where you can access their site within China. Most expats have a VPN account. They usually don’t break the bank, depending on the provider 50-80 dollars per year.

Pro: you will be able to access also other websites blocked in China (such as Facebook, Twitter).
Con: people within China will not be able to access your blog (unless they have a VPN account). Internet in China is not that fast and VPN makes it even slower.

2) Find another server: You may be able to access your blog when it is hosted through another, unblocked server eg in your home country. Some companies offer webhosting and domainnames for just a few dollars a month or even less. This worked for me. I registered a domain name with a provider that has wordpress as (one of) the operating systems for its websites. I exported all my (not that many) posts from WordPress (dashboard under tools) and then imported them to the new site. This worked reasonably well, just some nice plugins were not provided for by my new host.

Pro: Access from within China
Con: possibly slow, best to have someone in China check whether it works before you go.

3) Option number 3 is to write blogs on your laptop and book a monthly trip to another Asian country where you then post everything all at once :)

What are YOU going to do there?

Among the most asked questions to this copat, is that dreaded question: What are YOU going to do there? I dread it because: I don’t know! After years of working and being able to provide for myself, the move to Beijing means dependency and few job prospects.

As a spouse I will not get a work visa according to the information I have been able to find so far. Mr Expat will get a Z visa which will allow to him and me to apply for residency within one month of arrival. However, he has an employer sponsoring him, I do not. Hence he can work and I cannot. You can apparently work when you find a job at a company that is allowed to hire foreigners and will help you with the paper work. And of course you could become an English teacher- though I am not a native speaker which is apparently required in most Beijing schools- English teachers can get work permits.

Coupled with the fact that I work in the NGO sector back home on issues that are not particularly popular with the Chinese, my chances for a paid occupation seem unpromising. I find that difficult to swallow, so keep my hopes up and try and start networking from here. At the same time, I have accepted that it may take time, and that I want to also make use of that time to learn Chinese.

This article provided me with inspiring examples of ladies that moved to China with their partner and managed to overcome the initial challenges and ended with having a wonderful time. If they can do it, why can’t I?