Josh: Far West China
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to China, etc.
My name is Josh Summers and frankly I’m a pretty boring guy who just happened to move to one of the most interesting places in the world… by accident. I come from the great state of Texas in the U.S. and my wife and I first moved out to China in the summer of 2006.
We had no idea where we were moving and had never heard of the “Xinjiang” region before. We were following the recommendations of a good friend who had assured us it was a comfortable place to live.
He was wrong, but we’re still glad we moved!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I remember first setting up a Blogspot blog in China before they started blocking everything Google. It was originally meant to be a place where we updated our friends and family back home on our adventures in this unknown part of the world.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but our experiences here are quite unique, even among expats in China. I started getting emails from people asking me questions about living and traveling in Xinjiang and that’s when it first hit me: it’s not just my parents reading this blog anymore.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I’ll share with you two of my favorites. The first was what I have learned from driving in China, the second was my experience learning from a Uyghur kebab pro.
- How China Taught me to Drive Better is something I wrote as a reflection on getting my drivers license in China. Everybody thought I was crazy for wanting to drive here and yet I came to an interesting conclusion about the whole experience.
- Kebab Seller Shares the Secret to Xinjiang Taste was written about an awesome BBQ I had with a friend and his wife. He is a Uyghur who used to cook kebabs for a living and he shared with me a number of secrets about what makes them special.
Tell us about the ways your new life in China differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I think the first year for any expat is difficult in many ways, but if you’re able to make it through without developing the bitterness toward China that is so common among expats, you’re golden.
I was fortunate in that I had my wife with me the whole time (and still do). There are days where we lock our door from all Chinese influences in order to seclude ourselves in an American bubble. We watch an American movie, eat western food, and don’t even think about China. It’s our coping mechanism and it has served us well.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in China? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Ha! Not at all, but I don’t think there’s anything that could have prepared us. I remember reading a book about Chinese culture shock in 2006. It was good but I don’t think it had a huge impact on my preparations for China.
My advice to anybody planning a move out here is to just keep an open mind, realize that things will be frustrating and to be willing to laugh it off instead of turn bitter.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Let’s see, I certainly have plenty but the first one that pops into my head happened a number of years ago. A friend had invited me to the grand opening of a new coffee shop in town. Xinjiang doesn’t have many foreigners, so as expected they asked me to pose with the owner for a few pictures despite my having no affiliation with the place whatsoever.
Fast forward a year later when I invited another friend to coffee. The moment we walked into the shop all of workers began to chuckle. I shrugged it off as normal but then they started pointing as well. To my horror, my friend and I both turned around to see a life-sized photo of me and the owner on the wall.
The worst part? By chance, I happened to be wearing the exact same clothes that day as I had in this life-sized portrait. Fun times.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in China?
- Try everything at least once, even if it looks disgusting.
- Make it a point to learn the language.
- Take a trip to Xinjiang.
So that last one may be a bit biased, but you won’t regret it. Everybody goes to the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, however few experience China’s wild west. And when you do, you should grab a copy of FarWestChina’s Xinjiang | A Traveler’s Guide to Far West China.
How is the expat community in China? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Finding the expat community isn’t too difficult in my opinion. No matter what city you move to, there will be some sort of expat network you can tap into; and then of course there are online forums like InterNations and others.
We will naturally gravitate to people who are like us. The hard part isn’t finding the fellow expats. It’s much harder to find a group of locals that want to hang out with you for more than just practicing English.
How would you summarize your expat life in China in a single, catchy sentence?
Go explore; what you’ll discover are things you could never understand from reading a book.