Expat Exodus: Emigration Me-Too-ism

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After the latest “Why I’m Leaving China” column came out and the usual tongues started wagging, I realized that many of these missives are simply thinly-veiled advertorials. “Hey, I’m leaving China after a bunch of years, and by the way, here’s the name of my new company and a brief bio of my past achievements. If you have some money or an biz opportunity, ping me and we’ll do lunch.”

Congratulations to Marc van der Chijs for getting some free pub, not to mention grabbing yet another opportunity to tell everyone that he can run long distances (enough already, please).

I was glad to see that Matt Schiavenza, international raconteur and friend of the show, responded with an Atlantic blog post, reminding everyone that there is in fact no expat exodus. Someone has to keep the tongue waggers honest — thanks, Matt.

I’m also quite pleased that no one has written to me and asked why I left China. Aside from a two-week trip to suburban Philadelphia, I haven’t, but the serious decline in blog posts over the past few months might have made some folks wonder. If anyone is still paying attention, that is.

Speaking of which, here’s some me-too-ism from yours truly, something I would like to entitle: “Why I’ve Partially Left China, Although Only Sort of in a Mental/Philosophical, or Perhaps Just Professional Context.” Not the best title, I suppose, but that’s the only one that came to mind. I have a cat sleeping in my lap who is purring quite loudly, and it’s pleasantly distracting. (How’s that for stereotypical blogger behavior?)

So how can I be sitting here in Beijing and yet say that I’ve left China? Well, for the past 14 years, most of my days have been spent dealing with China law issues. That was my job, you know. Even if I wasn’t blogging, my profession kept me squarely in China one way or another.

That has now changed with my new job. I didn’t quite realize this before I took it, but my new position has me spending my days dealing with legal and commercial issues in a wide variety of jurisdictions. On some days, I might not touch on a China legal matter at all.

I didn’t really notice the change much until I attended a meeting last Thursday, a China group meeting of a software association. I found myself in a room with a bunch of software guys, all of whom are China based and China focused. As we discussed new regulations and initiatives, I realized that drilling down into such detail on China matters was simply no longer in my job description and, although I found it fascinating intellectually, I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to justify the time spent doing any China sub-committee work for the organization.

So you see, I’ve already left China, or to be more exact, I’m now mentally travelling to other places in Asia these days in addition to China. The end of an era, and pollution and traffic had nothing to do with it.

Not quite the same thing? Well, I tried. Gotta give me that. My feeble attempt at remaining topical.

19 responses on “Expat Exodus: Emigration Me-Too-ism

  1. D

    Well, it is not good PR for Marc and his new firm, especially for their dealings in China and Chinese companies. While it is totally understandable why he is “leaving” China, a missive like the one he penned I doubt will do anything good for his business relationships in China.

  2. Hong Kong Phooey

    Marc’s slagging off other expats and arguing didn’t look good did it? As for Stan, maybe people are begining to wake up to the fact that China ain’t the only game in town any more. Emerging Asia from Mongolia to Myanmar, and Vietnam, and no China hand with maybe one exception I can think of has gone and done India yet. And there’s places like Dubai and Africa too. Someone coined the phrase online maybe a couple of years ago “China-Centric” and it hit the nail on the head. Those words seem even wiser today.

  3. Anon

    I am vexed, nay flummoxed, by this. Why does it matter that a person is/was in China to begin with? Who cares whether/why that person leaves China? And, finally, why the need on the part of those who are not leaving China to make sure that everyone knows that lots of people are not leaving and/or still like living in China? Don’t get it. Seems like people expatriate and repatriate to and from any of the 200 or so countries in the world on a regular basis without all of this huffing and puffing. Or maybe I’m just not tuned into their little foibles. At least it doesn’t seem like the reverse is true: it doesn’t seem like Chinese expats in the US get all territorial about their own or others’ decisions to live in or leave the US…

    1. Stan Post author

      Stop trying to inject a degree of sanity into this discussion. It’s downright unseemly and makes the rest of us look bad.

  4. Benitez

    Marc’s importance to China was overestimated by his ego. He’s in Vancouver, nice but not really an international biz centre. He won’t be missed. Apart from one or two expats who moved on elsewhere, no-one really left a legacy here. China is getting more international so folk like Stan will either get a wider remit or others won’t hack it. Marc one suspects failed, his China biz is closed and he has nothing now except a new start after 12 years. That is not a good ROI.

  5. Stan Post author

    I suppose I might have started it, but let’s not turn this thread into a Marc bashing forum. I don’t know him, but I wish him well in BC.

  6. The Low Rider

    Like a lot of expats, arrogance proved their downfall. Hardly any I know left any business empire here of any note except some memories they think exclusive but that we’ve all actually been through and mucho unseemly bitching about other expats or China per se and several now defunct China blogs. There’s a coupla exceptions to that but that’s how it generally is. Please – if anyone else is leaving don’t write all about it. That was last years thing.

  7. The Low Rider

    Usual story:
    1) Expat arrives full of hopes and dreams
    2) Starts a blog thinking they’ll be so original in his /her experiences
    3) Begins finding out China is competitive
    4) Starts getting into expat cliques
    5) Exaggerates their own importance and relevence
    6) Begins slagging off other expats more successful than them, posts ‘long and thoughtful’ missives online
    7) CNN or WSJ pick up a couple of quotes
    8) Ego explodes, becomes arrogant
    9) Business starts to dry up
    10) Eventually leaves, blames weather/food/pollution/other expats/children/wife/not being Chinese as reason for own self failure
    11) Blogs self importantly about it. Everyone else yawns.

    Did I miss anything out?

    1. Stan Post author

      Thorough, but not entirely accurate. Most bloggers I know are arrogant/opinionated BEFORE they start blogging, not afterwards. No wait, I’m thinking about lawyers . . .

  8. Benitez

    The disagreeable thing is when they start having goes at other expats. One or two attract that but as time moves on…they’re still active whereas those who left mostly did so with chips on their shoulders. Maybe time to rethink once egos are put aside who actually did well in China.
    Meanwhile your own confession is intriguing. Pray elsewhere are you now becoming involved with apart from our dear old, tired old, expat PRC?

  9. The Low Rider

    Yeah some blogging lawyers too (not all of who live in China) but many others as well…think they know better and crash and burn and are nasty leaving scars and bad tastes behind in many opinions. Everyone likes to be better than every other expat in China and a lot of nastiness about. You don’t see that in other places like Dubai or Thailand or Malaysia or Sinagpore I think China maybe not also good for expats mental health to be honest a subject not mentioned but I think can be serious. Feelings of persecution, fear, aggression to other expats all start to come out. People say things on blogging in China they would never say face to face to that person. Maybe room for an Expat Mental Health blog, seriously. People talk about pollution but I think China fucks up a lot of expat heads and online they become psychos and schizos and talk in way amd make comment they would never do to that person directly. It doesn’t happen like this in other places in Asia, maybe a long term China paranoia like the society here starts to creep into the expat psyche and mess with their heads?
    I’m being serious what do you think ? Any blog deals with this China expats mental health problems?

    1. slim

      I think you are on to something. The cynicism, egoism and deceitfulness of the Party State is corrosive and hard to avoid if one is any serious business, legal, diplomatic or media position.

  10. Dan (another Dan)

    I think the Low Rider has touched on an interesting point. A lot of expats in China do go a bit ‘stir crazy’ and become aggressive and anti-social online, especially towards other prominent (read: successful) expats they target for a slagging. It happens more in China than other online communities. Maybe China is more stressful than people think and it makes some act more aggressively towards others. There’s a lot of b/s about who is doing well and whose trying to pretend. Is that mental health or just stress? Dunno, good question. Worth some thought. China fucks expats up in the head.

  11. Marius van Andel

    Regardless, there are social/migrationary movements worth commenting.

    Having been an on-and-off China resident for more than 20 years, I have noticed all kinds of “expats”. There are those who are staying or leaving for legitimate reasons, there are also those who are staying because they could never make it at home or leaving because they can’t make it in China.

    And then a whole range of others: Fortune hunters, originally from western countries, in particular the US (because of sheer numbers) and during the last 10 years increasingly Russian riff-raff.

    Lastly, there those who have never actually resided in China, the “China Lawyers” and other experts would never never make it here.

    1. Stan Post author

      I aspire to be riff-raff. Sounds interesting and romantic. I’ll settle for fortune hunter, though, which has an Indiana Jones kind of thing going on. “Corporate lawyer” doesn’t quite spark the imagination . . .

  12. The Low Rider

    Expats either come here on a long term career with an MNC (easy, all those corporate benefits) or do the tough thing and set up their own business. I think how well the latter do is measurable if they then leave.
    1) Did they sell out for millions? Y/N
    2) Did they “grow” themeselves and their business out of China and are still working but somewhere else? Y/N
    3) Do they still travel to China on business often? Y/N
    4) Are they still China relevant? Y/N
    5) Have they left any “China Legacy” behind (I don’t mean a half assed blog)? Y/N

    Anything else to measure how successful an expat no longer here has actually been?
    I have to say there’s some dudes in tough Asia postings like Mongolia or Kazakhstan or even Burma and India that would make some of these self promoting China “expert” bloggers who can’t deal with the air or food in China and use that as an excuse for their failings look like big girls blouses. There have been some China expat legends that have moved on – I can think of several – but there’s been far more expat wussies pretending to be more successful and important than they actually are.

  13. Opus One

    Stan you mention you now have a wider country remit and someone else said “China-Centric” was becoming an issue for expats in China. But you haven’t said where you are taking responsibility for elsewhere. I’d say the smart money is on India and Indonesia. Any clues your end about what you’re really up to in your “treasure hunting” beyond China? Or are you going north to Mongolia and Russia? Clues please!

    1. Stan Post author

      On the treasure hunting, I’m new to the sport, so I’m happy to entertain suggestions. Keep in mind, though, that I’m not that keen on a lot of travel. Perhaps some Beijing locales?

      Until a month ago, I was a solid China-centric lawyer. Now I’m dealing with issues in the following areas: China (inc. HK, Taiwan), Japan, Korea, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia/NZ. A lot o’ territory.

  14. Laurentius Metaal

    So many ego’s around in China talking about lawyers abroad blogging, checklists for checking your legacy…zzzzzzzzz. I guess the question of legacy sounds more like a midlife crisis than anything else. Marc made good money and left for BC which I must say sounds like a good think to do with kids. Reading the jogging mileage, the waiting in the first class lounges, the hotels and expensive restaurants some bloggers dine, not to mention the opera’s they visit I keep thinking: “where is my legacy”? It is so frustrating that I might start a blog to full of pictures of wines, meals and sunny locations outside China. If I am not going there I can buy them from a stock shop online. I just ran 1 mile and feel terrible….need a stiff drink now.

    In the end I probably leave China too for all the good reasons. 1)Never become Chinese 2) Still can not digest stinky tofu 3) Hundreds of horse power under the hood and not being able to drive more than 5 km/hr 4) Strange meat in my dumplings 5) Milk that smells like Chlorine 6) Selling off properties before the market collapses. 7) Becoming allergic to rice wine(s) …etc. Unless the government hosts an official party to honor my achievements I guess my legacy will be that I managed to hold on for a while.