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Breaking out of my expat Beijing bubble
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There are many China expats who become entrenched in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Beijing expat life and forget why they came here. I was one of them.


A year passes and despite the odd two-day-trip here and there, I hadn't really gotten to see many marvels of the Middle Kingdom. I was caught up in work, my Chinese language books, my social circle and forgot about why I came here. I had explored little of this grand old land.



I needed to break my Beijing cycle and the recent spring holiday was a launching board for my tour of duty. Boy oh boy, I've been clocking up the kilometers.


The entree of my getting-to-know-you-China trip was the mighty south - Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macao and Shenzhen. I visited a bunch of friends and made some new ones and it seems everybody is having fun.


Hong Kong hasn't lost its old-world charm. Flash cars and shiny people slither on narrow streets that snake up and down and all around the tropical island. There are loads of expats.


I met mostly the old-school crew, bankers who had set up decades ago and are still living high on the hog. None can speak Chinese, but you don't need to in Honkers. Everybody speaks English. I called taxis, bought tickets, ate at yummy dim sum restaurants - and there was never a language problem. And this is China.


Macao is different. I met Terez, who arrived in the former Portuguese colony with her husband. He had landed a job in the local courts system. The Portuguese couple had planned to stay for a year but four years later, Terez is now running a small restaurant.


Terez said it took a couple of years before the locals warmed to her. Macao's economy is growing 20 percent each year and last year the casinos raked in about $9 billion - about the same as Las Vegas. And this is China.


A China expat can arrive by plane from America, boat from Japan, train from Vietnam or bus from Mongolia, but when arriving into Shenzhen, sometimes all you need is your legs. After catching a HK metro train and checking out of Hong Kong customs, mainland-bound travelers just walk across a covered bridge over the river bordering Hong Kong's New Territories. I joined the throng, across the bridge and straight to a camera shop. Picked up the latest Canon EOS with all the add ons for a bargain. And this is China.


Next stop were the fertile plains of Sichuan - spicy food, birthplace of Deng Xiaoping and home to those always fascinating pandas.


The character "cheng" in Sichuan's capital Chengdu has the same pronunciation with the character of "being honest". I had a great laugh at the sweet irony when one of the first Chengdu people I met slipped me a fake 50.


He was a driver from the airport, not an official cabbie, but agreed to drive me to my hotel for 40 yuan ($5.6). After a nice chat along the way, I handed him a 100 and he asked if I had something smaller. He hesitated then handed over 50 yuan. I said that was fine. Later I discovered it was home-made. And this is China.


(China Daily by Patrick Whiteley February 18, 2008)


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