Monday, September 03, 2012

(Almost) leaving China

Bubbles are fun! I lived in Tokyo for most of the late-80s and early-90s, Silicon Valley during the dot-com days, Seattle during the real estate peak of the 2000s, and for the past three years, my family and I have been living here in Beijing. For somebody whose first eighteen years were spent in Wisconsin farm country, I feel lucky to have had a front row seat watching the froth around me expand and expand and expand, until, well, until…

It’s recently been fashionable for departing expats to write about why, finally, they are giving up on China. Environmental issues (bad air, unsafe food), education, uneasiness about the political situation: there are many reasons for concern, all of them perfectly justifiable and in varying degrees applicable to anyone who lives here, including me. My situation is different because, although I first moved to Asia thirty years ago, I’ve only lived in China since 2009 – I am no “China expert” – and perhaps as a result of my shorter tenure, I’m still far too ignorant to “give up” on the place. When you’ve been through several bubbles, you see problems as just the inevitable growing pains that go along with life on the front lines of the future. China, I’m sure, will be fine.

Truth is, I enjoy China a lot, and intend to stay focused here, even after this month when I move back to our home on Mercer Island. There are still too many opportunities, and too many things I like:

People: I find the Chinese generally to be incredibly and refreshingly hard-working, long-suffering, and pragmatic about work and life in a way that I don’t always see in America anymore. My work colleagues are among the best I’ve ever known.

Vastness: An overwhelming population, of course, but also a huge land area, hundreds of major urban areas whose names you don’t even know, at least eight different cuisines, countless dialects and minority subgroups – China is impossible to describe without superlatives.

Inevitability: you can’t study China (and world) history and culture without recognizing how central the Chinese are to the entire human race, and will be even more important no matter what happens next.

Most of my friends and colleagues already know that this was the right time for me and my family to return to the US for a few years, but as you’ll see if you continue to follow me on Twitter and elsewhere, I’m not really leaving. Bubble or not, China will be a big part of the future for all of us.