Working in Asia: Real Life on “Easy” Mode?
“14-hour work week, why would I ever want to leave this glorious life? *crying laughing emoji*”
I met this guy on Tinder, and this is how he described his job as an English teacher in Shanghai. Because, spoiler alert: basically every white guy living in China is teaching English in some capacity.
Know why? The salary is enough to cover living expenses, and the exchange rate makes money from home all-the-more useful.
And while Mr. English Teacher is living his luxury 14-hour work week, the Chinese kids he teaches are in for years of stringent study, desperate to rise to the top of an overwhelming population pool.
The university entrance exam, or 高考(GaoKao) is a grueling two-day exam that covers a range of subjects, and is known for being one of the hardest tests in the world. These exams are lauded over kids from primary school, and the stress and pressure of performing well means ambulances are parked outside of exam halls in case students collapse.
I can’t help but feel like something is off when a white man can waltz into China with no relevant qualifications (he graduated with a mathematics degree) and find a fairly comfortable life off the merit of his native English, white skin and maybe a TEFL certificate. Meanwhile, migrants venture into the West only to work twice as hard to get half as far.
Well, something is off: it’s called colonialism.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live in another country. I mean, obviously: I’m a second-gen migrant. And the fact the country you move to has a lower GDP than your native one isn’t inherently insidious.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that this guy wouldn’t have moved to China if there wasn’t a red carpet rolled out for him.
The whole idea that life in Asian or developing countries is real life on easy mode really rubs me the wrong way. It’s like those men who only date Asian women because “feminism ruined white women”, as if we’re the second choice when our Western counterparts don’t work out.
It reinforces the very colonial idea that Asia exists purely for the West to invade, exploit and profit off. News flash: Asia doesn’t exist so white people can play millionaire for a day.
These mindsets restrict Asian nations to a permanent second place, the poor man’s success. Even though we’re stereotyped to outperform our white counterparts, we’re also treated as inherently inferior. Make up your minds, racists.
I am by no means exempt from this. Growing up with a Filipino mother and European father pulled me right across the divide. I participated in the same racism that subjugated me. My trips home to the Philippines were always punctuated by just how much the currency exchange swung in my favour. 1 Australian dollar got me about 30 pesos. Things out of my cousins’ range would be unbelievably cheap for me. So much so that it’s something of a tradition for me to treat them to a day out at Jollibee, the Philippines’ leading fast food joint (suck it, Maccas).
It’s incredibly easy to look at Asia and feel like the world is your oyster when you adjust your scale. But it’s also super colonial and fucked up, and needs to stop.
By all means, live in Asia. In fact, I’d recommend it: it’s a continent full of beautiful countries with rich cultures. But if you’re looking to Asia in order to cruise through life off the coattails of your whiteness, you might want to reconsider. Live in a country because you love it, not because you find it inherently inferior and want a free ride through life.
Oh, and it didn’t work out with the English teacher. He flaked out on meeting up the day before, saying he’d “begun seeing someone else”.
Cover by Saulo Mohana