When I first thought up this idea, I imagined panning it out into a very detailed comparison of working in the US and Xi’an, scrutinizing them in the same fashion I was asked to whenever sitting in the back seat of a taxi, usually on my way to tutoring in the high tech district, 高新区。
“Měiguó de shēnghuó gēn zhōngguó de shēnghuó bù yīyàng de, nǎge bǐjiào hǎo ma?”
“Life in America is not the same as in China, which is better?”
I despised this question; it pitted the two countries against one another, and I stumbled to give a convincing answer, whether I said America or China or played the politically correct card, trying to persuade the inquisitor that life, including work, was not much different.
If I answered America, taxi drivers far too often agreed, citing cleaner air, better job opportunities or government subsidies.
They never believed working in China to be better, adding China was still experiencing economic growth, and had not yet reached the mature heights that the US has.
“Don’t forget your role as a cultural ambassador,” my dad said as I boarded a Beijing-bound plane in August 2010 for year one of teaching in Xi’an.
I always kept his advice in mind during these trivial cultural exchanges, and rather than attempt to enlighten said drivers, I grunted “嗯,” agreeing with their original diagnosis.
But in all honesty, I was only being polite. Life in the US and Xi’an are not as different as they may seem, nor can they be equated with one being better than the other.
As I can not simply boil down working in the US and Xi’an, I will present personal accounts of working here and there.
Working in the US means paying taxes. Your job withholds federal and state taxes, which varies from state to state. New Jersey taxes include unemployment, social security, disability, and one or two miscellaneous taxes. In addition, freelancing requires paying your own taxes once you break the $600 threshold.
As we work in retail, we are also slaves to inconsistent schedules. Reversely, I worked anywhere from eight to 16 hours a week teaching at the university in Xi’an, allowing me time to pick up odd tutoring and teaching jobs. I have heard quite enough from the various peanut galleries asking me why I would ever give up such a gig (that’s a story I’ll save for another day).
Working in the US and Xi’an both require the dreaded red tape. I could obtain a spouse visa inexpensively and relatively hassle-free in China, and work under the table. Another WF of an AMWF couple I know did this.
The schedules we work both here and there provide(d) time to explore, exercise, and eat (I still love alliterations). In Xi’an, life after work meant going to the gym, and contemplating our next meal move, scouring a Groupon-like site for suggestions of restaurants at 小寨, Xiaozhai or near the Xi’an City Wall.
ZJ and I devote Sundays to getting out: hiking, picnicking, exercising at the gym, running outdoors, sitting outside, taking a walk, shopping, checking off a restaurant from our eat-here list, visiting friends in Jersey City, and taking an occasional excursion, like a trip to NYC, Princeton, Montclair, and various state parks.
I gave working in China a go for four years. We have not yet met the one year mark. I can not, in all fairness, say which life is better in terms of work. ZJ and I have transitional positions. And why should I? Our jobs themselves, schedules, coworkers, external stimuli, home life, and job market do not comply with the nature of comparing and contrasting.
Working in the US and Xi’an equally have faults, positives, and negatives. I am quite tired of equating A to B, no matter what A and B is.
People always insist on oversimplifying, comparing and contrasting, ultimately giving you an ultimatum. At least I can say, with certainty, this trait is shared equally amongst Americans and Chinese, whose medias portray one another as the distant “other,” concluding there is not a shared consciousness between the two nationalities.
This conversation is to be continued as I have only scraped the surface…
Readers, what are your thoughts? Chime in below…