Its been a long time since I last posted. I write to you as an a form of self-therapy. This is something I needed to do to get this off my chest. Despite being back for a whole week I didn’t tell many people I had returned. I was afraid to announce to the world. I’ve kept things quiet to pick myself up again. If you’ve ever had a catch up with me one on one you know how long winded I can get with my stories. So to spare my voice and your time. I’ll explain everything here. (It’s also kind of cool to skip the long explanation via chat and just refer people to your blog post and revive some traffic on my blog.) So here is goes….
Am I running Off Again or Sticking Around?
Anytime I catch up with someone from back home that this number question I get asked. “When are you coming home?” My response would really boil down to this “When I’m ready to settle down and have kids. NZ is a nice place to raise a family. There is a attraction here in terms of stability and being around family.” Well let’s just say I’m not quite ready to do that yet. I haven’t met the right person….this will be a work in progress. It’s going different this time since I’m choosing to stay for an extended period this time.
So the story of going to China in the first place wasn’t by choice. I was working for a SaaS (Software as a service) company that made software to support Amazon sellers. I was brought in to help with content marketing as the Amazon selling expert. Upon joining, the expectation was that we’d work together in Bangkok and after 3 months we could work from where ever we wanted. However in the New Year came about those plans were thrown into turmoil when we all found out that we needed to move to China or be fired. Eventually half the team got fired or quit. However with a new CEO in place we were all optimistic we could help turnaround the business in China as a tight knit group of foreigners. I knew everyone previously from having worked with them before in Vietnam and Thailand. So we knew each other well and had plenty of mutual friends so it felt like I wasn’t in this alone. We were in this together.
What’s wrong with living in China?
Well despite our initial optimism things did take a turn for the worse. I was optimistic about connecting with my Chinese side in terms of learning mandarin, doing business in China, dating Chinese girls and finally living it. For the first months things weren’t so bad with the novelty of being in a new place, meeting new people and trying different things is what kept me going. But it began to wear thin overtime as these things I mention below couldn’t be ignored as time went by.
8 year old Kai in Shenzhen for the first time.
Internet is Pretty Terrible
Its horrible in China as some of you may know already that China has banned Facebook, Google, Youtube, Twitter etc. You’d need a VPN to get access and even with a VPN you’d be operating in so pretty slow internet. The internet was quick if you understood Chinese and used bing or yahoo for search engine results. But with the job heavily reliant on Google and other banned websites. It was tough to do my job. I’d be sitting around waiting for something to load. My workflow was really suffering. A simple google search would take less than a sec versus it taking over a 1 minute to load. You’d be left there staring blankly at the screen waiting for it to hopelessly load. A task that would normally take an hour would take twice as long if not longer.
Its crazy! As a technology company it seemed ludicrous to me that one thing that we really needed was fast and reliable internet. Getting a stable connection was an everyday battle. Having you internet drop out all of a sudden and then scrambling to change the VPN location or network would kill any momentum you previously had. It was a constant source of frustration. Let’s just say marketing a software company inside of China to the western market is not the smartest idea when Google and Facebook are your main sources of traffic.
Chinese food is really tasty but the quality of the food isn’t. Despite being in Shenzhen one of the better, more modern cities in China, the food just didn’t sit well with me. I’ve been spoiled by eating healthy and organic food in NZ. I generally keep a pretty good diet so I can tell after eating a meal whether the food was good or not. For the most part it wasn’t good in China. Most traditional Chinese meals left me feeling weak, sluggish and tired. I get it, you have to feed a billion people day in a day out so the food isn’t going to be the best.
As an example I was weary of buying vegetables and fruit. That same apple looked just as shiny and crisp as it did a week ago which was strange. You knew in the back of your mind that wasn’t right. After eating it, I felt like I got poisoned. I often took short trips to Hong Kong over the weekend just for the food. There would be a huge difference. Take my words with a grain of salt it’s possible to eat well but that would come at a cost and I’ll admit I was too lazy to cook on my own. I blame living in Thailand and Vietnam for spoiling me with cheap, healthy and delicious food.
Long Commutes to Work
It took 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to work on the subway each day, there and back. Shenzhen is huge. Taking the subway from one side of the city to the other could take 2 hours. Imagine the size of Auckland city all connected with an underground subway. That’s how big Shenzhen is.
I’m not used to commuting that long to work as I usually choose to live nearby. But work was in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do at night. A ghost town at night. I needed to be around the action and close to Hong Kong to escape on the weekends. It’s such a time suck going back and forth each and everyday. Not to mention being squeezed up on like a pretzel. Everyday they would cram in as many people as humanly possible into the subway car. There was no such thing as personal space in China. I get it there are boatloads of people in China where often encouraged to push someone out of the way to get where you need to go. This started to get old very quickly.
I went to check out Guilin. Some parts of China ain’t so bad.
Despite looking very asian. I can’t speak enough Chinese to save my life. It is especially strange when people approach you and talk to you. Yet you can’t hold a simple conversation. Just a blank look and confessing in Chinese you only speak English or Cantonese. I’d look at them with apologetic confusion and they’ll fire back with a look of confusion, frustration and sometimes disgust. This asian looking creature doesn’t know a lick of Chinese. Again I blame myself as an unmotivated child where despite my parents best efforts I just wasn’t that interested.
However I did make some effort in doing “The Hello Chinese” app each day. I was integrating some simple Chinese into my everyday life. My progress was pretty low but slowly improving. I was even able to hold up on a date with no English, just Chinese. The learning curve is definitely high and I knew I had a lot of catching up to do.
China Broke Me 🙁
What can I say, it’s not easy living in China. It’s hard for me to come out with this because the subject is very taboo. I feel into a deep depression while being in China. I was in a really dark place where things fell apart. Normally I’m the positive one who keeps it together. The one person you lean on and talk to when you are going through a tough situation. For the first time ever I was sitting on the opposite side of the table.
The chaotic work environment finally caught up with me. As time went on in China. I was losing support in my marketing team. As things started to unravel. One by one people quit the company with my responsibilities slowly piling up. We came as strong unit but we were falling apart as time went on. The camel’s back had finally been broken after the American CEO who brought us all to China in the first place with his grand vision and optimism had called it a quits. As is the case with many Chinese bosses they always need to feel like they are in control. A clear conflict had arisen with the way westerners run businesses vs the Chinese method of running a business.
Our mission was come in to save this company and do it the right way. When your leader leaves everyone behind to pick the remaining pieces its hard for the ones left behind to keep morale high. The rest of us that remained in China for the final month in May were doing so to collect one last pay cheque before we all plotted our next move. After the announcement we were drowning in negativity we were all done.Fed up with the bad internet. Fed up with being in a place we didn’t choose. We were all fed up with China. Naturally I quit along with the others to put this 6 month roller coaster ride to an end.
However during this whole time of drama and instability with work I feel sick with a nasty cough and bacterial infection. I couldn’t sleep properly due to anxiety over work and pondering my next move so obsessively I felt like I needed to have my whole life figured out. Looking back it seemed totally irrational. No body has everything figured out, for the most part we are winging it.
I didn’t realize this at the time. I was feeling lost, didn’t want to get of bed and time just seemed drag on. Getting through the day was a constant struggle and even the most simple tasks seemed impossible. I was afraid to talk to people because just I felt like a mess. I didn’t want people to see me like this. What seemed like a never ending cycle that I wanted to put to bed.
I went through this every day for 3 long hard weeks. Despite all the drugs and medicine. I wasn’t getting better due to the lack of sleep, bad food, anxiety and drowning myself in negativity. I just couldn’t relax. I was going through a mid life crisis dilemma where I was trying to figure out my purpose. The reality is we can do all the thinking in the world but at some point we need to take action and make those thoughts a reality. All I could do at the time was get my health back in order. Both physically and mentally. I was looking for a way out.
I finally opened up to my colleagues and friends in China and they told me everyone goes through this at some stage. It’s totally normal. Especially for foreigners who come to China. China can overwhelm even the strongest people who are ill prepared. After talking with my parents I made to decision to come home and have them take care of me. Flying off somewhere alone in my fragile mental state wasn’t the best idea. I’ve always felt the need to take care of myself and others but this time around I needed my parents take care of me for the first time in a while.
At the time I felt like I’d dug myself a hole that I couldn’t get out of. I was fortunate at the time to have really awesome work colleagues. Thank you Yannik, Desirai, Terry and Rus. You guys really helped me get through, what felt like the toughest time I’ve ever gone through. Thank you for open up your apartment and letting me stay. Just being there to keep me company meant a lot and I’ll be forever grateful. You helped me come to the decision to go home and recharge my batteries. To not put pressure on myself on what I want I wanted to do. As time goes on I’d eventually figure it out.
Despite what happened in China. I don’t regret it happening. We all go through adversity and eventually we’ll all hit that roadblock in life. Better that I deal with it now at a younger age than later as older man with more obligations and responsibilities. I actually got to spend a lot of time in Hong Kong with family.
Mother’s Day Celebrations with the family 🙂
So…..What’s the Plan???
After being home for a week and keeping my return quiet. It has allowed me time to get my head right. Chasing the sun for 3 years couldn’t prepare me for the cold ass weather in NZ. I picked up a nasty cold and sadly felt sick again. I’ll admit it weird having your parents nag and take care of you at the same time. I felt like a little kid again. Being at home and just bumming around. I needed to get a job. I needed to be useful again. So now…..I’m selling insurance….funeral insurance….lol
To my Globetrotting friends….
I know its disappointing when one of us has to go back home and get a real job again. It’s something we all dread. The day that we are forced to come home with our tail between our legs and start working for the man again. I’ll admit I even had nightmares about this. Going back home broke, living with my mum again and picking up the pieces.
In reality its not that bad. Being away for so long there is so much I missed out on. I kind of want to live like a normal person for a bit. See the other side. It’s nice to be home and be around my old friends again. I’m going go back to doing what I did well a long time ago which was sell stuff over the phone. Its a knife I want to sharpen again. I want to know if I still got it. So I’m selling insurance the highest paying and most challenging job I applied for. The sales floor felt like the scene in Wolf of Wall Street. So despite having a job I’m still going to continue hustle on the side and plot my eventual return to the road. Next time I’ll be older and wiser with plenty of runway for more adventures ahead so not to worry. I’ll be seeing you guys again soon.
To my New Zealand friends..
So I finally decided to stay for a while. Its unclear how long. The road eventually wore down on me and I’ve really missed everyone. 3 years is a long time so we have some catching up to do!
So there you have it guys…..if you have bothered to read all of this I thank you. Long ass story done! To summarize, I’m back in New Zealand after getting depressed in China. Got a job to feel normal again. Hustle hard and get on road eventually or find someone cool and potentially settle down? Who knows what the future will hold 🙂
P.S. Depression is a bitch guys. It is becoming more prevalent these days so I encourage you to not be afraid and speak out about it. Be kind to yourself and be around people that support and love you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Over time you’ll pick yourself up and find your way. There is light at the end of the tunnel and we are fortunate to live in a time where there is so much opportunity. It would be a pity to put that to waste. We all have so much to live for. Feel free to reach to me and I’ll be happy to help and share my experiences too.
Much Love, Kai