15 September 2016

Anna Zech - Expat in China

Anna Zech - Expat in China

We’ve had the chance to talk to Anna Zech, 29, a German expat who has moved to China with her husband. Mrs. Zech who has been living there for almost ten years, now works as an artist.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I am originally from Russia, but moved to Germany very early and am officially a German citizen since I can remember. Grew up in Germany and went to school there.


Q: What made you move out of Germany?

A: When I was young I always loved to train Kungfu, so it was logical for me to go to China to experience the real Chinese Kungfu. Later mainly university studies made me stay in China. When I met my husband, I decided to stay for good, and I never looked back.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We are living in northern Anhui in a little rural town called Bozhou and is located at the intersection of four provinces, namely Jiangsu, Shandong, Henan and Anhui. Bozhou has three counties and one district under its jurisdiction, which makes it one of the smaller cities in Anhui province. Nevertheless, Bozhou had a total population of 6.13 million at the end of 2013, which is almost as much as Finland or Denmark. If it had been my choice, I would have never come here. Bozhou is my husband’s hometown and when he started an apprenticeship here 2013 it was either living in a long distance relationship or move to his city. I chose the latter.


Q: How long have you been living in China?

A: I have been living in China on and off for almost ten years now. The longest I stayed in Shanghai, but I have also lived in Baoding (Hebei), Dengfeng (Henan), Jiaozuo (Henan) and now I am living in Bozhou (Anhui) since the beginning of 2014.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I am living with my husband who is a Chinese national. As it's his hometown and his country, there is no adjusting for him, but only for me.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Usually I am quite happy here with my new Chinese family. But I do miss my mother sometimes, and the worst time of the year is December when back in Germany the Christmas atmosphere starts. Here in this little town no one really celebrates Christmas, for obvious reasons. It's not a Chinese holiday. You won't even find a Christmas tree here. The city is very rural China and no other foreigners come down here. The best way to get over homesickness is to keep in contact with your family back home. I also try to keep my own traditions alive here in China, introducing German holidays to my Chinese family and friends.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: As with any country there are good and bad people. The biggest hurdle is the cultural gap sometimes. And adding to that that the city I live in is very rural it can get very difficult and tiring. Being the only foreigner here, I am more a sensation than a human being for most locals. What is considered very impolite in my eyes, might be a gesture of welcome to them. It needs time to adjust and understand how things work here.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in China? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: When I was living in Shanghai it was very very easy to make friends with other foreigners or Chinese people. But since I moved to Bozhou it has become impossible. Traditionally women in my age here should stay at home and take care of their children, no hobbyist no personal life. That makes it very hard to find people you have something in common with. Plus many times they only see you as the token foreigner, it's cool and hip to take a photo with you, but deep friendships are nearly impossible. Maybe it will change in the future, but for now, my best friend is my husband.


Q: How does the cost of living in China compared to your home?

A: The cost of living in China varies greatly! Some places can be even more expensive than what we are used to back home. I can only speak for the city I live in at the moment. It's extremely cheap. But that is because salaries are the lowest you can find in China, so the cost of living has to be adjusted.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: We don't have coffee here!

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: You can get an entire meal for 5RMB.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Anything upwards from 50RMB for one dish.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: I have no idea. I never buy these things.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in China?

A: Opening a bank account in a bigger city like Shanghai is quite straight forward. Take your passport, residence registration and maybe work permit and wait in line. Usually, they tell you what they need.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: Exhausting. Since living in Bozhou the government paperwork and visa applications is a nightmare. Mostly because I am the first foreigner to be married to one of the Chinese locals. Most have never seen a family visa, or know how to process specific applications... It's learning by doing. I have to do a lot of explaining here...


Q: Would you say that healthcare in China is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Healthcare in a bigger Chinese city is very good. I would always prefer a public hospital to a private one, though. If you live in a small city, as I do, I always recommend going to a big Chinese city for any major treatment.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or China? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: Yes. Personally, I think an international health insurance is quite important. I have bought one from Germany. The most important are that it covers your transport back home if anything might happen to you. Also, I would recommend making sure it covers you back home in emergencies if you visit your family for a few weeks.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to China? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: I don't really remember. There wasn't really anything memorable. I packed one suitcase and off I went. No major move or taking lots of stuff. I came alone, so no need to take any furniture or move an entire family.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The biggest challenge here is to get used to the small town life. Old superstitions, traditions and customs can make you feel very out of place and hard to find people you have anything in common with. I am lucky because I am fluent in Chinese, and my husband is Chinese. I feel at home here, even though there can be difficult times, but you would have them anywhere you live.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in China?

A: China can be really exciting for people who come here the first time. The differences are huge, and there is so much to explore. Most people are very friendly and welcoming, and life just feels easier going here. But at the same time, it can be difficult to adjust to some living conditions or the standard of hygiene in some areas.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Our city is tiny. So there is not much to do, except having a look at the biggest market for Chinese medicine. But Anhui province, in general, has a few nice places you can travel to. For most, the Yellow Mountains and its surrounding tea fields are really worth the journey.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: No plans to move to a different country or home for that matter. But we will be moving to a bigger city in China as soon as my husband is done with his studies.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Just smile if anything happens that you are not used to.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about China?

A: No.