9 September 2016

Georges Hymans - Expat in Changsha, China

Georges Hymans - Expat in Changsha, China

We’ve had the chance to talk to Georges Hymans, 35, a French expat who has moved to China with his family. Mr. Hymans who has been living there for eight years now works as a French university teacher, entrepreneur, and blogger.

Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I am from France.


Q: What made you move out of France?

A: I was looking for a less stressful life with less pressure from customers and the company hierarchy. I also wanted more free time for myself (to spend with my kid, for sport, to make YouTube videos…). And I was looking for some opportunity to open my own business.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: I am living in Changsha, which is the capital city of Hunan Province in central China.


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I came to Changsha in 2006 and stayed there a few years. I had the chance to get a job in the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. I met my Chinese wife; we left for France, and we came back a few years ago.


Q: How long have you been living in China?

A: I came back about three years ago. Altogether I stayed about eight years in Changsha and China.


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in China?

A: There are many difficult things to understand and accept as a foreigner and newcomer living in China. The cultural gap is huge.
The most obvious and difficult experience: you have to accept a new environment: noise, crowds, staring, questioning from local Chinese people (there are still not that many foreigners in most of China), delicious but spicy food…


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult in China? What was your experience with these?

A: It is not easy to get a working visa in China. If you work as a university teacher, then you have nothing to worry: the university will take care of everything. However, if you work for a private company, you must make sure that the company can and will issue a working visa. This will depend on many factors: the company good will, the size of the company, its network.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I am living with my Chinese wife and kid.


Q: How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: My wife doesn’t really need to adjust since we are living in her hometown.


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

A: It is very easy to make friends and to meet people in China. Most Chinese people are just so eager to talk to foreigners and to be around foreigners.
However you need to “sort out”: many people are looking for their own interest such as improving their English, getting good face being around foreigners, satisfying their curiosity… And of course, some people are just eager to build a real long term and deep friendship.
I also have some foreign friends. Because of the huge cultural gap, as a foreigner in China, you will need some foreign friends or Chinese friends who have been abroad and can understand your ways.

In China you can find friends everywhere: on the street, at work, at the gym, if you go out.
Since there are not so many foreigners, there are always a few places where foreigners like to hang out.
Also in China, you must use “wechat”, a smartphone application to chat online with Chinese people you meet or make friends online before you meet them face to face.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: In Changsha, you need to enjoy the nightlife. The city is famous for its bars, discos, KTV.
Then there is the food. There are many incredible local restaurants. Chinese food is delicious and Hunan food is one of the main cuisines in China.

As for the activities, you need to organize your life as you like. You can register to a sports club, a gym, go to some park, go to the zoo, you have concerts and special event all the time… I recommend buying a small e-bike to go around.
And then outside of Changsha in Hunan province there are many beautiful places such as Phoenix old city, Hengshan Mountain, Zhangjiajie (where they did the movie Avatar).


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

A: It is difficult to speak about the cost of living in China.
If you take care and know how to cut cost, then life in China will be very cheap.
However, if you need western food (cheese, cream…), go out to western restaurants, take taxis (vs subway, bus, e-bike), go out to bars, coffee place… then life will be expensive.

Also, the rent will probably be your main cost and vary a lot between cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen… and Changsha and also if you live in a modern building vs an old building/ in the city center vs the suburb… Just to illustrate renting a place in Changsha can vary from less than 500 rmb to 5000rmb.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: A cup of coffee costs 30 rmb.

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: A meal in an inexpensive restaurant costs about 10rmb (one fried rice or cup of noodle).

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: An expensive restaurant costs 300rmb (and then if you order wine it could be more).

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

A: Imported wine price varies a lot: 50-150rmb in Wall-Mart, several hundred rmb to a thousand or more in some restaurants.
Cigarettes are very cheap in China, I don’t smoke but I think about 15rmb for one pack.


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in China?

A: Chinese culture will be a real challenge for foreigners.
But this is what I like. In fact, one reason I wanted to return to China is the culture. I think the culture challenges my mind: I constantly ask myself why people act this way or why things are that way. And I post YouTube videos to share my understanding of China and Chinese people, China Non Stop. Chinese culture is like a giant puzzle: you have so many doors, and when you open a door, you find more doors behind.

As for Chinese people, I love them. There is a real energy in China. You will also feel people are a little bit naïve, but they have dreams and hopes. They want to do good for themselves and others.
And being a foreigner, most people will love you and treat you with regard.


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

A: The positive sides:
Being a foreigner married to a Chinese national you have many business opportunities. But you need to register a foreign company.
Working as a foreign teacher you will have little to no stress, little hierarchy, and some free time to do other things.
Chinese people are nice to foreigners.

The negative sides:
There are some real environmental issues in China. The air is polluted most of the year and over most of China. You need to be wary of some food that could be contaminated: rice, oil, milk, water...


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

A: I wish I could live near my parents in France. But I tell myself I didn’t have too much choice. I had to come to China else; life would have been too stressful and unpredictable working for a company in France.


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

A: No, I first came to China and then back to France.
And France was not what I was expecting: It took me about one year and hundreds of application to find a job. Then it was stressful, the pay was not so high, I was stuck between the company management and the customers.

In fact, in China, I met a few foreigners who had a similar experience: they first came to China, then back to their country, then back again to China!

I wish I can come back to France or elsewhere when I get older but only if I can save enough in China.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: I opened my own business in China with my wife. It can be very stressful when you feel that things are not moving fast enough. You need to be very patient in China, or at least, you must move forward and push things while being patient.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in China?

A: You need to know if you can accept or not the Chinese environment (noise, crowd, pollution…) and the huge culture gap.
You need to have a long-term plan that is convenient for you: how long will you stay, what will you do here.

If you open a business in China, register a Chinese company and start small with little costs.
You need a VPN to access the internet.


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

A: I recommend my own YouTube channel: China Non Stop

You should also look for specific Facebook groups about the Chinese city where you are staying: other expats can help you.