Shenzhen, China
Shenzhen, China

I am here!

I arrived some days ago and we are fixing our new apartment (Ikea and Walmart, thank you so much!) and getting the hang of being newly weds and married. It has been fun and exciting. Some weeks back, I promised to write why we have decided to live in China. It’s good to put it down into writing finally.

Why China?

There are several reasons. And I’m writing it down, because when the going gets tough, as they probably will in the near future, it is good to go back to these. Lists like these are good–they make you stick to decisions, they remind you of your commitments, they give perspective when myopia sets in. When WHAT YOU FEEL becomes your whole reality, then lists like this one helps widen views and lengthen patience. And make you wait it out until things are better.

Why China?

1. Something obvious, but people can’t understand fully: because it’s China. China is now what the United States was a hundred years ago. There were so many immigrants to the US that started a new life there. In fact, a lot of Filipinos migrated there. In China, horizons are open. There are so many opportunities for business in China. Everyone wants to have a piece of it, but most are scared to live here. So when this opportunity to live in China–and be in Shenzhen of all places–came along, we grabbed it. It’s rare to live in a place of golden opportunities, and actually get paid to be here.

2. It’s an adventure. Starting in a new country that speaks English is already a challenge. Living in a country that speaks no word of it is scary. But is not impossible. I personally know of a Britist guy who lives in Shanghai and speaks Mandarin really well and whose wife joined him and became conversational herself within 3 months. It is not impossible.

And the scary-but-not-impossible is what makes life exciting and worth living. The language barrier is unsettling, but I feel like the fear is exaggerated. If the expectation is to learn Mandarin and be fluent in it the way I’m fluent in English, then I’m probably setting myself up for failure. Filipinos have this weird cultural malady, borne out of years of frustration and colonial mentality perhaps, but also because of our insecurity as a nation. When Filipinos talk in English, we laugh at mispronounciations and feel inept when we speak with grammatical errors. In fact, we have a comedian named Jimmy Santos, who has made a name and earned money for himself by speaking in broken laughable English. But a french or spanish or danish foreigner does not feel the need to apologize when he speaks in broken english. Everyone strains to understand him or her despite the language barrier. So if the measure of success is to be fluent in Mandarin the way I am fluent in English now, then it’s not going to work. But I will have a great time learning the language in order to be conversational in it. And learning the words for left and right, and up and down, and beef, pork, chicken, will be victories in themselves; and knowing enough to build a business, deal with government, pay taxes, haggle and trade will be a triumph– not THE triumph, because in my heart, the real triumph is having a great family, but A triumph nonetheless.

What I learned when I studied Philosophy in Filipino (which is my third language AFTER Visayan and English) is that talking in a particular language opens you up to its particular perspective and worldview. It was exciting for example how we have Filipino words that are so much richer than their English equivalents and gives us a sense of how the Filipino views the world. Words like bayani and bayanihan, kinabukasan and hinaharap, or pangako and pananampalataya, bares the soul of the Filipino, as much (or even better) as living in the Philippines does. I look forward to learning Mandarin and understanding the Chinese soul (or at least that part of the Chinese soul which is in Shenzhen) and becoming much more enriched by the experience.

3. It’s a formative experience for us as a couple. We’re leaving the comforts of home and the support system that we were used to. But that will force us to bond and band together as a couple in a way that living in the Philippines, with our respective families, never could. I’m not blind to the fact that it could also (potentially) tear us apart. But I choose to see it as an immensely rewarding and enriching experience. I look forward to the stretch. As a friend of mine told me many years ago, “When life becomes (too) comfortable, then you know it is time to move on.” The Philippines, because it is home, because family is there, has become very comfortable. I feel that if we want to grow more and stretch ourselves, we have to move on to other places.

We have with us here a great set of expatriate friends from different countries. And they’re married like us. One couple have been in so many different countries and they talked about how enriching and a great privilege it has been for them to grow and learn about each other with a new country as backdrop every time.

4. Because the one I love is here. In the end, you make decisions not just based on what you want to do with your life, but who you want to be with while you’re going through life. And while that sounds very romantic, it is also the most practical thing one can ever do! Most of the time, we fumble through life not really knowing what we want to do. Jim Collins, author of the landmark book Good to Great says that it is important to decide on WHO before we decide on WHAT. We will be doing a lot of whats in our lives. But if our time—our hours and days and years—are NOT spent on people that we love, then it doesn’t really matter what we do, we will not have a great life. On the other hand, Collins continues, if we spend our time with great people, people we love and respect, then we can be doing a lot of whats in our life, and life will probably go in many different directions, in places where we never planned to go in the first place (like China!), but we will have a much better chance of living a great life.

[by Eric Santillan]

eric santillanAbout Eric Santillan
AngPeregrino lives with his wife in Shenzhen, China. He is currently on sabbatical to think about his next big step, knowing that he’s in a country of mind boggling opportunities. Before that, he was a management consultant specializing in sustainable business, competitiveness and culture management; and did counselling. He remains to be a writer for The Mindanao Current, and a retreat giver.

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