China travel

Published on September 20th, 2011 | by Paz


Why did we move to China?

This question comes up normally 10 minutes after meeting someone. Right after “what country are you from?”   I have written about this a few times before, but thought since we haven’t discussed it recently, it would be a good time for us to revisit the topic. Why did we move to China?As I have mentioned before we weren’t fleeing the country….we both had (Zeek still has) good jobs, a wonderful house, and an amazing community of friends and family. What more could a family ask for?  What else could we ever want or need? What could China offer us that we were not getting in good old Milwaukee?

1. First…we wanted to experience the world. Some of you might share this yearning and some may not. We enjoy learning and experiencing a culture. You can learn a lot through books and your National Geographic channel but why not live there?

2. We were tired of consuming…. now this might sound weird, because no one had a gun to our heads telling us to go shopping or that we had to buy something. We wanted to live in a society that wasn’t focused on consuming. We purged a lot when preparing to leave. I mean a lot! We sold, donated, and recycled tons. It felt so good. We now feel silly even thinking of buying something to go with something else. Just think about that comment…”I am going to work more hours to buy something so that the thing I also had to work for to buy looks better.” Hmmmm is anyone else as perplexed by that comment?

Move to China

We still splurge on the occasional DVD at .60 cents a piece.

In China everyone is a master of reusing….I would say to the extreme sometimes, but there are many valuable lessons that we have learned about “using” something for more than one purpose and keeping our money…well for ourselves. We want to keep more of the money we earn for us and not spend it on something that has no purpose.

This was a HUGE light bulb moment for us and many people found us odd. Why are you selling your car and now you are going to take the bus. That is just silly…you are must be having money troubles…you must be going crazy!

They were right!

  1. We are odd...we are unique and want to live our lives as independent thinkers, not followers.
  2. We were not having money troubles... but we had start viewing how we handle our money completely different. We wanted to keep more of it around. So we became much more selective on what we did with our money. However, in our society that is viewed at as having money troubles. We are still confused as to why that is.
  3. We were going crazy.  We were going crazy with the idea that we worked all day for stuff or crap. We realized that we wanted to live this life we were given. 

3. We wanted to spend more time together. We spent most of our morning rushing out the door and late for something. Yes, we were always almost 15 minutes late to anything. I know…I know!

We currently eat every meal together. Yup, we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. (Be careful what you ask for you might just get it.) We get to pray over every meal as a family. We rarely found time to sit down for one meal a day together before.

4. We wanted a healthier lifestyle. We knew that by moving to China we would be forced to be healthy. If we didn’t loose all of our fat in China we knew that we would be fat forever. I honestly don’t think we ever realized how FAT we were.

Is our lifestyle healthier?  YES!!!

Move to China


  1. The cheaper option is the healthy option. All unhealthy food is more expensive in China. So when you choose unhealthy food you are spending more and getting fat.
  2. We walk everywhere. We use public transportation and walk at least .5 mile everyday if not more to do our normal things
  3. Chinese food is healthy…we eat what locals eat. It also is dirt cheap and delicious.
  4. We buy our food one day at a time. We only buy what we need for that day and get it at a local market 2 blocks from our apartment. We only have milk in our refrigerator. To buy more food than you can eat in one day is considered wasteful. Hmmm…so what is Sam’s Club? We never throw out food.
  5. We eat with chopsticks and eat a lot slower. We eat all of our food with chopsticks!
  6. We eat out of a Chinese size rice bowl.  We vow that we will never use “American” standard plates or bowls again!! That should be our serving dish. Get yourself a smaller bowl people…please! (we actually use kid bowls from Ikea.  they are about the size of my fist)
  7. Balance your diet and your life.  Everyone we talk to speaks about how balanced they currently are. They are very aware of it and make necessary changes if they feel that they are getting “out of balance”. Here are a few things that EVERYONE does to ensure that their Yin and Yang are balanced.
    1. Drink herbal teas
    2. Walk daily
    3. Get back and foot massages regularly to release toxins
    4. Practice Tai Chi
    5. Eat a balance of Yin property foods and Yang property foods (I will explain later)
    6. Cupping massages regularly to release toxins 
  8. We are not as stressed. We have been able to focus more on our lives and feel like we are living them instead of treading water until the next big thing happens. We don’t make our New York Style pizza our event for the night. Our events are now exploring, going, doing, and trying new things everyday.
Move to China

Fresh Crab!

Like us on Facebook and find out how much weight we have lost!  Guess how much you think!

5. We wanted our adventures to be as a family! We get a lot of “WOW…with two small kids”…well I guess it is better to travel now than when they are older! Hmmm We completely disagree with this statement because it insinuates that we only are traveling now because our kids are young and it is easier. After you travel with two small children please come and let me know how “easy” it is!
Move to China

We aren’t doing this because it is easier now than later. We made this decision because we decided we wanted to experience things together as a family. We understand how fast time goes by and that scared us. We knew that if we kept putting off our dreams of traveling and exploring we would be 60 and still planning that year abroad. Our children will be married and having kids of their own and we will be saying how we wished we had done things differently.

Instead, we took our 12 month old son and our 3.5 yr old daughter and boarded that jet plane. Not knowing what we would get when we arrived.  Oh boy were we in for a shocker.

Move to China

The view as we go down the alley to buy our food for the day.
6. Language immersion There were a few countries that fit into our criteria of where we wanted to move and China made it into the finalist slot because of the benefit of learning Mandarin. We want our children to be able to speak English, Spanish, and Mandarin.

Why not learn Mandarin in China! Let’s move to China…yup the decision went down something like that.

After we break it down to people they still seem to look at us a bit funny. I know many people don’t get it. That is okay, they don’t have to get it.

Although we have many days that we long for a good afternoon grilling out with our friends or seeing a movie in a normal theater or being able to order food without complications we have NEVER regretted moving across the world.
We only wish we had done it sooner.

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About the Author

Paz is an avid adventurer in life and food. Traveling across the globe with her family they enjoy cultural immersion and checking out the local eateries.

31 Responses to Why did we move to China?

  1. Betsy Talbot says:

    Paz, I love that you are really embracing the food culture in China! We have also resorted to smaller serving plates, sharing portions when we eat out, and only buying our food for one day at a time. It makes a huge difference to actually *think* about what you’ll be having for dinner that night instead of looking through cabinets and standing in front of the refrigerator trying to make something up at the last minute. It is as much mental as it is physical.

    Good for you guys, and thanks for sharing what you’ve learned already (I’m envious of your use of chopsticks and hope I can master them when we get to China).

  2. Paz says:

    That is awesome that you have already taken some of the most valuable steps towards eating more Chinese. The portion control and fresh vegetables in all your meals are so important to being healthier.

    We now prefer Chinese food to western food for so many reasons. We also love eating with chopsticks! You will soon become a pro. Just don’t buy spoons or forks it kind of makes it an incentive to use your chopsticks. lol

    I hope you can pop by our place and we will get some amazingly cheap and delicious food!

  3. Joanna says:

    What a great post..thank you, Paz. I really hope my husband’s sabbatical to China comes through and all goes well. We’ve mentioned it to a few people..most think it’s a great opportunity but a few really shock me with their negativeness (why move there? I would never want to live there, oh you’re crazy, what about the kids? etc. etc.). But I read your blog, and look at your lovely photos and am so appreciative, btw, those markets look awesome….I’m always trying to bring my kids (ok, they’re teens) to the few ethnic markets near us (there’s a Vietnamese one in the city and if we travel to Toronto there are more). It’s a great experience for them…and ultimately, that’s so important. So glad we brought our kids up on different types of far, they like it all 🙂

    • Paz says:

      Joanna- So excited about your husbands sabbatical to China and we are also keeping our fingers crossed! It is sad how much negativity you will get and I am only sorry to say that it will get worse as it gets closer to you leaving. We were so surprised by how much negativity we had received and what the reasons where. Everyone was so wrong! The other thing is that many of the same people that had so much negativity also were the ones that had never traveled outside of the U.S.! We also love the markets! They are such a great experience. I am sure they will love all of the food in China, it is delicious and cheap!

  4. Angela White says:

    First of all I totally understand and support your decision to move to China! Not sure I’ve ever told you that. I just love the pictures of streets lined with produce. We get to see that once a week at the farmer’s market where we stock up for the week. You will have to teach me and Caleb how to use chopsticks when you get back. I always start off using them and abandon them for a fork after it takes me ages to get any food in my mouth!


    • Paz says:

      The farmer’s market in Madison is amazing and I always have loved your own garden that you guys have. I am sure Caleb has already found his green thumb. We will have a chopstick course has soon as we get back. 🙂 That is kind of the whole point….you don’t get to shovel. Zeek had to get use to it, he loves to shovel food into his mouth. He now has to be much more skillful at it. 😉

  5. Genevieve Garzon says:

    I know that I always told you guys that you were crazy and shouted “what the hell are thinking!”… but I get it. Trust me, I’m your sister and we share the same passion. You just have the guts to actually do something about it! Now do I wish that China wasn’t sooooo far away? SURE! Do I wish that the plane tickets weren’t so fickin expensive? SURE! But I get it and I’m so damn happy that you did it!

    I can’t wait to see you guys… hopefully I don’t start crying like a little babbling baby!

    • Paz says:

      Well, we found an apartment for you right next to us…in case you are interested. We know we are so happy and are already getting ready for your arrival. Lupita is so excited as are we!!
      love you!!!

  6. Danni says:

    Paz, thanks for this post about why you moved to China. I am only here for a short period, but I know that coming to China was both getting in touch with my ancestors and a learning experience about another world different from my own. I think that although I complain a lot, I do appreciate China for teaching me the value of how to remain honest, to not lose my own beliefs, to appreciate all the things I have, and to become more aware of the basic necessities of life and not want for more. Keep up the great blog and hope that your family enjoys life!

    • Paz says:

      Danni- China has had the same effect on us. It has reminded us to not lose what is so dear. It also reminds us of the things we value and we try to keep them apart of our everyday life. Don’t worry we also feel like we can complain a lot too! But just remember that it is the experience and we are in another country and to try and assimilate as much as possible. That is what makes it an experience and so different than our everyday life at home. Keep in touch!


    • Paz says:

      Keep up living the adventure and way to go for remaining honest. That is something hard to do in this world. It is hard to do but is so beneficial for the rest of your life.

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  9. Wow, I really enjoyed this post and totally ‘get’ where you are coming from when it comes to buying stuff. I have experienced a big shift when it comes to work, money, and buying stuff too! I was working an unfulfilling job to pay a mortgage, and then buying stuff to make up for feeling unfulfilled- vicious cycle!
    Found your blog on Almost Fearless, look forward to reading more! And I don’t think you’re weird at all ( or maybe I am too ).

    • Paz says:

      Sarah! So excited that you found our blog and that you have made the shift to the crazy side of the population!!! So glad to have more friends!

      All the best! Paz

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  11. Barbara says:

    Hi there! I’m so glad that I’ve found your blog, cause you’ve already done what I’m about to do in a few weeks – move to China (actually, we’ll be almost neighbours, cause I’ll stay in Shenzhen). I know what to expect more or less (however, I’m not sure if “I know what to expect” can apply to China) since I already lived in Shenzhen for a few months and decided to move there because of my chinese bf. But still I’m very nervous.
    I like your writing style and positive attitude a lot. But I have to disagree with you in two things here :/
    First, I know that there’s nothing to be proud of, but actually I’ve put on weight a lot while I stayed in China. I used to weight around 50 kilos maybe before and now… ugh.. dunno, 56 or something. I left Poland in May, when it was still a little cold in the evenings so I was wearing jeans. In Shenzhen it was already so hot that I just threw the jeans to a wardrobe and forgot about them until October, when it was time to leave… and… yes, it was a complete disaster. Sure, I felt that maybe I became a bit plump but, possibly because of my wonderful, loving bf, I haven’t relized when I’ve turned into a whale! So I had to compare my eating habits and lifestyle before and after.
    Basically, I hardly ever ate fastfood before and used go to McDonalds only if I wanted to go to a bathroom. I was dining at home or, when I was still a student, in a canteen and vegetarian bars. Also used public transport (I don’t even have a driving licence) or, in the springtime, summertime and fall – I was riding a bike.
    Now, what has changed in China? I had no bike, but I feel like riding a bike in Shenzhen is an equivalent of suicide… However, I really miss cycling and already decided to buy a bike after my arrival. Okay, now chinese food… the worst thing about it is that it’s everywhere! So I eat even when I’m not hungry 😉 Especially the street food, like my favourite baozi or BBQ, is fattening… but also noodles, many dishes are just fried in a deep oil :/ I have to admit that I don’t have strong will, fine. I also prefer to eat from a plate, simply because it’s easier to control how much I actually ate. Chinese style of dining – many different dishes and a small bowl where I can put a little bit of this and a litte bit of that, oh, and also a little bit of those delicious things… No, no, no, it leads me to size XXXXXXXL. And believe me, living with my bf’s mother doesn’t make things easier (saying sth like “I’m on a diet, I can’t eat so much” to her means just “she doesn’t like my cooking”).
    The second thing which surprised me in your post is that, as you wrote, you “were tired of consuming”. The thing which iritates and scares me about chinese people the most is their materialism (which is sometimes turning into greed). My bf is different, but many of our friends, even if I like them a lot, just drive me crazy with their attitude sometimes. They don’t understand why we don’t want a car (or why I don’t expect my bf to buy a car). We’re telling them that: 1. we live next to the subway station and the public transport is very convenient, 2. buying a car is too big (and unnecessary!) expense, since in China you have to pay even if you park your own car in front of your own house – better to save this money, 3. the traffic in China is crazy, dangerous and I will never ever allow my bf to drive!!! he’s just too polite and mellow to drive and survive (wow, it rhymes). Apparently, all these things mean nothing to our chinese friends, because in China a car is simply a thing which you should have and if you don’t have it yet at least you want to have it. It’s obvious. Just like everyone wants to have an iPhone, iPad or iAnything because it makes an owner of this gadget a cooler person. And surely there are many other things which I should want to possess, but frankly, I don’t know what they are. I’ve been quite cofused because of my female friends (adult), sending to each other and commenting on weibo (chinese twitter) photos of different stuff with cats, like figures and other toys, lunch boxes, credit cards, everything. I figured out that these are things one must have. Lately my niece explained to me that the cat is from a cartoon called “hello kitty” and she used to like it when she was small (now she’s nearly 6).
    These are just the two things which I see in a different light. I’m sorry for such a long comment, maybe I should write a blog myself, hm…
    But despite this two things – it’s so great that you are “odd” 😉 Life should be an adventure! And by meeting other people, especially those who are very different from us, we learn who we really are or who we want to be.
    Ok, I have no more platitudes for today.
    All the best to you and your family 🙂

    • Danni says:

      Barbara, just liked to comment on your post. But, i agree with you that China is also materialistic, I believe this has something to do with history, and how China perhaps missed the enlightenment phase and jumped straight into captialism. I think of Maslow’s hiearchy and think that China though it is booming, needs to step back a bit, and find the love and compassion before the material. But, that is my two cents from what I experienced from China.

      • Barbara says:

        Hi Danni, thanks for ur reply but I can’t agree. Don’t foregt that I was born in a communist country too. Poland has changed incedibly during last 20 years (I remember long lines in front of grocery stores where the only thing u could actually get was vinegar) but still my generation is not so materialistic and crazy about buying lates iphone and stuff like that. Frankly, I think that Chinese always were materialistic and it shows even when u think of chinese customs. During the All Saints Day in Europe people visit cementeries to clean the graves, pray and light a candle while in China during Qing Ming Festival they bring fake money, paper clothes, cellphones, jewerly, computers and even cars to burn them at the cementery, assuming that their ancestors need all those things in the afterlife. Indian Buddha is slim and he meditates while chinese Buddha is fat and he’s holding a sack with gold. Also, Chinese have the tradition of the red envelope. Even I got a hongbao with money form by bf’s aunt and it was nice but a bit embarrassing to me. Giving money to small children (instead of giving them a toy, for example) is rather inappropriate to many foreigners while to the Chinese it’s perfectly ok. I’m not criticizing chinese traditions, just trying to say that all the materialism in today’s China is not determined only by the recent history.

    • Paz says:

      Thanks for your comments and I am always interested in seeing other peoples experiences in China. I know that living/eating with your bf’s mother must not make controlling your portions easy. Many of our western friends that have come to China have also lost amazing amounts of weight. 🙂 The street food doesn’t help with weight at all, we love bbq and street food, but have can’t have too much because we then might also start putting on lbs. That would NOT be good.
      I do agree with you that here people are all about their phones and gadgets and enjoy consuming…but most of them are paying in cash and are still saving. Many of my Chinese friends (under 25) talk about saving to consume…at a later date, but still save and understand the concept of spending less than you make. In the U.S., people don’t care if they are 100K in debt, and still will go out and buy a new car and maybe it is their 2nd or 3rd car. There is no sense of utilizing what you have. Here we find that a lot of people use what they have before going and getting another. Also that people pay cash for a lot of their purchases. Now who knows if the banks would lend to them if they would take it or not, but at the moment you aren’t running into 22 yr olds that are 40K in debt because of CC’s or student loans that went wrong. A common predicament in the U.S. I do think the amount that the average Chinese person pays for their cell phone is ridiculous and have made that comment many times. Thanks so much for reading! I love that you are going to be in Shenzhen. It is a great city and has a lot to offer. I know you will love it!

      • Barbara says:

        Paz, I think that the younger generation of Chinese is not that into saving and they would spend more than they make IF they would be able to. Plus, they are very immature so often they buy expensive gadgets rather than useful stuff or things they need. Example. As a foreigner, I make more money than my bf. His salary is not that low (many of my friends in Poland make the same money and still they are able to save a little) but he spends almost all of it every month. Because I earn more, I pay the rent, buy food and so on. In June I had to go to Poland for one week so left 3000 RMB to my bf if there would be any emergency or he would finally decide to buy the air conditioner cause it was already very hot in Shenzhen and still we had no air condition at home. After one week I came back and it occured that… he bought two cellphones O.o (and he already had one completely new telephone which he bought one month earlier). Seriously, it’s like I’d give some money to a kid to buy a textbook and he’d spend all of it on candies. The same with my co-oworkers or my bf’s friends, they all complain how little they earn but still they all have iphones, ipads and go out for dinner or ktv very often. Obviously they all live with their parents so don’t need to think about rent and bills. My assistant (she’s 23) told me that she spends all her salary every month. I was curious how cause I know that she lives with her aunt so she doesn’t pay the rent or even buy food to cook on her own, she’s also new here and doesn’t know many people so she almost doesn’t go out. She told me that she buys stuff, mostly on the net… and her favourite place is a shopping mall. Go figure.

  12. Candid says:

    Your hnosety is like a beacon

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  14. vg says:

    i lived in china for 3 months, I left earlier than planned becuase i couldn’t tak eit anymore. BUt yes deffo with ya on the consumption point. We’re encouraged to buy this and that in the west, and for what?? If you don’t buy, you feel strange. I realized how little I urchased and more importantly how much less i coveted when I was there. Defintiely healthy for the soul!

    Howevere, the pollution is horrendous. Ironically, I felt much healthier there, walking everywhere. I probably ate as much, if not more whilst was there, I suppos becuase the food there is certainly dirt chea, but not sure about all this frying and eating meat that has been killed in the most inhumane way and ‘cleaned’ in such a way that cross-contamination is rife, as being healthier. I am in the UK, so our portions are generally smaller than the US.

    Pollution and bad food higiene to one side, the sun is defintiely food for the soul- something we don’t get very often in the UK. I am sure this alone makes you lose weight and get fitter somehow.

    Now I am back in the UK, I do miss it sometimes, and other times I am glad to be back here. Still undecided which society offers the best healthy living.

  15. vg says:

    and also, I agree with polish girl on them being evenmore materialistic than us in the west! They are also mega vain, to the point it makes my stomache churn. Have you sat with chinese g friends, when all night they take photos of themselves, like wtf?? Exxcuse the french. It is a ‘new money’ wave that has no foundation, no ethics. It is a godless national after all.

    They certainly know how to save and be frugal with their cash though. I think this is more to do with the older generation though tbh. I can see in a few decades many of them battling with ‘consumer angst’. They copy the west too much. They want to be whiter than whites. They have no self confidence and cannot think for themselves. Coming to think of it, I suppose I like China, because they are about 30 years behind the west. Meaning it is a place i can practice traditional and foundational ethics that our parents generation had and feel quite a peace with it. eg less is more. But generally I see them as society becoming much worse than the west in terms of consumerism and ethics because they simply like to copy and not learn and understand things. I understand the govt banns access to important info for them to be able to make considered choices, so not entirely their fault.

  16. Mario says:

    Hi Paz,

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. My girlfriend and I are in very similar situation and are thinking of moving to China from the U.S. too. I am Mexican and she is American and we also want to be an English, Spanish and Mandarin-speaking family.


  17. jama says:

    Hello Paz, my wife and I are thinking of doing the same thing you did; move to China with our 3 children (8.5, 7 and 3). We’re thinking about the same issues you had in mind before moving. We want to get away from this consumer mentality, give our kids a different experience than the usual fast based, noisy, urban, fast food crazed, obsessed with having stuff mentality. We also want them to learn mandarin and have a better education, especially during middle school years. Problem is we have no clue where to start; we’ve never been to china, we don’t even have Chinese friends. Any advice where to begin? Thanks

    • Barbara says:

      Jama, chinese public education is one of the worst in the world and still you have to pay for it. Those Chinese who can afford it send their kids to expensive international schools or in Hongkong (if they live close to the border). But it’s true that children can learn mandarin here since it’s easier to learn languages when you’re a kid.
      If it’s about “consumer mentality”… well, I teach art in a private training center. My students (6-10 year olds) talk mostly about apple gadgets, expensive toys they got recently and how much money their fathers payed for their new cars. This month we had a class about Arcimboldo’s paintings, kids were about to paint a still life in such a way that it would look like a portrait. Many boys painted strange robot-like creatures made of iphones and ipads, what was rather creepy. If I’ll ever have children, I know that I won’t stay in China.
      If you want to get away from all those things you mentioned in your comment but still want to move to China, you can try Yunnan Province but you have to remember that salaries are much lower there than at the east.

  18. Hello:)) I am really glad I stumbled across your blog! Thank you – it’s brilliant and I am only on the first post! We are moving next Wednesday to Tianjin and are full of excitement – even more so after reading about what you’re up to (and the fact you lost weight – we both need to also!) We have a six-year old daughter who is full of adventure and we’re all just in the mixed emotion stage at the moment – so thrilled to be going… missing our family and friends already… I am going to keep on reading! Wishing you all the best! x

    • Paz says:

      Thank you so much for kind words. I am so excited for your move to Tianjin. Your daughter will really enjoy it as well as having adventures as a family.

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    We are a family of four: dad, mom, sister, brother, who decided to leave our job, home, and community to live life in China. After a year abroad we decided to become permanent nomads. We road school our children and try to enjoy every minute.

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