About Small Town Laowai
“So, how long have you been in China?”
I get asked that all the time, by locals and foreigners alike, and I’m never quite sure how to answer. The simplest answer is, “since 2005.” The longer answer involves sitting down with you over a cup of coffee, so let me know the next time you’re passing through.
My husband, two kids and I are Americans living in a small town in southern China. Life is always interesting when you live cross-culturally, and it just gets more interesting when you’re in rural China.
If you also live in China, I hope you find some useful posts here that help with practical matters, but also some encouragement from someone who is right here in the Middle Kingdom with you. And for those of you who aren’t in China, you are most welcome to come explore life here with us. We never know what the day will bring, but whether it’s stocking up on fireworks or self-inflicted culinary disasters, it’s always certain to be an adventure.
Emily Steele Jackson
Update: Well, much of this is still true, but one important thing has changed: we now live in a city. So, why has my blog title not changed? I’m so glad you asked. Here are 5 Reasons It’s Still Small Town Laowai.
Update again: Now my family and I are back in the U.S. but I’m still posting Small Town Laowai stories. Plus I wrote a book.
March 4, 2015 at 1:43 pm
How are you? I was searching for Mandarin learning online and found your interesting article about http://www.smalltownlaowai.com/little-apple-by-the-chopsticks-brothers-its-time-to-jump-on-the-bandwagon/
(Interesting! Did you actually sing 小苹果?:D)
It’s funny. We are now making an infographic about Chinese learning. We are asking 30-50 bloggers the TOP THREE Resources they use to learn Chinese. We would love to hear your brief feedback.
Is it OK I send you a short email to give you a bit more details?
Either way, thanks Emily. Love your blog(and 小苹果）;)
March 7, 2015 at 8:49 am
I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog, Yang! Yes, indeed, I like to sing along to 小苹果. In fact, I just sang it with my kids at KTV a few days ago! 🙂 I’d love to help with your infographic. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to it!
June 25, 2015 at 4:42 pm
Hey! I found your website via another expat friend in China and want to thank you! There are so many blogs/articles here that are spot-on and I’ve never been able to express them as clearly, accurately, and (sometimes) positively as you have. Great job! Keep ’em coming!
Your new fan in Yunnan,
P.S. I’m also in small town/rural China (in the center’ish of Yunnan) and love it! Thanks for the work you do! (I feel like I should sing, “We’re all in this together!”) haha
June 25, 2015 at 9:59 pm
Thanks so much for the encouragement, Tiffany! Perhaps someday our paths will cross in Yunnan. And then we’ll sing that song at karaoke together. 🙂
October 28, 2015 at 11:15 am
I just discovered your blog and I wanted to say I love what you’ve written. I don’t currently live in China but I studied Mandarin in college, I’d lived abroad (in Haiti) for two years, and I’m looking into moving to China as an English teacher next year. As part of my preparations, I’ve been looking for resources and whatever information I can find to help me avoid trouble in the Middle Kingdom.
Your writing is fantastic; great job! I just wanted to thank you and encourage you to keep up the spell-binding updates 🙂
October 28, 2015 at 12:53 pm
Thank you very much, David! As many might say here, “welcome to China next year!” 🙂 May your preparations and transition go smoothly. It’s great that you have some Mandarin under your belt; I think that will be a big help, as will your experience in Haiti, I’m sure. Thank you for reading and commenting!
November 30, 2015 at 8:14 pm
Fellow Lao Wai,
I was recently introduced to your blog and appreciated your insights on Zhong guo’s effect on your level of extroversion.
I lived in Xi’an as a teacher for 3+ years then met and married an American living in BJ in 2013 and our family- now three- is most likely relocating to Chengdu before Christmas.
CD and KM aren’t that far off- looking forward to reading more of your posts and maybe meeting for a coffee one day.
KM was the first place in China I ever went and where I fell in love with the “monster wrap” – the “bu la” version of the breakfast wrap on the street with peanut sauce. If you haven’t before, take a banana along and ask them to include it in the wrap- great on the go breakfast!
All the best to you and your family!
December 2, 2015 at 11:32 am
Hey, Colleen! Thanks for the tip about the breakfast wrap. I’ll have to hunt one of those down! We hope to someday make it up to Chengdu. If so, it would be very fun to meet for coffee. Best wishes on your relocation! 🙂
January 5, 2016 at 9:14 am
I just found your blog and love your writing! We are also living in south China, we were in Shenzhen, recently have moved about an hour away to Songshan Lake in Dongguan. I’m just setting up a blog, more photography and nature than writing. I don’t quite have the insight you do yet, although we are heading into our 5th year living here, and had 2 years part time before that. I have not mastered the language, I rely on our 16 yo dd to help me communicate, but as she will be leaving us in a couple of years, I want to get serious about learning so I can handle life here once she leaves! Can’t wait to read more of your posts.
January 5, 2016 at 11:25 am
Thanks, Linda! I just took a peek at your blog. I look forward to seeing more of your photos of China! The language is challenging, but worth the effort. 加油！
January 16, 2016 at 12:52 pm
Hi Emily, I enjoyed your blog. As a fellow laowai in ‘”small town” China I was able to directly relate to just about everything you wrote. I have been here since 2004 and have pretty much had my fill. My new family (Chinese wife, three kids) are planning to relocate to the States by this summer. Iexpect the reverse culture shock will be just as entertaining as the original. I am considering a book on the experience but keep finding myself in China-bashing mode. Have you found that to be true as well, everything comes out like we feel superior or something? I don’t want to write like that but the culture differences and experiences seem to drive the message. Have you any truely impressive positive experiences you’d care to share?
Thanks for your time and interesting blog, I will add you to my favorite menu.
Daniel (Zhang Yun Long)
January 18, 2016 at 7:23 pm
Hi, Daniel, and thank you for sharing your experience. You’ve brought up some really good points. I’ve met a fair number of foreigners who seem to be permanently stuck in “China-bashing mode,” and I can’t imagine that’s healthy. I try to find humor in situations without being nasty, though I’m sure I don’t always succeed. While there is a lot in China that does lend itself to making laowai feel superior, like we do things the “right” way, there’s also plenty of stuff that humbles us. No impressive stories are springing to mind, but there are a lot of smaller things–friends, experiences, and aspects of everyday life–that frequently remind me of the good in China.
I hope you’re able to strike a good balance in writing your book: letting people know what the cultural differences are like without sounding like you’re trying to bash the country in its entirety. Best wishes on your writing, and let me know if you really do end up writing that book! I also hope your transition to the U.S. goes well.
January 28, 2016 at 8:39 am
Love your blog.
My husband and I are moving to Yantai China March 1st.
Along with you, I have very fine hair.
What is the name of the hairspray you found?
Thanks and keep on blogging.
January 28, 2016 at 2:42 pm
Hi, Liz, and thank you! I’m so glad you like the blog. The hairspray is Kenra Super Hold Finishing Spray. I believe they sell it at Ulta. There’s a picture of it at the end of this post. My Hair and China are Not on Speaking Terms.
If you click on the picture of the hairspray that should take you to Amazon if you’d like to order it that way.
I hope all goes well in your transition to Yantai. I’ve never been to that part of China!
January 29, 2016 at 3:22 am
Thanks Emily. You are a marvelous blogger, we love reading your perspective on all things Chinese.
January 31, 2016 at 5:00 pm
Thank you so much, Liz!
January 29, 2016 at 3:24 am
I’m not seeing a hairspray photo but I will check out Amazon for product variability.
January 31, 2016 at 5:00 pm
Hmmmm…I’m not sure what happened there. I’ve re-added the photo/link, so I hope it is working now.
May 23, 2016 at 9:36 am
Thanks for your blog posts. They are so relevant and well written that I have begun to use them to help people understand our life here. They also make me laugh .
May 23, 2016 at 11:18 am
Thanks, Soundra! I hope they are helpful for folks back home.
August 19, 2016 at 9:05 am
Hi Emily, Love your blog. Not sure if/how we’ve met. Did you graduate from Ouachita Baptist University by any chance?
August 19, 2016 at 11:28 am
Thanks, Lindsay! No, sorry, I didn’t. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever even heard of that school! 🙂 Is that your alma mater?
August 28, 2016 at 4:45 pm
Your blog is so refreshing and funny! My husband and I have spent the past hour+ just reading one article after another. We really relate to what you’ve written. We are working on our 3rd year in northeast China. I was wondering if we could chat more via e-mail?
August 29, 2016 at 7:44 pm
Thank you so much, Annie! I’m so glad you can relate, even though I imagine northeast China has some significant differences from this side of the country. Sure, we can chat more! email@example.com 🙂
September 28, 2016 at 10:30 pm
Always great to find a fellow expat blogger in China! Look forward to reading your posts! I’ve been living in Xi’an for the past couple of years….Cheers, Nicole http://www.mintmochamusings.com
October 1, 2016 at 2:47 pm
Hello, Nicole! Xi’an is a place I would love to visit, so maybe someday I will be in your neck of the woods. Thanks for the note!
November 16, 2016 at 11:37 pm
Emily, Love your blog. Trying to
figure out if/where/when we met.
Did you study at Ouachita Baptist
University? Columbia International
Lindsay Van Sicklen
November 17, 2016 at 8:55 pm
Thank you, Lindsay! I didn’t go to either of those schools. Hmm…maybe somewhere else?
December 9, 2016 at 2:39 am
First, great blog! Way to capture some less-mentioned aspects of chinese culture / expat living.
As someone who has a decent amount of experience living / interacting with China I am just curious as to what brought you to China and what has kept you there for so long? I love the place but find that I can only spend a couple months at a time there before I need to get out.
I’ve also lived all over the map in both extremely rural settings as well as right in the centers of cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. I travel back for work every few months now and love it each time I am there but when I am on the plane home I am happy to be escaping. Although this is mostly due to the aggressive pollution and massive overcrowding.
With every foreigner that I come across that continues to stay in China I have the same question: what is the continuing draw for you and what compelled you to move in the first place?
If you have a blog post I’d be happy to check that out but I wasn’t able to find one.