Learn Chinese, Learn Law, Earn Twenty Grand
Sherman Oaks, California
China Law Blog posts about the fact that many U.S.-educated, Mandarin-speaking lawyers in China are earning less than US$20,000 a year.
Granted, the cost of living in China is lower than in the West. An acceptable one-bedroom apartment in Beijing can cost about US$500 a month, less if you choose a non-expat neighborhood.
Food and local transport can be laughably cheap. A ride on the Beijing metro costs 30 cents, for example, and one boozy night my friend Simon fed a table of Western visitors with a bag of pork buns that cost two dollars. Almost any product made in China can be had for a song. As long as you live within the local economy (and don't have kids), twenty grand a year can be a fine Sino salary.
The outside world is the problem. Many expats earning local wages can afford only one annual trip back "home." Excursions to developed Asian countries like Japan and South Korea can be budget busters. With a one-hour plane ride, twenty thousand dollars a year shifts from princely to pitiable.
The comments to China Law Blog's post are worth reading, since people reveal their China salaries and expenses. One example:
I make about US$2000 a month as an entry-level consultant. True, that goes a long way in China, even in Shanghai and even with US-sized college loans to pay off, a dollar-denominated retirement account to pay into, and US$1000-a-pop plane tickets for trips back. Plus I'm thrilled to see that I'm making more than a lot of lawyers.
And yet I have to say there's a certain anti-climax to finally entering the labor market -- after years of studying Chinese and studying IN Chinese, and of being told by the folks back home that I was going to "write my own ticket" and bring honor to our family -- and making less than my brother the philosophy major pulls in as a part-time waiter.
Pictured: Westerners living on local salaries will have to ration their visits to expat bars like Rickshaw, in the Sanlitun area of Beijing.