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Gareth Johnson E-mail
Magazine - City Interview
Written by ND
Gareth Johnson is currently the managing-director and part time guide for Young Pioneer Tours. He spends his time floating between historic Xi'an, Beijing and the picturesque Yangshuo, where his bar is located. He was born and raised in London, England, before leaving the UK 12 years ago to work in a bar in the Caribbean.

He followed this by working on cruise ships, before moving to Xi'an initially as a teacher. In 2008 he started his travel agency and has been working to build it up ever since.
Like anyone out here Gareth has bad China days, but the good days far outweigh the bad, and overall this has been a very positive experience for him, with him looking forward to getting permanent residency in 2 years.

What country are you native to?

I was born in London, England.

How long have you lived in China and where?

This will be my 8th year in China. Xi'an has always been my base, but over the last two years I have spent a lot of the year in Beijing as well as Yanji, and now Yangshuo.

Why did you choose China, or what factors helped you to decide to choose China?

I had been bar tending in the Caribbean, and on cruise ships, but wanted to change and do something more productive. I saw some adds for EF in China to teach English. I guess I had just always fancied coming to China.

What other countries did you consider?

EF also offered the opportunity to do Indonesia, and at the last moment I did seriously consider the place. I often wonder how different life would have ended up if I had gone there instead.

Was it difficult to get the documents you needed to live and/or work there? (residency and/or working permit)

When I first got here my school dealt with everything, so it was easy. Later when I opened my own company it got harder, but I am blessed with hardworking, clever Chinese business partners that helped through the whole process.

What are your favorite activities in China?

Despite owning a travel agency, traveling around China is still my favorite thing to do. I get a real kick whenever I am in the countryside, in places where few people go kicking it with the locals.

Do you speak Mandarin?

Yes, my spoken and listening is pretty good, but my reading and writing needs a lot of work. Very much on my to do list.

Do you think it is crucial to know the language in China, or can you get by with English?

I know many people that have been here for years, and know literally none of the language. I think it is easy to survive here, but to live and get involved in the country, and make the most of it, you need to learn the language.

How do you earn your living in China?

Most of my living I actually earn outside of China, as a tour guide for my travel agency. This year I was lucky enough to have tours to North, and South Korea, Cuba, Eastern Europe and Tibet. When in China I look after the day to day running of the company. I also own a small bar in Yangshuo, so its not uncommon to see me shaking a few cocktails down there.

Are there local customs that would make it difficult to fit in?

Chinese people are very nationalistic, and in some respects you are always a "lao wai", and will only ever achieve the status of welcome guest.

What are the top things you like about China?

I like the absolute craziness of the country, particularly in comparison to countries like Japan, and Korea. Chinese people say and do exactly what they think, at times it can be annoying, but often times the honestly is just beautiful. I also love the expanse of the country, China is a continent, and it never ceases to amaze me. 

What are the top five things you DON'T like or find strange about China?

Theres not a great deal.

1) Constantly being pointed at, or called "lao wai", as if we are zoo animals
2) Double pricing even when you speak the language!
3) Not being able to get Cheese
4) Lack of live football
5) Lack of cool bars

Do you have any suggestions for people who are thinking about moving to China?

Go for it! China is great place to live and the experience of a lifetime, come here with your eyes open, and embrace it. It is not home, so make the best of what is here, and enjoy the ride.

What else would you like to say?

My 7 years in China have been really interesting in the sense of how quickly things are changing and growing. My job means I am also in North Korea a lot, so adding the changes there, and the comparison between the two socialist countries is particularly fascinating. I regret nothing!

Click here to visit Gareth Johnson's travel agency Young Pioneer Tours.

Our valuable Editor ND has been with us since Monday, 15 June 2009.

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