Friday’s Foreigner: Steven

Hello, Hohhotians. (A scholarly book I read about Hohhot used that word, so I’m going with it) What’s with the air here today?? pollution or sandstorm? I hope you are inside with your air filters on.

Here’s some reading for you if you’re passing the time

This week I’d like to introduce you to Steven, the voice behind the podcast The Culture Bum. Check out his site and subscribe to listen. He’s also guest posted for us here before, so check out his review of the Wanda area here. 

Check out our previous interviews here, and check back next week to meet someone else!

I moved to China in 2014 to be a teacher and just kind of see the world. I landed in Beijing and hated it immediately. The pollution left me sick all the time and I hated the massive amount of Westerners using Beijing as their own personal bragging right. I met a beautiful woman while there and she was moving back to her home city, Hohhot, and suggested I go with her. I found a lot of job opportunities and figured why not. I am still a teacher but I have bounced my title around.
Tell us something about your pre-Hohhot life we may not already know.
Before moving to Hohhot I was a teacher of several years in the US so I don’t feel like I fall into the “couldn’t find a real job” camp that often plagues ESL teachers. HOWEVER, the year and a half before moving to China I was a taxi driver. Budget cuts had led to a lot of my teaching opportunities drying up and what was supposed to be a 3 month ordeal turned into a full time job. I don’t hate my time driving A taxi, it was actually one of the more fun jobs I’ve ever held, but it is a go nowhere type of situation.
Favorite local food and where you like to get it:
I wish I had better answers but my favorite Chinese dishes fall into 2 categories: Something so simple I can make it at home (rice with mu er and spring onion) or horrible greasy unhealthy messes (chow mian or malatang).
It’s impossible to live in Hohhot and not go out to Hot Pot at least once a month.
I recently spent time in Datong which is famous for its noodles and I did get a little hooked on rice noodles with vinegar for a while.
If you could make one city-wide change to Hohhot, what would it be?
Compared to most foreigners I don’t have that many complaints about Hohhot. I do wish there were clean places to do outdoor swimming.
I’m surprised there aren’t easier ways to get to the airport on public transportation.
Most foreigners will complain about a lack of cultural events compared to bigger cities but I chalk that up to just not a lot of foreigners in the city so when we do a “foreigner” themed event your lucky if 12 people show up.
What has been the most surprising aspect of life here?
Being able to slow down. In America I was very used to 60-80 hours a week and in Beijing you usually have 30-60 minute commutes to work each way. Hohhot provides me a comparable salary to Beijing but so much more free time. I work 30 hours a week, every week, never a minute more and my commute is less than 20 minutes by bus or bike. I am able to relax, walk around and take my time without ever feeling I’m in a rush.
What makes Hohhot more appealing than other cities?
Some foreigners in Hohhot tend to act like they’re in purgatory, but these are the people who complain no matter what. There are a lot of people who see Hohhot as a slower, more manageable pace of life, much larger opportunities to save money, a more Asian cultural experience away from being over run by Western food on every corner and a chance to see the Mongolian culture that is usually out of peoples minds.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve experienced here?
Donkeys pulling carts next to the traffic is a bit odd even after everything else I’ve seen.
donkey cart audi

donkey cart and Audi dealership

What is the kindest thing a local has ever done for you?
When I first got here I did not work for about 2 weeks so I sat at home very bored while my future wife went to work. I eventually demanded to go outside and do something. She would set me up like a kindergartner with notes and maps to get to various places in town like a super market. On my first trip I had to make one turn to the super market and I managed to screw that up but the first person I asked for help, a very elderly woman on her way home with a large bag of groceries, walked about at least 1 Km out of her way to walk me to the super market and make sure I got there. This was a very big change of pace from Beijing.
Where do you go to “escape?”
I have a few Western friends who are very close and we like to go to 7 Pizza Bar or Yummy Box and disappear. In the Summer I took a few hikes to the mountains where it was easy to pretend you were in Michigan. Right now with the NFL starting me and a few friends download the games and beer makes the rest of the world go dark.
When your time here is done and you return home, what do you want to take with you?
I would take back the idea that you don’t have to work yourself to death and live in constant jealousy. I enjoy my lazy life so much in Asia. I am not hung up on material things and I value the experiences and comfort afforded here not to mention my very high proportional salary.
I’m here for the long haul! I see Hohhot as an opportunity and not a curse. Every day there are more people and in the coming years I see Hohhot as a cultural hot bed of foreign students, grassland people moving in to occupy the hundreds of apartment complexes being built and I’ll be here for years to come.


  1. Jasmine says:

    Hi Steve, I’m sitting here in my car waiting for my yoga class in LA and reading your comments about my home town makes me smile. Enjoy your life there. Wish you the best!
    Thank you, Jill for the blog!

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