Get Out Of Your Niche – Stephen Cronin

Today I have a fascinating guest post from Stephen Cronin – a fellow Aussie who is most decidedly out of the country.

I’m supposed to write about life in my country, so the first question is ‘what’s my country’? The answer is most definitely Australia, but I’ve spent most of the last 10 years living overseas. The last two years have been spent in China, but now it appears that in six months time, I’ll be taking my family home.

So instead of writing about life in my country, I’m going to look at what I’m looking forward to about life in Australia and what I’ll miss about life in China.

Life In Australia – Looking Forward

There are many things I’m looking forward to about living in Australia again. I can’t list them all, but here are some of the first to spring to mind.

The Outdoors Lifestyle

BBQs. Playing with my family at the park. Picnics. Sitting on the back deck watching the sun set. Fish and chips by the beach. Bush walking. Wide open spaces. The endless blue sky…

In Australia, we use the outdoors for recreation. In China, its used for living. Daily life happens wherever there is room. The outdoors isn’t approached in the same way. Recreation here centers around food and spending time with other people. That’s not a bad thing, but I miss the Australian approach.

They have the most wonderful parks in China, but they are cultivated to the nth degree and lack the natural feel of Australian parks. Likewise, they have some absolutely stunning scenery, but the nature itself often comes second to making it an event for visitors. It seems that having been there is more important than having seen it (people are more worried about getting the photograph in front of the sign, than actually stopping and taking it all in).

The wonderful environment we are so lucky to have in Australia is one of the things I miss most. Getting back to nature and enjoying the outdoors lifestyle is at the top of my list of things I’m looking forward to.


I love to drive! I’ve been driving for almost 20 years and it seems like the car becomes an extension of you. Take it away and it feels like something is missing.

Here in China, I don’t have a car. There’s no need for one. I can walk to work in fifteen minutes, to the shops in ten minutes. If I need to go into the city, which is 30 minutes away, I can take a bus (they run every 3 or 4 minutes and only cost 35 cents) or a taxi ($3.50). Most weeks I’ll spend less than $5 on transport. Compare that to your petrol bill!

But although its great for my wallet, I really miss driving.

So when I get back to Australia, I’m going to drive, drive, drive. I’ll drive to the shops, I’ll drive into town, I’ll drive around the block! Not good for the environment, I know, but hey, I just saved the planet from 2 years worth of car pollution!

Hot Christmas

I’ve been enjoying cold Christmas’s for quite a while now. While that’s a great thing, especially when there’s snow (just like in the movies!), I do miss the hot Australian Christmas.

Cold ham (off the bone), salad, ice-cold beer, cricket in the park, watermelon. I could keep going. These are what I grew up with at Christmas time and as great as a White Christmas is, there’s always something missing.

Open Internet

Obviously, being a blogger and web developer, access to the Internet is very important to me. So the fact that many popular sites are blocked in China is very frustrating for me. Sites blocked include Wikipedia, BBC News, Flickr, Technorati,,

Until Snoskred recently switched to a hosted WordPress site, I couldn’t even access A Life In The Country!

There are ways around this of course. I can get to pretty much any site I like, by using TOR or a web-based proxy server, but it’s inconvenient and slow.

So being able to turn the computer on and access any site I like will be one of the great pleasures of being back in Australia.

A Return To My Career

I’ve been teaching ICT here in China, but teaching’s not my profession. Whilst teaching can be rewarding and I’ve really enjoyed it, I’m ready for a change. A return to my career beckons.

I’ve spent 13 years in the software industry, most of it in management roles and I miss it. I miss the office environment, working on projects, the pressure of business, the feeling of being involved in something. I even miss meetings!

Of course, I may say something a little different if you ask me in a years time, but for now, I am really keen to get back into it.

So if you know of any great jobs in Brisbane from about May next year, let me know! :)

Life In China – What I’ll Miss

Living in China has been a great experience for me. In many ways, I don’t want to leave. These are some of the reasons why.

The Dining Experience

Food is very important to the Chinese. It has to be fresh and it has to taste great. If you’ve never tried real Chinese food, I can assure you it is far superior to the food you get in Chinese restaurants in the west. In fact, there are very few dishes here that I recognise from Chinese restaurants in Australia.

For those not familiar with Chinese dining, each person does not have an individual meal. Instead, many dishes are placed in the centre of the table and you help yourself to a little of everything. This solves my problem of wishing I’d ordered what the person next to me had!

Compared to Australia, eating out here is very cheap. Chicken and oyster mushroom fried rice (enough to fill me up) is $1. I’d be hard pressed to cook at home for less than that. For two people eating out in style, it normally costs less than $10.

While there are some dishes I won’t miss (chicken’s feet!) and while I’m looking forward to some of the options I’ll have in Australia, on the whole, I’m losing out.


The minute I step outside my door here in China, there is something going on. There are people everywhere, whether they are working, shopping or just taking a stroll. There is always something interesting (often unusual!) to see.

Although Australia is noted for it’s outdoors lifestyle, this only applies to our recreation time. The average Australian (myself included) spends most of their time indoors.

I was struck by the difference the last time I was back in Australia. It was middle of the day, in Australian suburbia. I stepped outside and I couldn’t see any one. They were all at work, at the shops or inside their houses. I stood there for 5 minutes. Nothing moved. It was static, lifeless … dare I say, boring!

I don’t know how immigrants survive in the suburbs. I’m not looking forward to it and I grew up with it. Life won’t seem as rich.


Yes, you read that right! I’m going to miss the freedom of China. There are problems (see Internet section above for example), but in some areas the Chinese are freer than we are in the west.

This is especially noticeable in the workplace where, in the west, we are bogged down by a multitude of regulations. Health and Safety, Equal Opportunity, Bullying, Sexual Harrasment. All of these are good things, but they are often taken too far. This can make the workplace over-complicated and less enjoyable. At worst, it increases stress and even impacts on people’s quality of life.

Another issue relates to children: These days we tend to overprotect them, which I think limits their growth. Children have to be given some freedom to try things, take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, etc. Many of the things I got up to when I was a kid just wouldn’t be allowed these days, because parents are protecting their children, but these things helped me become more capable and confident.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be cautious, but I think we are too cautious and it’s gotten to the stage where it has a negative impact on our lifesytle. I also believe we are over-regulated (whatever happened to personal responsibility by the way?).

In China, it’s the opposite. They aren’t cautious enough! There isn’t enough protection in place for employees. It’s probably like Australia was 40 or 50 years ago. But people are generally more relaxed and less worried than we are. Living here has been a breath of fresh air.

I believe there should be a sensible middle line somewhere between the two. In Australia, fear plays too important a role in our lives. I’m not looking forward to that aspect of life in Australia.


China is full of signs (and t-shirts) with English writing. Unfortunately (or fortunately), there are often errors with the English. These are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and often leave you laughing.

I can never remember the funniest examples, so I’ll point you or flickr’s chinglish pool if you have some time to spare and want a good laugh. The only example I can remember is “Please respect the fragrant meadow” (Keep off the grass), but there are many which are much funnier.

A side note: I’ll never forget when one of my students – quiet, studious, conservative – started wearing a t-shirt with chinglish proclaiming that she was a hot porn star (or words to that effect). She would have been horrified if she knew what it meant.

Sadly, chinglish being slowly eradicated here, especially with the Olympics coming, but you still come across the occasional unexpected surprise that will brighten your day.

Education Environment

While I much prefer the style of education in Australia (in China they still learn by rote), I have concerns about the environment. By that I mean drugs, violence, sex, etc. It seems each week brings a news story which makes me think twice about putting my children in that environment.

Here in China, the bad students in my classroom are the ones who don’t do any work or fall asleep in class. If you call them on it, they apologise and are embarrassed!

The bad students in Australia? Well I finished to school almost 20 years ago and we were a lot worse than that then. What’s it’s like now, I have no real idea, but if the stories in the media are indicative, it’s a lot worse.

Like any father, I’m worried about what my children will face at school. Part of me thinks I’d rather raise my family in China, where youngsters still have respect for their elders.

For all the negative things about China that you’ll read in the western media, there are things that the Chinese do better than us. The sense of family and respect instilled in youngsters is one of them.

The Final Word

There are many other things I’ll miss about China and many things I’ll enjoying back in Australia – these are just some of the main ones. It’s going to be a big change for our family and we’re looking forward to it, but there will be some sadness too. The world is a great place and it’s good to experience as much of it as we can.

Stephen has worked in the software industry in Australia, UK and USA for 13 years. He is currently living in China with his family, where his ‘day job’ is teaching ICT and his nights are spent blogging and developing websites. You can read more from Stephen at his blog – More Than Scratch The Surface

This post was so interesting to me. I’ve never lived out of Australia for a long period of time – the longest I’ve been out of the country has been 6 week trips. There are so many amazing IT jobs in Australia. Looking on IT is always the category with the highest amount of advertised jobs – it currently has about 10,000 more jobs available than any other category – the next highest category is accountants. It seems we do not have enough qualified people in Australia to fill both these job categories – so there will surely be something great out there when you return, Stephen. 

Get Out Of Your Niche has quickly become one of my favourite features here on my blog. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I do! And remember, you can get out of your niche tooall bloggers are welcome. Just contact me.

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12 thoughts on “Get Out Of Your Niche – Stephen Cronin

  1. Very interesting post. I have always wanted to visit China, especially for an extended period, as that is the only way for a Westerner to really experience what it’s like. (I could skip the chicken feet, though.)

    I wish Stephen and his family a wonderful homecoming, and hope that you will feature his guest posts again as the time gets closer, and after he returns.

    Thank you, Snoskred, for enlarging my world view a bit by allowing me to “meet” your friend in China.

  2. Forest – Haven’t they all been brilliant posts? :) The best part for me is during the week when the email arrives with the guest post in it – it’s reminds me of that Forrest Gump quote about life being like a box of chocolates and never knowing what you’re going to get. I love this feature more than any of the other features I run now.

    Hearts In San Francisco – It is a place I have always wanted to visit myself. Maybe one day I’ll get the opportunity. ;) And you’re welcome!

    Stephen – will you guest post again once you get back, perhaps on what you expected VS what you found? Australia is a lot different these days to even a couple of years ago – except those of us here all the time probably don’t see the changes so clearly.


  3. Snoskred, I just want to go on record and thank you for this opportunity to guest post here. It’s much appreciated! It has been a brilliant series – congratulations!

    I’d be happy to guest post once I’m back, although it may have to wait until things settle down. Searching for a car, job and house is going to play major havoc with blogging.

    As for China it is a fascinating place. Not to everyone’s taste though. I hope you get a chance to check it out. I’ve love to write more about it – I’m toying with the idea of a new blog just focusing on my experiences here (but probably don’t have time to do it).

    Hearts In San Francisco, I hope you get to visit China too and thank you for the wishes. I’ve eaten worse things than chicken feet by the way!

    Forest, Chinglish is a great thing. I really mean it when I say I’ll miss it. Sites like engrish are great, but nothing can replace stumbling across the real thing when you’re having a bad day.

  4. I don’t know if it is Google Reader or not, but my subscription to your feed has been dormant for about two weeks. I think October 8th was the last time I got anything. I just came here to check up and make sure you were still around.

  5. Great post, and i could feel the country and the vibrancy of the area he described. I am a chicken and will never move anywhere except for my hometown. However, I marvel at people like your friend and live vicariously though them.

    Dorothy from grammology
    call your grandma

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