When trying to discuss the differences between our U.S. and China lifestyles, I like the way Sarah said it- "We are spoiled in a whole new way in China." When asked to decide which life I like better, it is impossible to say. Each one has its own comforts and high points. We are spoiled in the U.S. with comfort, English, air conditioning, personal cars, rules and laws that are respected, cleaner air, less governmental corruption, etc. However, as expatriates in China, we are able to live lives above the level we could experience in the U.S. on the same budget. "Student" budgets are tight in the States, with the ever-so-familiar cheap apartment, cheap food, limited travel abilities, etc.
Here in China I do things that I could not dream of in the States, like going to acupuncture 3 times a week, having clothes made at the tailor, getting pedicures and manicures at the same time, eating out once or twice a day in restaurants, having a maid come to the apartment once a week, etc. My acupuncture sessions cost about $7.60 per hour, and the biggest Chinese meals are never over $2.50, and a housekeeper is $1.25/hour. All of that together doesn't even come to the cost of one dinner in the States. Of course, we trade this nicer personal lifestyle for the larger external environment that comes with a developing economy. It is less stable, more complicated, but intensely stimulating. There's the answer: who knows. I've been asked repeatedly what I think is better, and of course that answer depends on your personality and preference, but I think it is safe to say that I am comfortable in both for the time being. We are already discussing the reverse culture shock that will occur next year when we have to move back to a student lifestyle in South Carolina!