Shenyang, China Report of what it's like to live there - 08/26/14

Personal Experiences from Shenyang, China

Shenyang, China 08/26/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, Chongqing, China.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Florida- 30 hours with layovers in NYC/DC and Seoul/Beijing.

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3. How long have you lived here?

20 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Department of State.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Apartments downtown or big houses in suburbs. Suburb housing seems to have more issues with utilities than apartments but occassional outages of water are the norm. Commute from the apartments is a 30-40 minute walk OR 15-40 minute drive depending on traffic. Commute from suburbs is 40 min- 1 hour depending on traffic.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Almost anything is available in Shenyang; you just have to be willing to look for it! Some spend a good bit of their time criss-crossing the city for that one ingredient and others learn to go without. Use your consumables shipment well and you won't have to brave the winter to run to the store. Metro is a German Costco that has lots of import goods (cheese, dairy, wine, etc.) but limited selection. Import products also cost more.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Canned goods that are convenient (chickpeas, tomatoes, black beans, etc.), baking ingredients, and toiletries.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, Pizza Hut... Grand Hyatt has an incredible Italian restaurant and buffet (though pricey), decent Japanese (though it doesn't compare to Japan), so many Korean restaurants (BBQ, bimbimbap, bulgogi, etc.).

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

A few mosquitos in the summer but I don't think much survives in Shenyang!

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch and DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

We pay about US$4/hour for an ayi who does laundry, irons, washes dishes, vacuums, dusts, and cleans floors.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Both apartments downtown have gyms and there are Bally's and other gyms available too.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Most places only accept China's union pay credit card. Discover has a partnership with them but many vendors don't know that and won't accept your card. Import stores sometimes take Visa. China Construction Bank doesn't charge Bank of America users ATM fees. Most of the time you want to pay in cash.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are a few English Protestant fellowships and there's an English Catholic service; I think that's it.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It helps a lot to feel comfortable in Mandarin. The more you know, the more you'll enjoy life here.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, medical care is not great.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes and yes! Taxis in the city never cost more than US$3. Buses can be crowded at peak hours but seem safe enough. Trains are fast and a great way to travel in the region- not too expensive either.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We see almost every type of car here, but since we were living in the city, we did not bring a car and have been fine without one.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, it's included in our apartment so I don't know how much.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

If you have an iPhone, bring it unlocked. Cell plans are confusing but cheap!

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

At home quarantine. Not sure on pet care.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No. If you're in China with a diplomatic visa, you cannot work on the local economy. If you're not, you can teach and that's about it without decent Mandarin skills.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Not a lot of formal volunteering activities but people are in need everywhere. Some volunteer with disabled kids, teaching English. Others have made touch books for the blind school. Others created a horse therapy group for disabled children.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

People are very relaxed in Shenyang and wear almost anything, but Consulate is still business attire (business casual in some sections).

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Shenyang feels like one of the safest places in the world. Look out for pickpockets and use common sense and you shouldn't have a problem! I run at night alone and don't think twice.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Air Quality and lack of Western medical care are of concern. State medevacs for almost anything.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Shenyang's air quality index can reach the worst heights imaginable (as high as Beijing), but it also has its clear days. Those with respiratory issues should not consider Shenyang and those with kids with developing lungs will spend much of their time indoors near the drone of air purifiers.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

The winter can be brutal, especially if you're not used to the cold. It starts getting cold at the end of October and doesn't really warm up till March and some years April. The summers are very temperate and enjoyable. Fall, though short, is incredible here with clear air and crisp cool temps.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Really high morale for the past couple years, kind of a make-your-own fun post, though. Some people come and can't make the best of it and have a hard time. Others press into the small-mid sized community and enjoy it. There aren't too many other Americans here though they are French, Germans and Japanese.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Dinner parties at home, KTV, going out to hot pot, korean bbq, etc. Consulate book club.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Shenyang can be hard for anyone but can also be rewarding for anyone. I think it's particularly hard for families with small kids, but singles can feel lonely here too. Shenyang is a place that takes a good bit of investment to enjoy.

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4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Post morale is high and the Shenyang consulate community is definitely a highlight. We've also loved the travel opportunities including a visit to the Harbin Ice Festival, nearby Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and even the border of North Korea.

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5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Harbin Ice Festival in winter, Dandong- DPRK border city, Changbaishan mountain... We also love Benxi in the summer time for hiking/camping/getting out of the smog.

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6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Lots of random stuff at the wuai market. Travel to other places nearby :)

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Shenyang is real China. You will need your Mandarin and have a chance to improve it here. If you're a China history buff, Shenyang played an important role in Chinese history and continues to develop (though slower than other cities with U.S. Consulates). The hardship differential and cost of living makes it nearly impossible to NOT save while you're here. Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, Beijing and other regional cities are direct flights. With 2 R&Rs, travel to further places abroad is a must. The work in Shenyang is incredibly interesting, not alway easy and tends to attract great people.

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8. Can you save money?

YES.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How nice the summers can be if the air quality isn't too bad.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely! This has been such a fun tour for us. Interesting work, great people to work with and great travel opportunities.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Ideas that this is an international city like Shanghai or Beijing.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and humor.

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