Shenyang, China Report of what it's like to live there - 03/15/19

Personal Experiences from Shenyang, China

Shenyang, China 03/15/19

Background:

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

It's my first with the government; prior to government work, I've lived in Europe, Central America, and elsewhere in 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?

Washington, DC. Generally people transit via Seoul or Narita, avoiding the mess that is Beijing. We now have direct flights to LA, which is nice.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We mostly live in apartments; they usually have enough bedrooms for everyone plus one room as an office, Euro-sized stoves, and American-sized fridges and washer/dryers. They have "developing country" issues, but are nice enough for living in for two years.

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

It's China, so you can't find everything you want, but we have an IKEA, several Metros, Sam's Club, and a few import stores. There are also local versions of Walmart and Carrefour. Plus, there are still old-style markets where you can get your raw meat (or living chickens!), fruits and veggies, tofu, local sausages, etc. Non-imported food is generally very cheap; imported food is regularly priced. Amazing selection of imported beer and wine.

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

Canned tomatoes, non-scented laundry detergent, tomato or V8 juice, hair dye, fingernail polish remover. You can find a lot of stuff, but it's not always the brand you want, for example, or if you're buying on Taobao, you don't always know the quality. If you have allergies, you'll want to bring stuff that works for that.

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

The Japanese and Korean restaurants here are amazing. The usual Western fast foods: Starbucks, KFC, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonalds. Some solid Western restaurants. There are a multitude of delivery companies, but you need to have a grasp of Chinese to use the apps and deal with the phone calls.

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

No, almost creepily no.

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Daily Life:

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

China Post works, I guess. There's DHL for fast delivery. We exclusively use consulate mail.

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

Household help is super cheap and usually good. Many people have "ayis" to clean the house, look after kids, cook food, etc. You may have to do some training, and most don't speak Chinese.

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

Most hotels have gyms, and there are commercial gyms as well. Biggest issue is whether or not they have air purifiers to handle the many dangerously polluted days.

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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?

No. Most people use cash or mobile phone payment systems via WeChat or Alipay. ATMs are common in banks, and usually legit.

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

There are English language religious services: Seventh Day Adventist, LDS, Protestant and Catholic. There are also Korean- language services. The Chinese government does place limits on how foreigners can interact with Chinese people re: religion, and people who push that boundary end up causing a lot of trouble for the Chinese person.

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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?

The more, the better. Even with Google Translate and Baidu Translate, not speaking and reading Chinese is a daily stresser. Learn all the Chinese possible, and expect to use it robustly to get through the average day in Shenyang. There are local language schools, but you'll have to prioritize actually learning Chinese.

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

Yes. Few ramps or other accessible facilities, broken sidewalks, cars blocking the sidewalks, etc. In two years, I've seen one Chinese person in a wheelchair.

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Transportation:

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

Relatively safe; - maybe traffic accidents could get you, but you won't be robbed (at least not if you make the taxi driver use the meter). Very affordable.

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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?

Smaller is better, due to the lack of parking most places. Road rules are kind of a joke, but it's a pretty safe area. You see everything from Mini Coops to Mazarattis.

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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?

Ha ha. The Great Firewall is real; you may have high-speed internet to shop on Taobao in Chinese, but when they block the VPNs, you won't be able to do anything that requires one for days on end.

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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?

China Mobile or China Telecom are about the same. You'll want to toss your phone (and other electronics) after being in China due to all the spy-ware and mal-ware that will infect them.

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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?

Kinda-sorta. We have avoided going to the vets as much as possible. There are some decent ones, but you find out about them via word of mouth. I would not kennel my animal here; people like pets, but aren't necessarily good with them. We had in-house quarantine with our pets when we arrived.

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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?

If you aren't working for the US government, you can get a work visa to teach English. They are cracking down on foreigners teaching/working on tourist visas. Pay is low, and I've heard employee abuse is real. Telecommuting is a challenge given the unreliable internet and the lack of data security.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

A few religious ones, but volunteering is not encouraged by the local government.

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

Business suits, or China business casual (anything from black sweats to velvet dresses). Formal dress rarely required.

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Health & Safety:

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

Getting run over by a scooter or a car on the sidewalk; dying in a traffic accident; getting crushed by crumbling infrastructure; lung cancer after breathing the air. On the other hand, as a woman you can walk home alone at 2am and you'll be safe unless you fall into a hole in the sidewalk.

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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?

Food poisoning from eating at a restaurant. Lung or sinus issues from the chronic pollution problems. Medical care is inadequate; ok if it's really minor, or better than nothing if you've been hit by a car, but not good for anything else. People get medically evacuated for most things.

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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?

Bad. Seriously bad. Bad enough that you don't leave your house for days on end, even with masks available. It's hard to express just how much it wears on you to be dealing with pollution issues for weeks at a time.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Cigarette smoke is every where. If you are seriously allergic to a food item, then avoid eating out.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

People get cranky about living in China, and need to get out of town every few months.

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

Cold and dry in the winter, hot and humid in the summer. Not all that different than DC really.

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Expat Life:

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

Small, with okay morale. People mostly know what they're getting in to, coming here. I think the people who have close ties to Beijing have it the worst, as it's just close enough to visit and so they don't settle in here.

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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?

Drinking beer and eating chuar (meat on a stick).

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

It's okay; there's a lot of like about Shenyang, but it's best if you know how to make your own fun.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Not really, as it's not really common here. Shenyang is a very blue-collar town.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Yes and no. A lot of people just want to make friends with you for their own advantage. If you are black, there are a lot of assumptions made about you.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Shenyang has a large Muslim population, which is cool.

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

Dalian is beautiful, right on the ocean. Going to the Harbin Ice Festival and seeing all the ice-carvings. Looking across the Yalu River into North Korea, and climbing the Great Wall. Seeing the big blue skies up in the Daqing oil fields. Lilacs and hollyhocks.

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

Alas, no.

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

The blueberries and strawberries are amazing and cheap.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Just how isolated we would be.

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

Yes, but my expectations would be lower.

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

Outgoing, friendly nature.

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4. But don't forget your:

Air masks, long winter coat, and your VPN.

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