Guangzhou, China Report of what it's like to live there - 10/14/11

Personal Experiences from Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou, China 10/14/11

Background:

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

2nd expat experience, previously assigned to AIP.

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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?

East Coast, US//Many options.1. Newark to Hong Kong (15 hours on Continental) then take a 2 hours train to Guangzhou2. DCA/IAD to LAX to Guangzhou (usually overnight on LAX, travel time is 20 hours)3. DCA/IAD to Beijing to Guangzhou (this is the city pair they will try to put you on, it is a United flight to Beijing and a Chinese carrier to Guangzhou, unsure of the time.)

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year, 2010-2011

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

Government, US Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All over the place, many types, huge quality variations. Consulate staff seem to be assigned housing in an almost random way, since the consulate is currently spread out across multiple locations. There are people who live at the actual consulate building but work in the offsite consular or at the Garden Hotel. Still others live near the new consulate construction site but work at the old consulate building which is a 45 minute subway ride or a 25-55 minute cab ride away. Very little outward sense in the way housing is assigned. Quality has huge variations. Ersha Island and New World are very nice large landlord furnished apartments. Apartments at the consulate are gross, mold infested, and have not been updated in years. The furniture is old, dirty and smell. While the apartments at the consulate may be large I would NEVER live there.

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

Most things are available but will mostly be Chinese with all the writing in Chinese. For example it is extremely hard to differentiate between dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent. both come in clear bags with Chinese writing. Prices are low for most cleaning supplies but do not expect great quality.

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

Anything specifically American or unique you want. Most items can be found in a generic form here, however your specific variety or flavor may be hard to come by. Also I am told diapers are very hard to find here.

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

They love there McDonalds and KFC here. They are everywhere! Also there are Subways, Starbucks, and I have even seen one Burger King. A bit cheaper than the USAll other restaurants, should not be trusted until a trusted expat tells you its okay. Quality and food safety are not high on the agenda here. Listen to the advice of others.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

The Chinese love to put pork in everything. So vegetarians should be very aware!

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

No issues I have noticed

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Daily Life:

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

DPO at the consulate.

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

i am told cheap, however I dont have anyone.

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

Most of the apartment complexes have gyms, the consulate has a gym and there are multiple private gyms as well.

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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?

Use China Construction Bank and Bank of China with my USAA card and have no problems. Pay only a very very small fee (less than $2).

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

I am told there is an English mass at the catholic church, but I have never been there.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

South China Morning Post from Hong Kong is sometimes available, but it is hard to find. it is about a dollar.

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

You can get by with very little. I carry a bunch of destination cards and business cards, and most of the time I have no trouble. Learning things like yes, no, hello, thank you, left turn, right turn, and stop is very helpful.

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

Yep. I have trouble and I am able bodied. sidewalks are uneven, curbs are super high and the vehicle traffic is dangerous/unpredictable.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. All are safe. Taxis are very cheap but often hard to find around rush hours (you know...when you actually need them). Subway is decent, cheap, but VERY crowded. I dont use the bus in the US, so I dont do it here.

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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?

Left-hand drive cars (same as US) and drive on the right (same as US). I would avoid a super small car (Fiesta, Avea, Cobalt). I would want a small SUV or a mid-sized sedan that meets American safety standards for my own protection.

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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. High-speed is a relative term. It is usually fast enough for hulu/netflix through a VPN. It is very cheap.

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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?

My BlackBerry seems to work pretty much everywhere. I have China Mobile.

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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?


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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I see many pet stores -- at least I hope they're pet stores.

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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?


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

Local females wear the most revealing clothes I have ever seen. The shortest skirts and highest heels ever. it is like a contest. Guys dress casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

There are very few risks to your physical safety while in Guangzhou. Traffic accidents are the biggest risk to your physical safety.

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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?

I would NEVER go to a Chinese hospital or doctor. The consulate nurse has terrible English skills. If I am sick/injuried I am going to Hong Kong on the train (2 hour trip). Some people insist the medical care is great here, however as you will see, the Chinese seem to lack attention to detail, follow up, follow through, and quality control. I would never put my life in the hands of a Chinese hospital or doctor.

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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?

Air quality is poor to very poor. Many days you cannot see the tops of buildings, even after a rain storm.

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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?

Weather is gross pretty much year round. Summer is very hot (over 100) with 70-90% humidity and rain every single day. Fall is hot (80-95) with 50-80% humidity and heavy rain every three or four daysWinter is a bit cooler (60-80) with 60% humidity and frequent rain

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

No direct experience. American International School Guangzhou is located on Ersha Island and has many American and British teachers. I have not heard any complaints.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

i am told there is soccer

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Expat Life:

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

The diplomatic community is pretty small. Business, fashion/models is moderate sized.

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2. Morale among expats:

Some love it, some hate it.

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

Bars and clubs.

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

For families: pretty good. Domestic help can be had pretty cheap and the school seems to be goodCouples: i feel like it would be the worst. Unless you like to shop all the time there is very little to do. Singles: many night clubs and bars. they are filled with locals and a variety of expats.

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

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

Some of the African-American staff occasionally will get denied entry to some of the clubs. This is general because the local Chinese seem to believe that all of their problems are caused by their African immigrant community.

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

Having 3 airports in the immediate vicinity (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong) to leaveThe city like the country is broken. There will be 12 sales clerks in a store, but no cashier to pay. It rains here almost every day however the city has no drainage and floods monthlyOpen sewers run below sidewalks so you will frequently smell them when exiting businessesTraffic jams and the most packed subway cars I have ever seen

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

Go to Hong Kong

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

Nothing I want. Anything of good quality that is made here is exported. The items left here are overpriced and of inferior quality.

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

Very little. The city is safe, very little crime against Westerners. Guangzhou is as expensive as Hong Kong. Many goods are cheaper in the US even though they are made in the Guangzhou area. The only way to ensure you get good quality goods is to ship them from the US.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Nope. I would rather do an AIP tour then come back here. At least those places admit they have problems and move in some fashion to address them.

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

Desire to accomplish anything efficiently or easily.

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3. But don't forget your:

patience

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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