Guangzhou, China Report of what it's like to live there - 08/05/21

Personal Experiences from Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou, China 08/05/21

Background:

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

No, I have also lived in Latin America and Europe.

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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. 15 Hour flight from Guangzhou to LAX, then another 5 to DC. In times of COVID, it is very very difficult to travel in/out of China. Pre-covid, flights were plentiful and lots of different itineraries were available.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Eight months.

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

US Consulate.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is great. There are a few properties where we live, all within 15 minutes of the consulate. All apartments. Housing is very expensive in Guangzhou, but the apartments are nice, no major maintenance problems, and the commute cannot be beat. Kitchens can be quite small, and storage is very limited. Just another opportunity to Mari Kondo your belongings before you arrive.

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

Imported items are quite expensive. A lot of produce is imported as well, meats are imported. It can be more challenging to find the cuts of meat that you are familiar with in the western world. Local wet markets are much better priced for fruits, veggies and meats.

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

We brought items that we eat a lot of that we knew would be expensive here - peanut butter, beans, diced tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa. It's easy to find anything here, it will just come at a premium.

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

Meituan is a very popular delivery app. You can get any takeout or groceries delivered quickly and cheaply. There are a lot of restaurants in the neighborhoods surrounding the consulate, Mexican, Vietnamese, German, Korean, Italian, Indian, pizza. There is also plenty of US fast food - KFC, Burger King, McDonalds, and Starbucks. Many people really like Cantonese food, dimsum, and more. There are lots of noodle places, as well as a Sichuan restaurant everyone loves.

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

A small gecko here and there. Some ants. I have seen a few spiders, nothing crazy. It depends on which housing complex you are in and what floor you live on, I believe.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and Pouch. Local post is very fast.

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

A full-time ayi can cost about $1000/month. Some of the housing options offer housekeeping for a cost, some apartments are more expensive than others. People with small children have nannies, and many people employ a part time housekeeper/cook, etc. I know of a family that hired a driver to take their kids to/from school.

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

All the housing for USCG have gyms. Lots of independent gyms of varying prices.

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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?

Everyone uses mobile app pay with wechat or AliPay. You have to have a Chinese bank account to live here. Foreign credit cards are accepted at high-end restaurants and malls, but everywhere else it's WeChat pay. Cash is not always accepted.

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

Everything has been shut down citing COVID reasons, but even after China did not have any outbreaks, churches have not been able to open again. There is one expat Protestant church group that has been meeting on Zoom and occasionally meets in a hotel. The Mormons are in a similar situation. There is also a Catholic English language service at the local church that held a service on Easter, but I don't know if they are continuing in 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?

Everyone speaks Cantonese. Except for the very elderly, everyone will understand Mandarin as well, but Cantonese is by far preferred. Lots of local classes and options to learn. I came here after spending a year in language training and struggled with the reading everything in characters and being understood.

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

Sidewalks are in good shape and have ramps. I see lots of elderly people in wheelchairs being taken care of.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Trains are great and easy. Taxis using the app DIDI are very cheap. Buses are also cheap, but I don't know many people that use them since it's so easy to use the metro and didi.

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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?

The requirements for importing your car are so crazy and the public transportation is so good that I would not recommend bringing a car. It's just not necessary. I know very few people who shipped their cars here. Everyone buys electric bikes or gets around on a normal bike.

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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?

Already installed upon arrival. Some have VPNS already, but you should download VPNs before arrival on your own device for Netflix, etc.

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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?

You have to have a Chinese phone number, but a lot of people have phones with dual sim cards (google FI and China Unicomm) and that works well. Google Fi works OK here but not having a chinese number as well makes it nearly impossible to use apps like Meituan or Didi.

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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?

Spousal employment is tough, there is no bilaterial work agreement, and with the budget shortfall, there are very few EFM jobs. I know EFMs that are online teachers, photographers, bakers. There are a lot of tandem couples here because the mission is large, and the mission is very supportive of tandems.

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

The consulate is more casual. Men still wear suits, but often take off the coat. I rarely see women in a blazer. The local staff are stylish but much more casual. Sneakers with dresses is very in-style here.

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Health & Safety:

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

It's a police state, there are cameras everywhere, so crime is low. I have not heard of anything happening to anyone here. Of course, it is also a police state so that has other connotations.

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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?

United Family Hospital is near the expat area. We have already been there multiple times and the care is excellent. I know people who have given birth here as well.

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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?

It varies, we have a lot of blue skies, low AQI, but in the winter it can get up to 150 or more. It's way better than Beijing or Shenyang, however.

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

Especially during COVID, being in China can feel very suffocating. You never know when you'll be in a lockdown or forced to quarantine at home because you may have been a contact of someone who tested positive for COVID. People used to love Guangzhou because it is only an hour from Hong Kong, but the border has been closed for so long that that is not a respite either. It's difficult to travel in China now because of the evolving COVID situation, so one can feel very stuck in their Guangzhou bubble. Racism against black people is also quite overt, and that is really difficult for those members of the community.

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

Very hot and humid from April-October, pleasant and dry the other half of the year. The bad thing is that the AQI is worse in the winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. 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?

There are a few. They are not cheap but they are really good quality. A lot of people like Playschool and Springfield. Springfield is a Chinese curriculum, whereas Playschool is where most expats send their children. It is supposedly bilingual, but the American kids generally speak very little Chinese.

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Expat Life:

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

Many expats left during COVID and have not been able to return as China's border controls have been very tight. The US consulate community is pretty good, we have been happy with it, but we miss having friends that aren't our coworkers.

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

Families love it. I think couples and singles are pretty happy here, there are a lot of young officers here.

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

I find that Chinese people are interested in talking to me when they see that I speak some Mandarin, but when they realize how limited I am, they quickly lose interest. I can't see myself making friends with locals here like I did at other posts where my language ability was much more advanced. There are some people here who have local friends, but mostly people are friends with other expats.

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

Gender equality and racism are pervasive problems in Chinese society. Black expats specifically have a harder time here because of rampant racism.

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

The trains are great and inexpensive. People like going to Guilin and Yangshuo as well as day trips to Shenzhen, Dameisha, Zhuhai. In pre-covid times Macao and Hong Kong are only an hour away. Supposedly Guangzhou is a jumping off point to Vietnam, Thailand, and all sorts of places in SE Asia, but unfortunately none of those are options right now.

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

Life is easy. Things are delivered quickly, the housing is nice, the commute is so short, you can buy anything you need on taobao. Lots of places to bike or run, running trails along the river are lovely, some nice parks, everything is new in our neighborhood. Lots to explore in the big city of Guangzhou.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Really, the only thing that makes this place difficult is our inability to leave or travel because of COVID and centralized hotel quarantine upon arrival in China. It's a big deterrent for many people taking their R&Rs, etc.

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

Yes.

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