Chengdu, China Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Chengdu, China

Chengdu, China 08/07/17

Background:

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

No. I have lived in other European and Asian cities.

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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?

DC. 14 hours direct from SF, CA.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year

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

Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

US Consulate compound. It is adjacent to the Consulate. <1 minute walk to work. Units are single-floor units with various sizes, some with balconies. It is simple and cozy but adequate. The compound has a playground, a tennis court and a pool. Kids love riding the scooters/bikes around the compound, playing tennis, swimming in the pool and having friends around to play with. Location is great. Walking distance to many restaurants, shops and a mall. Subway station is right around the corner.

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

If you shop local, very inexpensive. Easy access to various Asian products at a good price (Korean, Japanese, Thai, etc.). European goods are available at a bit higher price.

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

We shipped liquid products such as sauces, alcohol, cleaning supplies, detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. We were glad we did. All those products are available locally but we wanted to make sure they were safe and authentic (lots of counterfeits around).

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

You can have anything delivered even just a couple of bubble drinks. There are various kinds of restaurants, Asian and Western and some are pretty good and reasonably priced. Many great Sichuan restaurants.

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

Nothing serious. We did have some signs of rats in the house but GSO took care of it quickly.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch.

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

Very affordable. Difficult to find an English-speaking helper in general.

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

The Consulate has a small gym. There are bigger private gyms around that are inexpensive.

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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?

Accepted at large stores and Western style restaurants. We were cautious and only used the credit cards where we felt safe and ATM machines at the banks. We did get counterfeit bills out of an ATM once but not in Chengdu.

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

There are few English-language churches in town for foreign passport holders.

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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?

Knowing Chinese helps a lot as most taxi drivers and local vendors do not speak English. There is increased number of restaurants and cafes with English-menus but still most local places will have everything written in Chinese.

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

Yes.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable? Yes. Safe? Depends. We mostly used taxis and Uber. We needed to use Chinese to communicate with the drivers.

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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?

Road conditions are fine in the city. Any car would work. We had an SUV and ventured out into the country sides quite a bit and there were unpaved, seriously off-roading kind of conditions but that is rare. We never felt as though our car was unsafe to park anywhere.

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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?

The.Great.Firewall.Of.China.

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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?

We used unlocked phones brought from the US. We did not want to buy any locally. When I had one stolen, I had to wait until someone could bring a phone from the US for me as it could not be shipped via pouch.

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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?

There is an American vet who has his own clinic with local staff. He is great. There are kennels and groomers around but the quality of care is inconsistent and not the greatest although inexpensive.

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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 employment locally. Consulate positions or US-based freelance work were common.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

They are available but public orphanages and organizations were apprehensive with foreign volunteers and limited exposure and access.

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

Business casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty crimes in general. We have a phone pick-pocketed and two bicycles stolen near the consulate.

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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 is a serious concern. Health unit is very available but they will send you to Singapore for any serious illnesses and concerns.

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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. Chengdu is in a basin. The bad air stagnates through the year. We had serious health issues (respiratory) due to the air quality and two members of the family lost their medical clearances (cutting the tour short).

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

People susceptible to respiratory issues may be affected by the poor air quality. Food allergies are really not taken seriously at local restaurants. Educating Ayis (helpers) about food allergies could be challenging as the general attitude in China towards food allergies is nothing near the US standard.

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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)?

Not really.

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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?

Mild winters with some very hot summer days. Some rain but not for days at a time.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are a few. Christian (CDIS), IB (Leman), British, QSI, and some more smaller ones. We had children at CDIS. They loved their experience there. Their cafeteria food is still their favorite (across 5 schools overseas). Nurturing Christian environment. Academically ok but not challenging. CDIS had a giant air filtration system for the whole school building which we really liked. The campus is new, spacious and welcoming.

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

QSI has a team of special education teachers and aides. CDIS accommodated some minor challenges but they sought evaluations and consultations from a special services department from their sister school in Tianjin. They have an excellent team of specialists to conduct a full assessment and create an IEP.

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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?

Local international schools have preschools. Tuition is high. Some schools offer sibling discounts. There are smaller English-speaking preschools with mixed reviews.

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

Some. There are some expat groups/teams but depending on the interest and coach availability. Our children participated in sports and after-school activities offered by their school.

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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. Morale is good. There were some expats (American and non-American) who were not happy in Chengdu. We had a great time exploring and enjoying the local culture and other cities in China.

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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?

Restaurants, cafes, tea houses, strolls in the parks and by the river, biking and hiking outside the city, traveling to other cities in China.

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

For couples and families, it seemed great. For singles, not sure.

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

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

Yes. This is China. But for us expats, it does not affect us that much.

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

Travels to the beautiful Tibetan plateaus, to other historical and interesting cities, exploring Chinese/Sichuan foods.

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

Massages. Tea houses.

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

Some cool local art and handicrafts. Great place to get all your pictures/textiles/jerseys framed. Very inexpensive.

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

Low cost of living, easy-going locals, lots to explore.

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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 bad the air quality could be and last. Chengdu is a bit different from other Chinese cities as it is in a basin and the limited air flow keeps the pollution stagnating.

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

Without kids, yes, definitely.

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

Sense of order. Any expectations for driving/traffic standards.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and humor. Be able to enjoy what is enjoyable and be okay to let go of any unmet expectations or unpleasant surprises. Our kids got good at jumping over spit foams and UL (Unidentified Liquid as they called it) laughing. I got good at chuckling when I got cut in line.

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Chengdu, China 05/18/16

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 Hangzhou, China; Hyderabad, India; Taipei, Taiwan.

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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?

Home is on the east coast of the U.S. There is now a direct flight on United from SFO to Chengdu, so the total trip is approximately 20 flight hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

8 months, previously lived in this city for 9 months 6 years ago but not on a government tour.

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

Government post

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Consulate housing is moving towards service apartments (Oakwood, Ascott, Fraser Suites), which is very nice. For large families, there is housing on the consulate compound. There are a few older apartment buildings which are not as nice, but i think they are mostly being phased out. Almost all of the housing is quite convenient to the Consulate, either by walking or the metro.

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

local markets are extremely cheap, but maybe not the cleanest. High end grocery stores like Ole are much more expensive and comparable to U.S. prices, but often the only place to buy imported goods.

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

Any liquids likes toiletries, olive oil, booze. Dry goods can be ordered online and shipped through DPO.

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

Starbucks everywhere, KFC, McDonald's, Chinese chains.

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

There are mosquitoes, but I have not heard of any cases of dengue or malaria.

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Daily Life:

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

Through 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?

Domestic help is quite inexpensive, but it is difficult to find someone who speaks English.

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

There are more and more gyms opening up. Some are very fancy and expensive because gyms are new and considered a luxury service. There is a Crossfit box here with a good community.

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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?

It is very difficult to use American credit cards here. Only large, western hotel chains accept them. Most people here operate in cash.

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

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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?

Chengdu requires more Chinese than other major cities in China, where people are used to speaking English with foreigners. However, it is not impossible to get by here. Locals are quite friendly and patient with people who speak little to no Chinese.

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

Yes. There are very few accommodations for any physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Local taxis and buses are relatively safe. The metro is good, but not very extensive yet. Uber is here, and it is quite cheap.

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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?

Buy an electric scooter! The traffic here is terrible.

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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?

The internet here is terrible, especially if you are with the U.S. government. Give up using the internet at all.

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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?

Cell phone plans here for smart phones are cheaper than in the United States.

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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?

No quarantine. There is a decent English-Speaking Chinese vet here and also a Canadian vet who is very good. There is a fancy pet hotel here that is good. People here have pets, but they are still not very good at caring for their pets. It is rare for local people to spay and neuter or vaccine their own pets.

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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?

Not sure. It doesn't seem that good unless you are a teacher.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Volunteer opportunities are slim because of increasing pressure on NGOs by the Chinese government.

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

Dress code is very casual generally, but often doesn't make sense. Sometimes you will go to a fancy restaurant and see people in sweat pants, but then when you go to the park, you will see women walking their dogs in high heels and dresses.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty theft is common in Chengdu, but violent crime is rare. If you are working for a foreign government, you might be treated with suspicion by local government authorities. There is growing hostility from the government towards foreign government workers or NGO workers, but so far, it hasn't affected personal lives too badly.

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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, food safety, traffic safety. The Chinese medical facilities are definitely not up to Western standards.

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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 in Chengdu is not good. The average AQI here is 150-200 (very unhealthy). Unlike Beijing, which has very drastic changes in air quality with extremely good days and extremely bad days, Chengdu sits in a basin, so the smog tends to sit right above the city. The pollution rarely gets dangerously bad like in Beijing, but when the air is bad, it takes a long time to clear out. People with a history of breathing problems or asthma should probably not come here.

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

If you suffer from food allergies, eating out will be very difficult. People here are not familiar with food allergies, and in local restaurants, much of the food will all be prepped together in the same pots and dishes.

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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?

Aside from the pollution, Chengdu is a generally cloudy place. It is often overcast, and sunny days are rare. It is generally very humid in the city, so summers are brutal, and winters are damp and clammy.

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Schools & Children:

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

I do not have children, but I know there are a few international schools.

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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?

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Expat Life:

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

Medium-sized expat community. Small enough that you can get to know people pretty well and cross paths often, but large enough that you can still meet new people and find the ones with common interests. There is a large scope of people as well, from students to teachers to business people to diplomats.

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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?

The food and drinks here are great. Sichuan food is delicious, and there are many good bars with a very good selection of American beer and wine.

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

I think it is a good city for families and couples without children, but I do not think it is a good city for singles. Dating is very difficult here. Children seem to have many activities to do, but the air quality could be bad and might prevent them from playing outside on bad air days. For couples, there are many good bars and restaurants, and a close-knit expat community.

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

I don't know. The Chinese government is not very welcoming of LGBT people, but Chinese people in general seem very welcoming and friendly. But I don't think dating would be easy.

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

Chinese people are very blunt, and Chengdu is not as exposed to ethnic diversity as other big cities in China. African Americans have faced racial stereotypes and discrimination. Also, any Asian Americans (even if they are not of Chinese origin) sometimes face challenges because people expect them to speak Chinese or do not believe they are American.

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

Traveling around this region has been wonderful. I have gone camping in the mountains in Sichuan, have enjoyed a beautiful cultural and nature tour in Yunnan, and I have explored ethnic minority culture in Dali and Kunming.

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

For people who love outdoor activities, there are many groups to join. There is a group that runs nighttime bike rides, Hash Harriers plan runs outside of the city, and Weekend Escapes plans cultural and camping excursions on the weekends. Getting out of the city is very therapeutic. Within the city, I like to take Chinese calligraphy classes.

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

The tailor - cheap, custom made clothing!

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

Chengdu is one of the few cities in China that provides modern conveniences and western culture as well as preserving Chinese culture. It is not as fast-paced as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, and it also does not attract as many outsiders as those cities, so it has retained more of its traditional Chinese culture. It is a great place to learn more about Chinese history and culture. It is also very safe. Chengdu is located in a basin surrounded by mountains, so there is beautiful scenery and hiking and camping outside of the city. Also, Southwest China is a great travel destination. From Chengdu, it is easy to get to amazing tourist destinations like Jiuzhaigou national park, Lijiang, Shangrila, Kunming, and other great loations in Yunnan province.

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10. Can you save money?

If you eat local food and only travel in the region, yes. If you eat western food and drink and travel outside of the area, then not so much.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

The bad air quality and horrible traffic and general craziness can make going outside intimidating sometimes, so your apartment becomes very important. When I arrived here, I tried harder to make it feel like home inside.

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

Yes.

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

Rice, chili sauce, western food, ski gear, electronics (they won't work and after you bring them here, you won't want to take them out of here).

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4. But don't forget your:

toiletries (unless you like whitening cream), Booze, Books, DVDs (streaming here is impossible)

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

Peter Hessler's books (especially River Town)

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6. Do you have any other comments?

It's China. If you like China, you will like it here.

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Chengdu, China 08/02/13

Background:

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

First expat experience with the U.S. Foreign Service, second time living overseas (previously in Chennai, India).

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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?

From DC its a 12-13 hour flight to Beijing or Shanghai and then a 2.5 hour flight to Chengdu. All told, usually about 18 hours of travel.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2010-2012.

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

Spouse of U.S. Foreign Service Officer.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Chengdu is a rapidly growing Consulate so the housing pool is always changing. Compact high-rise apartments are the norm. They often look quite nice but construction standards are not what they are in the U.S.---as is the case in most developing countries. Depending on traffic (which increased dramatically even during our 2 years in Chengdu) commute times vary from 5-10 minutes to 30-45 minutes at rush hour to the apartments the furthest away. The nice thing is that these high-rises always tend to open right into bustling neighborhoods. Unless you live in a villa community outside of town, you are never more than a 5 minute walk from a noodle shop, a convenience store and a vegetable or fruit stand. The Consulate does have 12 apartments mostly reserved for families with children. They may not be the most stylish but the build quality is much appreciated.

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

Food prices are going up in China with noticeable increases during our two year tour but produce is still quite cheap compared to the U.S. The fresh markets are beautiful and so much fun to peruse though the food contamination issues in China--from cadmium in the rice to watermelons exploding with growth hormones---can make figuring out what to buy and eat a bit disheartening. Everyone sort of comes up with their own standards for what they will and will not eat but most people buy only imported dairy products and imported goods for what they can. There are several organic co-ops that deliver to the Consulate and, while the quality/selection of the produce can be a bit interesting, it generally gives people a bit of peace of mind.

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

Basically every liquid toiletry or pantry good we use from shampoo to tooth paste to peanut butter. We found that even American brands produced in China tended to have different formulas, a bit more caustic usually. You can find many things at the import stores around town but they will be more expensive than in the States. And, even though we lived in China, we still often defaulted to buying Hong Kong-produced soy sauce and sesame oil because we trusted the quality more.

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

Sichuanese food is cheap, delicious and quite fast. There's a McDonald's and KFC down the block from the Consulate and at other locations around town. There are several "Chengdu good" Western restaurants (i.e. its good if you've lived there long enough!) as well as a smattering of Japanese, Thai and other restaurants that range from bad to pretty good depending on what you order and how long its been since you've had the "real thing." The real joy of living in Chengdu though is eating the local food. You might get sick of it eventually, but it's so good you'll eventually be back out for more.

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

The mosquitos can be fierce in the summer and early fall, but they don't carry any diseases in Chengdu so not a big deal.

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Daily Life:

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

Technically Post has DPO but, while we can send out packages, our incoming mail faces the same restrictions as regular pouch.

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

Most families hire a part-time to full-time "ayi" to do housekeeping and maybe some childcare. We paid on the high end of the scale for our part-time housekeeper and spent a little over US$200 a month I believe. Our housekeeper was absolutely wonderful and super diligent and thorough. She did not speak English but with some basic Chinese we communicated and got along very well. Few ayis will speak fluent English, if any, though I think more and more are learning it as it's such a valuable commodity to the expat community.

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

The Consulate has a very small but functional gym. There are private gyms all over the city but for runners seeking to avoid the pollution outdoors, these gyms often offer little relief. People in Chengdu tend to leave windows open year round to let in the "healthy air."

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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?

Cash rules for most transactions though credit cards are accepted at the major hotels and some higher-end places. Only some ATMS around town will accept foreign credit cards, people will tell you which are which.

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

They are available but limited I believe.

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

There is not a lot of English-language media in Chengdu and certainly nothing uncensored. You will want a VPN (virtual private network) installed on your computer before you arrive in order to get around the firewall and access "the real news." You can find the Herald Tribune at a few spots around town and some book stores carry a few English-language books, though not many while we were there.

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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?

It helps a lot. There is more and more English spoken in Chengdu, but if you are going to be out in the markets, running errands, etc it's helpful to have at least some basic Chinese. I say Chinese rather than Mandarin because what's spoken in Chengdu is often a mash-up of traditional Mandarin and the local dialect, Sichuan-hua. All this being said, I didn't find either the language or communicating to be nearly as hard as people make it out to be. I had 3 weeks of language at FSI plus a few tutoring sessions and I was able to pick up enough to easily make my way around the city and even have some decent conversations. People in Chengdu tend to be patient and friendly with foreigners struggling in their language skills.

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

Yes. Most neighborhood restaurants, etc would be difficult to maneuver, handicapped bathrooms are pretty much non-existent. There are a number of ramps and elevators though, especially in higher-end areas and establishments.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are affordable compared to other big cities but lack seat belts and generally reek of smoke---not that that ever stopped us from taking them. The metro system opened with one North-South line while we lived there. For getting to some of the tourist sites, it was a useful option but the addition of more lines to the system over the next few years will make it far more useable. Buses and trains are plentiful though often crowded and you'll need some confident Chinese to navigate them at first.

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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?

China only lets relatively new cars in. Other than that, there aren't too many special concerns. The roads in Chengdu are immaculate. Something a bit more rugged would be fun for getting out of town.

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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?

It's available and pretty consistent, if not terribly high speed. The cost is quite reasonable. I want to say approximately US$30 per month, paid bi-annually through the Consulate.

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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?

It's easy to get a local sim and use prepaid minutes. I never bothered with a contract.

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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?

No, but there is the usual hassle and paperwork to go through.

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

Not sure but giant fluffy imported dog breeds are a huge status symbol for wealthy Chinese families in Chengdu so I imagine there is care evolving to care for them. I have heard of people having to watch what their dogs eat out on the street though as the pesticides used on lawns, etc can be quite toxic.

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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 want to teach English in a fairly sketchy establishment, you are totally set. Otherwise, not so much. There is no bilateral work agreement for diplomatic spouses. Volunteering outside a few organizations that are "ok" with the authorities can also be fairly difficult.

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

Casual. Women in their 40's can be seen in hot pants and thigh-high boots--and they will be simply average shop keepers or maybe even office workers.

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Health & Safety:

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

Chengdu is, for the most part, incredibly safe. It's a city of 14 million people and yet, if someone so much as pulls out a knife to threaten someone, its big news. I don't know if I've ever felt safer (crime-wise) in a city than in Chengdu. After all, you will never be more closely watched over than in China!

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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?

Medical care is not great. Though the facilities are often quite nice, the training is not often up to Western standards and some labs/tests may not follow typical norms. Medevacs are the norm for most everything beyond routine care and check ups. I've heard of some seriously ill and injured people entering the hospital and walking out months later in perfect health but I would personally leave the country for anything serious.

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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's China, the air is terrible. It's the usual China pollution plus Chengdu is situated in a valley so the air stagnates, especially in winter.

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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?

Temperature-wise, Chengdu is very similar to Washington D.C. Summers can get quite hot and humid in the mid 80's to low 90's. Winters are damp and chilly but the temperature rarely drops much below freezing. Spring and Fall are really quite pleasant, temperature-wise. If it weren't for Chengdu's nearly perpetual cloud clover, the climate would be pretty fantastic. The lack of sun, compounded by the pollution, really gets to some people. Interestingly enough, Chengdu residents swear that the city has gotten sunnier since the big earthquake in 2008. I don't know for sure whether this is true but our second year was most sunnier than the first so perhaps the pattern simply changes year to year.

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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 experience with the schools directly but QSI is said to be good but the facilities too small. Leman was brand new when we lived in Chengdu and therefore still a mixed bag for most people I think. The Chengdu expat community has grown exponentially in the last 5 years so my guess is that improvements to the schools are not far behind.

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

Not aware that they make any.

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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?

Many Chinese-language preschools available and affordable nannies, though few will speak English.

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

Through the schools and also plenty of private Chinese instructors for nearly every sport I think, though you'll likely need language skills and an open mind to pursue them.

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Expat Life:

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

Growing quickly mostly from the Chevron and other gas/oil projects in the surrounding area. What was once a very small tight-knit community has now grown quite large, very quickly.

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2. Morale among expats:

The pollution and cloudy skies get people down but, if it weren't for those things, I think most people would be fairly happy in Chengdu. For a city of 14 million, it often feels more like a midwestern cow town than a cosmopolitan mega-city and there aren't a ton of cultural diversions. Even that though, like everything in China, is changing quickly.

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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?

Singles will go out to the bars which aren't exactly numerous but a nice diversion. Families do a lot of entertaining in one another's homes or hanging out at school functions. Going out for dinner at a hot pot restaurant is a fun way to spend time with friends and there are a fair number of interesting sites and temples and things to see in and around town--maybe not enough to last an adventurous family an entire 2 or 3 year tour, but enough to keep most people busy for awhile.

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

Minus the food and pollution issues, this is a great place for families. It's relatively cheap, there's a nice community, activities like dance classes and sports available both through the local and expat communities. Singles and couples might get a bit bored. On the map, Chengdu looks so close to places like Thailand and Vietnam. In reality, flight times and prices tend to make traveling not quite as carefree or affordable as one would hope, even domestically. That being said, travel is a worthwhile expense, especially in the winter when things are dreary.

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

Chengdu was once known as a haven for China's gay scene, I believe. Not sure if that's still true. There certainly aren't Pride parades down the main avenue, but we did occasionally see same-sex couples holding hands around the university area.

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

Anyone who doesn't look Chinese will be judged, especially people with darker skin tones of any kind. Chengdu residents might not also understand the concept of an American who doesn't look "white" which can be especially hard for black Americans and anyone of any kind of East or Southeast Asian descent who doesn't speak good Chinese. The more expats in Chengdu though, the more this is changing.

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

Eating. Running through Sichuanese countryside with the Hash House Harriers. Traveling to other parts of China.

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

Eat, drive through the countryside, walk through the few truly old neighborhoods that still exist in the city. Go for tea in the park. Peruse Song Xian Qiao, the "antique" market. There are several stunning mountains within a few hours drive of town but you might have to get used to a different version of "hiking" than you are used to. The main routes up the mountains are paved with concrete stairs and jammed with families traveling up and down, many in high heels, mini skirts and stopping often to pose for pictures in the middle of the walkway. The Hash House Harriers is a nice alternative to find more off-the-beaten-track trails to get yourself acquainted with the area.

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

Tea, dried mushrooms and convincingly good fake antiques. Chengdu is not exactly a shoppers paradise.

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

Sichuanese food (the regional cuisine) is delicious and wholly unique and you are never far from many good options for it. While traffic can be nutty and cars tend to take over the sidewalks, its still an infinitely more walkable city than many other "developing" cities and countries. It's an easy place to save money as there's not a great deal of shopping. China is also an incredibly interesting place. Even though I didn't always love living there, I always found it endlessly fascinating.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, as long as you don't travel constantly or go too crazy on Amazon. Cooking at home may cost more than in the U.S. but eating out will cost far less. You probably won't be tempted to buy much else besides food locally, not even clothes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

If the food was safer and the air was cleaner, I would go back in a heartbeat. It's a fascinating place. That being said, those first two things are kind of a big deal.

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

Sunglasses.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and pocket-sized packet of toilet paper.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Supposedly Kung Fu Panda II takes place in Chengdu. I'm not joking. The premier was a huge deal for people in Chengdu.

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

Peter Hessler is sort of "the" white guy for writing about China and the Chongqing/Chengdu area specifically. Still I think, once you've lived in China for a few months, English-language Chinese literature becomes much more interesting. I really liked Brothers by Hua Yu. Ministry of Tofu is an English-language current events website that highlights different social issues going on in China, written by Chinese bloggers. It was a really interesting resource for me to learn more about China than I would normally be able to as a very basic Chinese speaker.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you are going to go to China, Chengdu is probably still one of the most "real China" places you can live while still maintaining a fairly comfortable, normal life. It certainly doesn't have the amenities of Beijing or Shanghai or Guangzhou but the people are really lovely and the place is interesting. If you don't mind the pollution and food safety issues (and yes, this is a big IF) Chengdu can be a nice, quiet, but still relevant place to spend a few years.

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Chengdu, China 05/04/13

Background:

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

No, I've lived abroad in college and again in my 20's before my spouse joined the FS.

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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?

Home base is western US, meaning a trip home is at least 3 flights, but often 4. The best route is 24 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Currently one year in, with one more to go.

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

US Foreign Service- EFM.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

In the US Consulate community there are a couple of free-standing homes, a couple of townhouses, and lots of apartments.

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

Expensive, but we currently do not have a COLA. If you are coming with the U.S. State Department, use your consumables!

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

Liquids- lots and lots of liquids.

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

Fast food is cheap, and we have the normal McDonald's and KFC stores.

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

Large cockroaches and lots of mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

Through a DPO address- it takes about two weeks.

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

It is getting harder to find good help as the expat population grows, but help is still affordable.

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

Yes, they are getting better, but the air quality in them remains a problem.

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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?

Very few stores take them. This is still very much a cash economy.

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

Just a few. Check with the CLO.

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

No, not really.

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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?

The more, the better. There is little English spoken here, and much of it is very scripted. If you go off the script that the service person knows, you are out of luck.

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

LOTS! It would be very hard to get around with most any type of physical disability.

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Transportation:

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

Trains and taxis, yes. Buses, less so. All are 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?

There are restrictions on the age of the vehicle, but the community has lots of minivans and small SUVs. They all seem to do fine.

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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, but bring your VPN!

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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?

Very easy and cheap to get here.

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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. There is no bi-lateral work agreement for consulate folks, but there is a growing number of consulate jobs available.

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

Work- business attire.
Public- casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

No violent crime to be concerned with, but rather pick-pocketing thefts, especially on the bus routes and crowded tourist spots.

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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.

There is no good medical care outside the MED unit, so medevacs to Singapore are not unheard of.

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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?

Terrible. This is by far one of the worst problems when one talks about living in Chengdu. Last month, Chengdu was the 4th most polluted city in the country- Beijing came in about 18. Definitely consider it when thinking about moving here.

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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?

Early spring, super-humid summer, long fall and a short, but painfully dreary (but not that cold) winter.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are four in town, but only two are used by the consulate: QSI and Leman . Great for younger grades, but have a lot of work to do at the high-school level. Definitely contact your CLO!

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

NONE! Be very aware of this.

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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?

One local one used by a few families, but most people just hire nannies (called "Ayis".)

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

Yes, through Leman, there are some soccer teams and swim lessons.

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Expat Life:

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

Growing every day!

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2. Morale among expats:

Within the consulate community, I would say that it is very good! There are always those who dislike it here, but on the whole, I'd say people do okay.

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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?

Lots of consulate activities, some clubs, growing number of good restaurants, movie theaters.

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

This is a huge family post and couples do well. I think it would be tougher to be single here, especially as a female.

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

There is a scene and it works. It is pretty quiet, though.

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

Having darker skin used to mean that you were a worker and of a lower class, and some of that sentiment still remains.

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

Lots of travel and having a really great FS community .

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

Pandas (of course!), LeShan Giant Buddha, DuJiangYan Irrigation System, JinLi Street...too many to name!

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

Expensive tea, ceramics, and some wall hangings.

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

Great food, interesting history/travel, good FS community.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes! Definitely. Western food is expensive, but there is little else to spend money on.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

YES!

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

Noodles and rice. :)

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3. But don't forget your:

Liquids!

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