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

Personal Experiences from Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou, China 05/19/19

Background:

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

Previously posted in West Africa and SE Asia.

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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?

While there are direct flights with mainland China airlines to the US, if you have the time fly out of Hong Kong, or transit Japan. Especially for personal travel, these alternative routes are cheaper and the airlines are better quality than China's.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Serviced apartments. However, recent USG guidelines require you to pay for the cleaning service; otherwise, no maid service.

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

You want imported western items, be prepared to pay. For example, eight ounces of cheddar cheese is north of 10 USD. However, local produce at wet markets is plentiful and cheap.

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

None. I've adjusted to what is available locally. As a result, my consumption of processed food is almost nonexistent, I'm healthier, and the variety of produce available is impressive.

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

Meituan is an app for food delivery; try not to get run over by one of their yellow (silent) electric scooters. Taobao is the local version of Amazon, and they deliver within a day or two.

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

Not in the housing, but outside is another story.....

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Daily Life:

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

Delivery via USG pouch or DPO can vary from ten days to three weeks. Amazon, Walmart, and Target seem to be favorites. Unfortunately, some people insist on skirting the rules and ship liquids, which often rupture in transit and mess up others' shipments.

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

Help is a couple hundred dollars per month and up. It's a great way to pick up Mandarin, Cantonese, and other local languages.

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

All the apartment buildings have a gym, and several have a pool. Or, bring a bicycle and ride the extensive walkways along the rivers.

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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?

I get cash from the Consulate; that ensures not being given counterfeit money on the street, which taxi drivers do on a regular basis. Get a local bank account and use the phone app to pay. I use non-China charge cards very rarely, usually at international businesses and airlines.

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

In town, many signs are bilingual, but except at the higher end establishments there is not a lot of English. Cantonese is the local language, which is very different from Mandarin. The younger generations speak both Mandarin and Cantonese, as Mandarin is the official language. Learn whatever you can; locals appreciate it. Without some language you will have significant difficulty integrating and communicating, especially away from the city.

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

Minimal problems in high-end areas, but the rest of the time quite challenging.

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Transportation:

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

Bus and metro/subway is clean, new, inexpensive, and extensive. Didik taxis are reliable. Local freelance taxis should be a last resort unless you have excellent Mandarin and/or Cantonese.

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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?

Unless you have a family and plan to travel outside the city, a car is not needed. Many officers get a car, and use it so rarely that they only put a couple hundred miles per YEAR on it.

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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?

Internet speed is so so. Get a high quality VPN before entering the country.

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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?

Put the VPN on your phone also. Get a local SIM card, which is quite inexpensive. Plan on ditching your phone when you depart for good. Big brother tracks everything.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

Business casual, except for special events.

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Health & Safety:

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

Violent crime is virtually unheard of. Crimes of convenience, like pickpockets and counterfeit currency, are common. However, the darker your skin color, the more likely you will be confronted with overt racism, and more than one African-American has been attacked.

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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?

Don't trust local medical or dental care. Anecdotally, many of the modern clinics have the most advanced equipment, but the employees are clueless on how to utilize or diagnose. Recently, an employee's child went in to have a broken arm x-rayed, and the employee had to show the clinician how to operate the x-ray machine! Head to Hong, Singapore, or Taiwan.

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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?

Compared to other mega cities in China, Guangzhou has better air quality. However, by any other standard it can get bad, red-zone bad, for weeks at a time. Many people here have health issues related to the air pollution. Get a high quality reusable mask.

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

Food allergies are a foreign concept here. Prepare your own food if you have food sensitivities.

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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)?

SAD, yeah. Winters can go for weeks without seeing blue sky, with both pollution and low clouds both contributing.

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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?

Winter cool and cloudy, a very brief pleasant t spring and autumn, and a hot/humid summer preceded by an intense rainy season transition. Occasionally a typhoon will come in, but usually not strong enough to blow out too many windows or down trees.

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Schools & Children:

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

Good schools.

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

Plenty at the schools.

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Expat Life:

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

Lots of expats, almost exclusively business or Consulate/embassy-employed.

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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?

Get out and explore, walk the city, get out of the cocoon of the high end districts. People are friendly, and food options are mind-boggling.

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

Up to you to make it work. If you're willing to get out, you'll find lots of options.

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

Although not illegal in China, social pressure on locals to get married and have a child is quite strong. Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taiwan all have a much more active and visible gay community. Guangzhou has numerous chat groups and NGOs, but the bar scene is minimal. Now that Taiwan has legalized gay marriage, things may change on the mainland.

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

African-Americans and others with dark complexions will definitely have more challenges than others. Asian-Americans that don't have Mandarin as their first language also engender curiosity. However, if you're willing to dive into the local culture, you will find lots of opportunities to mingle.

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

See above. China is still a male-centric and ageist country. Job listings will normally specify gender and age parameters, and sometimes even marital status.

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

Get out of the big cities and explore-- China is as big as the US and has a vibrant history. Visit regional countries; flights are plentiful and cheaper than domestic flights! The high speed rail network is amazing; clean, modern, reasonably priced.

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

Local markets are varied and fascinating. Ride a bus or take the metro to a station and just explore.

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

Furniture is cheap, but the wood is not properly dried for a colder dry climate; you have been warned. Tailored clothing is relatively inexpensive.

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

You can save a lot of money if you live like a local. You can easily find filling healthy meals for fewer than 3 US dollars on the local scene.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I wish I had better language skills; the better it is, the easier it is to integrate.

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

For China, Guangzhou has the best climate, and is great fir getting to Macau and Hong Kong.

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

Car, sense of privacy, expectation that people understand the concept of queueing.

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4. But don't forget your:

Umbrella, walking shoes, bicycle, and a face mask.

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Guangzhou, China 11/20/18

Background:

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

No. I've had prior postings in Asia and North America.

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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?

About 18 hours with connections. There are some direct flights to the East Coast as well. Lots of flights all over Asia.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About seven months.

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

Work with the U.S. 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?

Nice, modern, serviced apartments close to work. Some are within walking distance, some a little farther but have shuttles. People are generally happy with their apartments. The serviced apartment concept takes away the feeling of a home that you can make your own, however, and storage space is limited. Kitchens are small, as are fridges and ovens.

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

You pay more if you want to have a little security in what you buy, for imported items. It's usually cheaper to eat out. Put out some effort and you can get good fruit and veggies at wet markets. Those are pretty affordable.

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

Canned goods and olive oil.

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

So many choices for good eating in Guangzhou. This city is huge and it's hard to find them all. Near the consulate there are various excellent options of all cuisines. Excellent Turkish, Italian, even Mexican now. It's hard to find good quality Japanese for an affordable price though.

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

No.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO, two-three weeks. It goes through Hong Kong and only comes once a week.

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

Some people have it. Not necessary if you have serviced apartment, in my opinion.

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

Apartments have gyms.

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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?

WeChat pay. Some restaurants can take a card. Local bank account is important to have.

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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?

At least basic conversational skills.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Didi is China's Uber and is widespread and cheap. Buses and metro are very cheap and pretty good.

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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?

Not necessary unless you are a family.

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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?

Internet? Hahahahaha. One of the biggest downfalls of the post, in my opinion. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

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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?

Local SIM cards are helpful for getting WeChat pay set up.

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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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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?

Hmmmm...not many.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Talk to the Community Liaison Office (CLO) Coordinator. I've heard of some.

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

Fairly formal. Get clothes made here or in Hong Kong.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not physical security. Other kinds of security concerns are prevalent.

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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?

Health care is hit or miss. Brand new western-style hospital has just opened, but it has growing pains. Go to Hong Kong for anything serious. People get medevaced a lot.

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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. It has an impact on health and ability to do exercise outdoors. There are months where there are long stretches of good air, though.

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

It's hard to get a clear answer sometimes for what's in your dim sum, etc.

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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)?

Paranoia, in my opinion, from lack of privacy and strange health issues.

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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?

Hot, humid summer. Then cool, humid 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?

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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?

Large business community and a diplomatic community. It's a large U.S. consulate and morale is generally good. They bring in good managers.

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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?

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

Challenges for all, and it takes creativity and patience. You will be put in housing dependent on your situation and be with similar people.

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

Really amazing trips in Asia, easy access to Hong Kong.

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

Furniture, tea ware, art, cheap Chinese made goods. Tailored clothes in Hong Kong.

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

Cheap good food, cheap good travel, and interesting work.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

People say the air in Guangzhou is fine, but that's only in comparison to some other cities. It's better than some large Chinese cities, but still seems poor. In my opinion, the dangers of bad air in many areas does not seem to be discussed as much as it should be, as I'm thinking that would then affect staffing.

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

Some days I think yes, some days I think no. I think southern China has more welcoming and relaxed people than other parts of China, and the food and travel is excellent. But I still don't always feel welcome here and health care has been an issue.

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

Sense of privacy?

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor.

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

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Morale is good and most people really like it here. It is accessible. It helps if you already have a knack for living in China.

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Guangzhou, China 11/19/15

Background:

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

First with the foreign service but have lived elsewhere

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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, although we haven't gone back. There are too many good travel opportunities in the area. Every chance we get we pick one and go there instead.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About a year

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

Government, working at 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?

Most families live at the Canton Towers or on Ersha Island. Singles are in the W, Ascott, and the other Oakwood downtown. Commutes are short. We live on the island and a bus takes us to work everyday, 10 mins max. The apartments are nice, not gigantic, but plenty for a family. The island is quite beautiful with plenty of parks. There are tons of families here so you'll have plenty to do if you have young kids.

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

There are small stores in most of the family housing complexes. People use Amazon Prime Pantry to get other things they can't find. Prices are high. You have to buy imported meat, chicken, and milk, so be prepared to pay $10/lb for hamburger. There is a Costco-style supermarket where you can get some good deals.

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

If you like booze, bring it. You can't get any decent wine unless you want to pay out the nose. The American Employee Association will periodically import booze from Australia.

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

The food is pretty good if you like Cantonese. There are several restaurants that cater to Americans and expats near the Consulate. There are some quite good options for Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian. It's a pretty big city, so you can find lots of things to try. If you go to a local place it's going to seem cheap. For those that cater to Westerners, you're going to pay U.S. prices.

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

None really. The odd cockroach here and there, but they do a good job of pest control.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO or 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?

Good and relatively cheap. We have a half-time Ayi that costs US$400 a month. Depending on your needs, you can get a full-time, live-in, whatever you want. They will work very hard and often have been working for consulate families for years.

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

Housing areas have small gyms

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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 cash from the Consulate. Even if my credit card worked, I wouldn't use it.

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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?

Depends on where you go. In Southern China, people are speaking mostly Cantonese, so Mandarin is their 2nd language, and English often the 3rd. The third language doesn't get quite as much love, so having some Chinese can really help. Even with a 2/2 in Chinese, you'll feel illiterate much of the time, but luckily most signs are also in English.

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

I don't think so. It's a very modern city and most of it has been built in the last 10 years. The area around the Consulate is basically all brand new. It is not going to be as easy as living in the U.S., but I think it would be manageable.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, we take the bus and taxis all the time. A taxi will cost you a few bucks to get most places. The bus is 30 cents. The bus system is really convenient to get to a lot of places the metro doesn't take you.

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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?

Only about 50% of people bring a car and you don't really need one. Taxis are cheap and easy to get unless it's raining. Uber is here and also very cheap. It can be handy to have a car to hit the big-box grocery store or go to the airport. Other than that, you can easily get around with a combo of taxi, metro, and trains.

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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?

No. Nothing here is high-speed, even at the Consulate. You often can't stream Netflix at certain times of the day. At our complex, the internet is so slow that it's basically unusable at night when a lot of people are home. It's decent enough to check email, but you couldn't do anything substantive on it. It's provided for "free" at your residence. You'll need a VPN to get to anything you'd actually want to read. The VPNs often go down for mysterious reasons. Some housing complexes started providing a free 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?

China Unicom. Cheapest plans are about $16 a month with 4G data of 700MB. They go up from there depending on how much data you want. Don't overspend on data, the internet barely works in China for the sites you'll want to be on. All "foreign websites" are slow to the point of being useless sometimes, or blocked altogether.

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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?

We don't have one, but yes they need to be quarantined. Not aware of either vets or kennels. I think people just band together to take care of other peoples' pets when they are out of town.

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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?

None, not even adequate jobs at the consulate. The EPAP program is a joke here. The only jobs for EFMs are as consular assistants. There are quite a few couples that choose to have one spouse live in HK for employment reasons.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are a few, but not sure of details.

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

Biz casual. Shorts in the summer when you're not at work. It's pretty casual overall.

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Health & Safety:

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

In terms of crime, very little to worry about. It's safe to go out at night, take taxis, let your kids play in the complex.

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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. Go to HK unless your life is in danger. Chinese doctors are notoriously bad. HK is plenty close enough to get to when you need an opinion from someone who knows what they are talking about. For anything serious you'll be on medevac to Singapore.

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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 pretty bad, but not near as bad as other places in China. In the summer you can often see some sky. In the winter however, you'll definitely notice it.

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

Probably going to be bad for you with all the pollution and never quite knowing what you're eating

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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?

It's very hot and humid in the Summer between about May and September. After that it can be quite pleasant with low humidity but temperatures in the 70s-80s.

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Schools & Children:

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

Our daughter is at the American school (AISG). Our experience has been generally positive but it's important to note that the school is at least 75% Chinese kids with foreign passports. I think the administration is starting to skew towards the interests of the Chinese parents.

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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?

Our daughter initially attended pre-school at Playschool inside the Ascott hotel. It was excellent with plenty of activities and learning opportunities. It's not cheap, but you get what you pay for.

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

Some soccer, gymnastics, martial arts. You have to go look for it if you want to do it.

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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 Consulate is pretty big with lots of first and second tour officers in the Consular section. The other consulates in the area are typically small due to the way they run their non-immigrant visas. Very few of them do interviews so they don't have a lot of personnel. There are lots of major multinationals in Guangzhou and they will be living at your complex.

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

Dinner parties, birthday parties for the kids. Honestly, a lot of people get out of town on the weekends and go to HK or somewhere else.

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

I think it's a better city for couples and families. Based on what I hear at work, I think singles have a tougher time meeting others. There's a pretty sizable expat population in the general area, but far more concentrated in HK and Shenzhen.

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

The LGBT community seems pretty active in Guangzhou, led by some really passionate people at the consulate and local community. However, it is China so there are definite concerns for locals.

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

I'm sure there are, but I don't see it. Americans are often in the bubble, interacting mostly with other members of the community, so you don't experience it as much as someone that is out there alone and unafraid.

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

Definitely traveling around SE Asia, but there are also a lot of cool things to see within China. That being said, Guangzhou itself is not that exciting. I would liken it to Cleveland. It has everything you could want in a big city, but you wouldn't necessarily make a special trip to go there as a tourist.

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

The hidden gems really aren't in China. Go to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Borneo. Check all those out and when you're done, then go see some interior China stuff like Guilin.

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

You can get custom furniture made, but other than that, there isn't much to buy. You'll spend all your money on getting meat without lead or mercury in it.

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

The #1 benefit is being close to SE Asia with cheap flights out of Guangzhou or Hong Kong to just about anywhere you'd want to go in this area.

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10. Can you save money?

Depends on how much you travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

It's pretty much what I expected

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

Sure, we've enjoyed it. The community is really good for first/second tour officers because there are tons of people and someone always has something going on.

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

Internet addiction

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4. But don't forget your:

Tourist passport. The best thing about this post is bumming around SE Asia and the relatively high hardship differential.

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Guangzhou, China 08/23/14

Background:

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

No, previous experiences in Japan and the U.K.

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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?

The East Coast of the U.S. - depending on the flights and connections, it usually winds up being an eighteen to twenty-hour trip. Connections are usually in Japan or on the West Coast of the U.S. (San Francisco or LA).

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years, from 2011 to 2013.

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

A two-year tour with the U.S. Foreign Service.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There are a number of different housing locations. Since the move to the new Consulate, all of the locations I've seen have extremely nice apartments in well-appointed buildings. If you stay at the Canton Residences, you'll get weekly cleaning and a free breakfast buffet. Everyone I knew seemed pretty happy with their living arrangements once the old consulate tower closed, and people were moved out. Commute time can vary, but they've tried very hard to get everyone closer to the NCC. A lot of families were living on Ersha Island, which is right near the American school and a bit more suburban/residential feeling. There are also apartments out at Golden Lake, which is great if you want to be a ways out of town, but it makes for a lengthy commute to get into town for work, shopping, et cetera. If you're single or don't have kids, I'd probably recommend trying to avoid Golden Lake, if possible.

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

You can get just about anything if you're willing to pay. Cheese is expensive, as are Western cereals. There are a number of foreign food shops locally, and more down in Hong Kong, but it doesn't always come cheap. Some specific brands or specialty items had to be ordered via Amazon. Soda options were pretty much limited to Coke, Coke Zero or 7-Up.

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

Cleaning supplies, any particular, non-perishable Western food you really love (anything for cooking Mexican food, for instance), and that's really about it. Maybe more soda that isn't of the Coke/Coke Zero/Sprite variety. A lot of people shipped alcohol, although you can get that kind of thing locally, but it's a bit more expensive.

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

Most of the American stuff- McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway. The cost is usually about the same as the U.S. or a bit less. Starbucks is a bit more expensive. There are a number of Chinese fast food chains, as well, which are usually cheap, and of course street food, which is very inexpensive. Personally, I never got sick from it, but use some caution and good common sense if you're going the street food route.

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

I don't remember having huge issues with insects, actually. I think people occasionally found roaches, but that's about it.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. The timing of deliveries can vary pretty wildly, because the DPO is routed through Hong Kong, but it was a really nice option to have for sure. My mother once mailed me a postcard through China Post from Xian, and it finally got to Guangzhou about a month and a half after she had finished her visit.

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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 available and very inexpensive. I paid my ayi (housekeeper) about 115 RMB per day, which is around US$20. She also received a month's salary bonus at Chinese New Year and severance pay when I left post. Most people find their ayis through the Consulate grapevine, and I don't think there were more than one or two people at post who didn't have one. They'll do everything from watch your kids to cook for you to clean your apartment, depending on what you need. They'll also do your shopping, if you so desire.

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

Most of the apartment buildings have their own gyms that are free to residents. The Consulate also has a small gym, but the NCC wasn't open when I was there, so I don't know how large or well-equipped it is. A number of people had memberships at local gyms, which they said were reasonably-priced. There are also a number of options for personal trainers.

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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?

China is very cash-based. I bought a TV and had to bring a giant stack of RMB to the store to pay for it. I used ATMs with no problems, but stores will almost never accept U.S. credit cards. You can use your credit cards in Hong Kong.

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

For Christians, there are Catholic and LDS services for sure, and I think some Protestant services, as well. For Jews, there's a Chabad locally, although the primary language of interaction there is Hebrew, and the word is that it's not super welcoming, in part because of language barriers and in part because it's really geared towards the transient, Israeli business population that floods the city a few times a year for the Canton Fairs. It's also Orthodox, so if that's not what you're into, you're kind of out of luck. There are both Orthodox and Liberal Jewish congregations in Hong Kong; the Liberal community in particular is very warm and welcoming to people coming down from Guangzhou, although you usually need to make a weekend of it if you're going for Shabbat or holiday services.

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

The more, the better. The language barrier was one of the biggest obstacles to getting to know local people, in my opinion. While people do speak some English in Guangzhou, having Mandarin or Cantonese will make your life much, much easier. Chinese people are always thrilled to meet foreigners who make an effort to speak Chinese, and I've found my Mandarin to come in handy even after leaving China. If you can't get language before coming to post, I strongly recommend getting a tutor or enrolling in the post language program once you get there. It's very isolating to have zero Chinese, because you need it even for stuff like getting pictures framed or going to the market.

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

Yes. China in general is not very disability-friendly, unfortunately. Poorly-maintained roads and sidewalks, absence of elevators or ramps, etc. I think it would be really hard for someone with physical disabilities to get around without a lot of frustration.

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Transportation:

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

"Safe" is a bit relative, given the nature of Chinese traffic, but all are fine. The metro system in particular is excellent, quite new and well-maintained. Trains, buses and taxis are all extremely affordable- the metro costs somewhere between one and two RMB per trip, which comes out to about sixty cents a ride. Taxis are also very cheap, but it can sometimes be hard to flag one down and, once you do, it's a gamble whether your driver will know where he's going (a lot of drivers are recent arrivals from other provinces and so don't know the city very well).

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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?

Something smaller and not too nice- Chinese drivers are kind of crazy and lot are very inexperienced, because most people haven't been able to afford cars of their own until the last decade or so. Last I heard, cars needed to be made within the last five years. I didn't actually own a car while I was in Guangzhou and got around fine, but it can make your life easier to have one.

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Phone & Internet:

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

"High speed" is very, very relative in China. The internet is, of course, heavily censored, so accessing a variety of major websites (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, the New York Times and others) requires a VPN, which you'll need to set up before arriving. Accessing Chinese sites is usually quick, but foreign websites take a while to load. I would save all of my system updates and do them while traveling to Hong Kong or elsewhere. All apartments have internet access, so far as I know, but it tends to mysteriously cut out during times of political significance (Party congress, for instance). The internet situation in China was one of the single most frustrating and morale-killing aspects of my time there.

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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?

I bought a China Unicom sim card (pay as you go) shortly after arriving in Guangzhou, and it worked fine for me. I just stuck it in my U.S. cell phone, which was unlocked, and had no real issues. You could get a contract phone, and everyone is provided a phone by the Consulate, but when I was there, ELOs were given kind of janky Nokias, so if you wanted any kind of a smartphone, you needed to provide your own.

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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?

I don't believe incoming pets need to be quarantined. Many people acquired cats and dogs while we were there, and they didn't seem to have a problem finding reliable veterinary care or people to watch them. It's worth keeping in mind that while getting pets into China is relatively straightforward, getting them out can be problematic. A lot of countries bar the importation of animals from China or require lengthy quarantines, and the Chinese government only allows you to export one animal per diplomatic passport. There's also not a huge amount of green space in Guangzhou, which could be hard for larger, more active dogs.

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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?

My impression is that there weren't a lot of options, although while I was there one person was working at one of the international schools, and another had started a home business as a personal trainer. Almost everyone else who wanted to work was working at the Consulate in some capacity.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

The Consulate charity group was quite active at setting up volunteer opportunities, particularly at a local school for people with disabilities. I'm sure there are other options out there, as well.

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

Business at work, anything goes in public. China does a real number on clothes and shoes, for some reason- I had multiple pairs of shoes just disintegrate on me, and I wasn't the only one. On the bright side, you can get some nice, new suits made for yourself while you're there.

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Health & Safety:

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

It's China- go ahead and assume all of your electronics are compromised and that your activities are being monitored. In terms of crime, Guangzhou is actually a really safe city, in my experience- I went all over town and never really felt unsafe. Crimes of opportunity do happen, things like pickpocketing or purse theft if you leave your purse on the floor or unwatched in a restaurant, but I never heard of anyone having more serious problems. That being said, if some kind of incident occurs that draws a crowd, things can go bad very quickly. There were intense anti-Japan protests while I was there, and while I personally didn't have any problems, a large mob of protesters did some fairly significant damage to a large hotel that housed part of the Japanese Consulate and a lot of Americans visiting the area. Whether or not protests like this are quashed tends to depend on whether or not they serve some kind of government interest.

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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?

See my comments about pollution, which is severe and absolutely impacts your health while you're there. Tuberculosis is endemic to China, and two people contracted it while I was there. Other people I knew discovered health problems upon their return to the States, usually due to contamination of the food and water supply. Most of the potential health problems are things that will come up long-term, as opposed to manifesting while you're there. For medical care, there are a couple of clinics with foreign-trained doctors, but for anything very serious, you'll need to go to Hong Kong. The medical unit was severely under par while I was there- there was one Chinese nurse and one EFM nurse, and they did their best, but they simply didn't have the facilities to handle much beyond the most basic problems. This may have changed with the NCC move. There are regular Regional Medical Officer visits, but those appointments get booked up very quickly.

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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. Southern China is home to a huge number of factories that are regularly pumping pollutants into both the air and the water. I had a smoker's cough for months after returning to the United States, despite never having smoked a cigarette in my life, and there were widespread problems with severe, recurring headaches, respiratory problems and the like around post. I would be extremely hesitant to expose small children to the air in Guangzhou (or any post in China, really) for a prolonged period of time. Personally, I was aware of the pollution issues before I arrived, but it's easy to underestimate just how severely they can impact your day to day life.

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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?

Hot and wet during summer, cool and wet in winter. In the fall, there's usually a few weeks of really great, pleasant weather, and the time around Chinese New Year was also very comfortable (and enjoyable, since the city usually empties out at that time). Guangzhou has frequent, very sudden, very intense thunderstorms- it can be perfectly nice out, and the next thing you know, the dark clouds turn up and it starts pouring. Bring a good umbrella!

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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 have no personal experience with the international schools, but the people I knew who had kids seemed pretty pleased with them. I heard some rumblings that the academic environment at the American school was very high-pressure and intense, which didn't fit the needs of some families, and also that there had been a couple instances of bullying that weren't really resolved, but that was quite a while ago now and may have been resolved. Aside from the American school, there's also Utahloy, which attracts a lot of Aussies, and the British school. Some families also opted to send their kids to local schools, which seemed to work out well, though you should be prepared for some cultural differences.

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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?

Again, no personal experience, but labor in general in China is very inexpensive, and lots of families with young kids had ayis (housekeepers) who cleaned and also looked after their children during the day. These arrangements varied in effectiveness depending on the ayi, obviously, so it's probably a good idea to ask around when you get to post and see if anyone has recommendations.

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

Yes, although I'm not sure about the details. I believe there's soccer and swimming through Utahloy, and probably other options around town.

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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, but I think morale is generally okay. Guangzhou isn't Shanghai or Beijing, and the expat community is smaller. Within the Consulate, I think people were generally happy there, and you get good at making your own fun, but China can be an exceptionally frustrating place to live at times, and I think almost everyone had periods when they were particularly down in the dumps. The best thing you can do for yourself when that happens is try to get out regularly, do some traveling and explore Asia a bit.

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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?

Travel, go to the markets to buy pearls, pottery or other crafts, get together for game nights, go out for hot pot or other dinner options with friends or to trivia night at one of the local expat bars. Some people played in a band while I was there, which they really enjoyed. Groups of ELOs organized day-long boat trips out of Hong Kong several times, where you rent a boat, bring your own food and booze, go out to the islands and spend the day swimming. The positive side of Guangzhou is that you're making a good differential, and things like eating out aren't very expensive, so it's very easy to make your own fun. The huge ELO community is one of the best things about the post, I think.

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

I think it depends a lot on what you make of it. Generally, I'd say good for all, although as mentioned earlier, I would have real concerns about exposing kids to the environmental issues (food safety, air and water pollution, et cetera) in China for a prolonged period. I think anyone can find a way to enjoy themselves here, but life in China can be frustrating and difficult at times. Single women tend to be really frustrated in terms of the dating scene (or, more accurately, complete absence thereof), and while single men have way more dating options, there are a host of potential issues that come with dating locally if you're working for the USG. That being said, there's a huge ELO community at post that are active and do all kinds of activities, and particularly in the Consular section, I made a lot of close friendships there. That alone made the tour worth it for me.

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

Somewhat unexpectedly, yes. There are a couple of gay bars and clubs and what I gathered to be a pretty active LGBT community. Hong Kong is also nearby and has a very active LGBT community. The LGBT folks I knew at post seemed very happy there, and I didn't hear of many issues in this regard.

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

Yes, yes and yes. Racial problems are the most obvious- the locals are not fans of Africans and, to a certain extent, Middle Easterners, so people with darker skin can have problems finding cabs, getting good service, etc. Asian-Americans will often be assumed to be Chinese, which can sometimes be advantageous (less staring!) and sometimes exceptionally frustrating. Most of the people I knew at post who encountered these issues learned to roll with the punches. Guangzhou's a relatively cosmopolitan place, so you may not get as much staring and general incredulity at your foreignness there as you will if you venture away from the big cities. Expect people to try to rip you off and charge you more for goods and services because you're foreign- all you can do is try to haggle down and smile, because that's just the way things are here.

Religious prejudices are expressed a bit differently, but there are constant tensions between China's Uiyghur population, which is Muslim, and the government. I don't know to what extent that manifests locally, though. If you're Jewish, expect to hear a constant litany about how smart and good with money you must be. The Chinese intend this to be a compliment, but it can be uncomfortable, because most of them don't have much of an understanding of what those stereotypes have met historically. Gender prejudices are usually much less overt, but if you're female and single, you'll get a lot of questions about when you're getting married, why you're not married, etc.

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

Traveling within China and around Southeast Asia. The Guangzhou airport is good-sized and has connecting flights all over the place, and if you can't find a flight out of Guangzhou, you can probably find one leaving Hong Kong. I had a fair amount of experiences with East Asia, but very few with Southeast Asia, and Guangzhou was a great base for traveling around the region. Hong Kong is an amazing city, and I miss having such easy access to it. As for Guangzhou itself, it has a ton of markets and a fair number of concerts and other cultural events, often with very inexpensive ticket prices. I was able to see Yoyo Ma perform for something like fifteen dollars, and the Liverpool Football Club also played an exhibition match while I was there, again for about ten or fifteen bucks a ticket. Guangzhou also has a lot of good restaurants, and there only seemed to be more opening when I left. Learning Chinese, while difficult, was really rewarding and has really paid off even after leaving China.

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

Markets are always good, and Guilin was one of the highlights of my time there. Get out and see China- it's a huge country that's changing so rapidly, the places you want to visit may be paved over and replaced with a shopping mall tomorrow. A group of us went to the Harbin Ice Festival one year, and while it was a pricey trip, it was probably my favorite trip that I took within China during my time there. I can't recommend it highly enough. Also get out and see Southeast Asia- Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia are all close by and well worth visiting. Even Australia is only a nine-hour flight, which isn't bad compared to the time it would usually take you to get there from the States.

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

Paintings, pottery, pearls and other handicrafts. If you go to Beijing, you can still buy some older, Communist-era propaganda posters and other such things.

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

Saving money, if you don't spend it all on travel. It's a great place from which to explore Southeast Asia, and it's only two hours from Hong Kong by train, which is one of its biggest advantages. Pottery and pearls can be purchased very inexpensively, and picture framing can be done for pennies on the dollar. Tailor-made clothing is also inexpensive but the fit and quality of garments can vary wildly. Considering the hardship differential, Guangzhou is pretty good living.

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10. Can you save money?

Absolutely. I traveled a lot and bought a fair amount of keepsakes, and I still managed to sock away a fair amount of money with very few problems. If you have kids, it may be slightly more difficult, but I think it's definitely still possible.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

China is a full-on experience. There are so many people almost everywhere you go, and with such a different language and culture, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. I became a more aggressive person when I was there, mostly because you have to be, or you'll end up constantly being shoved out of the way, cut in front of in lines, et cetera. I didn't anticipate that, though, and it was a bit of a shock when I realized that it had happened. Likewise, I wish I had known just how much of an impact the pollution would have on my day to day life. I thought I understood how bad it was, but even if you're intellectually aware of it, it's hard to fully grasp what the practical implications are until you're living there.

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

Probably. Guangzhou wasn't an easy tour, both because of the workload and the local culture, but I learned a lot about myself there and made some really great friends. Learning Mandarin has been extremely helpful, and like it or hate it, China is a fascinating place that's changing extremely rapidly. For the differential you get, the Guangzhou lifestyle is pretty great, and if you can do visa work there, you can do it pretty much anywhere. I think in a lot of ways, it set me up for success in my following tours and while I wouldn't call myself a "China hand," I have a lot of fond memories of the place and the people.

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

Expectations of personal space, love of orderly waiting in lines, squeamishness about bodily fluids (people spit constantly in China, despite major campaigns to try and curb the practice).

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4. But don't forget your:

Positive attitude, Chinese dictionary and haggling skills.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Last Train Home,

"To Live," and

The Last Emperor (more Beijing centered, but still essential China viewing, I think)

Realistically, Chinese cinema is vast and diverse, with far too many options to list here. Particularly if you're studying Mandarin, there are a host of great movies to check out, some about southern China and some not. My advice would be to explore and see what you like, as Chinese (not to mention Hong Kong) cinema has all kinds of options. More generally, Foshan, about an hour outside of Guangzhou, was Bruce Lee's ancestral home, so there are always his movies, as well.

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

These are more general China reading than Guangzhou specifically, but all are excellent and well worth your time.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China,


Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China,


Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation,

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language,

American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China,

Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now,

A Comrade Lost and Found: A Beijing Story,

Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China's Other Billion.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

China's a place that really gets under your skin, or it was for me. While I thought when I left that I would never serve there again, the longer I'm away, the more I find myself considering it. It's not an easy place to serve, for a host of reasons, but it can be hugely rewarding in a lot of ways.

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Guangzhou, China 05/12/13

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 large cities in China

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

California or Virginia. To California it is 11 hours. To Virginia, with connections through LA, 20+.

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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.)?

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?

Foreign Affairs provided housing. It is excellent. The best, most luxurious living I imagine I'll ever experience in my life.

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

Ridiculously cheap---as long as you don't mind the cadmium, lead, fake labels, etc.

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

Peanut butter, pasta sauce, anything you use or consume regularly where it's important to you that you know it is safe and is actually the brand you expect it to be.

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

KFC. KFC. and... let's see, KFC. Starbucks, 7-11, that's about it. There are lots of really great restaurants, but the city is sorely lacking in Mexican and South American food.

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

Lots of mosquitoes and gnats, but nothing bad. Huge snails and slugs all over the place. It crunches when you walk sometimes.

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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. Both suck and are slow as death, but regular!

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

Cheap! But REALLY good aiyis (aunties) are hard to find.

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

Lots.

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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?

I've heard of folks having troubles, but no one in my circle, or me personally. Bank of America I think has a deal with a China bank here.

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

Yes, Christian denominations.

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

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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?

If you want to slum it at all, you need Mandarin, and I'd recommend Cantonese also. But you don't "need" either. You'd live.

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

Their are virtually no wheelchair ramps anywhere. You would also be rudely stared at.

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Transportation:

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

Both, and plentiful.

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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?

Nothing more than 5 years old is allowed. No security problems---no matter how nice a car you bring. There are Ferraris all over the place here. But be prepared to get dinged.

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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?

Generally, yes. Not sure about the cost.

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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?

Don't bring, buy, or use one that you want to use anywhere else in the world in any sort of private matter.

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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?

Not sure.

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

Good enough.

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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?

Yeah, some.

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

Everything goes! Seriously. Do you want to wear a miniskirt to work? Go for it. You want to wear raggedy jeans and Converse? Go for it. There IS a dress code where I work, but it is not enforced---especially not among local staff.

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Health & Safety:

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

I assume every that every single electronic gadget that I brought, have used, bought or will buy here is compromised. Guangzhou is very safe.

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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 pollution has a palpable negative effect on many people's health. Medical care is quite good.

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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?

Very unhealthy. Some days it is as bad as Beijing. I have seen a blueish color in the sky twice in 8 months. I saw a star once, I think. I get ill frequently, and I believe it is because of the air pollution and my new sensitivity to it.

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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?

Warm, hot, and humid. Winter can cool off some. It rains a lot, and there are really awesome thunderstorms.

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Schools & Children:

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

French school: I have heard reports that the teachers there are not so great. The school is very small, so socialization is notably limited.
Utahloy international has a robust sports program.
The American International School, I hear, is pretty good. The high school is quite far from the city, though.
Local schools are quite good if you'd like your children to learn Chinese.

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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?

Yep.

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Expat Life:

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

Hundreds, or more probably thousands.

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2. Morale among expats:

Quite good, although some things bother people more than others, like aggressive security services, air pollution, apparent rudeness of Chinese people. But I'd say it's generally quite good.

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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!

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

It is good for all of the above. Something for everyone.

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

Excellent socially, politically, and all around.

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

The Chinese people are extremely racist and will vocalize their prejudices to your face. This is a difficult country for anyone with darker skin. Religion is illegal in China.

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

Lots! Going to other countries, checking out museums, cultural sites, bars, live music... lots.

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

All kinds of stuff from jewelry to decorations, beer and food.

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

Saving money, ease of travel to other Southeast Asian countries.

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10. Can you save money?

Oh, yeah!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yep.

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

OCD about cleanliness and hygiene.

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3. But don't forget your:

tissues for the squatty potties --- and hand sanitizer.

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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. Do you have any other comments?

Like everywhere else, this post is what you make of it. It has a lot to offer for someone who wants to get out there and take it.

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Guangzhou, China 04/25/13

Background:

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

Yes.

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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; usually a 4-hour flight to the West Coast; then another 11 hours or so to Tokyo; then 4 1/2 hours to Guangzhou. With layovers a typical trip is 20-22 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Just under 2 years.

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

Spouse of someone working in the 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?

Many consulate families, especially those without kids, live in a number of high-rise apartments in the New Town or Tianhe areas of the city. These areas contain many restaurants and malls and are close to the new consulate, which should open this summer. Many families with kids live either in condos on Ersha Island (quiet area by the river with a big park, but no subway station) or in single-family homes just outside of city center (huge houses, clubhouse amenities, green space, doesn't feel like China, but traveling to the city can be difficult without a car). The single-family homes aside, the living accommodations are nice, but they are small by American standards.

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

Anything organic or imported is quite expensive. You can find organic vegetables at most major grocery stores but not many organic fruits. Groceries can either be really cheap or as expensive as what you'd pay in the US, depending on where you shop and how much you choose local over imported. In China, 'shopping local' isn't as desirable as in the US, given the country's food safety issues.

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

Alcohol (good wine/beer/liquor is both extremely expensive and hard to find...and sometimes fake if you do find it); chocolate chips and other baking supplies, including pans/cookie cutters, etc.; any 'health foods' such as whole wheat flour, quinoa and flax meal; maple syrup; good salsa.

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

If you like fast food, you will not go without. McD's, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, Starbucks, KFC...there's even a Dunkin' Donuts tucked away somewhere in one of the many malls around here. Food is super cheap, especially at fast food and Chinese restaurants. There are only a few restaurants here (excluding hotels) where the prices are similar to what you'd find in the States (which for here means expensive).

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

I've had an occasional problem with mosquitoes, but really nothing major.

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Daily Life:

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

Via the consulate, which has both the pouch and DPO. Packages usually take 2-3 weeks to arrive.

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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 easy to find and quite affordable. It usually costs around $25USD for one day per week of cooking/cleaning.

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

Yes; many housing communities have their own gyms, but if that isn't your thing, there is a chain called Total Fitness with locations scattered across the city. They are about what you'd pay in the States for a membership, but you may find the quality and cleanliness standards are not the same.

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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?

Although many stores and restaurants accept credit cards, this is still mostly a cash economy. I've used my credit card maybe 3 times in 2 years.

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

I have heard that there are English language services for Protestants, Catholics and Mormons. There may be services for other religions as well, but I do not know about them.

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

You can easily buy English-language versions of the Chinese gov't crap that's sold as news, but as for English-language newspapers from abroad, I don't know. Most housing comes with satellite TV with a handful of English stations--NatGeo, AXN, StarWorld, CNN, BBC. I think most people go online for news and entertainment.

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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?

I've known people who do not speak Chinese and seem to get along just fine. Personally, I am very happy that I was able to study the language before arriving; it has been extremely helpful in navigating day-to-day life.

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

I think it would be very difficult to navigate this city with a physical disability. Many metro stations do not have elevators, and many pedestrian walkways only have stairs...no ramps for wheelchairs.

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Transportation:

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

All are safe and affordable. Most taxis don't have seat belts in the back seat, and with the absolutely insane driving that takes place here, you sometimes are muttering Hail Mary to yourself until you reach your destination safely. But no, I've never felt like I could be mugged or kidnapped when on public transportation.

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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?

Most people get along just fine without a vehicle, but if you choose to have one I think any make will be fine. You see all kinds of brands here.

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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?

I'm not sure if I would describe it as 'high-speed,' but it is available for about $30USD/month. Depending on how much the government is cracking down on access to the foreign internet, downloading and streaming can range from simple, to 90s AOL-style snail's pace, to nonexistent.

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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 phones are super cheap and ubiquitous. I use China Mobile and have been fine with it. I think all the plans are pay as you go.

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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're a spouse with the consulate, you're not allowed to work on the local economy, but there are usually openings available for spouses at the consulate.

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

Work: attire at the consulate appears to be business casual for most, depending on what office you're in. Public: anything goes, but everything is pretty casual. You're foreign, you'll get stared at no matter what, so don't worry too much about trying to fit in.

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Health & Safety:

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

I've heard of the occasional pickpocket, but crime-wise this place is very safe. The most dangerous part of the day is dodging crazy drivers when crossing the street.

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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?

Let's see...bird flu, pollution effects on the body (I have friends whose kids get bronchitis easily from being outside all the time), food safety concerns (e.g. ingesting fake meat) and general concerns that come with being in a very crowded city whose population has generally poor hygiene habits. There are two western-style clinics in the city: United Family and Eur-Am. For any major issues, consulate employees and their families are medevac'd to Singapore; Hong Kong is also a good option for major issues.

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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 incredibly bad. In my opinion the pollution is by far the biggest damper on the quality of life here. If you're an outdoorsy type, you may find the inability to do outdoor activities on most days quite annoying.

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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?

It's in a sub-tropical zone, so it's what you'd expect, but with smog. Summer is extremely hot, humid and rainy. There are about 2-3 weeks during the Fall that are very pleasant. Winters are mild (you may need a heavy coat one week out of the year), but January-March is EXTREMELY polluted. You will not see the sun for weeks. Spring is like summer-lite.

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Schools & Children:

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

We don't have kids, but I have heard great things about the American school here.

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2. 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 families with small children have nannies. They are very affordable.

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Expat Life:

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

At the consulate I think there are about 100 families, but because everyone is dispersed throughout the city it can be difficult to meet each other.

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2. Morale among expats:

I think it's just average. It's hard to get a vibe for the morale as a group because everyone is so spread out.

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

If you are single or a couple without kids, and you like to go out a lot, then you will find the nightlife great...there are tons of bars and clubs from which to choose. If you have school-aged children, then you also may find Guangzhou enjoyable...it seems there are lots of activities for school-aged children, and these families seem to have a close bond with other families, both within and outside the consulate community. I think couples who aren't into the bar/club scene and those with small children have the biggest challenge finding a 'niche' in this huge city, with frankly little to do except go out to eat and drink.

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

I know plenty of gay expats here, and none of them have mentioned being discriminated against. The Chinese as a whole are pretty homophobic, but they are not the type to openly discriminate.

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

Definitely traveling through SE Asia... Flights to Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, etc. are all relatively short and inexpensive from Guangzhou. In fact, going to these countries is sometimes cheaper than taking a trip in China. As for China, hiking the Great Wall and visiting Zhangjiajie Park were major highlights. Unfortunately, with the pollution as bad as it is, seeing any sights around Guangzhou isn't very exciting.

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

By far the most fun thing around Guangzhou is this water park about an hour north of town. I cannot remember the name, but they have basically funneled a river through a maze of huge concrete gutters to create the greatest water park that could never in a million years be legal in America. You and another brave soul travel together through this maze in a whitewater raft-type inflatable boat whilst wearing a plastic military helmet. The more I explain it the weirder it sounds, but trust me, during the summer get a big group together and go! Chimelong water park is also a fun time---it's very popular, so go on an American weekday holiday (e.g. Labor Day); it's super crowded on the weekends.

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

High quality items are typically hard to find, but it can be done. Finn's sells well-made modern and antique furniture; Foshan is known for its ceramics; hand-cut paper art and other artisan souvenirs can be found at Chen Clan Academy and other historical sites; and you can buy high-end freshwater pearls at the Yakushi pearl factory. However, the vast majority of items in the many markets across the city are total crap; that said, you should definitely go to all these markets, if nothing else just to see it all! And take recommendations from other expats... while most of the stuff is low-quality, some products are decent, and many expats have already established their favorite 'pearl guy' or 'silverware lady,' so definitely ask others for business cards before venturing out to a market.

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

The best 'local' advantage to Guangzhou is its proximity to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is just a two hour train ride away and provides an awesome mesh of local culture and a cosmopolitan feel. I recommend numerous weekend trips! Guangzhou is also a good location for cheap flights throughout SE Asia. Guangzhou itself is just...meh.

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9. Can you save money?

Absolutely. Even if you travel extensively, you will be able to save money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely not. The air pollution is way too bad to ever want to come back.

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

heavy winter clothes and any inclination to compare this to the West, despite the fact that at first glance it will probably look somewhat familiar to you.

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3. But don't forget your:

VPN account (go ahead and get it before you come...you will absolutely need it to access Netflix, Hulu, NY Times, etc.); patience in large crowds; umbrella and rain boots; heavy duty PM 2.5-blocking pollution mask if you aren't willing to risk it (note: you will look like Darth Vader and people will gawk and take lots of photos of you--some people would do that anyways so don't worry too much about it); clothes and shoes, unless you don't mind shopping online--most clothes here are poor quality and are definitely not sized for the Western physique. Any Western brands here will likely be more expensive to buy here than in the US.

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Guangzhou, China 01/08/13

Background:

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

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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?

New York, 14 hours to Beijing. Then 2 - 3 from Beijing to Guangzhou.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Consulate General and has lived in Guangzhou for 13 months, a third expat experience.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most consulate families live in apartments. There are some single family homes that are farther outside of town. The apartments are all phenomenal! It's almost embarrassing the number of amenities they provide. Commute time is 5 - 20 minutes depending on where you live.

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

It depends what you are buying. Local produce and products are extremely inexpensive. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and butter are very expensive, but widely available.

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

Truthfully, I brought too much! I would recommend bringing any aerosal products, beer/wine/liquor you like (because imported stuff is expensive and potentially a knock off), baking supplies. Everything is easily available.

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

All your typical fast food chains are here: McDonald's, KFC, Subway, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Domino's, plus some Chinese ones. They are all considerably cheaper than the U.S. There are a few great Western restaurants, but they are certainly most expensive (not unreasonable though, on par with US prices).

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

Mosquitoes are a nuisance in the summer, but not overbearing. Besides that, the only insects I see are for sale for dinner.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO comes through Hong Kong. Packages can take anywhere from a week-and-a-half to a month to arrive.

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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 readily available and inexpensive, around $20 per8 hour day. They cook, clean, grocery shop, and do laundry, as well as provide childcare if you need it. My housekeeper is amazing, one of the best cooks I've ever met!

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

The US Consulate, as well as all consulate housing, have nice gym facilities. There are gyms available locally, but I do not know the costs.

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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?

China is a cash society. Some upscale grocery stores and restaurants take U.S. credit cards. It's possible to get a local ATM card, but from what I have heard it's more hassle than it's worth.

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

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

The consulate has AFN, but you can stream most things online as long as you have a VPN.

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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 language you know, the easier it is.

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

The city is relatively well paved, but the subway does not have elevators. It would be moderately difficult, but not unmanageable.

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Transportation:

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

The subway system is fantastic, constantly expanding, inexpensive, and reliable. Trains come every 2 minutes and cost less than $1 USD to ride. They are also extremely clean. Taxis don't have seat belts but the are cheap and reliable.

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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?

None. In a city of 16 million people with very fewrules of the road you don't want to be driving. Public transportation here is wonderful and most of it is brand new. Taxis are also easy to come by and cheap.

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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?

High speed internet is available around $50/month. The speed is okay, but given the censorship you need a VPN, and when using it the connection drops a lot. Not great for streaming.

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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?

The consulate gives all employees phones. Most people have their own personal iPhones, though, and a pay-as-you-go plan with China Mobile or China Unicom. Very easy.

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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?

Yes, there are restrictions on the size and type of animal you bring in. These change constantly so you'll want to check often.

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

People will pets seem satisfied with the availability of pet care. I don't know anyone who has kenneled their animal though. There are enough people that someone will usually watch it for them.

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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 work for the consulate and your spouse/partner wants a job, they can work. This is one of the few posts where there are more jobs than people who want to work. They are good, well paying jobs as well.

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

Dress code is pretty casual depending upon what section you work in.

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Health & Safety:

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

China is extremely safe, you can comfortable walk down the street at all hours.

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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?

Not great for people with health issues, due to the pollution and lack of western-quality medical facilities. Most people visit the doctor/dentist in Hong Kong.

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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?

The air quality to terrible here, in fact the consulate runs an air monitor app. The air quality is one of the major reasons for the 20% differential.

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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?

It's quite hot in the summer, winters are pretty mild usually in the mid-50s. No snow!

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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 don't have kids, but those who do seem thrilled with the International School.

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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?

People with kids seem to be satisfied. Most of them have nannies, which are very inexpensive,

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

There seems to be a lot available through the 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 to medium. The consulate community tends to hang out together a lot. I haven't met many expats from the private sector.

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2. Morale among expats:

As with any post, it varies, and people will always complain about something. Overall I think the morale is pretty high, given the large number of young people and the constant activities.

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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?

It's what you make it. There is a big group of junior officers who are always going out to dinner, trips to Hong Kong or elsewhere, and concerts, you can get involved with.

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

This city is great for both families and young couples. There are tons of young people here, so there are things going on almost every night. For single women it can be a little difficult if you are looking to date. Single men will have no problem if they don't mind dating the locals.

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

It's a surprisingly great place for gay/lesbian expats. There is a big community here with night clubs. Hong Kong is a short 2-hour train ride with tons of bars and clubs.

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

Chinese are particularly racist to Africans, who often have difficulties getting cabs. They tend to be a bit friendlier to African Americans, but it's a culture that prides itself on white skin to the extend of bleaching it.

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

Guangzhou is constantly changing and expanding, so there are a lot of new places to check out. China itself is very diverse, so there is a lot of opportunity to travel regionally. Chengdu - Pandas, Yangshou - mountains and biking, Hong Kong - entertainment and dining, Shanghai - shopping, Beijing - historical sites.

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

The most popular things to do are: to go out to dinner, clubs/bars, or to take the train 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?

Everything is made here, but a lot of it is crap. You can get pearls, tailor made clothing, electronics, handicrafts, and furniture.

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

Moderate weather, inexpensive travel to most of Southeast Asia, and you can definitely save money!

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely! My husband and I have traveled extensively during our tour here and still saved!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a heartbeat. I fear leaving this post because everything is so nice and the people rock!

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

car!

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3. But don't forget your:

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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?

Bid it, you won't regret it!

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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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Guangzhou, China 05/29/11

Background:

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

First expat experience

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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?

There's a direct flight from LAX that takes about 14-15 hours. Most connections go through Tokyo, Beijing, or Hong Kong. My home base is Washington (state). When we arrived we flew Seattle to San Francisco for a few days, then San Francisco to Shanghai and Shanghai to Guangzhou. SF-Shanghai was 12 hours and Shanghai-GZ was about 2 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I arrived in July 2010 and will be here until July 2012

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

Affiliated with the 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?

The consulate provides spacious apartments to its employees. Some of the new housing coming online now includes suburban-style single family homes about a half hour outside of town.

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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 buy local goods, they're dirt cheap. But then you can't be totally sure that they're not full of dirt or made of colored dirt; quality control is a major issue. Imported goods cost about double what you'd pay in the U.S., but there are at least half a dozen stores that sell these so you can almost always find what you're looking for.

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

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

Fast food: McDonald's, KFC, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, 1 Dairy Queen, SubwayOverall Guangzhou has LOTS of restaurants, covering almost every kind of cuisine, and many of them are pretty good. You can get a decent meal at many of them for about 5 USD, and it goes up from there to the 50 USD that you'd pay for the Grand Hyatt's brunch buffet.

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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?

Given the massive quality control concerns, Chinese themselves are *beginning* to organize organic groceries. There is at least one place that sells organic produce (Corner's Deli) but it is significantly more expensive.

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

Mosquitoes are terrible. Cockroaches.

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Daily Life:

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

We use the consulate's DPO and dip 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, we have a full-time live-out nanny/housekeeper/cook ("ayi")and pay about $500/month for her. We pay her a bit more than others though, but in return we have an on-call babysitter who never charges overtime. She works almost 50 hours/week so it works out to be pretty affordable. I think the going rate is about $15/day for 8 hours if you don't have kids.

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

Yes, many apartment complexes have facilities. There are also Western-style membership gyms.

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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 an all-cash economy, so wouldn't recommend using credit cards, even if they will take them. Only use ATMs that are attached to banks and look reputable. We try to us the consulate's cashier to get money as much as possible.

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

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

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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's pretty important to know the language. Mandarin works just fine but Cantonese is the main language here, most people speak both. English is understood in some places but it's best to know at least a few key phrases in either Mandarin or Cantonese. My wife didn't know anything before she got here, but now gets by alright with her stock of 20 or so Mandarin phrases

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

Many sidewalks are narrow and uneven. Sometimes there are just stairs, no escalators. It's also crowded.

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Transportation:

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

Very affordable, very safe. We didn't bring a car and only use public transportation and taxis. They do drive like maniacs though.

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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?

I see lots of Audis and Mercedes being driven by the military and government officials, so that's probably a good bet for parts and service availability. China is now the world's largest car market, probably anything is fine. Oh, but don't bring anything too nice or shiny -- people drive kind of crazy and you will almost certainly get dinged.

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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?

Our apartment put up a flyer advertising that fiber optic internet was available for the super-low rate of about 300 USD/month. Seriously. We've stuck with our DSL service for about $40-50/month (can't remember).It's shared bandwidth, so sometimes it's blazing fast, sometimes it crawls horribly slowly. The ISP also has a nasty habit of throttling your bandwidth if you catch a high-speed time and try to take advantage with a bunch of downloads. Oh and of course everything is censored, monitored, and controlled (adds to the slowness), so you'll need a 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?

Pay-as-you-go. China Unicom has a better data network than China Telecom

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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)?

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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?

Teaching English is a big one. Things related to business or import/export facilitation would do well too.

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

Americans at my work wear business casual. Chinese, though, tend to wear whatever they interpret "business casual" to mean, which can range from jeans and a logo'd t-shirt to fishnet stockings and a miniskirt (with a logo'd t-shirt).Some dress better than others. In public you'll see lots of women in high heels and short skirts, especially in the summer.

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Health & Safety:

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

Nothing dangerous at all. This is the safest place we've ever lived. I've only heard of one incident of pick-pocketing, but I'm sure it happens in some areas of the city. Definitely no violent crime. But just remember that China is not a free society, there are cameras all over the place.

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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?

There are two urgent-care clinics that we've had success with, they have western-trained doctors. For anything really serious you're advised to go to Hong Kong.

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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?

Pretty bad. It's gotten better since we got here, but for months it was rare to see the sky. There is a lot of pollution from factories. Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong province, which is where much of the manufacturing takes place in China. If it says "Made in China" it was probably made here. There are tons of factories which makes for a lot of pollution.

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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?

Typically long hot and humid summers (April to September) and mild and less humid winters. November was perfect, December - February fluctuated between 70s and 40s. It doesn't snow here but there are a few weeks that will dip into the lower 40s. May/June through September/October are muggy and hot.

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Schools & Children:

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

Supposed to be good, no direct experience. I think there's at least an American one, British one, and a Canadian one.

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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?

Yes, definitely have basketball and 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?

Somewhere in the thousands. In addition to the consulate, there are a lot of US and European companies with a presence, and lots and lots of short-term traders.

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2. Morale among expats:

Some people love it, some hate it, I think the most common feeling is that there certainly are some bad and annoying things, but it's overall not a horrible place and living here for 2-3 years isn't too bad.

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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?

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

For families, it's not the most stroller-friendly city, with narrow or uneven sidewalks, and sometimes you're stuck using stairs (no escalators, ramps, etc.).It's not awful either, but it's not as convenient as the U.S.Without a car, it is significantly more of a hassle to try to do things with a small child. Couples without kids can get out and about easily -- there are a lot of good restaurants and hang-out places in the city and interesting places to go see in the surrounding area. Single guys looking for romance will have no trouble; single ladies may have a harder time. There are a half dozen or so good expat bars, plus all the 5-star hotels' bars, and a street along the river with several clubs.

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

I've heard Shanghai and Hong Kong are better, obviously, and the Chinese are a bit homophobic, but there is a large ex-pat community and I know some people have started relationships

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

Chinese are well-known for being racist, especially towards black people. If you're a black Westerner, that mitigates it somewhat, but they seem to really dislike Africans.

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

Going to Hong Kong frequently. Having a nanny/housekeeper/cook ("ayi").

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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. Lots of shopping in Guangzhou (in markets and in malls), but if you aren't much of a shopper you'll get tired of it after a few weeks.

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

Asian art and furniture

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

Guangzhou's major advantage is that it is close to Hong Kong (2 hour train ride) and Macau (2 hour bus ride, shortened to a 45-minute train ride by the end of 2011).When you need a break from the Mainland, it's easy to get away. I'm also told that relatively more people speak English in Guangzhou than other parts of China, probably due to the major international trade focus here. As far as saving money, we finally put together a budget a couple weeks ago and realized we're saving 50% of our income each month.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, we seem to be saving about 50% of our monthly income.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Would prefer to be in Hong Kong or Shanghai, but it's much better than some of the other options I had. Professionally it's been great, the work is great, it's just not a super nice city and non-working spouses may prefer to live somewhere else.

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

Snow-related equipment

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3. But don't forget your:

bug repellent, rain boots, and LOTS of 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?

Snakehead

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you have young white children (especially babies), come with a lot of patience. The Chinese will think your kid is just the cutest thing they've ever seen, always wanting to take pictures with him/her, touching him/her, and commenting about him/her. It's nice at first, but that wears off quickly.

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Guangzhou, China 07/28/09

Background:

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

I have lived in Mexico, Italy, and France.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Have served there one year, have one more year to go.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

People usually travel through Hong Kong, Beijing, or Tokyo. Travel time is at least 15 - 24 hours, depending on where you are in the U.S.

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

Foreign Service.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There are three current housing locations. Most people live in the same building as the consulate, which is housed on a lush, quiet, and very charming island smack dab in the middle of the old district of Guangzhou. Families with children live at Oakwood on another island further down the Pearl River - not as charming, no stores, but the apartments are spacious, there's a pool, a grocery store, room service (and feels very much like a resort in Orlando). As the consulate will be moving locations in a few years, there is new housing at a new, third location (New World) which is in the middle of the soon-to-be new financial center of Guangzhou. There are rumors of a City Super (groceries) moving in close to the complex, and stores and shops abound. Commutes depend on where you live and work, as the consulate is on one island, the consular section across the city, and other offices scattered in hotels. Commutes for most people are 20 - 45 min.

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

Expensive, unless you go native. Food safety is a legitimate, serious concern in China, so most of us drink imported milk, eat imported meats, yogurt, cheese, etc. If you buy the same stuff that you buy in the U.S., you will pay 5X the price. A box of cereal is $6 - 10 USD per box, small boxes of milk are 3 USD, etc. We have one store that approximates a version of WalMart, but it's expensive and has limited selections. There are big grocery chains here; people who brave these stores know to avoid saturdays and sundays when it's literally an ocean of people.

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

More shoes, OTC drugs, cold meds, hygiene products. You cannot find Advil, Tylenol, or aspirin anywhere in China.

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

McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, good Indian, Vietnamese... you'll find almost anything you want here; it might just taste "not quite right."

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

A few roaches here and there, but nothing like Florida or Louisiana.

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Daily Life:

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

FPO, pouch. Mail takes a long time to get here. Count on 4-6 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?

Domestic help is plentiful, reliable, and affordable.

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

Yes. The consulate has a gym, so does Oakwood.

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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?

This is a cash culture. You learn to carry lots of cash with you all the time. Reliable ATMs can be found in malls or in banks.

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

Yes, I know of two English-language churches, one is Catholic I believe.

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

If you live above the consulate, you have access to AFN, which has many stations from the US. If you live at Oakwood, you get the grab-bag of languages: Chinese, Japanese, English, French... there are a few stations from Australia.

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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?

Aside from a few servers in the Western fast food restaurants in Tian Yu (the current financial center), nobody speaks English. Many don't speak Mandarin, either.

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

Guangzhou is a mixed bag. While many little shops don't have electricity, and people still bathe in fountains, the roads are wide, bridges well-built, and most sidewalks pretty well maintained.

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Transportation:

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

Very cheap. Taxis vary from rust buckets to nice and comfortable, but they all charge the same fee:1 USD for the first 2-3 kilometers.

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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?

Check with GSO, honestly. Regulations change here every month. Just because someone could bring a car here last winter doesn't mean the same car would be allowed now. The Chinese government restricts the use of diplomatic vehicles to a radius in Guangzhou proper, so a lot of people don't bring cars. The roads are well-maintained, however.

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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?

High speed internet is hard to find. You can buy what the Chinese call "high speed internet," but if you expect it to be the same as cable internet in the US, you will be disappointed. The internet is frequently interrupted, and download and upload speeds are very slow. Internet costs about 50 USD a month.

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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 can buy a cell phone cheaply on the local market and use top-up cards.

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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?

It's easier to fly into Guangzhou directly from California. Avoid Beijing, where you will have to navigate customs. Honestly, bringing animals into Guangzhou was a nightmare for us, despite months of planning, etc. The best is to book a flight, book your pets on the flight, hope the flights aren't cancelled, and avoid flying through Beijing or Hong Kong. Once here, you can do the 1-month quarantine in your home.

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

There is one vet that speaks English, and people have had a mixed response to him. We've had great luck with him, but he's expensive -- and a few others won't ever go back to see him.

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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 bilateral agreement for spousal employment. If you come here with a job, good. If not, good luck.

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

Dress code at the consulate is professional. In public, most people wear jeans and dark clothing. Not many in shorts.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy. The air often smells like burnt particulates, you can't see buildings that are a few city blocks away, and you rarely see the sun.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

There's a whole slew of them. For up-to-date info, check travel.state.gov

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

None.

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

Again, a mixed bag. You can buy meds, but I have no idea if they are real. There are several clinics that are good for common problems, but anyone with serious medical issues goes to Hong Kong to get treated.

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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?

Guangzhou is hot, steamy, and wet. Winter is a little cooler.

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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 have no experience with the schools, but my colleagues are very happy with their children's school experience.

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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?

Preschool and day care are available at Oakwood. Most families hire an ayi (household help) who can double as a nanny. A typical ayi will earn 100 - 125 RMB a day depending on the needs of the family, which works out to about 15 - 20 USD a day.

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

Yes.

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Expat Life:

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

I hear there are about 5000 Americans who live in Guangzhou, although you don't see them during the day.

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2. Morale among expats:

Again, mixed bag. Guangzhou is ok, just boring.

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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, clubs, restaurants, massage, shopping, Hong Kong.

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

Guangzhou has some bars, restaurants, and nightclubs that singles visit frequently. Families don't have much to do here, except walk around a crowded park or play on the playground or pool at Oakwood. Couples can go out to eat, shop at malls or at crowded Chinese markets.

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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?

From experience, if you are not racially Chinese, you will be stared at, followed, talked to, and have people taking your picture while you shop, ride in a taxi, etc. If you are not Caucasian, the Chinese will have difficulty in accepting that you are an American. If you are of Asian descent, the Chinese will expect you to speak fluent Chinese.

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

Guangzhou doesn't offer much as a city. You can eat well, get massages, and shop at the large, wholesale markets. That's it. Movie theaters play censored movies, there are very few bookstores, and the city is industrial, big, and grimy. There are a few museums and temples, but after a week-end, you've seen it all. To have fun, people go to Hong Kong, which is less than two hours away by train.

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

Pottery, scrolls, jade, pearls, purses, etc.

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9. Can you save money?

Absolutely. Unless you go to Hong Kong.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. Guangzhou is comfortable, the housing is amazing, the people are nice, the food is good... but honestly, there is just nothing to do. The city has no scenic spots, the time change has been a challenge, and the difficulty in purchasing certain items are the big drawbacks. If you are looking for anything specific or unusual -- and you are not a native Cantonese or Mandarin-speaker -- good luck. Even if you excel at Mandarin, you will have difficulty communicating and understanding what is said to you. The pollution is very bad, the weather is very hot and very humid from May to October. People who work here leave Guangzhou a lot: Thailand, Hong Kong, and Vietnam are some favorite destinations. This is a hard-to-fill post for a reason. Don't be fooled by its "developed" facade.

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

winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

medicines and sunglasses.

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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Guangzhou, China 01/10/09

Background:

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

No, this is my 3rd expat experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

18-24 hours total travel time.

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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?

For the U.S. Consulate there are apartments in the consulate building and two other sites that have private apartments. Traditionally people without kids live in the Consulate and those without live at the other complexes, but as the community grows this is changing.

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

Almost everything is available. Prices for Chinese brands are slightly cheaper than U.S. prices. Western brands are more expensive, but it's all affordable.

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

Be sure to bring dishwasher soap. That's the one thing I haven't been able to find here. Pretty much everything else you could want is available locally. Baking supplies can be hard to find.

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

KFC, McDonalds, Papa Johns, and Starbucks are everywhere. Lots of great restaurants are available. Prices vary, but $5-15 is standard for a nice meal out.

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

Practically none. There are cockroaches and ants, but they don't seem to be a major problem.

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Daily Life:

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

APO takes 2-3 weeks. DHL also ships here, but is expensive. I've never used the standard Chinese post system.

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

Definitely available. About US$10-15 a day for domestic help.

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

Yes, the consulate housing complexes all have gyms and there are many commercial gyms throughout the city.

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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's still tough to find places that take credit cards, but ATMs are everywhere and I've never had any problems using them.

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

There are several Christian churches in town. I'm not sure which denominations are represented. Other religions might have a tough time.

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

Those in the consulate building have AFN.The local satellite package includes HBO, CNN, BBC, ESPN Asia, and Star (a Hong Kong network).

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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?

Chinese people don't expect much from foreigners and you could survive here with little or no language (although not without hassles), but knowing some Chinese would make it much easier and more enjoyable.

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

It would be tough, but possible. A lot of the buildings still lack ramps, but the infrastructure is improving. It would be tough, but better than a lot of other spots in the developing world.

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Transportation:

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

Trains are great. The subway is really convenient if you work at the consulate. Buses are incredibly cheap, but crowded. Taxis are everywhere and very cheap. All types of transportation are safe.

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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?

A car is not necessary in Guangzhou. The subway system is very good and cabs are extremely cheap. If you wanted to bring a car something smaller is probably easier to manage.

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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?

Available and very reliable, although a little slow. I pay about US$35 a month.

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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?

Sim cards are available at any convenience store. Phone prices might be a little higher here than in the U.S., but if you buy in the US be sure to get a quad band phone. If you buy a phone here you should do it in Hong Kong to avoid getting a counterfeit one.

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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. There is a size restriction on dogs, but it's not strictly enforced.

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

I don't have any first hand experience, but I've heard horror stories about the vets here. It's better to leave your pet with a friend.

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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?

It can be tough. There's no bilateral work agreement, so diplomatic spouses have to work within the mission. There's a lot of industry here, but it seems like most of the expat jobs are outside of Guangzhou

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

Comparable to the U.S.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy. The pollution is the one really terrible thing about Guangzhou. It's a constant factor and will affect your health. It also makes normal outdoor activities much less enjoyable.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

I get a flu shot, but it's not required. I got rabies and encephalitis before I came.

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

Very safe. There is some pickpocketing and petty theft, but Guangzhou is far safer than your average American metropolitan area. I don't know a single person who's been the victim of a crime here.

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

The pollution is the big one. There's also the constant concern about another epidemic in this part of the world. Medical care is available, but for anything big most people go to Hong Kong.

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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 summers, warm and rainy winters. Lots of gray days due to the pollution.

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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, but I haven't heard too many people complain. Most of the consulate children attend the American International School Guangzhou.

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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?

Most people hire domestic help to take care of their kids during the day. The going rate is about US$10-15 per day.

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

Certainly for basketball and soccer. Other sports could be tougher to find.

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Expat Life:

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

Moderate. I'm sure there are a lot of people here, but spread out through a city this size it doesn't really feel like it.

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2. Morale among expats:

Decent. Pollution is the biggest complaint.

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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?

It centers around eating, but there are also English language movies, decent bars, lots of shopping, and lots of other activities. It's only about two hours to Hong Kong and there are endless things to do there.

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

Good for families and couples. It can be a little rough on singles given the peculiarities of dating in China, but I'd still think there's more good than bad.

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

I haven't seen any examples of prejudice here and I would guess there is a community somewhere here, but I don't know much about it. I'd guess it's ok.

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

Very few. The people who may have the toughest time are Asian-Americans as the expectations are much higher. Non-asians get all the credit in the world for being able to say a few words in Chinese, but if you're ethnically Chinese and don't speak fluently people will look down on you. African-Americans may also have some minor issues, but nothing to worry about.

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

There's a lot to do here, but it can be tough to find and a pain to get to. Guangzhou has most everything you could want, but you really have to search for it. The best thing about Guangzhou though, are the restaurants. The food here is really great and inexpensive. Most types of cuisine are represented.

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

Tailor-made clothes, cheap consumer goods, and of course food.

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely, but there are so many good places to travel to.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, it's a good spot to spend a couple of years and a remarkably easy city to live in, but I don't plan on coming back any time soon.

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

China guidebooks. They only have a few pages on Guangzhou.

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3. But don't forget your:

Air filters and adventurous spirit. Guangzhou can be lonely and isolating or a decent time. Be sure to get out.

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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