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

Personal Experiences from Ningbo, China

Ningbo, China 08/11/14

Background:

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

This is the third Chinese city in which I have lived.

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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?

My base is from San Francisco or Los Angeles, requiring a 13-14 hour flight with no connecting lay-overs, for the most part.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I lived here for five years, from 2008 - 2013.

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

Employment.

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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 quality of housing in Beilun (anywhere in China) depends entirely on the company providing it. For me in the Ningbo area, it meant total luxury and superb comfort, including sunken tubs, huge walk-in showers, heated floors, gorgeous wood flooring, built-in oven, laundry room, roomy kitchen storage areas. Loved it!

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

Groceries can be purchased all over, with fresh vegetables being the best in the world. Other imported items such as wines, cheeses, New Zealand steaks, butter, cream....all that....can be found at Metro or the other import food store in Ningbo.

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

Nothing.

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

Most all fast food is available in Beilun and Ningbo, including Pizza Hut, KFC, Starbucks. Cup o Joe was a wonderfully warm gathering place for everyone, both Chinese and expat. Fun times.

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

None whatsoever.

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Daily Life:

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

Also very easy. No problems....just like living in America.

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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 getting more expensive by the day. Long gone are the years of cheap household help in China, I'm sorry to say. The amazing thing, too, is the fact that more and more, housekeepers speak and read English and communicate by email and text.

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

Not too many that were decent.

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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?

Easy to do. Sometimes it's hard to remember you're not in the States or Canada.

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

There is a good Protestant service in Beilun, a nice Catholic parish in Ningbo.

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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?

Not too much, but it's fun to learn.

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

Probably, yes. China, in general, has some catching up to do with caring for its handicapped population.

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Transportation:

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

Yes and yes.

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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?

We thought driving and owning a car would be a ridiculous thing to do, with the easy access to taxis, busses, and trains. Why? Driving is a bit weird in China, don't forget.

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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?

HORRIBLE INTERNET. HORRIBLE.

This is, hands down, the MOST CHALLENGING aspect of life in China. The internet is often shut down for no reason whatsoever. Drove me crazy.

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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?

Simple. 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?

I have no idea, never had a pet in China. I have heard that it's a real issue to bring in a dog, and that puppies purchased within China often perish too soon. They aren't ready to leave their mothers, apparently.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not really.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are many ways to serve and reach out to the local Chinese, if only one extends their efforts a little.

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

Can really vary. Smart, professional works well. Ningbo and all of China seems to be a high-fashion place these days, too, so it's fun to buy and wear the latest trends.

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Health & Safety:

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

None. I feel safer in China than I do anywhere in the world.

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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 in Beilun and Ningbo are big concerns of mine, and the primary reason we left the area. There are no good western clinics here at all, and the expense of quick trips to and from Shanghai are daunting. Just stay healthy.

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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?

Really pretty terrible, actually.

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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?

The Ningbo area offers four seasons, the longest being a cold winter. I grew accustomed to the intense humidity and loved the weather.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are few selections, unfortunately. The Access International Academy Ningbo offered the best for a long time - great performing arts teacher, maths, sciences...but the school owners keep firing the good directors and hiring very poor leaders. The last two have been simply atrocious, and eventually, no matter how fine the faculty may be, that will affect the entire school. Alternatively, one can arrange for bussing to get to the large school in Ningbo - the Ningbo International School with an Australian curriculum is the most reliable. The former incompetent director from AIAN recently opened a school in the same city, but will no doubt run that school into the ground, as well. Sad, because it would be good for us parents to have a few more choices.

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

None. Whatsoever.

I saw a family work very hard to provide their special-needs child with a high school education. They pulled it off with the help of online classes.

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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?

There is an excellent preschool in Beilun, directly adjacent to the AIAN (Access International Academy Ningbo). My children were older, but I have heard nothing but good reports.

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

Check out the school programs. My child played soccer with a weekend program that brought several local schools together. Great fun.

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Expat Life:

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

Great morale and ... small enough to really get to know people and develop lifelong friends. After the big cities of Beijing and Guangzhou, this expat community seems more like a down-home group, which was nice in many ways.

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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?

Clubbing, eating out, eating in, karaoke, luncheons, outdoor adventures, travel opportunities in groups.

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

Excellent. For all!

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

No experience here, but most likely is.

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

None whatsoever.

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

Travel, people, work, shopping, being immersed in culture, massages in the home, great food, endlessly interesting restaurants, cultural celebrations and magnificent traditions.

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

Oh, my, yes. Hiking, bike riding trails abound. This area is a photographer's dream. Mountain top parks, temples, the oldest library in China, Tantoushan Island for camping, Putoushan Island for hiking, exploring. Suzhou is near by, with its water towns. Ancient villages are all over the place. The best shopping the world has to offer is all over Ningbo now, and Shanghai is a mere three hours by bus for long, exciting weekend adventures. The expat community really does some great planning for excursions and celebratory events.

I just wish I could have stayed in Ningbo forever.

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

Everything, absolutely everything. You name it.

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

Ningbo is a great place to live and work. One of its outlying suburbs is Beilun, which is actually where I resided. This presented some challenges in terms of finding needed groceries and supplies but the trip to and from Ningbo is easily accomplished by bus. Taxis can be quite expensive; not recommended.

A new subway system should be completed within two years, and then it will really get easier.

China, in general, offers an endlessly changing array of opportunities for travel, language study, experiencing and enjoying a fascinating culture. I lived in China for fifteen years altogether, both in the north and southern Guangzhou area.

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10. Can you save money?

No. Too much to do and see. For those who stay at home and can resist flying off to Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal and Tibet, saving would be easier.

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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 known how much I would love it here. I would have not come - too hard to return.

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

YES. In a heartbeat.

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

Car and all related driving issues, clothes (you'll find enough in China) - unless you're a plus-size person, then you do need to bring ample clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor, heavy parkas and boots for long winters.

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

Lisa See books, "Life and Death in Shanghai", "In Mao's Shadow", etc. Too many to list.

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