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

Personal Experiences from Shenyang, China

Shenyang, China 03/15/19

Background:

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

It's my first with the government; prior to government work, I've lived in Europe, Central America, and elsewhere 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?

Washington, DC. Generally people transit via Seoul or Narita, avoiding the mess that is Beijing. We now have direct flights to LA, which is nice.

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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?

We mostly live in apartments; they usually have enough bedrooms for everyone plus one room as an office, Euro-sized stoves, and American-sized fridges and washer/dryers. They have "developing country" issues, but are nice enough for living in for two years.

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

It's China, so you can't find everything you want, but we have an IKEA, several Metros, Sam's Club, and a few import stores. There are also local versions of Walmart and Carrefour. Plus, there are still old-style markets where you can get your raw meat (or living chickens!), fruits and veggies, tofu, local sausages, etc. Non-imported food is generally very cheap; imported food is regularly priced. Amazing selection of imported beer and wine.

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

Canned tomatoes, non-scented laundry detergent, tomato or V8 juice, hair dye, fingernail polish remover. You can find a lot of stuff, but it's not always the brand you want, for example, or if you're buying on Taobao, you don't always know the quality. If you have allergies, you'll want to bring stuff that works for that.

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

The Japanese and Korean restaurants here are amazing. The usual Western fast foods: Starbucks, KFC, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonalds. Some solid Western restaurants. There are a multitude of delivery companies, but you need to have a grasp of Chinese to use the apps and deal with the phone calls.

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

No, almost creepily no.

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Daily Life:

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

China Post works, I guess. There's DHL for fast delivery. We exclusively use consulate mail.

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

Household help is super cheap and usually good. Many people have "ayis" to clean the house, look after kids, cook food, etc. You may have to do some training, and most don't speak Chinese.

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

Most hotels have gyms, and there are commercial gyms as well. Biggest issue is whether or not they have air purifiers to handle the many dangerously polluted days.

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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?

No. Most people use cash or mobile phone payment systems via WeChat or Alipay. ATMs are common in banks, and usually legit.

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

There are English language religious services: Seventh Day Adventist, LDS, Protestant and Catholic. There are also Korean- language services. The Chinese government does place limits on how foreigners can interact with Chinese people re: religion, and people who push that boundary end up causing a lot of trouble for the Chinese person.

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

The more, the better. Even with Google Translate and Baidu Translate, not speaking and reading Chinese is a daily stresser. Learn all the Chinese possible, and expect to use it robustly to get through the average day in Shenyang. There are local language schools, but you'll have to prioritize actually learning Chinese.

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

Yes. Few ramps or other accessible facilities, broken sidewalks, cars blocking the sidewalks, etc. In two years, I've seen one Chinese person in a wheelchair.

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Transportation:

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

Relatively safe; - maybe traffic accidents could get you, but you won't be robbed (at least not if you make the taxi driver use the meter). Very affordable.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Smaller is better, due to the lack of parking most places. Road rules are kind of a joke, but it's a pretty safe area. You see everything from Mini Coops to Mazarattis.

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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?

Ha ha. The Great Firewall is real; you may have high-speed internet to shop on Taobao in Chinese, but when they block the VPNs, you won't be able to do anything that requires one for days on end.

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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 Mobile or China Telecom are about the same. You'll want to toss your phone (and other electronics) after being in China due to all the spy-ware and mal-ware that will infect them.

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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?

Kinda-sorta. We have avoided going to the vets as much as possible. There are some decent ones, but you find out about them via word of mouth. I would not kennel my animal here; people like pets, but aren't necessarily good with them. We had in-house quarantine with our pets when we arrived.

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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 aren't working for the US government, you can get a work visa to teach English. They are cracking down on foreigners teaching/working on tourist visas. Pay is low, and I've heard employee abuse is real. Telecommuting is a challenge given the unreliable internet and the lack of data security.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

A few religious ones, but volunteering is not encouraged by the local government.

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

Business suits, or China business casual (anything from black sweats to velvet dresses). Formal dress rarely required.

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Health & Safety:

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

Getting run over by a scooter or a car on the sidewalk; dying in a traffic accident; getting crushed by crumbling infrastructure; lung cancer after breathing the air. On the other hand, as a woman you can walk home alone at 2am and you'll be safe unless you fall into a hole in the sidewalk.

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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?

Food poisoning from eating at a restaurant. Lung or sinus issues from the chronic pollution problems. Medical care is inadequate; ok if it's really minor, or better than nothing if you've been hit by a car, but not good for anything else. People get medically evacuated for most things.

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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. Seriously bad. Bad enough that you don't leave your house for days on end, even with masks available. It's hard to express just how much it wears on you to be dealing with pollution issues for weeks at a time.

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

Cigarette smoke is every where. If you are seriously allergic to a food item, then avoid eating out.

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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)?

People get cranky about living in China, and need to get out of town every few months.

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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?

Cold and dry in the winter, hot and humid in the summer. Not all that different than DC really.

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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, with okay morale. People mostly know what they're getting in to, coming here. I think the people who have close ties to Beijing have it the worst, as it's just close enough to visit and so they don't settle in here.

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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?

Drinking beer and eating chuar (meat on a stick).

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

It's okay; there's a lot of like about Shenyang, but it's best if you know how to make your own fun.

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

Not really, as it's not really common here. Shenyang is a very blue-collar town.

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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?

Yes and no. A lot of people just want to make friends with you for their own advantage. If you are black, there are a lot of assumptions made about you.

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

Shenyang has a large Muslim population, which is cool.

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

Dalian is beautiful, right on the ocean. Going to the Harbin Ice Festival and seeing all the ice-carvings. Looking across the Yalu River into North Korea, and climbing the Great Wall. Seeing the big blue skies up in the Daqing oil fields. Lilacs and hollyhocks.

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

Alas, no.

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

The blueberries and strawberries are amazing and cheap.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Just how isolated we would be.

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

Yes, but my expectations would be lower.

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

Outgoing, friendly nature.

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4. But don't forget your:

Air masks, long winter coat, and your VPN.

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Shenyang, China 07/02/16

Background:

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

We lived in Taiwan for many years.

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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 Lansing, MI. We take the direct flight from Detroit to Beijing (12+ hours), then connect to Shenyang via domestic flight (1.5 hours).

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years, 2014-2016.

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

I worked in 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?

We lived in a hotel that was converted into an apartment. Charming housing with lots of personality. Downtown location, very convenient to transportation and shopping.

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

Food is cheap in this part of China. Basic foods, like meat, vegetables and fruit, are readily available. Several traditional markets ("wet markets") exist, but we usually shop at Wal-Mart. Meat is easy to buy: pork, beef, lamb, chicken, duck. Some seafood is available: shrimp, fish, shellfish. Commionly-available vegetables are cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach, lettuce, root vegetables, etc. Fruits tend to be available seasonally. Apples, melons, grapes, oranges are available year-round. Tropical fruits are rare. Local beer is cheap, local wine is not good.

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

Peanut butter that does not have added sugar and oil. Canned tomatoes. Canned kidney beans (it's a long story). Coffee is expensive. Suntan lotion is unavailable here. OTC medicines. Many cosmetics and lotions are said to contain whitening agents, which is appealing to Chinese people, not so much for Americans. Amazon Prime is a life-saver. Shipments typically arrive in two weeks.

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

Kentucky Fried Chicken is everywhere, and the menu has been largely localized. Pizza Hut is the same. McDonald's and Starbuck's are very prevalent. Restaurants are everywhere, but not chains, so it's hard to predict the quality of the food. Most restaurants serve local cuisine. Sichuan is popular, lots of hotpot and skewers. Not a lot of variety in local restaurants, but it's cheap.

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

The local environment has the most effective industrial pest-control program ever. I have never seen a cockroach. There are rats. Some older housing units had a mold issue which was taken care of (eventually).

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Daily Life:

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

Diplomatic pouch. Never used the local postal service.

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

Our cleaning lady comes once per week. She cleans the apartment and does laundry, costs US$20 per visit. Local help are referred to as "a-yi" (aunt). Our A-yi is the best. Very honest, hard-working. Many a-yis do not speak English.

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

Our building has a gym and a pool. Adequate. Local gyms are increasingly common.

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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?

The economy in this part of China is largely cash-based. Recently a cellphone-based payment service, similar to Apple Pay or Google Pay, has become popular. A local bank account is necessary to get this service, which is possible to get, but cash is still always accepted. The only time I've ever used my U.S. credit card is at large hotels while traveling in-country.

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

Religion is highly regulated in China. I don't participate, but there are some home congregations. Foreigners generally shouldn't have to worry about interference from local authorities, as long as there isn't any proselytizing.

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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. Some people actually get by with speaking no Chinese, but they only get by. It's important to have at least some functional Chinese in order to interact with drivers and shopkeepers. It's possible for everyone to acquire some functional communicative ability. Also, the Chinese people are famous for being delighted that foreigners are making the effort to learn their language, and will actively try to understand even the most tortured accents.

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

Yes. Accommodations for wheelchairs, for example, are spotty. Sidewalks are often broken.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are very convenient and cheap. About US $15 from the airport to my apartment. US $2 from home to work. Very rarely have I spent more than US $5 for a taxi. Buses are even cheaper, but they are less convenient. Most taxi drivers speak zero functional English.

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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?

Any kind of car would work in the city, but parking will be a challenge due to narrow streets and small parking spaces. Having a car is useful for in-country travel, as many scenic spots and historical sites are not easily accessible. I haven't heard of any make or model having more or less luck with parts and service.

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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?

Hotel wi-fi is reliably slow. It is OK for email and web surfing, but streaming is often not possible. Many websites are blocked in China: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and NY Times are some common ones. A good VPN service is necessary.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We brought unlocked iPhones and got local SIM cards and pre-paid service. Typical monthly charges are US$15. Many restaurants, coffee shops, bars offer wi-fi. Again, it is OK for messaging and email, but the service is not fast.

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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 have a pet, but many co-workers have received good care for theirs.

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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?

Local employment is not an attractive option, given the state of the local economy. It would be possible to teach English locally. Several spouses work in the Consulate.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Limited. The local society may seem open, but in some areas, such as allowing foreigners see social needs that the government is not filling, it can be surprisingly opaque. In the context of volunteering, some local authorities may see a foreigner offering to help as an implication that the locals can't take care of their own, which could be seen as a "loss of face" or even a mild insult.

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

People dress conservatively here. Socks (or stockings) and shoes should be worn outdoors at all times. Few people wear very revealing clothing. In the workplace, suit and tie are the standards. That being said, watch out for the famous "Beijing Bikini" that middle-aged men will display on hot days. :-)

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Health & Safety:

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

Foreigners are rarely targeted by local criminals. The greatest dangers are probably food poisoning or getting hit by a car.

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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?

Local medical care is not up to U.S. standards. Few local hospitals abide by what we would consider minimal hygiene conditions. There is a Global Doctors office in town, which is expensive but the staff there speak English and are western-trained. Generally, I tell myself that if I get sick or hurt, I will crawl to Korea or Taiwan before I go to a local hospital.

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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?

"Apocalyptic" is almost a hackneyed term to label the air here, but it's the best descriptor. Chinese air is famously bad. In the winter, when the coal-burning is at its peak, I have to wear a mask (N95) about 50% of the time. The local government is aware of the problem, and is committed to fixing it, but there is no easy solution. We watch the AQI monitor apps on our phones, and wear masks when it gets too high. Everyone has their own threshold for wearing a mask: mine is 150. Some people who live in Beijing say that their threshold is 300. No amount of PM 2.5 is safe, so in theory, I should wear a mask every day. We are lucky in that the Consulate puts air filters in our apartment, so the air inside is clean. That means that on some particularly bad days we stay inside all day.

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

Besides the air pollution, this part of the country is very arid, so skin lotion in the winter is a must. Some people suffer from dry sinuses as well. The mother of one of my friends has serious food allergies, and when she visited, eating out was a drama. The good thing was that the servers and cooks took them seriously, and worked with them to prepare food that she could eat. Similar situation for vegetarians, which are more common in China. It's not hard to get accommodation for dietary requirements.

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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)?

Luckily, morale at post is high, probably because everyone is in the same boat, we all are dealing with the same hardship conditions. That being said, some people do get depressed and stressed.

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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?

We get all four seasons here. Summer is warm (hot), sunny, and dry. Fall is beautiful. It starts to get cold in October, winter is cold and dry, very little snow. Expect lows in the negative teens. Spring arrives in March or April.

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Schools & Children:

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

OK for elementary level. Finding a good high school is more of a challenge.

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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?

Yes, but they are expensive.

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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 but growing. Morale is generally high, especially among co-workers. Spouses need to tap into the work community or find another social circle.

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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?

There are some local amateur sport clubs (baseball and football). Because of security reporting requirements, I tend not to socialize with local people.

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

Can be great for single men. Single women might have more challenges.

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

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

Lots. Chinese people can have racist feelings toward people who are not white. White people can be put on a pedestal. Asian-Americans are often discriminated against, ironically. China has its own ethnic minorities, which officially enjoy social equality but in fact are often second-class citizens in their own country. Chinese society has some progress to make in this area.

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

For all its problems, China is a fascinating country. The local society is changing before our eyes. Local travel is more difficult than in the U.S., but there is a lot to see in China. This part of China is of enormous historical significance, especially in the last 100 years. This part of China is also an interesting middle ground between ultra-modern Shanghai and Beijing, and the underdeveloped inner parts of the country. That makes for an interesting blend of old and new.

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

The city of Dalian is a lot of fun in the summer: beaches, some hiking trails, good seafood. Changbaishan is a mountain that is shared by China and North Korea. And speaking of the DPRK, the city of Dandong is surreal. You can stand on the bustling, vibrant Chinese side of the Yalu river, and look across at North Korea, where literally nothing is happening. There is a section of the Great Wall that runs through this area, and which coincidentally marks the least-guarded border between China and DPRK (please don't cross it). The ice festival in Harbin is a must-see, but dress warmly, because frostbite is a real danger. Harbin is also fun in the summer. Shenyang itself has some great historical sites. For a Chinese history buff, it's a wonderful place to live.

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

Not really. I don't think I bought anything of particular interest. There is a huge antique market in town, but because this is China, it's impossible to tell what is an antique and what was made in a small factory across town just last Tuesday. That being said, there is some interesting stuff to buy, as long as you realize that you aren't buying an antique, and you don't pay too much for it.

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

It's a part of China that is modern enough to have conveniences like fast food and an international airport, without the high cost of living of Guangzhou or Shanghai. Very close to (South) Korea and Japan. Beijing is a 4-hour train ride away.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

A large staff is not the same thing as a competent staff. The fact that a company/restaurant/office is well-staffed doesn't mean that anyone knows what they are doing. Labor is cheap here, there are too many people and all of them need jobs, so a common way to address a problem is to throw people at it. I have literally had five people in my apartment to change a battery in the smoke detector. In the end, they were unable to change the battery, because it takes 9-volt batteries, which are not available in China.

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

Yes!

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

Bikini. Motorcycle (not allowed in city limits).

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4. But don't forget your:

Warm clothes. Winter is bitingly cold. Get a VPN account BEFORE arriving here.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

A friend once told me that China=drama. Things that should be simple and straightforward often aren't. Once you accept Shenyang for what it is and what it isn't, you can relax and enjoy the humor in everything that happens to you here.

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Shenyang, China 08/26/14

Background:

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

No, Chongqing, 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?

Florida- 30 hours with layovers in NYC/DC and Seoul/Beijing.

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3. How long have you lived here?

20 months.

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

U.S. Department of State.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments downtown or big houses in suburbs. Suburb housing seems to have more issues with utilities than apartments but occassional outages of water are the norm. Commute from the apartments is a 30-40 minute walk OR 15-40 minute drive depending on traffic. Commute from suburbs is 40 min- 1 hour depending on traffic.

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

Almost anything is available in Shenyang; you just have to be willing to look for it! Some spend a good bit of their time criss-crossing the city for that one ingredient and others learn to go without. Use your consumables shipment well and you won't have to brave the winter to run to the store. Metro is a German Costco that has lots of import goods (cheese, dairy, wine, etc.) but limited selection. Import products also cost more.

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

Canned goods that are convenient (chickpeas, tomatoes, black beans, etc.), baking ingredients, and toiletries.

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

McDonald's, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, Pizza Hut... Grand Hyatt has an incredible Italian restaurant and buffet (though pricey), decent Japanese (though it doesn't compare to Japan), so many Korean restaurants (BBQ, bimbimbap, bulgogi, etc.).

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

A few mosquitos in the summer but I don't think much survives in Shenyang!

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch and DPO.

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

We pay about US$4/hour for an ayi who does laundry, irons, washes dishes, vacuums, dusts, and cleans floors.

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

Both apartments downtown have gyms and there are Bally's and other gyms available too.

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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?

Most places only accept China's union pay credit card. Discover has a partnership with them but many vendors don't know that and won't accept your card. Import stores sometimes take Visa. China Construction Bank doesn't charge Bank of America users ATM fees. Most of the time you want to pay in cash.

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

There are a few English Protestant fellowships and there's an English Catholic service; I think that's it.

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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?

It helps a lot to feel comfortable in Mandarin. The more you know, the more you'll enjoy life here.

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

Yes, medical care is not great.

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Transportation:

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

Yes and yes! Taxis in the city never cost more than US$3. Buses can be crowded at peak hours but seem safe enough. Trains are fast and a great way to travel in the region- not too expensive either.

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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 see almost every type of car here, but since we were living in the city, we did not bring a car and have been fine without 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?

Yes, it's included in our apartment so I don't know how much.

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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?

If you have an iPhone, bring it unlocked. Cell plans are confusing but cheap!

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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?

At home quarantine. Not sure on pet care.

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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. If you're in China with a diplomatic visa, you cannot work on the local economy. If you're not, you can teach and that's about it without decent Mandarin skills.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Not a lot of formal volunteering activities but people are in need everywhere. Some volunteer with disabled kids, teaching English. Others have made touch books for the blind school. Others created a horse therapy group for disabled children.

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

People are very relaxed in Shenyang and wear almost anything, but Consulate is still business attire (business casual in some sections).

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Health & Safety:

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

Shenyang feels like one of the safest places in the world. Look out for pickpockets and use common sense and you shouldn't have a problem! I run at night alone and don't think twice.

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

Air Quality and lack of Western medical care are of concern. State medevacs for almost anything.

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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?

Shenyang's air quality index can reach the worst heights imaginable (as high as Beijing), but it also has its clear days. Those with respiratory issues should not consider Shenyang and those with kids with developing lungs will spend much of their time indoors near the drone of air purifiers.

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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 winter can be brutal, especially if you're not used to the cold. It starts getting cold at the end of October and doesn't really warm up till March and some years April. The summers are very temperate and enjoyable. Fall, though short, is incredible here with clear air and crisp cool temps.

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Expat Life:

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

Really high morale for the past couple years, kind of a make-your-own fun post, though. Some people come and can't make the best of it and have a hard time. Others press into the small-mid sized community and enjoy it. There aren't too many other Americans here though they are French, Germans and Japanese.

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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 at home, KTV, going out to hot pot, korean bbq, etc. Consulate book club.

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

Shenyang can be hard for anyone but can also be rewarding for anyone. I think it's particularly hard for families with small kids, but singles can feel lonely here too. Shenyang is a place that takes a good bit of investment to enjoy.

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

Post morale is high and the Shenyang consulate community is definitely a highlight. We've also loved the travel opportunities including a visit to the Harbin Ice Festival, nearby Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and even the border of North Korea.

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

Harbin Ice Festival in winter, Dandong- DPRK border city, Changbaishan mountain... We also love Benxi in the summer time for hiking/camping/getting out of the smog.

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

Lots of random stuff at the wuai market. Travel to other places nearby :)

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

Shenyang is real China. You will need your Mandarin and have a chance to improve it here. If you're a China history buff, Shenyang played an important role in Chinese history and continues to develop (though slower than other cities with U.S. Consulates). The hardship differential and cost of living makes it nearly impossible to NOT save while you're here. Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, Beijing and other regional cities are direct flights. With 2 R&Rs, travel to further places abroad is a must. The work in Shenyang is incredibly interesting, not alway easy and tends to attract great people.

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8. Can you save money?

YES.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How nice the summers can be if the air quality isn't too bad.

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

Absolutely! This has been such a fun tour for us. Interesting work, great people to work with and great travel opportunities.

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

Ideas that this is an international city like Shanghai or Beijing.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and humor.

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Shenyang, China 11/02/13

Background:

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

First experience as a foreign service family. We lived in Beijing in 2005 for about a year.

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

DC. Usually it's a 14-hour flight with one stop-over in South Korea if you have a choice.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost 1 year.

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

U.S. 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?

You either live in the city in 2 hotel/ housing places, or out in the suburbs. In the suburbs where I live, it can be very nice with lots of trees and surrounding nature, but many of the houses (mansions really) in the complexes are not occupied. It can be a bit eerie. Thankfully the small area in the complex in which we live is occupied.

But ANY time you need groceries or even want to go out for dinner, for the most part, you must go into the city which at a minimum is 25 minutes away, making it about an hour roundtrip. Grocery shopping can take hours, and sometimes you need to shop at several different stores to get everything you want. I guess that is the 30% differential kicking in. But happily even in the year we've been here, we find more and more Western products available. Plus we help each other out by picking up items and carpooling into the city. The commute to work is 30 minutes to an hour depending on weather and traffic. There is a shuttle that most of the Embassy staff take.

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

Fruits and vegetables are good and cheap so is pork and chicken. Western products like sour cream, butter, cheese, tomato sauces etc can be easy to find, (until you can't find it anywhere!) but more expensive. Say goodbye to just running to store to pick up MANY things. You have to be creative. So far I've made homemade pizza dough, chocolate sauce, ricotta, sourcream, peanut butter sauce, corn tortillas, pita bread, falafel, etc. It's been fun. Thank goodness for DPO for lots of things. I don't trust most of the local snacks. I'm not sure what is in them.

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

I would include more of our favorite items in our HHE. Or do a consumable shipment. That would include a large list of liquids that won't go through DPO. Probably a full shopping trip at Trader Joe's too. Most everything else you can ship, though you have to take the seasons into consideration. Don't ship chocolate chips in the summer, or things that can't freeze in the winter.

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

There are plenty of places to eat, mostly Chinese, and they are good. There are some Western restaurants, most are just okay; truly you can find all kinds of food here, but it's not really a foodie sort of town.

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

Not too much - mosquitos in the summer, flies etc.

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Daily Life:

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

Easy. DPO, and pouch and we order plenty online. Takes about 2 weeks (early as 8 days, and sometimes 3 weeks) we only get DPO mail 2 times 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?

Plenty of help is available. Full time ayi will cost close to US$500 a month. I find the work ethic is good.

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

Out here in the suburbs there are gyms in the clubhouses in our compounds. That being said, they have silly hours (like 9-5), then they change their hours, but you don't know about it, then it is closed for some reason. Ah China. Really this is typical for the whole country. Many things are incomprehensible. But that's what makes life interesting, right? Maybe it's why we chose this career path in the first place.

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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?

Check with your bank to find out where you can withdraw money without a fee. This is a cash society. Very few places take Western credit cards here in Shenyang. Bring lots of checks you can cash at the consulate.

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

Not sure. I know there is a Catholic Church and a couple of different religous groups of people get together on Sundays to celebrate in their homes.

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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?

I know very little. I wish I had studied more. The locals have such a strong accent, even the Embassy staff can hardly understand them. A basic knowledge would be great, but I manage to get around. The Chinese don't really expect you to know their language for the most part.

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

Probably. Just like most of the cities outside of the U.S., there are not many ramps, smooth sidewalks, or easy access to elevators.

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Transportation:

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

High speen trains are great for getting out of Shenyang. Taxis are safe, but all driving is a little crazy in China, so beware. It is affordable, but when you live in the suburbs, you must have a car. If you hire a car, it will be a minumum of US$40 to pick you up, then drive you home. That gets very expensive when you wait for your car for 3 months. When you first get here, before you car arrives, the consulate lets you have a car one time a week to do what you want, (mostly to get groceries!) which is really wonderful. Unless of course you live here now, and have wonderful consulate neighbors that carpool with you to the city.

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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?

Any car. If you live in the suburbs, you will have to have a car. BIgger is nicer for car pooling!

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Phone & Internet:

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

It is available, pretty cheap, but hugely slow and unreliable. You will have to get a VPN if you want to access all of those sites the Chinese have blocked.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

It's so cheap here, and the Embassy gives you a cell phone when you first get here to get started. Most people have local phones and some have an unlocked iphone.

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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 pets. I think it is becoming more and more of an ordeal to ship pets anywhere, and getting very expensive. I don't know of any kennels, but I am pretty sure there are vets.

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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. We can't work in China, only at the consulate. There seem to be jobs there.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many expats are involved in some organizations like supporting and helping orphans, foster children, etc.

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

Similar to DC. Some of the women really dress up Chinese style.

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Health & Safety:

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

No, there are pickpockets all over the world, but I never feel unsafe here.

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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?

We don't have a doctor at post, just a nurse, so you have to go to the one Western Doctor's office to get a prescription. It is not cheap and the office is located in a typical Chinese hospital which is a little scary. You will be medivac'd to Beijing if necessary. This can be alarming to consider.

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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 can be terrible. It can also be fine - it just depends on the time of year. Lots of coal smells before the government turns on the heat on November 1st but not as bad as Beijing. It is ranked 34 in China, with an average Air Quality Index (AQI) of 102.

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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?

Nice and seasonal, then in mid November it starts to get really cold, then colder, and it never fluctuates. The Siberian weather system settles in and doesn't leave until April. There are no changes in the middle of winter. In January, the coldest month, it is below zero (F) every day. That being said, it's not cold indoors, and out in the suburbs, there is no wind - you just bundle up and stay indoors. There are some places nearby that some people have gone to to ski or sled.

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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 2 international schools. One is in the city and has been around for a while. My kids don't go there. The other is in the suburbs, in Segovia, where we live. It is a QSI school. It is mostly attended by the younger grades since it just opened its doors in fall 2012. At this point it is pretty small, but growing. Our kids are in kindergarten and first grade. We love their teacher (they are in the same classroom), it is like having the benefits of home school, - they all move at their own pace. I couldn't imagine a better experience for my kids at this age.

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

Not sure about SYIS. QSI would work with you gladly.

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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?

Preschools are available but expensive. I am not sure about daycare but ayi's (domestic help) are available and pretty affordable.

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

Haven't fully investigated this yet, but I have heard of soccer, there is ice skating, and there is more than one complex where kids can take all kinds of classes including fencing and karate.

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Expat Life:

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

A couple of hundred. Morale for the most part is great.

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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?

Go out with friends for dinner. Dinner parties, lots of holiday events. There is Bird Island, big outlet malls, plenty of indoor play areas for little kids, skiing/tubing in the winter, a couple of large parks with rides, some museums, a zoo, an aquarium, a tiger park, etc- Chinese style.

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

Depends on the person, attitude, and expectations. Though this city has 8 million people, it is not a cultural hub. Western restaurants (for the most part) are just pale imitations, and other cuisines are just okay. The Chinese food is good, but don't expect haute cuisine here. I think plenty most families, couples, and singles, can be happy here,- completely depends on their attitude.

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

I think it is okay.

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

Most Chinese people seem very open to Westerners. They will take pictures of you, especially kids all the time. They have no problem coming up and touching your children, which can be alarming at first, but mostly you feel like their intention is positive. It is nice to be in a country where Americans are well received.

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

Friends. It's certainly not a large post so it tends to be a close knit community. The consular folk are wonderful, with lots of ideas on things to do. For the most part, people have terrific attitudes. There is enough of an expat community when you want to venture out too. There are 2 R&R's, and lots of places to visit. There is very little crime.

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

I am enjoying the silk painting classes, and tightness of the consular community. Although there is not that much to do in Shenyang, we seem to do enough. There are lots of different markets, good Chinese food at good prices, and some fancy hotels being built, and an increasing Western restaurant selection. The high speed trains keeps adding new lines so visiting other cities is becoming quick and affordable.

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

Dirt markets that sell antiques (are they real?, who knows). It is harder to get antiques through customs these days. Carpets, unique musical instraments, knick knacks, tea sets, and framing is very inexpensive.

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

You can save money - it's a nice differential. Great attitude among most of the expats- foreign service folk picked it for a reason (a stretch, a job, language, differential) and have a great attitude. Lots of Americans and other expats work at Michelin and BMW and are happy to have a new living experience. The winters are long and very cold, but it is definitely a seasonal city.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Just that feeling that you are in a sea of Chinese people. It can make you feel lonely. Lack of English in many many places. Culture shock.

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

Yes it was our number 1 choice for many reasons, and having lived in Beijng before was helpful. It is hard though, don't get me wrong. Being prepared for that is immensely helpful.

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

Western expectations, desire for clean cities (it is dirty here!), expectations that things should work consistently, any connection to American culture.

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4. But don't forget your:

VPN, extremely warm clothes, Apple TV or think about getting AFN!

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:


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

I would more recommend books about China, rather than this area. One of my favorite books is "Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China" by Jung Chang, and "River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.)
" by Peter Hessler.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

This post is hard for many reasons: long cold winters, lack of Western anemities, long treks for groceries if you are out in the 'burbs, more dirt and more pollution if you live in the city, but this has been a great post for us, mainly due to the wonderful community and attitude of the expats, and job fulfillment. It is the real China, for the good and the bad.

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