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

Personal Experiences from Sichuan Province, China

Sichuan Province, China 09/27/10

Background:

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

This is my fifth 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?

Our home base is Washington, DC. The trip can be done in two or three connections and takes 24 to 28 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We have lived in Chengdu for two years, starting our third and final year.

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

Associated with 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?

Consulate housing is both on the compound behind the Consulate and in apartment and housing complexes around the city. Most of those off-compound are within about 20 minutes from the Consulate. There may be more moves further out as better options are being built further from the Consulate. For some, this would be convenient to one of the three schools.

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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 several places with western food stocks at premium prices. Pulling together a western or other international meal may mean shopping several places to get everything together. Household supplies and toiletries are also available, but quality and safety may be questionable.

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

Wine, spirits, breakfast cereal, mosquito repellent. Everything that was in my consumables is available here, just so much more expensive.

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

All the regular fast foods, plus Starbucks, Tony Roma, Pappa John, and Dairy Queen. There are also some favorite locally owned favorite restaurants that expats enjoy. Local food is fabulous and inexpensive. There are restaurants everywhere with great food for cheap!

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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?

Organic foods are more and more available, but at what definition of organic? There are opportunities to visit organic farms and make arrangements for regular deliveries of produce of the week. Gluten-free and substitute products are not available in my experience.

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

Household insects are not a problem. Mosquitoes are and "no-see-ums," the small outdoor insect that can make you itchier than mosquitoes!

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Daily Life:

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

Thankfully, our mail goes through the 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?

Available and affordable. Cost is $150 to $300 a month.

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

There are local gyms available, which are costly. There is a small workout gym at the consulate and a local coach is available.

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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?

We have heard of no problems using ATMs at banks or those associated with banks. There are also some stores like Carrefore and Decathalon (sporting goods) that take international credit cards, so far safely.

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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?

Little to no English TV is available and DVDs and downloads rule most of that segment of the entertainment here. Some English newspapers and magazines are available at the Western restaurants.

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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?

Some local language makes daily life much easier. I've found though that it is all in the attitude.

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

Yes and no. Sidewalks all have ramps at intersections, but the walks may be rough, and the ramps are often taken up by bikes and even cars who are accessing the sidewalks, so most people I see being pushed in or using a wheelchair use the bike lanes. In stores, it may take a search to find an elevator. Lots of smaller stores and markets have steps.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are safe and affordable. A new metro system is just about to open. Buses are overcrowded and not my transportation of choice, but I'm happy they are there when taxis are scare and time is short.

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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?

Cars over a certain age are restricted. Though driving is crazy, many more people are bringing cars now than before. Most are midsized sedans or vans. Getting out of the city may provide opportunities for more rugged terrain, but in the city, it is flat, big roads, lots of traffic, and parking anywhere you like.

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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, though the high speed is still sometimes clunky. We pay about $30 a month for the service.

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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, cell phones, everywhere. Don't forget, phones with cameras are not allowed in the consulate! These are getting harder and harder to find.

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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.

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

There are many vets and quality of care is OK. There is no kennel that we know of.

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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?

Dress at work is generally business casual. And on the street, casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

There are no significant security concerns. Personal crime is rare. We have felt very, very safe here and know it will be an adjustment to live almost anywhere else.

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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 has gotten better since our arrival. There are two Western clinics, one with a doctor who has been here for two years; the other has had a couple of transitions. Hospitals are crowded and not to Western standards, but with oversight from one of the Western doctors or the Consulate medical staff, they have been helpful. Someone with moderate needs should do their research well.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality is poor to bad, though much better than in previous years. Chengdu has historically been a foggy city, and the addition of urban air pollution makes many days gray and fuzzy.

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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?

Summers are hot and humid; winters are damp and chilly, but the temperatures are not extreme.

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Schools & Children:

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

Chengdu has three international schools. Chengdu International School (CDIS) is Christian-based and has the largest student body at this time. It also has the "largest" high school. It is located in the far north and few families choose it. The one I know of was pleased with the school.

Quality Schools International (QSI Chengdu), has 160 students (2010-2011), nearly doubling in the past two years. Our children will have attended the grade school and junior high. We have been delighted with the education they are getting in this setting. Our middle schooler will be well prepared for high school we believe, and our grade schooler has been able to perform at advanced levels where appropriate. The school recently added classrooms which included an art room, a second music room, and classrooms. The school is limited by space, despite real efforts to grow the physical space. Hopefully, there will be more expansion before the year ends, including more facilities for sports. There is a large amount of parent involvement at the school. QSI is located about 20 minutes from the Consulate.

Leman School is the most recent international school established in Chengdu. It offers grades K-8. They have a large facility with great appeal about 40 minutes south of the consulate. Though still a small student body, it doubled in size. Families with children there are also pleased. In summary, families have three viable choices that come down to your personal values and location.

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

Accommodations are limited and based upon the luck of expats, generally spouses.

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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?

Household help is often the choice because of their kindness, love of children, and affordability. QSI has a preschool and after school care for up to four years old. I believe the other schools also offer preschool.

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

Sports programs are limited, though the three schools mentioned above are trying to pull together a critical mass and to create opportunities for kids. For example, there are no swim teams, but there will soon be a swim meet with kids from all three schools and for all levels. There is a soccer league that meets in both the fall and spring.

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Expat Life:

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

Not to big, not too little. It's just right!

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale among expats is great. Most people I meet are happy here. The lack of frequent sunny days is the biggest drawback.

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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?

Much socializing takes place in homes, but for example, last week, Jane Goodall was here to speak and for a reception. In a few weeks there is an arts night as a fund raiser, then the Marine Ball not long after that. Hash House Harriers have regular runs. There is a fantastic literary book festival every spring, and the international women's group has things too numerous to mention.

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

It is a great city for families. Couples who are adventuresome will have a good time, too. It may be somewhat challenging for singles.

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

I have not heard of any problems and know that there are local bars that cater to the small GLBT crowd.

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

There is one non-denominational church for expats only that, though sanctioned by the local government, is shut down occasionally. There is also a Catholic church. Religious inclinations are generally kept close to one's heart and home.

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

Travel to the countryside, to mountains, temples, and villages is great, though not always easy to coordinate or arrange. Trips to places such as Emei Mountain and the giant Buddha at LeShan is easy and only a few hours away. In a 30-minute flight you can be in the high mountains among Tibetans. A trip to Tibet is not required.

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

Tea houses, city parks, eating out, and massage are easy ways to pass time. Sichuan opera is fun the first two times, then redundant. I believe there would be a lot of cultural activities to take in, but promoters have not yet learned to make this information easily available to foreigners and no one in the expat community has learned how to access it yet, either!

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

Tibetan doo-dads, some furniture (though it is not like some places).

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

It is easy to save money here. Vegetables and fruits bought in the local markets are fresh and inexpensive. Clothes can be easily made by accomplished tailors. House help is readily available and affordable. China is an exciting place to live. Chengdu has changed remarkably before our eyes, and seemingly overnight. Still, Chengdu has its own feel, quite different from Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I would not hesitate. Those who leave with a sense of relief are soon pining for the good life in the 'Du.

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

Love of peace and quiet.

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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?

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