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

Personal Experiences from Tianjin, China

Tianjin, China 11/20/07

Background:

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

I've lived in half a dozen major cities in Europe and Asia, most recently Chennai, India.

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2. How long have you lived here?

One and a half years.

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

Work.

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

About 13 hours non-stop New York to Beijing, and then a two hour bus to Tianjin. Alternatively, Korean Air flies Tianjin to Seoul to New York, with a 5 hour or so layover in Korea.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most expats live in high rise apartments. Modern houses are very rare and must be prohibitively expensive. My current three-floor flat, new with 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths, goes for about US$1,000 a month. However, these kind of accommodations are for expats on relatively generous overseas packages. English teachers and those on the local economy can find or share modernish but small and simple flats for a fraction of this.

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

Produce, especially seasonal, is cheap. Wide variety available in markets and supermarkets. Western stuff widely available, but more expensive than home.

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

You can get almost anything in Tianjin or Beijing, a short trip away. Why bring coals to Newcastle? Only bring something if it is a particular brand or a hard-to-find condiment or the like.

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

KFC and McDonald's are everywhere, as are Chinese knockoff restaurants. The cost is the same as home, maybe a bit cheaper.

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Daily Life:

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

Use email. But Fed Ex and DHL and the like are reliable for sending stuff.

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

Widely available at something like a bit over US$1 per hour. Language ability for maids ranges from no English to practically no English. But with perseverance you can find a good housekeeper and/or babysitter.

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3. 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 worries in general.

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

Catholic and some form of (Evangelical?) Protestantism.

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

There is the China Daily newspaper that is party-run, but really not all that bad, though it very heavy on domestic Chinese news. Decent cable is available. Since many of the English channels are from the Philippines, it's easy to keep up with all your favorite billiards and cockfighting shows. Cable is cheap, but I'm not sure of the price as it's included in my rent.

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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?

Very little if you are like most Westerners who quickly develop a round of places to go and things to do. However, the more Mandarin, the better off you'll be.

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

Dodging the chaotic vehicle traffic. Not too much wheelchair access, but some ramps and such that can be used by cyclists might be of help.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

As the good Lord intended -- American style. But why drive? Taxis are cheap, omnipresent, and safe. Driving is not.

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

Very safe, good quality, and cheap. The hard part is figuring out where they go and how to use them.

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3. 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?

Good road, very flat. Bad traffic. Cars relatively expensive here. Taxis so cheap, why drive?

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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, fairly fast and reliable. Unsure of price.

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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?

Everyone has them. As a Westerner, be prepared to be mocked if your phone is cheap ( I speak from experience).

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Phone cards are easy to buy and cheap. Good quality connections in general.

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Pets:

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

Grooming and regular pet services widely available. Don't know about long-term kennels.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

Many if they want to teach some kind of ESL.

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

Informal to whatever you want.

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Health & Safety:

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

According to most published sources, the air quality is notoriously bad, but improving each year in the run up to the Olympics. Really nasty days seem to run maybe 25%.

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

None. I have never felt so safe. Virtually all Westerners share this feeling. Traffic is the only real and present danger.

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

Air poluution can be bad, so many suffer from nasal/bronchial ailments. Traffic. Excellent medical care from Western staff thru SOS in the Sheraton Hotel. You need good insurance, regular Chinese hospitals can be both poor quality and expensive. The days of the Chairman's barefoot doctors are long gone.

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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?

Rarely rains, and then largely in summer. Winters are mild (by my upstate NY standards) and because it's so dry, it rarely snows. But can be very bitter and the 15 degree F. days can seem quite cold.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are a handful for Westerners, IST (International School of Tianjin), Rego (the British school) and TIS (an American model with a fairly heavy dose of religion). All are solid but fill different niches. All are largely populated by Korean students.

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

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

It's everywhere and with an emphasis on English skills in many nursery and pre-K programs. However, I have no direct experience and do not know the costs. But I imagine they are quite reasonable.

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Expat Life:

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

Unsure. Very small compared to BJ or Shanghai, and the majority of expats are Korean and other Asian. Western expats are few indeed, you will soon get to recognize many of them.

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2. Morale among expats:

Very few seem truly disappointed. Most seem to like it. It is easy and convenient to live in Tianjin, if not a whole lot of fun.

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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?

Thousands of good and cheap restaurants. A decent selection of somewhat pricey international fare at major hotels and smaller boutique restaurants. A smallish number of sports bars, drinking spots and clubs that are largely Chinese but also cater to a small Western trade.

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

Very family-friendly especially thru the schools. Many parks and areas too walk. Chinese love Western babies and kids. Very safe. Single men will be lonely only if they are sociopathic, and even then only by choice. Most single Western women find it much more difficult to find an active dating life.

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

No experience, but I have heard there is little trouble finding like-minded friends.

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

No real problems for Westerners. Blacks are often viewed a bit fearfully, and other Asians are seen as somewhat less worthy than Chinese. Big Japanese, Korean, Chinese rivalries. However, I am an Asian-American and have never sensed any racial prejudice or hostility at all.

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

Eat. Outside of Tianjin trips. Explore the city. Go to Beijing.

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

I'm not a shopper, but any Chinese knicknack or antique, real or psuedo, is available.

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9. Can you save money?

A couple of single, 30ish, Western guys I know, who live somewhere between frugality and luxury live very well on US$800 per month. But they have no rent or utilities. You can either spend or save the rest.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Sure, why not? Easy if not fun. Interesting if not exotic. A little bit off the beaten expat path, but quite ok overall.

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

Romantic views of old China; rickshaws, exotic clothes, walled cities and the like. Tianjin is relentlessly modern and striving to be more so.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure. As modern as Tianjin is, there is still much to wonder/marvel/swear at. It isn't Kansas.

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

I've yet to read a book or watch a movie based in TJ.

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

I've yet to read a book or watch a movie based in TJ.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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