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Life of foreigners in China's less developed cities

2015-03-06 09:14 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha
(File photo/China News Service)

(File photo/China News Service)

For three years now, 27-year-old Danno (pseudonym), originally from the US, has plied his trade as an English teacher in a small county subordinated to Baoding in the middle of Hebei Province.

Although Baoding is a thronging metropolis in its own right, with a population of more than 11 million people according to the most recent census, its status as a third-tier city makes it an unlikely destination for most foreigners.

Indeed, insofar as he is aware, Danno is one of only four foreigners in the county where he lives.

"Can you imagine Chinese people constantly yelling 'hello' at you every single day for three years?" Danno asks rhetorically. "Sometimes I even dread [going out] to do something as mundane as going shopping for groceries. I feel like an animal at a zoo."

The classification of cities in China by tiers is based on a long list of criteria, taking into account GDP, residents' average annual income, industrial capacity, foreign investment and infrastructure. First-tier cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, are the most developed areas, according to these criterion. In third-tier cities like Baoding, school-aged children are brought up with the belief that to move up in the world is to move to China's first-tier cities or abroad, where better prospects and a more exciting life await them.

There are neither authentic Western restaurants nor a single Starbucks in Danno's county.

Nevertheless, on account of intense competition for jobs in first-tier cities, more and more foreigners are moving to China's second and third-tier cities, where there can be better opportunities, according to an April 2013 report in British newspaper The Telegraph.

Danno said his reason for moving to Baoding was to escape the expat bubble, and to experience a part of China that few foreigners do.

A more tranquil life

According to a 2013 article in Chinese business magazine CBN Weekly, there are 19 first-tier cities, 36 second-tier cities, and 72 third-tier cities in China.

Danno said that when he first arrived in Baoding three years ago, he knew little about the place other than what he had read on Wikipedia.

Baoding is the first and only city he has lived in China. "To be honest, there was no real reason to choose Baoding specifically - I do remember thinking, 'Wow, it's pretty close to Beijing,'" but I've only been to Beijing to see its culture and history, not its night clubs and bars."

He originally planned to stay for only one year, but after his first year, decided that his stress-free lifestyle in Baoding with plenty of leisure time to travel around the country was too good to abandon.

As an English teacher at a public middle school, Danno is able to support himself working 20 hours a week. In his spare time, he likes conversing with his Chinese colleagues and friends and going to the gym.

"Pretty boring, right?" he said.

On social networking website reddit.com, discussions about life as an expat in second- and third-tier cities in China suggest that Danno is not alone in wanting to live in a smaller city for a healthier, less frenetic pace of life.

One member, using the nickname "tn18947" asked for suggestions for second and third-tier cities that are not too polluted while still having reasonably modern housing. The member wrote that he had lived in Beijing before but was "too scared of the toxic death to return to one [of] the megacities."

Other users suggested the southeastern coastal town of Xiamen in Fujian Province, Zhoushan in Zhejiang Province and Qingdao in Shandong Province.

Another Reddit user, an Australian man in his 40s who asked to be identified only as David, said that he moved to Taizhou, a third-tier city in Zhejiang in 2012, after hearing from a friend that the lifestyle there was more relaxed than larger cities.

After losing his job in IT in Australia, David considered going to Taiwan or cities in Japan to teach English. He ended up in Taizhou after receiving a call from a friend who had already been living and teaching in China for six years, and who said there was an opening at the language institute where he taught. His friend also told him that it had a climate similar to Sydney.

David lived in Taizhou for three years, before moving back to Australia earlier this year.

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