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Life of foreigners in China's less developed cities(2)

2015-03-06 09:14 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha

"Had I not had a friend to give me that soft-landing, I'd likely be in Shanghai. My experience and lifestyle would've been very different had I settled in a first-tier city."

David, who teaches five days a week, said in a Reddit post that he had an income of around 10,000 yuan ($1,599 ) per month. But as expenses in Taizhou were also lower, he was still able to save around half that amount.

Difficulties in a third-tier city

David estimated that there were between 100 and 150 foreigners living in Taizhou, a city of 6 million people. He said that he associated regularly with a group of about 15 to 20 expats, most of whom were English teachers.

"[Of those that weren't English teachers], one worked for the Bank of Taizhou, some guys worked in the shipbuilding industry, and another was a quality inspector in a motorcycle factory," he said. "They sometimes play football in the park and had a weekly night in the pub. Many of the guys had Chinese girlfriends so that kept them busy."

One of the challenges of living in a third-tier city is the language barrier.

When David wanted to get a motorbike license, he was told that there were no study guides in English, and he would have to take the test in Chinese. Furthermore, the Chinese officer told him, he didn't even know how to process the paperwork for a foreigner, and suggested that David go to the registration office in the next town.

Following the setback, David made an active effort to learn Chinese. He joined the QQ group for his residential complex and used Google Translate to chat with Chinese people. He used Chinese online retail websites like Taobao with the help of his Chinese friends, maintained a QQ zone in Chinese, and uploaded short videos to Chinese video-hosting platform Tudou.

"I made quite a few Chinese friends though I wouldn't call them close friends," said David, "The language barrier meant that our communication was pretty limited. Most of our social activities revolved around cooking or eating food."

While it is possible to get by without speaking Chinese in large cities like Shanghai and Beijing, in a smaller city, learning Chinese was essential if one didn't want to become isolated, said Danno, who said he was able to speak Chinese to have long conversation.

"My current roommate has been here since August and doesn't even know this surrounding area beyond the route to school and to the supermarket. He has no friends and no one to talk to. It's no one's fault aside from his own," he said.

Jonathan Edwards, managing director of HR consultancy Antal International Shanghai, said that there was no "safety net" for expats living in China's third-tier cities.

"The main advantage of living in a first-tier city for an expat compared to a second [or] third-tier city is convenience and familiarity. Life in Shanghai and Beijing can be very comfortable for an expat… from familiar food, [having] people from your own country, and leisure activities such as sports teams and bars," he said.

"Additionally, if you have a family, there are international schools and international-standard medical care, therefore reducing the perceived risk of moving your family away from home."

Looking to the future

David returned to Australia earlier this year after achieving his goal of coming to China to broaden his horizons. "As I am getting older, it's time for me to concentrate on planning for my retirement so I've come home and I've started my own business."

Edwards said China's smaller cities might be more suited to young expats who are seeking a sense of unfamiliarity and adventure.

"Lots of expats come to [third-tier cities] to see the real China," said Danno. On his days off, he enjoys roaming around his small county documenting the various scenarios from everyday life. He has also made a habit of traveling to the outskirts of the county to areas that even most Chinese residents would not be familiar with.

He said he is enjoying his life in Baoding as much as ever. He has taken up cracking whips with old men, roller skating, and drawing Chinese calligraphy with a large paintbrush on the ground or dancing with the youth.

"I came to escape the drudgery of life in America - get a 9-to-5 office job, get married, have kids, pay off your mortgage and work until you die," Danno said.

"Will I return home? Maybe one day. But for now that's on far off horizon."

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