Expat Tales: Warm welcome in China

Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014
Expat travels Sally Holland

BACK TO SCHOOL: Sally Holland with some of her students in Changzhou, China.

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Former police officer Sally Holland moved to China for a change of pace.

What inspired your move, and how long have you been there?

We live in Changzhou in Jiangsu Province, about 180km west of Shanghai, China.

They call this a second-tier city because although it has a population of nearly 5 million, it is very small and quiet by Chinese standards. I took early retirement from the New Zealand police in the beginning of 2013 and we moved here soon after for my husband's job.

What do you do there?

Last year we settled, met new friends and explored the city. There's a saying here: "Nothing is easy." My time is sometimes spent doing simple chores that take far longer than in New Zealand.

This year I kicked myself back into the workforce, and began teaching English to Chinese students and studying for my foreign language teacher's certificate. I really love it!

My students are young and old, and from all sorts of backgrounds. The kids are adorable, and some adults are incredibly self-motivated and focused on improvement - it is inspirational and means there's never a dull moment.

What are the greatest advantages to living there?

Changzhou is centrally located and has two train stations that make domestic travel very easy. The high speed train system is amazing - the trip to Shanghai takes less than an hour, at 300kmh, and a return ticket costs approximately NZ$30.

Being a smaller city, meeting expats is easy, plus the locals are really friendly and welcoming, even though the majority of them do not speak English.

Disadvantages?

Good Western restaurants and food products, such as quality bread and dairy, are few and far between and are priced higher for the Western market. Coming from Wellington, the coffee capital, I really miss a "proper" latte and having to rely on Starbucks.

There is minimal English signage so getting around or ordering food can sometimes be difficult.

China has high pollution and cigarette smoking rates, and some cultural behavioural habits such as spitting can be off-putting too. The internet restrictions and intermittent network strengths are also very frustrating.

How expensive is it compared to New Zealand? What does a beer cost you?

The cost of living is very cheap! A local beer can be as little as NZ$1 from your corner shop but generally at a bar it is NZ$4-$6. Imported wine can be expensive (NZ$8-$12 a glass in a restaurant) but if you are adventurous and drink locally produced wine, you can find some fantastic cheap (NZ$12 a bottle) wine.

I shop at the markets twice a week for fruit, vegetables, fresh hand-made noodles, the best Peking roasted duck (half a duck is NZ$6) and free-range eggs, which are about NZ$2 for 16 eggs. Eating at a local Chinese restaurant is also very cheap (about NZ$20 including a couple of beers).

What do you do in your spare time?

One of the best things about being a female here is the cheap massages and beauty treatments. I don't have a lot of spare time but can't resist a "blind" massage when I do. We also take advantage of our central location and travel to nearby cities or provinces when we can for weekend trips.

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What's the local delicacy and would you recommend eating it?

Traditional Chinese food is spicier than Western-cooked Chinese, and is so much more than sweet and sour pork. Hot Pot restaurants, where you cook your own food in a pot of boiling chilli-flavoured oil, are very popular. There are also loads of stalls on the streets selling sticky rice dumplings, some filled with meat and others with red bean paste; or pancakes stuffed with egg, meat or vegetables and then fried or cooked on a griddle and rolled up.

Easiest way to get around?

I ride my bike a lot to local places but taxis are very cheap (10km is about NZ$4) which makes them handy for longer distances. Otherwise they have this fantastic bus system on the main roads which is only NZ20c to go as far as you want.

What's the shopping like?

It can be excellent as we have a good selection of European and Western shops, including all the designers, but sadly it can be difficult finding your larger-than-average-Asian size, especially for shoes over size 38. However, the fabric markets and tailors will make anything for an amazing price; and the online Chinese equivalent to eBay, called Taobao.com, has everything.

Best after-dark activity?

We do eat out a lot - Chinese, Japanese, and at a few western bars and restaurants. If you don't have cable TV, then there are three free internet TV/movie applications that we all have on our iPads. These show a large range of US and British programmes and movies, generally before they hit the NZ screen.

Best time of year to visit?

It can snow here in winter (January/February) and the summers (July/August) are unbearably hot, so any other time.

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?

China is a country of beautiful parks. Changzhou has its share and there is also Tianning Temple and Pagoda, which was built in the Tang Dynasty and is one of China's major Buddhist temples. At 13 storeys high, it is one of the largest, and has been honoured as China's "grand pagoda" due to its gold and jade.

Dinosaur Park is a Disneyland-like amusement park and dinosaur museum that's really popular with Chinese tourists and locals.

Near the Jiangsu Province border is Tianmu Lake and Nanshan bamboo forest, both great examples of some of the wonderful scenery China has to offer.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

The variety of food (fish and chips!), clean air and plenty of space.

How easy is it for you to get back to NZ?

Very easy. There are a number of airlines that fly Shanghai to Auckland. If we book early we can fly Air New Zealand for around NZ$1600 return.

For Kiwis looking to move there, which industries are seeking fresh talent?

Native speaking teachers are well sought-after. This is not just in the international schools, but also because more Chinese want both their children and themselves to speak English, so English language schools are becoming very popular.

If you know an expat who wants to share inside knowledge of their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

- Sunday Star Times

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