Note: This is the first post published by a new contributor, Brendan. Make him feel welcome by leaving a comment below!
I’ve been intending to write this for a little while now, not least as a token of my appreciation for all the times Chengdu Living has been an invaluable ‘go to’ source of information for me. I held off on writing this until now so I could at least feel some way qualified to give an authentic point of view on the thrills and spills of adjusting to life in the ‘Du. It’s been just days shy of a year since I leapt out here with only one eye open, and I finally feel like I’ve settled into being a part of Chengdu. It’s been every bit worth the frustration.
And so to the following: six things that will either have you in an eternal spin, or if you get your act together and practice using even a little common sense, will steer you towards a far easier transition than you might have thought possible. I’ve either made half of these mistakes myself, or have been rightly entertained by the tales of woe told by other poor souls who too should have perhaps known better.
I’ll keep these points brief, but will very likely expand on each as a separate article in the coming weeks.
Tip #1: Plan Ahead & Build Contacts
This one is a no brainer (no, really!), but I’ve seen examples of bad planning that have even shocked me. One such post in the Chengdu Forum read something like: ‘Oh my god, I just got here and I don’t know where I am, and only have $xxx in my wallet. Help!‘. No need point out the epic failure to plan ahead in this instance, but you get my drift.
Before you even get here you should have built up a foundation of knowledge, and where possible, contacts of people who may (or may not) be useful to you. You’re already one step ahead if you’re reading this. Chengdu Living forums were a massive leg up for me before arriving, eventually steering me toward the visa agent who handled my change of visa upon arrival. Knowing what you’ll need to be taking care of ahead of time and planning for it might be common sense, but only if you’re actually practicing it.
Tip #2: Get Reliable Information & Secure The Right Visa
Again, this one is fairly obvious unless you relish the idea of being detained, deported, or denied entry from/into Mainland China. Yes, dozens (as in hundreds!) of people have played it to the wire and managed to fix things at the final hour, but why go through all the hassles and stresses when you could have had it all worked out smoothly ahead of time?
Know why you’re coming, and plan accordingly. I know from experience that even outside of China, when you step into a Chinese consulate on your home soil looking for a visa, you are in fact entering the twilight zone. The best piece of advice I could give anyone coming to China is always (always!) do your research, no matter who you have telling you ‘this is how it is’, because 9 times out of 10 you will be receive conflicting information. Make sure it’s always you who is the informed party, and you’ll save yourself most of the running around you’d be dealt otherwise.
Tip #3: Scout Out a Place to Live
So I don’t have to repeat myself any further, the key word is planning! Circumstances will be different for many of you, but we all want to have a place to call home, and leaving it to chance will put you in all manner of awkward situations. There are agencies with an online presence, though you should expect to pay higher rents if this is your chosen route. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be as informed as possible when it comes to renting an apartment/house/other in Chengdu. Standards are just not the same here, and your protection is all but non-existent, so do your homework and invest some time in figuring out what will make your being here more livable.
Agents are everywhere, so the first thing is choose wisely. Know that they will expect 1 month as a deposit, and typically 3 months in advance. This is often negotiable, particularly if they expect you to be staying for an extended period of time. Agents will also seek 50% of 1 months rent commission. Before you sign anything, double check everything, and make sure some form of maintenance/upkeep clause is included in the contract to protect you from anything unforeseen. Lastly, expect something unforeseen!
Tip #4: Eat Good
Everyone’s got to eat, right? It might sound simple (and it is!), but you should give this some thought if nutrition is even half way important to you. I’ve seen too many sorry looking (Western) souls sitting in a Pizza Hut, kidding themselves that ‘this is really good food’. Language aside, you can eat extremely well here in Chengdu.
You just landed in Sichuan, and whether you know it or not, the food here is awesome. Scary stories of recycled oil, fake eggs, and pesticides aside, getting out and about in Chengdu, and in particular your neighbourhood, will have you eating like a King without having to break the bank. You’ll find Supermarkets selling pretty much everything you’ll need, but the adventurous souls will be stumbling upon food markets that sell an awesome array of fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, and a host of condiments. The prices in the markets also mean you can buy much larger quantities for less.
Be adventurous here, and don’t be afraid to put yourself in potentially awkward (pointing) situations. There’s an abundance of eat out joints that will serve up some of the best food you’ve tasted in your life. Enjoy!
Tip #5: Get Around and ‘Know Your Hood’
Forward planning (damn it!), and doing your homework aside, you will need to figure out where everything is at and find your bearings. It might take some time, but it shouldn’t be daunting. There are a number of ways to approach this, so figure out what works for you, and get going.
I approached this half methodically, half haphazardly… I started by spending the first day literally walking around the entire area my apartment was located in, with nothing but a GPS pointer on my mobile to remind me which way I was facing. In the next few days I hopped on and off just about every Metro stop, and proceeded to do the same in each area. I looked online ahead of time for cafe’s and restaurants, so I could stop off for coffee or eats along the way.
Google Maps and Google Translate will get you a long way. Translate on my mobile has been massively useful to this day, storing all of your searches in memory, so flashing a destination at a taxi driver will have you on your way immediately, and is a good back up should you get lost.
There’s always the bike or scooter option too, and you can be up and running on a new scooter for as little as 2,000 RMB ($325 approx.), zipping around Chengdu with all the other stunt drivers. Which leads me nicely to my next, and final point…
Tip #6: Stay Sharp & Look Ahead
This one doesn’t just apply to the insanity that is all things Chengdu/China traffic related, this applies to everything I’ve covered and more. Hopefully I don’t need to say it again, but unless you think out all the possibilities ahead of time, you can expect to be facing some headaches. And don’t take it for granted that this applies only to the bigger issues, it doesn’t. No matter how trivial, or otherwise obvious to you and I, get ready to be infuriated at times by what at first may seem like sheer ignorance. Soon enough you’ll find yourself waiting to step out of an elevator, or off of the bus, only to be faced with 50 people trying to occupy the exact space your feet are planted on before you even blink. No one hates you, it’s just the mix we’re all in, so get used to it and play along!
Perhaps I should close by saying patience really is a virtue, and the sooner you get some, the sooner you’ll settle into the change of pace and attitude that exists here. Remember Chengdu is a 2nd tier city, and although it has come a long way in recent times, there’s a stretch to go before you’ll find people holding doors open for you, or remembering that you agreed to meet at 1 o’clock, and not 3! You already took the leap of faith to get here, so go with it and make the best of every opportunity and experience that comes your way. There are countless people you’ve yet to meet will tell you it’s worth every effort.
I for one hope you work it out.