2nd Tier Cities In China
The "Big Three" cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou attract the vast majority of foreign residents in China. The question is, "Why?" If you're looking for a taste of familiarity in a setting that's nonetheless foreign and fascinating, go no further than China's modern megacities. Expat essentials like cheese and decent bread are readily available, as are English-speaking physicians and Western grocery shops.
It's no secret that the nightlife in China's major cities provides a startling variety of possibilities for newcomers looking to drink themselves into oblivion and, therefore, make lasting connections. Isn't that the way it usually goes? Foreign medical professionals staff the international hospitals, and your children will get an education on par with those of the world's top students at the international schools.
Many foreigners who settle in China are like me in that they hail from populations of a million or fewer back home. Therefore, the sheer number of people in Beijing or Shanghai is mind-boggling to those foreigners. There are people out in force at all hours of the day; the buses and subways are always crowded; and rush-hour traffic is a nightmare. We rural types often feel completely insignificant when compared to the rest of the world.
In my perspective, Beijing has far too many foreigners for there to be a strong sense of a cohesive expat community there. People tend to stick to their own communities, whether they are of a similar nationality or profession. Despite Beijing's larger expat population compared to Kunming's, I've found that I've been unable to make many international acquaintances there. You may find it difficult to socialize if you don't frequent bars, work for a global corporation, or take Chinese classes at a university.
Within a week of being in Kunming, though, I had made friends with individuals from dozens of different countries and dozens of different occupations. The only thing we had in common was that we were all Kunming natives, yet it was enough to form an unbreakable bond. Because of this "United Nations" atmosphere, I was able to establish friends with folks I would have never met otherwise.
Second-tier cities often have cleaner air than their larger counterparts. Fewer people typically equals less pollution and less traffic congestion, however this is less true in heavily industrial second-tier cities. On hazy summer days, when the sky is more likely to be yellow than blue, big cities may seem like concrete jungles.
There are often more trees, fewer high-rises, and better air quality in China's smaller cities. Second-tier cities are generally more attractive as well. And if you're want to broaden your horizons beyond the Big Three, you'll find a greater variety of landscapes to suit your tastes, whether you like mountains, beaches, lakes, or deserts.
The cost of living is much lower in a place that is not considered to be a major metropolitan area. Costing around ten percent of my income, rent in Kunming was a significant burden. Despite the fact that my earnings more than quadrupled when I relocated to Beijing, my rent only consumed one sixth of my income. And for my family of three, a restaurant meal in Beijing usually costs more than 100 RMB. However, we found that in Kunming, we could have a delicious lunch at a local restaurant for less than 50 RMB per person.
You should expect to pay at least 40 RMB for a taxi journey in Beijing, and that number may rise into the hundreds if you need to go across the city in the middle of the day. Typical taxi rates in Kunming are between 10 and 15 RMB, with the highest recorded cost being 20 RMB.
While it's true that earnings are greater in China's major cities, the higher cost of living more than makes up for it, particularly if your pay is still in the low to middle range.
Don't be scared to try one of China's many attractive second or even third tier cities if you're interested in the nation but aren't keen on visiting one of the country's numerous massive megacities. What you discover might end up surprising you.