Phil Roeland

Ni Hao

Travels in South-west China

I visited Southwest China for the first time some five years ago and was surprised how advanced and modern China had become. As a traveller, my first impression of China was quite positive. When I got a fair job offer a while ago to teach in Chengdu (Sichuan province), I decided to accept it up and move to the most populous nation on Earth. As living in a country is usually very different from travelling, I wasn't really sure what to expect so you could call it a calculated step into the unknown. So far, after almost a month, I haven't regretted a minute of it. Since I haven't had the time yet to soak it all up, this month's column will be a brief overview of what has captured my attention so far, especially in comparison to Thailand.

When I first went for a stroll after touching down, I noticed how quiet the city streets were. Although there are plenty of cars of all makes and origins, and associated traffic jams or rather stop-and-go traffic, there are still lots of bicycles to be seen on city streets. Many bicycles and most - if not all - motorbikes are electric and don't make any noise whatsoever. Bicycle lanes are abundant and pavements are incredibly wide and uncluttered. Although walking and cycling can still be done in Chinese metropolises without risking life or limbs, cars are king and drivers often don't give way to pedestrians unless there are traffic lights and zebra crossings. The free right turn spoils this though.

Chinese food is excellent; ordering it, however, can be daunting if the restaurant doesn't have an English or picture menu. The average Chinese shopkeeper or waiter has very low or non-existent English skills. Tables usually sport real tissues or napkins instead of toilet paper like in Thailand. Local beer is drinkable, cheap and not very strong (avg. 3.6%). Drinking beer with ice would be considered an oddity. Although smoking is prohibited in many public places, some people still light up in restaurants and public toilets.

Shopping opportunities are everywhere. There are several major shopping areas in the city with plenty of malls and supermarkets. The latter cater to both Chinese and western tastes. Imported products are available at higher but affordable prices. Local products are cheap and fresh. Seeing turtles on sale at Carrefour was a first for me though. And no, there weren't meant as pets, but were sold in the fresh foods department. There seem to be quite a few entertainment zones and venues as well, but I haven't had time to check them out yet.

Living conditions are good, and the average size of apartments and condos is considerably bigger than in Bangkok. Forty square metres would be considered tiny in China. Most - if not all - places come fully furnished and include fridge, TV, washing machine, cooker, possibly microwave oven and A/C-heater combination, yet remain affordable. Renting always needs to be done via an estate agent, so you'll need some local help if you don't speak Chinese.

When it comes to teaching English, there are very few good ESL resources available and course books from international publishers such as OUP, Macmillan, Longman or Cambridge are not available locally but need to be ordered. By the way, the one-child policy the Chinese authorities have imposed for decades now makes ‘Family' units in course books virtually redundant, since most people don't have any brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers-in-law or sisters-in-laws.

Zai jian (goodbye) for now.

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