China is huge. It’s simply massive, and highly populated. In 2013, the People’s Republic of China put its population at over 1.3 Billion. The United Nations projected their population to be somewhere north of 1.4 Billion in 2014. These figures don’t even include Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
As highly populated as China is, it’s also able to retain its natural beauty. China has the number one farm output of any nation. And as many as 150 million people- half the population of the United States, most of them farmers- live on one dollar a day.
This means that China encompasses both ends of the spectrum; from the capital, Beijing, with its over 21 million people and endless skyscrapers to the Qinghai Province in which animals outnumber people 5 to 1.
Then, within each province- within each city- are microcosms of this same effect. In Beijing, you
can live in hutongs- which are narrow residential alleys that contain simple dwellings. Ten to twenty years ago, it was not uncommon for several families to share a single toilet. However, over the past few years they have become more modern, with indoor radiators and private bathrooms.
On the other end of the spectrum, due to the number of foreigners living in China you can also find ‘expat villas’ mainly found in the Shunyi (northeastern) district of Beijing. In places like this, you may forget that you are living in China at all. You will be surrounded by foreigners and Western amenities. Only about an hour drive to the city center during peak hours, these housings are in gated communities and patrolled 24 hours a day.
Normally, unless you have children that would benefit from suburban living, you will find yourself in the expat area of Chaoyang- to the east of Tianamen. Here, you will find some of the better apartments in Beijing- well maintained and modern. Not only will you be able to find other expats, but you also get some level of immersion into the Chinese culture- which is why you are living in China in the first place- right? Being downtown will also likely put you close to work and within easy reach of the different modes of transportation.
To put it simply, there are a few key things you should consider when moving to China and deciding where to live:
- Level of Immersion- Do you want to interact with expats like yourself all the time?
- Amount of Western amenities- Do you need a Starbucks or McDonalds nearby?
- Proximity to transportation- China has a well thought out public transit system that is also cheap
- Required language skills- Goes hand in hand with level of immersion
- Price- What will your budget be?
Living in the city will provide a much more adventurous and culture filled lifestyle. Just getting a meal can turn into an adventure. In Shanghai, for example, like many other Asian cities, the streets are lined with cart vendors peddling inexpensive but delicious home-cooked meals.
Walking down nearly any street, you can chow down on a variety of foods. There’s Chinese-style fried chicken- chicken filets fried in a wok and topped with chopped dried chilies, scallions, and garlic among other seasonings. A common favorite for breakfast is rice balls stuffed with ingredients like pickled vegetables, eggs and ham, and white sugar. A myriad of dumplings, pot stickers, pancakes (including the infamous green onion pancake), and kebabs are normally only a few steps away from your front door.