Cities to teach in and what to expect

China is a huge country with large cities scattered everywhere. Most of the cities are concentrated in the Eastern section of China. Many of these cities are huge, with 10 cities over 4 million, and monsters like Chongqing with 28 million.

You may have heard, not sure, but China is not the rich and developed country you may be used to. Developed countries have developed country sides offering many similar offerings such as restaurants, movie theaters, bars, schools, quality of apartments, quality of food and clothing. In China you can expect many foreign items in the large cities, in smaller cities these items will be rare.

Chinese cities are broken into tier levels,

1st tier – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou – some account for Shenzhen in this list, but it’s a different city for foreigners than the first 3.

2nd tier – Developed provincial capitals such examples are Chengdu, Wuhan, Shenyang, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Dalian – there is around 30 second tier cities

3rd tier – Less developed provincial

4th tier – All other prefecture cities

5th tier – County level cities

Things to consider when considering a city:

Safety – when you get to tier two or below, these are different experiences, and you will be considered very rich making $1000USD per month. Things are a bit rougher in smaller cities.

Foreign friends – the smaller the city the less foreigners you will meet. I can hear you already ‘Oh, but that’s what I want, the China experience’, and yes, that can be great, but think long and hard if you can take one year of living very simple and never speaking your own language to a native speaker which results in constant baby talk.

Foreign products – No foreign food here, maybe you have McDonalds or KFC, but in a real small city probably not. You will have no cheese, butter, normal bread, steak or any foreign restaurants. Once again, I think it’s awesome, but you need to think about this.

Bars and night life – Many cities outside of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou will provide little night life. I was in one Second tier city, my friend wanted to go to a bar and the taxi took us to the foreign bar street. I was a collection of 3 very dodgy little bars with gangster lighting and huge Budweiser signs, and not one person in any of the three. We did not even enter, it looked like a trap.

The Full on Experience – You will get this in all the cities, but all provide a different full on experience, so do some research. Cities have a different style, different food, different language.

Language – Remember, in Guangzhou they speak Cantonese, in Beijing Mandarin, and in Shanghai Shanghainese. In many places they speak Mandarin, but not all speak it at home and not all well. A total of 53.06 percent of China’s population can “effectively communicate orally in Mandarin,” according to China’s Ministry of Education. If you want to study Chinese make sure it’s the right one. If you learn some dialect, they might not understand you at a job in Beijing.

Work – If you are going for a job, big cities obviously pay more, and outside of teaching there are many more jobs in large cities.

Quality – The second you enter a tier two city or lower you know it. Many look run down, less attractive and less developed. Some are gorgeous, like Dalian on the ocean. If you go inland it can turn into a dusty bowl with concrete slab buildings, sometimes not completed lining the streets.

Out of the above what I hear from most people that live in tier 2 or lower cities is that they usually say the first few months were exciting, but after that it was insanely boring and they had few friends, always searching for comfort food, and felt lost. Now that does not mean everyone is, but I have heard it many times from many that have lived in smaller cities and moved to Beijing.