Expatriate Life In Nanjing, China

Nanjing has a surprisingly lively expat community considering that more internationally appealing Shanghai is just a few hours’ away. But Nanjing has a few advantages: living is cheaper and people are more patient with foreigners.

The one and only reason why we stopped in Nanjing was doing hospitality exchange. People don’t usually come to the city that much for tourism as for a longer stay, for example to learn Chinese or to teach English. All of our hosts and other hospitality exchange people we met were teachers. That seems to be, actually, de facto for foreigners everywhere in China. Somehow expatriates are always polarised by the purpose of their stay. For example in Thailand it was sex tourism.

Random encounters with locals

We stayed with two Australians, one American and two Korean-American guys. All the places were very different, but equally fun. We had a great time in getting to know our hosts and their expatriate lifestyle in China. The city itself we didn’t explore, as usually. All the big cities in the world resemble each other. Therefore we usually prefer smaller cities with less sights. Another obvious reason is, that coming from Finland, we are not used to big cities’ noise, pollution, and crowded rush hours. Nanjing was, however, bearable in this respect. The city died for the evening and it was nice to walk along the streets. One good side in writers’ and loiterers’ life is that you can choose when to go out and take care of your, well, non-businesses.

There were no Chinese hospitality exchange members in Nanjing. It was a pity because expatriates seemed to socialize with each other like everywhere in the world, and there was minimal interaction with locals besides random daily encounters in shops and taxis. And expats use a lot of taxis in China. We wanted to walk, like always, and caused curiosity. Nanjing’s city centre is quite small for being such a huge city of two million people, and one can really easily walk everywhere and avoid all the hassle with taxis, which are all the same around the world.

Maids of dishonour

Our stay had probably one long-term influence on the expat community. Staying at people’s places during the daytime when maids come to work is always revealing. This time it led to one maid getting fired because she misused her position. When you are at home you will notice how badly they do their work—or, as in most cases, leave it undone. Päivi was amused to see how some of the maids came to work wearing clothes that were seemingly unsuitable for cleaning, and every single one of them was all the time carrying their fancy handbags. They arranged things a bit, covered all dirt, and did some washing-up, but rarely any real cleaning.

The maids didn’t seem to care about their foreign employers at all. For example one hand-bagged lady left the laundry to the washing machine for a few days, after which it caught a puke-like smell. We actually heard an explanation to this disrespect from one of our Taiwanese friends. She said that Chinese have two faces. One face is for the Chinese, the other one for foreigners. The latter doesn’t count so everything goes, even bad work. You see, one cannot loose the second face unlike the first one. We were remembering warmly our maid, Dominga, in Buenos Aires. We could happily have a siesta when she came, and when we woke up, the whole house was shining. She was a rare treasure.

Nanjing’s weather was getting chilly during our stay which was one of the reasons to move on. Autumns and winters tend to be very humid in the city so the weather always feels colder than you could expect just by looking at temperatures. We were lucky, though, as it only rained a couple of times. We were waiting for more after reading our American friends’ blog last year about their tour around China. It seemed to be raining almost every day. Either they had an exceptionally bad weather or we had an unbelievably good one.


Anonymous said…
Is this really true that Nanjing has a huge expat community? My husband might be relocated to Nanjing for 1 year and we haven't been able to decide to go because we have two infants twins. We worry about the health care for babies. And we heard that the expat clinics are very expensive. Do you know any expat with babies in Nanjing? And how do they think about the medical system in Nanjing?
We are not sure about the size, but it was active compared to some other cities we visited in China.

We have no first-hand experience regarding clinics or taking babies to China, or medical costs. Perhaps you could search for some local expat discussion forums for information.

Happy travels,

Päivi & Santeri

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