China is massive and like America, there are many parts, cultures, and costs of living. We are living in Yanji, a third-tier city which is small with a population of 400,000 but still big enough to have almost everything you could buy and be served with an airport and high-speed rail. It is north of Beijing which means it will get a really cold winter, but right now the weather is very enjoyable.
Just like Taiwan, if you can search locally you can get a much better deal on housing than booking beforehand. We booked beforehand so it cost us about $100 a week to stay. However, now that I can read Chinese I looked on the internet and found some places for $120 a month. I believe most rents are paid on a yearly basis. As for purchasing an apartment, I found they start from $50,000.
There is street food, but it is not as ubiquitous as in Taiwan, so cooking is more common. Things are still cheap enough that we haven’t been persuaded to cook yet. You can get a bowl of noodles for $2 and we shared a Korean BBQ meal for $10-$15 total. Char is a famous food around here which is meat on skewers and lots of dishes contain lamb.
Chinese food was harder to come by in this area, but we were about to get in when we took a weekend trip to Shenyang.
For me coming here was to practice Chinese. It has been interesting to switch from traditional characters to simplified, but they are similar so I can often make out the ones I know. The accent is certainly different though, so that is taking some getting used to.
Yanji is small enough that you could walk anywhere in under 30 minutes. However, we also take the bus and taxis within the city. A bus ride costs 15 cents and a taxi ride will be 75 cents to most places, but up to $1.50.
Yanji was recently connected to the high-speed rail so you can get to Beijing in 8 hours which is about 900 miles away. We went on the high-speed rail a few places. The ride to a city across the river from North Korea cost us $2 each way and to a city 400 miles away was $35 and only took 4 hours. There is also an airport which is you can fly directly to Seoul, Beijing, or a few other places, but it is often cheaper to fly out of a bigger city. I used United miles allowed us to get all the way here without purchasing other tickets because Air China is in Star Alliance and they fly to Yanji.
We thought it may be a good idea to shop locally and buy stuff Made In China. One thing I wanted was a suit. Suits run several hundred dollars in America, but I got one tailored for $100.
My wife purchased a new pair of glasses. She got the frame for $30 and the lenses for $60 which included adjusting her prescription. Just like dental care, definitely cheaper here than in America.
Comforts, convenience, and the internet
You will not find many western restaurants in a small city, but you could cook anything you like because accessing the ingredients isn’t too difficult here. It may be tough to find cheese or spices, but pretty much everything else is in their supermarkets which are small and spread throughout the city. Each block seems to have one on either side of the street. Our butter is from New Zealand, our cereal from Korea, our bread from Russia, and our milk is local.
Lots of places in China have bad pollution, but Yanji is not one of them. In fact, they have several electric scooters, but when the buses pass by so does a cloud of black smoke. As for the toilets you need to throw the toilet paper in the garbage.
WeChat is an app that you can do everything within. We ordered food through it and we could even pay for bills, restaurants, or other things within the app. You are blocked from accessing many American things you are used to such as Facebook and Google, but not WordPress. Many people get around this by using a VPN, but the internet can be slow when trying to access these sites. Getting off Facebook for a few weeks has been nice.
China is really planning ahead. In this city alone there are over fifty 100+ unit apartment building going in. They are also opening two new malls. This sometimes leads to buildings with very few people living inside. The high-speed rail station is a bit outside of town and has a dirt road that they are going to pave soon, but the station is prepared for massive growth. The building is huge and there are seven platforms although the most trains I’ve seen simultaneously is two.
Things I learned
We are near the border of North Korea and Russia. There are many ethnically Korean Chinese people living here so almost everything is written in Korean and Chinese. In another city closer to Russia they include Russian as well. I learned that many Chinese people here have visited North Korea and the northern border is not really fortified.
There are many group activities. At night I’ve seen many old people in dancing groups. During the day there are people playing ping pong on both sides of where I live and kids running around.
Living somewhere else is cool and learning the language is a great way to get great deals and better integrate. There is only so much integration I can do since I’m not Asian, but speaking Chinese is very helpful. There are a lot of misconceptions about North Korea, so don’t believe everything you read. Finally, if I was willing to cook then I do believe it would be cheaper to reside here than Taiwan ($400 a month would likely be enough), but get the visa to reside here is definitely more difficult.