I was wondering whether anybody has any first-hand experience of living in or at least having visited Xi’an/China? I’d like to learn about the conditions there - the ususal topics of interest: schools, kindergarten, hospitals, supermarkets, western foodstuffs etc. … Thanks!!
I lived there for about 6 months back in 1998 while attending school at Shaanxi Normal University. Like many large Chinese cities, I’m sure it has changed a lot over the past few years, but from my experience then and from what I’ve heard now, it’s still quite “rustic” as compared to cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, etc. I’m not aware of any schools for expat children. The only expat couple I knew there with kids stayed in a special dormitory for foreign students and workers at the above-mentioend university, and there kids were too young for school, so they were looked after by a Chinese nanny. Xi’an has a few “Western” restaurants, like KFC, and a terrible rip-off of American fast-food called “Bob & Betty’s.” They may have more of a selection by now. As far as Western foodstuffs go, it was hard to come by when I was there. There was one really big “Friendship Store,” but the selection of Western food there was limited. Finding things like cheese and American coffee was difficult (but doable). Again, though, I’m not sure how much has changed in the past five years … probably a lot.
Xi’an is a great place to visit as a tourist (the ancient capital of China for many, many centuries) and also studying … however, I couldn’t imagine having to live there for more than a year or so. It’s still quite a backward place. The tap-water is brown, and sometimes you have no water at all for hours at a time, electricity is also sporadic. The bus system is good, and Xi’an is the best place to connect with the rest of China by train. Taxis are also cheap. There are plenty of hospitals, but no really good ones with Western trained doctors. For that, you’d need to go to Beijing or Shanghai. Anyway, hope this is of some help. Good luck!
LBTW, thanks a lot for your reply! Are you by any chance still in contact with anybody in Xi’an, foreigner or local, who could comment a little on the current sitation?
I’m getting a slighly different picture from my company (who are trying to convince us to move there), but as they have their on agenda I’m a bit suspicious of their view of things …
Thanks a lot! Xpet.
Sorry, I’m not in touch with anyone there anymore. I’d suggest doing a little searching around on the net, or try taking a trip there for a week yourself. That’d be the best way to make a decision.
Right, we’re being offered an orientation trip, allegedly “pre-decision”, but I know from experience that once you agree to go there for a visit they’ll nail you, so we’re trying to scout as much info as possible beforehand.
Of course we’ve tried the net, but there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of stuff on Xi’an out there, most of what we were able to find is tourism-related …
Thanks a lot for your help though!! Xpet
One other thing to consider is that there isn’t much of an expat community there, other than some students at Shaanxi Normal University and the Xi’an Foreign Language Institute, and a few English teachers. So, if you don’t speak Chinese, you’ll probably feel very isolated. Most locals don’t speak English (at least in Taipei, you’ll meet a lot of people who can speak enough to get by, in Xi’an they can’t). If you do end up there and are dying to meet locals who speak English, there is an “English corner” on Shida Rd. about one evening every week (I think it was on Thursdays when I was there), and there will be a throng of Chinese students there looking to practice there English. You also will probably be able to make some friends that way and get people to help you out. But if you’re looking for a strong foreign community, you’d probably be better off going to Beijing or Shanghai. It’s really a beautiful city with lots of historical places of interest, musuems, etc., and if you really like that kind of thing and you’re interested in learning the language and immersing yourself in the culture, Xi’an would be a great place. Chinese language classes at Shaanxi Normal University are VERY inexpensive, and I found the instruction to be pretty good (only about 2-3 students per class, so lots of individual instruction).
I’m surprised your company hasn’t given you any information, though, about schools for foreign children, medical coverage, etc. That’s something you should ask them …
LittleBuddha, thanks again! Your surprise is fully justified, and believe me, we are asking … judging from what you wrote so far, maybe there are no answers because there isn’t much to show for (in the “expat”-respect) in Xi’an …
As for Chinese, I graduated in Chinese & Law and have been here for 7 years, so I have reached a modest degree of fluency I guess. My wife has some basic command of mandarin and our kids are in the process of picking it up ‘on the go’, so I don’t see too many problems there.
My only hope is that in the years since your “immersion” there, Xi’an might have developed quite a bit. I was told there is a new & modern airport now (which seems to mean something…?), an international school (no trace of it on the web though) and a new hospital that somehow is run by or supported by (??) some american organization or other (I imagine something like the TaiAn (Adventist) on Bade Lu).
We’ll try to go & see for ourselves, if we do I’ll stop by Shi-Da Lu and say hi to your pals from the “English Corner” from you!
Regarding airports, then every hell hole I have been to in China are building a “modern” airport, or they have completed one recently. I would not take that as a sign of nothing more than that they decided to get the same as the nrighbors have.
When it comes to international schools, I remember that an acquaintance of me went to China on an expat mission for 2 years. They were told that there was an “international” school. Well, tuition was in Chinese, and their kids were the only foreigners there. It was more like a private school, where they had a few extra English lessons once in a while. If your wife doesn’t work, home schooling might be something to consider.
I have no experience with mainland hospitals. However, you are likely to be able to receive basic treatment. When it comes to blood transfusion, you might want to ensure that you go to a place, where they screen the blood for HIV. That’s possible in Beijing or Shanghai, which are 1-2 hours flying time away. Just one point. If you are to receive surgery, then make sure that the anastetic is working that day. My wife’s uncle got some gall stones removed without any kind of pain relief - in a big Shanghai hospital. That must have hurt.
Mr. He, yes, our fears go a little bit in the direction you are describing here … I have spent some time on the mainland as a student ages ago and still carry those mental images of less than confidence-instilling hospital-interiors etc. … Likewise regarding the school: an international school that has a student population that is 90% or more Korean or so (just an example, guys!) is not really what we are thinking of!
Aids and SARS are also on our minds … at least Shaanxi is not one of those flood-prone areas - or is it? :?
Xian should be ok floodwise. Not that close to the yellow river - and the place is located on the loess plains. Ther might be sand storms in winter, but with the tree-planting in inner mongolia, that problem should be smaller now.
International schools… I would stick to the bigger places like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Suzhou etc if I were to stay there with my kids for more than a year. At least the biggest nationality there won’t be Chinese.
The hospitals? AIDS is a problem if you need a blood transfusion, as they still don’t screen for it, but I would only freak out if the donor is henanese. The only problem is that they won’t tell you. An estimate is that there’s 1 million HIV positive in China, but it could ne a bit less and it could be much more, hard to say. SARS? What I have heard is that Xian was not hit very hard, but I don’t know if the info is reliable. It might be prudent to send the family out of the country, when you hear about the first case, but I would do that if I was in Shanghai.
The very basic care should be OK though. The Chinese doctors aren’t bad, their methods are the ones used on our parents when they were young.
China develops fast, so there might just be an OK hospital there now. However the only good hospital I have seen in China is one in Shenzhen (from the outside, so it could still be crappy inside).
There was some pretty bad flooding when I was in Xi’an back in '98. As far as SARS goes, it was bad enough to close down all schools in the city for a while. I’m not sure if there were a lot of cases or if it was just a precautionary measure, but one of my former classmates was planning on going there last summer for classes but right before he was to leave, he got word that schools were closing because of SARS and he had to go to Lanzhou instead … which he hates, so I’m trying to get him to come to Taiwan.
Just as a final piece of advice, if your contract is only for a year, I’d say give it a try. Xi’an is a fascinating place, and you’ll definitely come out better for the experience. If you really want to see “old China,” this is one of the best places to go. If you need medical treatment, Shanghai is only a short plane flight away, and if worse comes to worse you can home school your kids for a year. Since you said you already speak pretty good Chinese, you shouldn’t have any communication problems. And if you get a chance when you’re there, stop by a little Tibetan Buddhist temple called “Guang Ren Si”, hidden in a little alley near the West Gate. It’ll be worth it … and I believe it’s on Sundays (but I might be wrong), but there’s an incredible antique market across from the Ba Xian (Eight Immortals) Temple, right outside of the East Gate. There’s a lot of junk, but you can find some good, real Chinese antiquities there at really great prices … but just be careful if you try to take them out of the country.
Thanks both of you for your input, it looks like we’ll be able to go on a visit with the entire family in a couple of weeks’ time, so we’ll see the place for ourselves.
It would probably be more than a year; usually 2 is the minimum, 3 the norm, we’ll have to see whether we think we can do it or not. Update on the International School: according to a colleague who is there right now it’s a double-track school with a normal Chinese section that currently has 900 students, and an international English (or Bi-Lingual?) section that currently has 9 (!!) students, non of which are native English speakers … we’re neither, but as our kids were born in Taiwan and we knew we’d be away from home for some time, we are bringing them up bilingually, so that does worry me a bit … !
Anyway, thanks a bunch again, all the best! Xpet