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Suzhou vs. Wuxi vs. Nanjing

Jonny Wang

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My wife and I are currently living in Tianjin and are considering moving a bit further south. Right now we are considering the Jiangsu area - I travel to Nanjing on business occassionaly and think it is a beautiful city. I've never been to Wuxi and only briefly to Suzhou. Our main criteria for selection: wetter/greener and warmer climate; fairly developed industrially (foreign factories and businesses and preferably an international school or two)

Some questions for those of you who've been there, especially foreigners who have lived in any of these cities:

1. Are they any warmer in the winter than say, Beijing? I know they don't have public heating, but do most places use air conditioning for heat? Are the winters shorter than up north?

2. Are the summers unbearably hot?

3. Which city has a better standard of living: not too big or touristy, clean, pretty, decent amount of industry (I work in manufacturing)?

We are also open to considering other non-Shanghai cities as well, say Chengdu, Chongqing, Hefei, Chansha, Wuhan, Ningbo, Hangzhou. Any thoughts on these? I hear that they almost never have clear skies in Chengdu. Is that true?

Thanks for your thoughts! :)

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I lived in Wuxi for a year, though as it was in 1998 my impressions of the city are undoubtedly far out of date. Here goes though.

1) The winters are milder, but also much damper. We had air-conditioning heating units, but basically these pulled in cold damp air from outside and turned it into warm damp air inside. Result was that if you kept your apartment at a decent temperature for any length of time you got mold. One lucky soul got a whole mushroom. I'd imagine the more expensive accommodation now has 'proper' heating, and I'd recommend you go for that option.

2) I suppose I wouldn't have been there for the height of summer - September to June teaching stint - so I can't comment.

3) From this point of view, I'd go for Wuxi. It has, if I remember my Lonely Planet, quite a light industry base. It isn't as much as a tourist attraction as Suzhou, so you're less likely to be assumed to be a tourist. It's not as big as Nanjing, but I'm pretty sure you'd have all the modern conveniences you'd want - there was a Parkson's supermarket selling cheese (which in provincial China in 1998 was no small treasure), a big Metro cash and carry type place and a couple of almost-passable cafe / bar joints back when I was there, so by now you should have pretty much everything you could want (and you've got Shanghai a quick train or bus away anyway.)

There was a small Singaporean-run International School back then, I can't imagine there isn't something similar now. You are probably aware, but watch out for the Chinese 'International' Schools - usually the 'International' refers only to the handful of freshly-graduated English teachers (ah, happy days) and the boss's holidays.

As I say, all of that is almost a decade out of date, but hope it helps.

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Thanks for your thoughts. All very interesting and helpful. Given the pace of change in China, a 1998 Wuxi that was already at the point you describe must be pretty developed today. As one barometer of development & western development, I did get a list of all the Starbucks in China, and Wuxi has two now, apparently. I'd never decide where to live based on if they had Starbucks or not, but I hope it might serve as a bit of a proxy for gaging development.

If anyone has any more recent exeriences in Wuxi, I'd love to hear about those, too. :)

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I just spent the day in Wuxi yesterday funnily enough - on a triangle weekend trip to Yangzhou, Nanjing and Wuxi.

My personal choice would be Nanjing - great city, lots of facilities for foreigners and lots to see and do.

I'm not so sure Wuxi would be a great place to bring up kids - Suzhou or Nanjing would cater for this better, in terms of international schools etc.

Actually, I am looking at wuxi's newly launched mag for expats as I type this - website: http://www.wuxilife.com - might give some more info. Wuxi seems a good place - I like it.

I live about 2 hours away from Wuxi. North of the yangtze - great place - few expats but growing - no international schools and not a great place for families to be honest but expanding industry and lots of new factories in the development zone.

Winters are made cold in this part of China due to the lack of heating in the apartments although with a decent stand-up air conditioner you can get your apartment heated to such an extent that t-shirts can be worn.

Summers are screaming hot - enough said!

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I hear that they almost never have clear skies in Chengdu. Is that true?

Yes, Chengdu is cloudy, depressingly so. The summers are hot and humid - the air is pretty moist year-round. It does have some redeeming qualities, good international schools, good western restaurants, good Sichuan food. Surrounding Sichuan is beautiful as well (and sunnier) with lots of travel destinations, JiuZhaigou, Songpan, and Aba prefecture just to name a few. I think I would prefer some of the eastern cities to Chengdu.

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Xiao Kui,

I've heard similar things from my friends who used to live there several years ago. Didn't know if the air had gotten better recently or not. Probably one of those cities that will get better and better as the pollution situation in China improves over the next decade or so. :)

By they way, I think your Lionel Richie signature quote is hilarious! :lol: :lol: I've noticed it before.


Thanks for the link to the Wuxi expat magazine. That'll be good to take a look at.

I'm sure I'm the technological dinosaur when it comes to this, but in case anyone else out there doesn't konw about Flickr, I'm finding it to be a great way to view alot of pictures of Chinese cities taken by a lot of different people in one easy place. Kind of makes doing research easier, although I'm sure the pictures tend to be of mainly the pretty places, not the ordinary ones.

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How about Guangzhou vs. Shenzhen and Dongguan? We're also contemplating moving all the way down to Guangdong - definitely warm enough, but is it too hot in the summer?

Dongguan and Shenzhen seem too luan (crime, construction craziness, etc), but the few times I've passed through Guangzhou, it seemed quite pretty - seems like an old city with a lot of big trees, etc. How is the lifestyle there? Less crazy than Shenzhen and Dongguan?

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If you're that mobile, have a look at this - although be aware you've already decided to move away from the most livable city, so things are only going to get worse :wink:

Only ever heard good things about Xiamen, just to give you another choice :twisted:

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Well, I doubt Tianjin would ever be on anyone's "most livable cities" list, so I'm not too worried about being disappointed if we move somewhere else. Our nickname for Tianjin is the "armpit of China."

As for Xiamen, yes, it's quite nice! I've visited friends there a few times. Not the best in the world for heavy industry, though, which I'm more involved in. They seem to not like polluting factories and stuff in Xiamen. :roll:

In Xiamen you can rent 3 story, ocean-view houses with rooftop balconies just outside the city for a ridiculously small amount of money (couple thousand rmb/month). Definitely paradise, if only I didn't have to work.

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  • 1 month later...

A bit late but none the less.

I'm living in Nanjing now and I have to say I'm looking forward to leaving the city. It's mainly the traffic that bother's me. The busses are often late coming in packs of two or three at a time. It can be hard to get a taxi as well. This makes getting around in the city a bit of a hassle. This isn't just coming from me, I've talked to a fair amount of local people here and they have said the same thing.

I've also talked to some foreign people living here who have said traffic is fine, but they also live in the downtown core and typically walk everywhere. If I just had to look at the traffic I wouldn't care how busy it was either.

As for ammenties, products, services, restaurants and whatnot; their quite good. There is a fair selection of foreign food here. There's an Indian restaurant, a couple Italian places, Pizza Hut and Papa John's are here. Carrefour has the ingredients to make Burritos which is nice.

I'm honestly not overly impressed with the restaurants or shopping. I find that there isn't much more new stuff, just more of the same stuff you'd find anywhere. Once in a while you can find a gem of an item though. Like in the Golden Eagle I saw a potato masher, first time to have seen one for sale in China.

For sightseeing. There are some parks, a couple mountains, the mausoleum of Sui Zhong Shan is nice, you can see the city wall in places around the city which add's to the scenery nicely. There are some other places to go as well but I find it to be mostly commercialized or residential (as you would expect in a big city).

Ultimately I'm here to work and live, not eat foreign food, play pool or sightsee (well, a bit of sightseeing on holidays); so for me these aren't driving reasons to stay in the city. I'll gladly sacrifice some foreign food and some products to live in a city that's less crowded and busy. I just don't feel relaxed when I go out anywhere.

I'm planning a trip to SuZhou soon, I want to see if it's worth moving to. From what I hear it's described as Heaven on Earth.

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Hero Doug,

Thanks for the comments. It's good to hear another perspective on Nanjing. My wife and I visited over the New Year holiday and really enjoyed it. It's just so much prettier than Tianjin where we live now. Zhong Shan Ling is gorgeous, and right next to the city.

Good to know that traffic can be a mess.

I hope you like Suzhou, but I would say it's definitely more westernized than Nanjing. If you are looking to escape expat land, Suzhou might not be that place for you? Traffic seemed good, though. The Singapore Industrial Park is basically not China - more like Hong Kong or somewhere - way too clean and sterile for China. But very nice and pretty.

Wuxi might be worth checking out - I have a really good impression of it from our visit. Has enough western creature comforts, but not that many westerners. Still quite a small city, with a few beautiful parks, and Tai Hu Lake.

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