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Big differences in cost of living betwen Nanjing, and Chengdu or Kunming?

princess piddle

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princess piddle

Hi all,

I am planning to spend a year in China studying Mandarin and I am wondering how big a difference there is in cost of living between a city in the east like Nanjing, and western cities like Kunming and Chengdu.

As I will be paying for this myself, cost will be an important factor in my decision, but, I am also concerned about the the opportunities for speaking mandarin outside of universities, hence the inclination to go to somewhere like Nanjing, rather than Kunming or Chengdu.

I'd be looking for fairly basic accomodation, (safety would be the only concern), and would eat quite simply and cook most meals myself. Could someone please help with some information about how differently I'd have to budget in those 3 cities?

Other suggestions and comments about where to go for a good quality education at a low cost would also be welcome!

PP :)

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Xiao Kui

An important question is whether you are planning to do some part time English tutoring in your spare time.

If it turns out that you are, then I think I would look at other factors besides cost of living, because though Nanjing is more expensive than Chengdu ,and Chengdu more expensive than Kunming, people are also able to pay a lot more for an English lesson in the more expensive cities because there income is higher.

For example in Chengdu you can get 100-150 yuan for an hour of one-on-one tutoring, but in KM I think you can only get btwn 50-80. (I'm not 100% sure abt those numbers so anyone who knows better feel free to correct me) I can't speak for tutoring rates in Nanjing, but I know the cost of living is higher than the other 2 cities.

If you plan to teach in your spare time then look at other factors besides cost of living. Nanjing gets pretty high ratings in some other threads and I think the people speak more Mandarin or the dialect is closer to standard Mandarin.

If you don't plan to have a source of income and are relying on your savings, then Kunming is significantly less expensive than the other two.

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For a beginner, the Nanjing dialect probably will not be easy to understand, though it is a version of Mandarin. I've heard that people in Kunming speak a version of Mandarin as well, though it, too, is likely to be quite different from northern Mandarin.

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For example in Chengdu you can get 100-150 yuan for an hour of one-on-one tutoring, but in KM I think you can only get btwn 50-80.

From what I hear, the KM figure sounds about right. Maybe you could get RMB100 at a push though...

I've heard that people in Kunming speak a version of Mandarin as well, though it, too, is likely to be quite different from northern Mandarin.

Kunminghua is a Mandarin dialect, & apparently fairly similar to Chengduhua. I've only been here about a month & still find it almost incomprehensible - except for odd mandarin-like sentences. Even heavy Kunming accents are pretty hard to understand. Most people do speak pretty good Mandarin, but they tend to revert to Kunminghua amongst themselves even if you don't speak it. (& often even if you remind them!)

Dongbei might be a better bet for a cheap & cheerful Mandarin experience, if you can handle a harsh winter. There's a forum member who has links with the Unis up there (forgotten who though...)

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jackie tang

hey,my name is jackie,the director of student services of one chinese school named kunming college of eastern language and culture which only offord chinese training for overseas students in kunming.

the cost for studying in kunming like our school 3800RMB for 10 hours per week,4600 RMB for 14 hours per week,5200 RMB for 18hours per week,all of them just for one semester.

the cost for living,it should be 800-1200 RMB per month for one flat with two bedrooms.one living room,one kitchen,one bathroom,some furnitures.so you can share one flat with somebody,it should be 400-600 per month.and also the food is cheap,it just cost 25-40RMB per day.

you konw yunnan is a travelling place, so you will have time fo to Dali,Lijiang,Xianggelila Stone forest and so on in the weekend or in the vacation.

and our school can arrange your student visa.

more details you can email me:[email protected] or call me 13330466990

hope it is helpful for you to make decision.


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I don't think the dialect is a big problem, but can definitely relate to being surrounded by local friends and hearing only Kunminghua except when people are directly speaking to me. Unless your Chinese level is already quite high, I don't think you'll be able to understand much after only a year.

One cost of living issue is tuition. Do universities in cities other than Kunming offer reduced tuition for part-time (10-12hrs/week)? I remember asking at several schools in Chengdu and being looked at like I was crazy. I think this is a great option when combined with 1-on-1 tutoring or just self-study. For reference, I payed around 4000Y/term at Yunnan Univ. and slightly more at Yunnan Normal.

Also if you're a coffee drinker, note that it's really expensive most places in China. In the university area of Kunming, a cup of Yunnan coffee is 5-10Y.

I really like Chengdu, though, and it's not that expensive compared to the big east coast cities. Just not sure I could handle the fog/smog.

Have to admit I chose where to study based on weather and spicy food.

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Dongbei might be a better bet for a cheap & cheerful Mandarin experience, if you can handle a harsh winter.

Qingdao and Dalian in the north are next to the ocean and have milder weather. You might want to consider them.

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princess piddle

Hi everyone,

Thanks very much for all your comments and suggestions!

Xiao Kui, being able to do some part time teaching would really help but I've been told that you can't work on a student visa?

So, if I understand this correctly, Kunming and chengdu hua are dialects that would be unintelligible to a Mandarin speaker in the same way that Cantonese and Hokkien are, but Nanjing dialect would just be like a different accent?

I'm not too worried about accents as my pronunciation is ok and it's mainly vocabulary I need to work on, so ideally I would like to be in a situation where I would be speaking and hearing a lot of Mandarin outside of school as well, even if the Mandarin is not "standard".

I suppose I'm wondering if anyone knows how much more I would be looking at spending if I went to Nanjing instead of Chengdu or Kunming? I suppose Xiao Kui estimates of tutors fees gives me an indication of Chengdu and Kunming differences. Does anyone know what the rate would be for Nanjing?

Thanks for the Dongbei suggestions. I'll look into it, but I think I'd be more comfortable somewhere where the temperatures don't fall too far below zero as I have no experience living in subzero temperatures and am not sure I'd cope!

Thanks everyone!


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No. Kunming and Chengdu dialects are Mandarin subdialects. I have asked many Chinese about this. A friend told me that there are so many Sichuan people in all parts of China and on the media that Sichuan people are among the easiest to understand of all.

Having said that, the division of Chinese into dialects is a nonsense anyway. There are about 300-400 mutually unintelligible forms of Chinese, and not the 8 the government talks about. You will find this all the time - Chinese people's opinions on many, many things are just a repeat of the government line, and the government line is an absurdity. So you have this nonsense about how there are 56 nationalities in China, when the number is again about 400. It is useless to talk too in-depth about any of these things with Chinese people - they just quote the official line.

So to say "Sichuanese is understandable to Mandarin speakers" includes a lot of assumptions. For a start, there are mutually unintelligible dialects in Sichuan! Chengdu dialect, which will be more influenced by standard Mandarin than peasanty patois elsewhere in the province, will be understandable, but outside Chengdu may be a different thing.

Nanjing will be MUCH more expensive than Kunming, but probably with a better educated and more intelligent class of Chinese. The Chinese mention "suzhi" a lot - it means quality or character. The suzhi in Yunnan is among the lowest in China - slightly above rock-bottom Guizhou. In Nanjing, behavioural patterns and general intelligence will be more in line with what you are used to in the West.

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