Jamie Needs a China Destination

My friend Jamie Doom is planning his return to China. But he’s not exactly sure which part he wants to live in:

Hangzhou and Shanghai are also interesting options. Many of my best friends living in China live in those two places. I have already lived in Hangzhou. Shanghai is a big convenient city. Neither town would make me get out of my comfort zone that much.

So I have been thinking of going somewhere new. But where? I want a town that is no more than three million people and no less than 100,000 people. I want a place that has some natural beauty nearby. I like the outdoors and living somewhere beautiful does lift my spirits on those invariable days of loneliness and confusion. I need some help. I need some advice. If you are a China expat or a Chinese and you live in a cool place. Tell me about it. Could your town use another laowai?

Jamie’s population requirements rule out the usual recommendation of Beijing (pop. 7,440,000) or even Tianjin (pop. 5,090,000), but not some of the other popular but slightly smaller choices such as Nanjing (pop. 2,820,000), Chengdu (pop. 2,340,000), Dalian (pop. 2,181,600), Qingdao (pop. 1,860,000), Kunming (pop. 1,540,000), and Xiamen (pop. 697,000).

If you have any helpful suggestions, head on over to to Jamie’s entry: A Dart and a Map of China.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I will be in Chingtao on the 29th. I will give you a quick report about what I see from a lao wei perspective.

    Take care

  2. By the way, Emeril is really me

    Merry Christmas

  3. hmm, how about Suzhou? Gardens, that canal thing, but also some real nature too not very far away and it’s near sea. It’s not very rural, though it’s certainly no Shanghai. Seems to fit really well with what you wanted?

    Maybe other commenters with even more experience in Suzhou than I have (only was there for like a few days) could chime in πŸ™‚

  4. I live in BJ and this is the last place I would recommend.

    I think Xiamen is a nice choice, I was there two weeks ago, the weather was great and it’s a nice place, with beach, European streets and Shanghai/TaiwΓ‘n style.

    The only problem is that, in the case of a war with Taiwan, it would be the warfront. But this is just a possibility.

  5. Kunming, hands down. I lived there 2 years as a student, before becoming a corporate laowai-China hire-hag in Shanghai. Anyhow, Kunming has decent food (rice noodles, spicy Sichuan style food), blue skies and mild weather most fo the year ’round (could kill for some blue sky in Shanghai), is cheap (apartment for about 700/rmb per month you’ll live good, breakfast noodles for about 3 kuai a bowl), has near limitless travel options and natural scenery galore (Deqin – see Meilixueshan), and girls are cute and people are friendly. Drawbacks are Kunming is becoming just like any other city in China, lots of wrecking crews, but thats everywhere in China. Kunming has a reputation for being a place where loser western backbackers kinda get lost in life and waste their years away , so be careful and keep some goals for yourself in life. But in all, Kunming is a place that is hard to not like. Go there dude.

  6. Glad to hear these things about Kunming- I’m heading there soon

  7. Qingdao – cheap beer, cheap(er than Shanghai anyway) life, decent pay for a smaller city and lots of greenery including a bunch of mountains (Laoshan et all)within the city limits and a few very large hills (but the natives toss the mountain status to any slight incline) in the city center.
    Photo 1 – Top of Fushan looking east.
    I love you – Top of Fushan
    North side of Fushan
    Looking at Fushan from my apt complex
    So in short, QD is a pretty decent place to live, although I have yet to visit Kunming and Xiamen, every time I leave QD to visit other cities (including BJ and SH) I am damned gratful to get back to QD!

  8. Undoubtedly, Xiamen is the best choice.
    First, the city locates by the sea, making it really beautiful.
    Second, the climate there is very well.
    Third, Xiamenese generally live in peace and leisure.
    Last, as well the most important reason, it’s near Tainwan.

  9. There seems are much more people in those cities than the figures show…
    I think the smaller pop cities are all good choices though.

  10. He might consider a “second-tier” inland Chinese city like Changsha. I hear the Hunanese can throw a mean party.

    I see he’s seriously considering Chengdu, and that would be another good choice. Actually, anywhere within reach of the Tibetan cultural sphere would be great.

  11. Ahh, I’ve been going through the exact same thing and I’ve got my heart settled on a second-tier city too. For the longest time it’s been between Xiamen and Qingdao, but now this Kunming option sounds pretty awesome too. Good luck man, and from the sounds of it, you’ll end up somewhere cool.

  12. After looking around on Wiki and reading Jamie’s page, (specifically one of your comments John) I’ve got a question to throw out there. What about taking learning Chinese into the mix? That’s something that weighs in pretty heavily for me, but I don’t want to restrict my options to the north, northeast. With that in mind, where’s a good place to be?

  13. As a former resident of Qingdao and visitor to Kunming, I would recommend either city.

    + excellent fengshui with water and mountains nearby.
    + mild weather for its northern location, thanks to moderating sea breezes. The climate is dry; sunny skies prevail.
    +easy connections to Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul, Korea
    +decent expat scene
    +German colonial architecture in Old Town gives Qingdao its unique flavor
    +getting a make-over in preparation for the 2008 Games
    – chilly winters

    +just about the mildest weather of any major city in China
    + interesting minority, esp. Muslim presence
    +located in BEAUTIFUL Yunnan Province
    – remote from China’s urban centers

  14. First of all, thanks to Pasden for putting this up. Thanks to everybody else for the input. This is exactly the type of information I will use to make a decision. Next, I’m going to narrow it down some more than make my choice. Also, somebody needs to give me a part time job so I don’t get too board.

    I’ll keep everyone posted.


  15. Hey Jamie, I second (or third or fourth) Xiamen. Having spent enough time in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shenyang, Xiamen, Xi’an, Nanjing, Jinan, Dalian, Fuzhou, Wuhan, Shijiazhuang, Wuxi, Hefei, Suzhou, Haikou, Changzhou, Quanzhou, Ningbo, Wenzhou, Weihai, Zhongshan, Kunshan, Yiwu, Xiaoshan, Changshu, Huzhou (and quite a few other cities that I have forgotten) to get a feel for the place, Xiamen wins by a mile.

    It’s weather is fantastic, the people genuinely friendly, and the kicker is that it has a unique character of its own. I can not really describe it, but you feel it the moment you step off the plane. I am going back in a few weeks and am greatly looking forward to it. The expat population seems small which I think is what you are looking for and I have been told there are lots of Taiwanese women of a certain profession in town as well, again right up your alley. πŸ˜‰

    Seriously though, it is a lovely city, a cheap flight from both Shangers and the Pearl Delta Metropolis if you ever crave a return to your comfort zone, and with the influx of FDI from companies like Dell you’ll probably have no problem finding a job.

    Now to dog on other cities already mentioned. Qingdao is greatly overrated and according to my roommate and former resident of said city, ‘is ok’. Kunming is full of dirty hippies like Alf and if you want to live with dirty hippies simply stay in Asheville. Chengdu seems to be beloved by many a local and expat alike and while I will agree it’s a quaint big city, I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. Suzhou is a dump, full stop. Changsha, I’ve never been, so I cannot comment.

  16. John, where on earth did you come up with those population figures? I don’t know about the rest of the cities mentioned, but your figures for Chengdu seem to be missing about 8 million people (not including migrants).

  17. Carl,

    Wow, I think I’m pretty much totally in agreement with you. I’ve been to a lot of the places you have (but not Xiamen or Chengdu). I really have to agree about Suzhou.

    [Incidentally, the first time I went to Suzhou was with Carl, but I think he’s been quite a few times since as well. I’ve only been twice.]

  18. THM,

    I just used the figures I found on Answers.com. Yeah, they might be off, but I’m too lazy to do more thorough research. Sorry.

  19. THM,

    I think those population figures are what the government gives in terms of the actual city itself, not including the surrounding region (which is the figure most Western media outlets love to use). Think city vs. metropolitian area.


    Yes, I remember the trip well because of how incredibly boring it was. The only highlight was that cool garden and the Taiwanese guy who chased around telling us that it all used to rightfully belong to him and the KMT. Fool!

  20. What about Ningbo? Anyone?

  21. i recommend harbin

  22. IMO, northern cities are best because there is plenty of heat indoors, and the unbearably hot summer is shorter. But that’s definitely IMO because I can’t stand hot weather.

    Try Yichun, a 4-hour bus ride north of Harbin.

  23. I would recommend ZhuHai,
    It has all the benefits of the great province of GuangDong (food and women), is close to Hong Kong and Macau for escape routes and nice surroundings in the West Pearl River Delta. Work options are plenty if needed and did I mention the seafood??
    Second choice would be XiaMen.

  24. Carl,

    I have been to suzhou too. If you were to look in my archives, which I am sure you do when you are not busy traveling, you would see I once called suzhou the east st. louis of China. Or east st. louis is the suzhou of america. I get confused about the particulars.

    Xiamen has climbed very high up to my list. Xiamen seems dreamy. I don’t understand what you meant by girls from greater china, taiwan, of a certain profession but I can only believe you mean dentists, which I love. Also Carl, I am impressed you can spell the names of the towns you have visited. I’m sure they don’t spell them right outside of the discos you spin progressive west coast trip trance jungle house at.

    Everybody here is making it hard. Now all I need is the offer of a couch and the promise of life long friendship then I’m there.

    I am a clean laowai. I don’t smell as bad as Alf. Household pets love me. I put the seat down. And I always change your name when I write about you in Chinese airline magazines.

  25. John waaaaay overhyped the context of your reply to me last night Jamie. You were supposed to sound ‘bitter’. πŸ™‚

  26. Harbin is great – it gets cold in winter, but you can always escape down south for a month or two during the spring festival.
    Cheers, Pawel

  27. how about Guangzhou?
    lovely place really and the food there is delicious~
    I’m a cantonese… πŸ˜‰

  28. Ningbo is a decent place, and it’s only 4 hours from Shanghai. Although I think that most pretentious Westerners desire a bit more traditional culture…Ningbo is more of a hard-nosed business town. Still, it’s a nice place that’s not too big, not too small.

  29. Ok………..don’t go to Harbin or Changchun. Again….DO NOT!
    I have been living in Changchun for 2 years, this is my third year in Northeast.
    The only thing that keeps me here is that there is pretty much nothing which distracts me from the studying Chinese besides the pollution. It’s as boring here as the endless cornfields along the highways of Ohio state. (just to elaborate, it looks the same, as these are the corn producing provinces of China)
    A lot of people say that these places have charm because they have a smaller population and Harbin has some Russian churches….but that’s it. You might be duped for a month, then the pollution will get to you and you’ll stay inside for the rest of your stay here.

    I’m also looking to move at the end of my contract this year….studying going on, but I still want to life a green vibrant life which I’ve never found here.

    I’m also looking at Xiamen, Hangzhou, Kunming….but the hippies sound scary.

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