I was pretty tired when we arrived in Shenyang (I barely slept on the flight over), and was jet-lagged for a couple weeks afterwards, so I may not be remembering everything with 100% accuracy. Anyway, here are my first impressions of Shenyang:
- This place smells BAD. Immediately after we got off the plane, I realized air pollution here is no joke. The air inside the airport was smoky and stinky, like a coal fire. The local coal plants have mostly shut down for the summer by now (June), but the coal smell has been replaced by a vaguely yucky garbage-y smell. That and the smell of used cooking oil pretty much saturates this place.
- This is a developing country, so most buildings, roads, infrastructure and so on are in a worse state of repair than I’m used to. Sidewalks have gaping holes everywhere, if they exist at all, everything is dirty, paint is peeling off, stuff just looks shabby in general.
- On the other hand, there are a lot of brand-new buildings dotting the skyline, in between the ugly gray apartment blocks. There is money pouring into new construction, so hopefully in a few years the city will look a lot better.
- Expectations for good manners should be lowered. People here are used to having to push and shove their way in life if they want to get anywhere and because of that, they aren’t as polite as we might want people to be.
- Kind of related to #4, people around here vomit in public a lot. I think it has something to do with drinking too much, but whatever the reason: watch where you step. Also, they spit…a LOT.
- Walking around town can be really dangerous. People will drive through red lights, and go right through the crosswalk when you’re trying to cross the street. And the sidewalks are where people park their cars, so watch out for that. Also, the electric scooter people are all over the sidewalks, and they will mow you down if you don’t get out of the way. Basically, assume everybody around you is trying to murder you with their vehicles.
I know I’m being really negative, but I want people to have a clear picture of this place before making any decisions about coming to visit or work. I’ve been here a few months now, so the shock has mostly worn off and I’ve gotten used to Shenyang’s quirks. If you’re squeamish, have lung issues, or you’re a slow walker, I’d stay away.
Once we settled in and had a chance to explore a bit, we needed to get a few important things done. Our home has Internet included and we brought a VPN-equipped router, so we didn’t have to worry about that after arriving. And our home came with several air purifiers, something everybody should have. Speaking of the air, we brought some disposable air filter masks in our luggage, so we didn’t need to deal with that. So here are some things we needed to do right away:
- Get a Chinese smartphone, or a SIM card for your unlocked smartphone. Here’s a useful website to research whether or not your old phone will work here. Once you have a Chinese phone number things are much easier here. Not to mention, you’ll be able to use various smartphone apps to find your way around, buy stuff, get movie times, you name it.
- Related to #1, install the WeChat app on your phone. Make sure you do this after you have your new phone number, because your phone number is integrated with the app. This app is super useful, everybody here uses it for instant messaging, shopping, paying for your cell phone, and lots more I don’t even know about yet.
- Get a Chinese bank account. I use Bank of China, but there are other choices. I don’t keep much money there, but a lot of businesses don’t accept American debit or credit cards, but Chinese bank cards work. Also, you can integrate the account with WeChat, to pay for stuff. Really useful.
- Other useful apps, while I’m at it: AirVisual, for monitoring the pollution levels, Baidu Maps (Google Maps is not very accurate here), a VPN app (I use ExpressVPN) so you can use the Internet when you’re away from home.
Other useful things you might want to work on: get a Roku or some other streaming device, get a VOIP box and a landline phone to plug into it so you can call people in the states. And if you’re like me, get a sourdough starter going, and you’ll be able to use it in a week or two.