Fact or Fiction X: Moving On Up

Welcome back one and all to the September edition of Fact or Fiction. Those of you who read any or all of the last seven will know, every edition I will have a guest and we will discuss a few of the big issues in China of the day. Every answer will have a “Fact” or a “Fiction” and some justification to go along with it.

My guest today is someone you may recognize from Chengdu Living, or China Travel, Sascha Matuszak. He is a West-side Laowai who spent most of his 10 years in China living in Sichuan. He is currently living and working in Shanghai with his wife and son. You can check out more of his stuff at www.saschamatuszak.com.

Sascha and I have something in common (other than being devilishly handsome), we both have recently moved from from smaller, 2nd Tier cities to larger 1st Tier ones (that being Chengdu to Shanghai for him, and Suzhou to Guangzhou for me, for those of you keeping score at home). So today we are going to talk about the perils and pitfalls of moving within China, and life in a Chinese metropolis compared to a “small town” of a few million people.  Join us today for Fact or Fiction X: Moving On Up!

Fact or Fiction

1. It is easier to live in a 1st Tier City (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen).

Glen: FACT

Absolutely! Maybe it’s just the fact that I am more used to life in this country, and I can mutter my way through a bit more of the language, but I find life in Guangzhou to be much easier than life was in Suzhou. There are far more people here who speak English, and a ton more activities in the city, both local and foreign. Of course Suzhou (and I assume other 2nd Tier Cities) are improving in this, it hardly matches the long history of development, and foreign interaction of the big guys.


I don’t think 1st tier has anything to do with it really. For me knowing my town, knowing where things are, having a mental map in my head that I can access at all times — these are the things that make living somewhere easy. Having said that, a 1st tier city like Shanghai has great Western food selections, whereas 2nd tier cities generally do not; Shanghai has an excellent subway system, cleaner streets and a more cosmopolitan feel than any 2nd tier city I have been to.

Not off to the most agreeable of starts, we’ll see where it goes from here…0 for 1.

2. It is harder to get to know “The Real China” in a 1st Tier City.


I know that a lot of purists out there think that you need to live in a smaller city to get to know the culture, but I just don’t see it that way. Chinese culture is all around you, no matter how many people are around you. As I said before on here, I think that rampant development is the real China, and we are stuck with it for all of its pros and cons. Sure being in a city that has a lot of other laowais makes it easier to stay away from the Chinese stuff, but the opportunity to get immersed is very much there.


I agree. There is no such thing as a pristine cookie cutter suburb here in China — if anything, we have cookie cutter alleys selling counterfeit, low grade, delicious stuff and other “real Chinese” things. The real China is found in the people, not the spot.

Looks like they are right on track, “Real China” is all around us. 1 for 2.

3. The pollution is worse in a larger city.


…or at least I think it will be. At the moment, Guangzhou is just finishing construction for the Asian Games, so there is a lot of dust in the air as a result. However, they have recently closed down a ton of factories, apparently for good. In my two months here so far I have seen a ton of blue skies (certainly more than I did in my first year in Suzhou), and I think that it is on the right track. Sure Guangzhou is hardly Vancouver or Seattle with respects to clean air, but it’s still not as bad as I thought it would be.

It gets better than this? -- Image by duffman34


I never would have thunk it, but yes, I totally agree. Shanghai’s blue skies crush the gray dismal armageddon-esque skies of Sichuan. Now, if we were to compare 6th tier towns with 1st tier cities….

12-14 million people are no match for a few factories apparently. 2 for 3. Let’s switch things up to see if they can continue on their harmonious path…

4. The culture shock of moving within China is worse than the shock of moving to China in the first place.


China is pretty much the same all over in terms of culture and society. Sure Shanghainese look down on provincials, adore foreigners, have the worst food in China and speak a weird dialect, but the basics are all the same.


I’m in total agreement! Sure there are some large differences between Cantonese culture and other places in China, but it hardly compares to that feeling I first had getting off the plane from Canada. Now I understand a bit of the language, I know what is in some of the food, and the behaviors of the locals seems a little less alien to me. While I’m hardly an expert on anything, life is far less shocking now. Sure there are differences, but nothing like when you first get here.

Not a surprising answer all things considered. 3 for 4.

5. You feel more at home in your first city (Chengdu and Suzhou respectively) than in your new one.

Sascha: FACT

Absolutely. Chengdu is my home in China no question about that. I love the food and the dialect and although I said that the culture is basically the same all over (and I stand by that) the subtle differences between Chengdunese and Shanghainese that I detect help maintain my loyalty to the Provincials.


To be honest, I don’t know if I ever felt at home in Suzhou. Sure I had a great job, and made some great friends, but it never quite felt like the city had “it” for me. Sure “it” may have came later with more time, but 2 years was hardly enough to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with a place. In my brief time here, I have been very excited about life in Guangzhou and I can see myself staying here for a long time…or maybe I’ll just jump to a bigger city in two years time to.

Back to the disagreeing ways. Is home where the heart is, or is your heart where your home is? 3 for 5.

6. SPECIAL NEW RULES FACT OR FICTION TOPIC: If everything else was equal (family/friends/jobs/money) list the top three Chinese cities you would like to call home.

Sascha: Tough decision, but I am a West-side laowai with peasant-slash-hippy sensibilities so I would say: outside of Dali, outside of Xichang, outside of Hotan.

Come on move to Dali, all the cool kids want to... - photo by Walter Parenteau

Glen: I always thought I was the country type, but I seem to be enjoying life as an urbanite, so I’ll go with:

Beijing: Full of history, full of culture, full of awesome!

Dali: For the country mouse inside of me. Simply perfect weather, very close to nature and history as well…and I’m not just saying it because Sascha said it!

Hong Kong: Sure it’s an SAR, but I’ll count it anyway. The city has it all: East and West, old and new, and everything in between. You’d have a hard time convincing me that it isn’t the greatest city on earth…

I have no idea how to grade this, but since they each agreed on Dali, I’ll count it for partial credit.  3.5 for 6.  Just enough to pass!

For Sascha, I’m Glen, thanks for reading!  We hope that you find a welcome home, wherever that is.  As always, we welcome comments/concerns/criticisms.  Let us have it :)