Dalian, China - Can You Put Up with All of the Bad for a Little Bit of the Good?

Being a foreigner who lives and works in China can have its ups and downs, as American expat J.D. can tell you. Read on for his take on what life is like for him in Dalian, his impressions about the people, the culture, and aspects of everyday life, and decide for yourself -- as he advises -- whether the good outweighs the bad.
 
J.D. at Labor Park in Dalian
J.D. in Dalian

-Where were you born?

I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.A.

-In which country and city are you living now?

I am currently living in Dalian, China - a seaside city in northeast China with a population of nearly 6 million people. I have heard before that it is the eighth largest city in China.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I am living with my Chinese girlfriend, who I've been with for nearly 2 years.

-How long have you been living in China?

Since September 2009. At the time I am writing this, I have been in Dalian for about 20 months.

-What is your age?

I'm 24-years-old.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in China?

After I had graduated from my university in 2008, it was extremely difficult to find a job in my field of study. I had recently began traveling around the world, and I was very open to the idea of living abroad. I was very interested in Asia, but I had never traveled to any Asian countries. I had met my Chinese girlfriend online, and she told me how easy it would be for me to find a job teaching English. So, with nothing to lose, I moved to Dalian, China and became an English teacher.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

No, it wasn't difficult, because my current employer helped me with everything. You have to do a lot of paperwork, you must get a health exam, and you have to do lots of registering with the government. It's tedious, but it's not difficult. I had to pay a lot of money up front, but all of that money was reimbursed to me in my first paycheck.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

My employer provides me with medical insurance. It's automatically taken out of my paycheck every month, and I believe it costs me about 300 RMB per month. So far I've never had to use it.

Tiger Beach in Dalian
A shot of Tiger Beach taken from Binhai Road in Dalian.

-How do you make your living in China? Do you have any type of income generated?

Basically, my girlfriend looked around for me, and she eventually found a job for me as an English teacher at a private language school. I taught all different ages of people, from kids as young as 5, to adults over 60. There are countless opportunities to teach English here in Dalian, however, most of them will not provide you with a working visa. And so you know, working in China while on a tourist visa is technically illegal, but nobody really cares, and I've never seen any enforcement of this whatsoever.

After teaching English for one year, a job hunter called the school I was working at, and asked if I would be interested in having an interview with a major international company. The job that I would be applying for was an "English culture coach." I had nothing to lose by just going to the interview, so I did, and I got the job. I started making twice the pay that I had been making at my English school. To be honest, I enjoyed teaching English more than my current job, but I make much more now, and the benefits are much better.

By far the best way to find work here in Dalian is through word-of-mouth. Even though I work full-time Monday through Friday, I still often do private tutoring in the evenings and on the weekend for some extra income. If you just come here, and build a good reputation for yourself, Chinese people will begin asking for your help to improve their English. I am constantly having to decline teaching opportunities because my schedule is already so overloaded. You can make as high as 200 RMB per hour doing private tutoring, but I usually charge less because tutoring is super easy to me, and I don't feel like 200 RMB is a fair price (some people are willing to pay that much though).

-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

I speak survival Mandarin. I know basic words that have to be used often, and I can read very simple Chinese characters. In other words, I can survive on my own, but I can't do anything out of the ordinary on my own. However, my girlfriend is Chinese, which helps me enormously in getting around. I really want to learn to speak more Mandarin, but I have very limited free time, and I don't want to spend most of that free time studying another language. Most of the Mandarin I know now, I learned from a program called Fluenz (very similiar to Rosetta Stone, but supposedly better). I have also learned quite a bit from my girlfriend and Chinese friends.

I don't think you have to speak Mandarin fluently to live here (I certainly don't), but I will warn you that 99% of the people in Dalian cannot speak any English other than "hello." It's going to be tremendously hard for you to get any kind of business done if you don't at least have a Chinese friend that can help you. For example, I have to send money to the USA every month, because I have student loans to pay back. I have to do this at an ICBC bank in downtown Dalian. It would be next to impossible for me to get this done if it weren't for my girlfriend. I would say if you are planning to live in China for a year or less, don't bother learning Mandarin, but if you plan to live for several years, I would definitely recommend making some kind of effort.

 By the way, Mandarin is a tonal-language with 4 unique tones (and a fifth "silent" tone), and of course Chinese isn't written in a Roman script. It's takes a lot of effort and motivation to learn, and it isn't a language you can just "pick up" by hearing it. If you don't have something motivating you to learn and practice often, chances are you'll never get around to learning it.

Oh, and one last thing. If you're genuinely trying to learn Mandarin, you should realize that most people in Dalian do not speak Putonghua (standard Mandarin), they speak Dalianhua (Dalian-Mandarin). What this means is, a lot of what you learn from your books and  computer programs will not be used by 90% of the people here. It also makes it much harder to understand what people are saying, because you have been learning something entirely different. Sure, Dalianhua isn't as drastically different as Cantonese or Shanghaihua, but it's still different enough to make learning and speaking Mandarin in Dalian more frustrating.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.

Of course I miss friends and family, but most of my family and friends are all grown up and scattered over the USA. For this reason, I don't visit home very often. Besides friends and family, I really don't miss living in America at all. I guess one of the things I do miss from back home is being able to communicate easily and effectively. Here, even simple activites like getting a haircut can be extremely frustrating if you don't speak good Mandarin.

As far as recreational activites go, Dalian has a lot of things you can do during the summer time. Because it is a seaside city, Dalian has some beaches, but most of them are too dirty for swimming. Dalian also has some nearby mountains, and even a few temples that are quite lovely. There are some good parks and squares in Dalian too. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to ride a bicycle in Dalian because of the unflat landscape and the terrible traffic. Most of the spring and autumn are too cold to be doing anything outdoors, and of course the winter too. To be honest, Dalian gets boring pretty fast, and the cold weather lasts way too long. It's also extremely windy here so it often feels much colder than it really is.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

In a couple of years, I have plans to move to Southeast Asia with my girlfriend (most likely to Thailand). I will probably continue my career in the English field because I feel like I am improving over time, and I enjoy teaching people. I don't see myself going back to America within the next 10 years, because I love living abroad and traveling. Since I moved to China, I have traveled to South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. My favorite place was the Philippines, but I don't plan to move there because I heard it's extremely hard for a foreigner to find work there. So, that's why I've decided that Thailand is the next place I want to live.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I have lived in three different apartments in three completely different parts of the city. I lived in my first apartment for a year, and it cost me 1,500 RMB per month. It was the size of a standard hotel room with no bedrooms. I absolutely hated living there. For starters, it was located in a hotel, so I constantly had to be around annoying Chinese tourists. Second, it was right in the center of the city, which seems like a good idea, but it's not. That area was ridiculously loud, and there are people EVERYWHERE. Third, about half the elevators in my hotel were broken, so this caused me to be late on more than one occasion. I lived on the 19th floor, so using the stairs was not a good option. One time I waited 30 minutes before the elevator finally arrived (I am not joking). Also, that part of town is where all the tourists go, so there are lots of people trying to rip you off and lots of pickpockets. It got old pretty quick. There are countless other complaints I have about this apartment, but I won't go into them.

After living in my first apartment for a year, I moved into an apartment closer to my new job, which is located about 30 minutes from the city center. That apartment cost me 2,200 RMB per month, and it did indeed have a bedroom. Lots of my Chinese friends told me that price was very high. I liked that apartment way more than my first one, but I still didn't "like" it. One of the reasons I didn't like that apartment was because the street noise was extremely loud, and I got woken up constantly. Also, neighbors in Dalian seem to have no consideration for others. I get woken up all the time by hammering at 7 AM, people shouting at each other down the halls at 2 AM, and people constantly slamming their doors throughout the night.

 My third apartment was the best of the three, and it was between downtown and my office. It took me 10 minutes to get to work, and 10 minutes to get downtown. I really liked the location. I was only paying 2,000 RMB each month, and the apartment had a nice kitchen and a bedroom. As crazy as it sounds, I didn't like my third apartment either. I got woken up almost every morning by a school outside. The school would do exercises outside early in the morning, and a man would be shouting over the mega-phone the entire time. For reasons I can't explain, the mega-phone was always turned up to deafening volume levels, so anyone within a one-kilometer radius would be able to hear it. In other words, it was impossible to sleep when these exercises began. Another reason I didn't like the apartment so much was because the landlord was a very snotty young woman. I have no idea why, but it seemed like she really hated me for renting her apartment.

On a side note, landlords in Dalian have way too much power. All three of my landlords treated me very nasty and like they were doing me a big favor by letting me live in their apartments. You basically have to beg them to let you rent their apartment, and they are generally quite unfriendly. Don't expect much help if something goes wrong in your apartment. Of course there are some good landlords out there, but often it seems like there are few and they are far between. Also, some landlords will try to not return your security deposit for no reason, and they will lie to you as to why they kept it. This is a common complaint from foreigners living in China.

The landlord from my first apartment tried to scam me by saying I needed to pay him about 1,500 RMB for some kind of "air-conditioning fee." This was outrageous because the entire year I had lived in that apartment, not once did I have cold air or any kind of air at all (another complaint I have about that apartment). I refused to pay it, and one day he and his wife showed up at my new apartment, and refused to leave my apartment until I payed them the money. They shouted violently in my girlfriend's face, and I even called the police. However, when the police arrived, they just left and said they can't make the landlord and his wife leave my apartment because it was a personal dispute. I was pretty shocked about that. They couldn't just make them leave? After about four hours of shouting, the couple finally left, even though I didn't pay them anything. Luckily, I haven't heard from them since. It was probably the single worst experience I've had in Dalian.

The bedroom of my second apartment in Dalian 

 The bedroom of my second apartment in Dalian.

-What is the cost of living in Dalian?

Like everybody says, it totally depends on your lifestyle, but I think you could live off of $500 a month quite easily. Bear in mind that most Chinese people in Dalian make less than $500 per month, and of course they all manage to live here. I make about 11,000 RMB a month, and I live pretty comfortably. Unfortunately, I am still paying off my student loans, so a big chunk of my income goes to that. Hopefully I can have them completely paid off in about a year, and I can live even more comfortably. Like I mentioned earlier, I've been able to travel to quite a few Asian countries while living in China.

To give you an idea about my lifestyle, I kind of like to live halfway like a Chinese person, and halfway like an American person. I personally spend about 1,500 RMB on food and beverages each month. I buy both Chinese food and some Western food. I probably spend about 100 RMB a month on transportation, which is ridiculously cheap compared to America. I usually take the bus everywhere I go (which costs 1 RMB each way), and I take a taxi late at night when the buses stop running. I spend an average of about 2,000 RMB a month on my apartment, and probably 350 RMB a month on the utilities (which includes internet access and cable TV). I pay about 50 RMB a month for my mobile phone service. After you do the math, you can see that leaves me with quite a bit of extra money, which I mostly use to pay my student loans, shop a little, or travel.

-What do you think about the locals? (also how they treat foreigners) 

I hate to say it, but I think Chinese society is a little ill. The way people treat strangers here is sad. As you have likely heard, people in China can be quite rude and impolite. This is somewhat of an understatement. Some of the things you're going to have to get used to are pushing, cutting in line, spitting, and staring (if you're not Asian-looking). Basically the mentality here is: if I don't know you, screw you. For example, if you were hit by a car here, most likely no one would help you (just Google "Yue Yue Guangdong"). A large crowd of Chinese people would gather around you as you lay dying, and they would just stare at you, but not help you, nor call for help. This is sad, but true. I also have the impression that many people here have no shame. You will constantly see people using the bathroom right out in the open during the summer time (number one and number two).

When it comes to being a foreigner in China, people tend to say that foreigners are treated really well here. This is only half true. Chinese people will be very curious to learn about you and your background, which is kind of a good and bad thing. However, if you are a foreigner, people tend to give you no privacy, and lots of people will ask you very awkward questions that you may feel uncomfortable answering. Chinese people openly stare at foreigners too, so be prepared for lots of that. Many older people will give you mean and nasty looks. I'm pretty much used to the staring, but I still get annoyed when I walk into a store or restaurant, and everybody in the place turns around and stares at me with no shame at all (this happens a lot too). There are also lots of places that you will enter, and it will become very clear to you that foreigners aren't really welcome there. I think sometimes Chinese people forget that foreigners are human beings too. Get prepared to hear the word "laowai" almost everywhere you go (laowai means foreigner in Mandarin). People will be constantly talking about you right behind your back. The more you learn Mandarin, the more you will learn about how much people are talking about you.

Foreigners can also get away with a lot of things that Chinese people would never get away with, but vice versa is also true - there's a lot of things Chinese people get away with that foreigners could never get away with. Don't ever get into a car crash here either, because the inevitable crowd that forms will be against the "laowai," and you will always be to blame for the accident.

If you are Caucasian, and even remotely attractive, you're probably going to get a lot of compliments. White is beautiful in China. Unfortunately, I have heard on multiple occasions from Chinese people that they think people with dark skin look unattractive. You're going to notice huge number of whitening products in Dalian, and you will notice that Chinese women are basically afraid of sunshine.

Also, if you're a foreigner, some people are going to try to rip you off or take advantage of you. Chinese people think all white people are rich, and we all know how untrue that is. Expect price mark-ups in any situation where the price isn't fixed. For this reason, you should definitely haggle almost anywhere you shop. Also, there have been multiple occasions where people tried to short change me, or they would say that I didn't give them enough money (when I definitely did), so don't let your guard down. To be fair, Chinese people will do these things to other Chinese people too, but foreigners will experince it far more than other Chinese people, and the numbers will be far higher for foreigners. For example, let's say a pair of shoes actually costs 100 RMB. They might tell a Chinese person 120 RMB, but they will tell a foreigner 300 RMB!

So to summarize everything I just said, Chinese people will be curious about foreigners, let them get away with certain things, and more eager to help them, but at the same time Chinese people don't respect foreigners' privacy, foreigners are not welcome in some places, Chinese overly stereotype foreigners, and some will try to cheat foreigners. You can decide for yourself if the good outweighs the bad.

Olympic Square in Dalian 

 Olympic Square in Dalian.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Dalian?

I feel guilty to say it, but I think the negative aspects outweigh the positive ones. I will begin with the positive aspects.

Positive:

1. Chinese people are very family oriented and tend to be much more resposible than Americans in that field. You pretty much never see teens with children here.

2. It's relatively cheap to live in Dalian (look at everything I said above), but the cost of living is going up rapidly.

3. Efficient public transportation system (but way too overcrowded). You absolutely do not need a car here. There are plenty of buses and plenty of taxis everywhere. I want to note that 95% of the buses will stop running around 9 PM. Myself, I use an e-bike to get around the city because they are cheap, clean, quiet, and they don't require me to do any pedalling. I'm definitely taking a huge risk by doing so though.

4. LOTS of beautiful women that are in good shape physically and look very feminine (I can't say the same about lots of the girls in Little Rock). This is definitely a plus if you're a single male. So much eye candy everywhere. Dalian has a reputation around China as having some of the most beautiful women in China. That said, many Chinese models are from Dalian.

5. Lots of people are more eager to help you and get to know you if you're a foreigner.

6. China is a large country, so there are lots of interesting and different places you could visit. It would take you forever to see the whole country. Islamic Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the giant Leshan Buddha in Sichuan province, and the beaches in Hainan - China has a lot to see! Also, Seoul is only a one-hour flight from Dalian, so flights to Seoul are relatively cheap.

7. There's a large variety of Chinese food. The food here is also quite delicious, but most of it's very unhealthy because it's way too oily or salty. I wonder how Chinese people stay so thin sometimes. Also, if you're not into rice or noodles, you're going to hate the food here. Almost every Indian person I have met in Dalian despises the food here, but I love most of it. And on a side note, Chinese breakfasts suck. Most people here just eat porridge or eggs for breakfast, so there's not much variety in the breakfast field. When it comes to drinks, China also falls very short.

8. The laws here can be very loose at times. There's a lot of things you can get away with in China that you could never get away with back home. However, this could easily be considered a negative aspect as well. For example, hit-and-runs are extremely common here because there will almost never be an investigation to find the perpertrator. Prostitution is also the norm here.

9. Moderately low taxes. There is no sales tax in China and income taxes are relatively low. Right now, only about 10% of my paycheck goes to income taxes. Hopefully that won't change. However, tariffs are sky-high here, so any foreign products will be ridiculously over-priced.

Negative:

1. Dalian is very monocultural. There's pretty much no diversity here (not that I had expected there to be). People are also quite close-minded to trying new things and often have illogical reasons to support their close-mindedness. Also, people in Dalian can never "think outside the box." Even though Dalian is a "big" city, people have a small-town mentality.

2. Ridiculously high noise levels. Everywhere you go there is noise, whether it be construction trucks, advertisements being played over a megaphone, people hammering in the room next to you, or people shouting loudly on their cell phone. Get used to the sound of car horns and ultra-loud construction trucks practically everywhere in the city. You will also feel like your ears are about to bleed whenever entering bars or clubs or watching a musical performance. It's very difficult to find "peace and quiet" here. And if you ever do find it, it will only be a few months until that area becomes developed and not so quiet anymore.

3. A seriously corrupt, unhelpful, and surpressive government. This problem is so big, it's hard to fathom. Pretty much everything that is bad in Dalian is probably in some way related to corruption. The government is certainly not your friend here unless you have money (I'm sure that doesn't surprise anybody). For example, don't expect to get any quality medical treatment at a hospital here unless you bribe the doctor first.

4. Rude, impolite, and crude people. This is probably the number one complaint you will hear from other foreigners. It's pretty hard to get used to. I've been to a lot of countries, and people in China are by far the most impolite. This can't be emphasized enough.

5. Lack of privacy. Being a foreigner, you can pretty much kiss your private life goodbye. People are always going to be curious about you, and pretty much the moment you step out of your home, people will be staring and talking about you. This is especially true when you eat at restaurants and are riding the bus. The further you get from the city center, the more true this statement will become. I wouldn't even consider living in outer districts such as Ganjingzi or Kaifaqu for this reason. Throughout Dalian, I often have people shout "hello!" at me as I walk by, as if it's some kind of funny joke (definitely not in a polite way either). Some people will even dig through your shopping cart at the supermarket. It's pretty much like you're living inside of a cage at the zoo when you live in Dalian as a foreigner.

6. A tiny expat community. This doesn't bother me so much, but I'm sure others won't like it. There's probably only a few thousand foreigners in the city (if you exclude people from other Asian countries). When you consider that Dalian has almost 6 million people, that means the foreign community makes up only about 0.0005% of the population. Most of the foreigners I've met here are from Russia. I can count the number of Americans I've met here on one hand. Expats also don't stick around Dalian for too long. Most people get the hell out after a year or so.

7. Inefficiency. Be prepared for everything here to be painfully slow. Even something as simple as a deposit at the bank can take an hour to accomplish. Everything in China needs to have an official "stamp." These stamps are not always easy to get. Also, customer service here is practically nonexistent. You, the customer, have no respect and rights here. This can get really tiresome after a while, but there's nothing you can do to change it. You will probably never see a customer service employee smile here.

8. Way too many people everywhere. China is EXTREMELY overcrowded, and you can feel it. Kiss your personal space goodbye. This is probably the worst part about living in China. This will affect your life in so many ways. For starters, buses and trains here can be severely overcrowded. Also, trips to the supermarket can be a complete nightmare. Going to the supermarket on an ordinary day in Dalian is like going shopping on Black Friday in America - complete chaos.

9. Awful driving and constant traffic jams. Drivers in China are by far the worst I've seen in the world, and I've seen quite a bit of bad driving in my lifetime. The way people drive here is disgusting, and traffic rules pretty much don't exist. Pedestrians have no rights whatsoever. Maximum aggression is the norm!

10. No quality control. There are no "middle of the road" products in China. You either pay little and get complete garbage, or you pay a lot and get something "luxurious" - there is no middle. As you all probably know, China does not have a good reputation with the rest of the world when it comes to quality. Also, anything made by a foreign brand is wildly expensive here. Adidas body spray is $12 here, but $3 in the USA and other Asian countries! It's really hard to find decent quality stuff here at a decent price. I cannot count the number of things I've bought here that broke after only a few weeks.

11. Terrible pollution and a complete lack of cleanliness. Pollution in China is a severe problem, and the government doesn't seem to be doing much to fix it. I've noticed I cough and sneeze a lot since I began living here. Also, I notice my throat is constantly filled with phlegm (it's disgusting, but true). There's a layer of dust covering everything outdoors in Dalian. And Chinese people litter a lot. Sometimes I think Chinese people think it's cool to litter. People also use the bathroom right out in the open. I saw a kid maybe 10 years old going number two right outside of the supermarket today, completely out in the open. Bathrooms here are also notoriously filthy. Chinese men just can't seem to urinate into urinals properly. Half of the time you use a urinal here, you will be standing in a pool of urine, and you will see pubic hair all over the urinals. Cooking is also very unsanitary and expect lots of stomach aches and diarrhea. And last but not least, Chinese people spit everywhere, including indoors, such as the supermarket or at restaurants, and on the bus and train. Get used to hearing that hocking sound when someone is about to spit because you will hear it A LOT here! Personal hygiene isn't as good as it should be either. Here, taking a shower once a week is relatively normal.

12. Cold and windy weather. I constantly hear local people talk about how great Dalian's weather is. I have no idea why they think that. The cool/cold season lasts about 7.5 months, and the warm/hot season lasts about 4.5 months. Dalian is fiercely windy in the winter as well - the wind can be so strong it will almost knock you over. Even though the temperature outside may only be 30 degrees Fahrenheit, it may feel like -15 degrees because of the wind chill. Expect chapped lips all winter. The weather here is very similar to the weather in Chicago, but a little worse. Most of the year seems very drab and depressing.

13. A painfully slow and crippled internet. You're going to notice that half the websites you used back home don't work in China. Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot, Google, and Youtube are all blocked here. Using the internet in China can be extremely frustrating. I strongly recommend paying for VPN service if you move to China.

14. No cold drinks. Except for a few months out of the year, it is almost impossible to find any cold drinks in Dalian. For example, if you order a beer in a restaurant, you will get a warm beer that has never even touched a refrigerator. And trust me, warm Chinese beer does not taste very good. Many stores in Dalian will have their drinks in a refridgerator, but more often than not, the refridgerator is off. Also, drinks served with ice do not exist in Dalian. I have never seen ice sold anywhere in Dalian. Using ice is unheard of here, so all you people out there wanting a nice, cold brew can forget about it.

15. Chinese people, especially the women, are extremely materialistic. Material possessions are all most people care about. They always want to flaunt their new iPhones, BMWs, or Gucci handbags to show their "class." That said, most people here love mindlessly shopping, but they would never think twice about spending their money on something like traveling (unless they can buy more material possessions by traveling).

16. A lack of creative and critically-thinking people. Chinese culture is a culture that emphasizes "conformity" and not standing out in any way. Being unique in China is a disturbance to Chinese social harmony. Because of this, you almost never meet any people here with creative abilities or unique personalities. Creativity is not considered important, and it is not a priority in the education here. It's hard to find good artists, musicians, film makers, or writers in China. And as all of you reading this probably know, China is infamous for "copying / faking" technology and ideas from the West. This is because most Chinese people lack the ability to be innovative, but they are very good at following. One of the most creative people in China, Ai Weiwei, is constantly in hiding and on the run from Chinese authorities. It's not hard to see why.

17. Face. Just like so many other Asian countries, "face" is considered highly important in China. Actually, the concept of "face" began in China. Because of face, so many people do not face up to their responsibilities, and will completely deny any wrong-doing when they've done something wrong - all because they want to save their face. People will also put on a little show to make themselves appear to be a decent human being, when in reality, they're a lying crook. In my opinion, "face" is just another form of dishonesty. It is also very hard to tell who is truly your friend, and who is putting on a show.

18. Superstitions. There are way too many superstitions in China, and all of them have no scientific merit whatsoever. For example, I've heard people say that drinking coffee will make your skin darker. I have also heard that wearing glasses will change the shape of your face. You can't argue scientific facts here because no one will have a clue what you're talking about, and of course no one here would ever be able to provide any scientific data to back up their ridiculous claims.

 19. Public Drunkeness. It's perfectly acceptable to be drunk in public in Dalian. What this means is that practically every time you go to a restaurant during standard dinner hours, it's almost a guarantee you're going to be surrounded by loud and obnoxious drunken Chinese people. This is kind of amusing when you first arrive in Dalian, but trust me, it gets old quick! Being a foreigner, you can rest assured that you will be the focus of many drunken strangers that you have absolutely no desire to speak to. Also, there are puddles of vomit everywhere on Dalian sidewalks. This is because of the drunken people stumbling out of the restaurants around 9 or 10 PM, and then vomiting all over the sidewalk. I cannot count the number of time I saw someone vomitting on the sidewalk outside of a bar or restaurant.

20. Colorless. I'm not sure if it's because of the Communism, but Chinese people don't seem to like vibrant colors very much. Take a look at any picture of a lot of people in China, and you will notice that so many of the people are wearing black, grey, or dark blue. Buildings are also colorless in Dalian, and when bulding become about ten years old, they will look fifty years old.

Xinghai Square in Dalian 

Xinghai Square at night in Dalian.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Dalian?

Be prepared for a cold and long winter! Never let your guard down and never trust a stranger in Dalian. You will notice the more you walk alone, the more strange encounters you will have. Pay close attention to your money when engaging in any kind of financial transaction. Don't rely on the government or police for anything. Never take anything for face value in China. Just because it looks good on the outside, doesn't necessarily mean it's good on the inside. This is true for practically EVERYTHING! Also be very careful with who you trust in Dalian.

Be prepared to encounter a lot of behavior you would never encounter back home. Also, make sure you bring a lot of your favorite things from home with you when you come to Dalian, because there's a strong chance you won't find them there, or at least not for a reasonable price. Absolutely do not trust ANYTHING made by a Chinese brand. Make as many Chinese friends as you can while living in Dalian, because they can completely change how you view Dalian and China as a whole. Don't only socialize with other expats.

China is a land of contradictions, and living in China will definitely test your patience and strength. I always think living in a different country will be a piece of cake if you lived in China first. I think if you plan to live in Dalian, one to three years is long enough. Anything longer seems like it would be extremely boring. I don't think Dalian is exciting enough to stay any longer.

Find ways to occasionally "escape" from China while you live there. All expats need a break from China every so often. I encourage you to travel to neighboring countries such as Mongolia, Russia, India, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and/or Thailand. Airfare to these destinations is likely cheaper while you're in China as opposed to your home country. You should also find ways to avoid some of the negative things mentioned above. If you always encounter these things over and over again on a daily basis, they will start to drive you insane.

The bottom line is that life in China is a huge change and a big adventure, but I wouldn't want to live there long-term. However, I have no regrets about living there, and I think it made me a much stronger person. Dalian was a good place for me to begin my journey living abroad. Dalian showed me both Heaven and Hell. I had an interesting time living there. Try to focus on the good things while living there and not the bad (which sometimes seems way easier said than done). You will eventually get somewhat used to all the things that bother you in Dalian, and you can easily make a lot of friends.

I know there's a lot of negativity in what I wrote, but don't let those things stop you from visiting or living in Dalian. Everybody needs to experience things first-hand to see if they truly like them or not. I read many awful things about certain countries around the world, but when I visited them, I was shocked at how much I liked them.

That said, I tried to make my interview as honest as possible without sugar-coating anything. I think people deserve the truth, and then they can judge for themselves whether Dalian is suitable for them. I hope I didn't offend anyone, but unavoidably I'm sure someone in love with China and thinks China can do no bad is going to complain about what I wrote.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about China?

The website that most of the foreigners and young Chinese people use is: http://www.weliveindalian.com

A useful website for learning about Dalian is: http://www.dalianxpat.org

The website of one of the only English language magazines in Dalian:  http://www.focusondalian.com/

An English language news website about what's going on in Dalian: http://www.whatsondalian.com/ 

My favorite website about living in China as an expat: http://www.lostlaowai.com