I have lived and worked in Nanchang since 2005, having first arrived to work for the Jiangling Motors Corporation in their joint venture building the Ford Transit vehicle. By the time my contract with Jiangling had finished, I had fallen in love with the city, its people, and its surroundings. One afternoon I found myself walking along one of the quaint little back alleys and thought to myself, "I’ve truly 'gone native!'" I realized that what had up to now been my home-away-from-home had now become, quite simply, my new home. I will most likely remain in Nanchang for several years to come, so if you have any questions about this city guide, feel free to post them MKL's readers forum.
Looking back over my first few months in Nanchang, the first thing that impressed me about the city was the warmth and hospitality of its people. Before I’d been here a month, three different families had invited me into their homes for dinner. In the three-and-a-half years since then, my observation has been that Nanchang people are generally friendly. That said, the population of foreigners here is relatively small, therefore you’ll still witness the occasional point-and-stare.
Locals have gone out of their way to make sure I had help when I needed it, from negotiating rent on an apartment or for new furniture, to buying medicine in the pharmacy, to getting a good price for potatoes. Merchants see you and recognize you, remembering your favorite things, and will invariably throw in an extra penny’s worth. Over the course of my time in Nanchang, I can honestly say that my family has grown as so many have adopted me as their “uncle” and even “big brother.”
All in all, the city has proven most welcoming to me as well as to many other colleagues and acquaintances I have come to know since I arrived. Among those of us who have found new friends and love interests, several have purchased new homes, gotten married, and, in one case, even had a child. It’s the kind of place that allows you to settle down in and call “home sweet home.”
In 2006, Newsweek magazine called Nanchang, the capital city of Jianxi province, one of “The Ten Most Dynamic Cities” worldwide. As provincial authorities have focused on attracting new business to the region, new social outlets—particularly in regard to nightlife—are slowly catching up with development. New restaurants and other entertainment venues, such as Detox on the Hengmao Commercial Walking Street and le Bistro, near Teng Wang Ge, are gradually appearing around town. These are joined by other “Western-style” restaurants such as Dio Coffee, SPR Coffee, and UBC Coffee, as well as steakhouses like Zhu Ping Niú Pái.
New development bordering on both sides of the river will shift the city’s center eastwardly. In fact, the Honggutan New Zone on the east bank of the Ganjiang River is developing rapidly. The objective of this ambitious development is to consolidate and centralize many government offices, and to build sustainable commercial and residential development across a 45km2 area, mostly west of the Gan River. The city’s first subway line—which is well under construction—will connect the New Zone with new residential development in the Gao Xing district of the city’s far west side. At one end of this line sits Nanchang University’s new campus: at the other, the new campus of Jiangxi Normal University.
If the city’s leaders are to be believed, the recent development of Nanchang’s infrastructure represents its effort to position the city as a vital part of China’s overall development. Honggutan is touted as “The New Pudong” and the city as “Shanghai’s backyard garden.”
Located approximately 60km south of the Yangtze River, Nanchang’s climate is categorized as sub-tropical. It sits at approximately the same latitude line as Cape Canaveral around the middle of Florida on the east coast. The weather here, however, is slightly different. In real terms, what we experience is wet and windy weather during the spring and fall—both of which are relatively short—with temperatures ranging from about 13°C (55°F) to 18°C (64°F). Winter is colder and drier, with average temperatures of about 0°C ((32°F) to 10°C (50°F). Although there is an occasional dusting of snow, it is pretty rare.
Nanchang’s most notorious season is summer! It is, quite frankly, "hot as hell" and Nanchang earns its place as one of the infamous "four furnaces of China." It boasts merciless heat in the summer with temperatures soaring upwards of 35°C (95°F) from as early as May until well into October.
People in Nanchang love to shop! For their sakes, there are abundant options available and shopping in Nanchang is a major daily event!
A visit to Nanchang’s Zhongshan Road is all one needs to get a firsthand glimpse of this passion. Anchored on the east by Ba Yi Square and eastward by Parkson and Rainbow Department stores (which hosts the city’s only Haagen-Dazs shop, to my knowledge), Zhongshan Road is a vibrant living entity every day of the week. From the very first moment of the business day, Zhongshan Lu hosts a flurry of fast activity. Cars, buses, and taxis are traveling west, rushing morning commuters to work away from Ba Yi Square, while bicycles and motor bikes are zooming in the opposite direction, transporting eager consumers towards hundreds of shops and restaurants such as Adidas, Nike, Zippo, UKArmani, Sony VAIO, Pizza Hut, and Jeans West.
Saturday on Zhongshan Road is an adventure if you like the hustle and bustle of people power shopping. The smells of barbecued lamb, fried fish, cotton candy, and greasy shuaibing, the energetic noise of club music blaring from funky little shops, and an endless variety of new things to buy and try all converge to exhilarate the senses. If you’re busy on Saturday, you can experience the same jubilant atmosphere on any evening of the week.
The oldest of the three Wal-Marts in Nanchang faces Ba Yi Square at the westwardly end of Zhongshan Road. Along the intersecting Ba Yi Road, there are five KFCs within a single block. A sixth KFC shares the front entrance to the Zhongshan Road Hong Ke Long store, about two blocks west of Ba Yi Road, with another popular fast-food chain, McDonalds (there are five in Nanchang).
The second Wal-mart opened in 2006, the third on Qingshan Nan Lu in 2008. The German retail store Metro Cash & Carry has been here since around 2005 and Taiwan’s RT Mart (大潤發) opened last fall. Major Chinese retailers such as Hong Ke Long, Rainbow, and Trust-Mart have stores in all parts of the city, with several more scheduled to open in 2009.
There are large markets for office furniture, plumbing and bathroom fixtures, clothing and textiles, as well as computers and electronics. For household appliances and personal electronics, high-end electronics chain stores, such as GoMe and Suning, have many outlets throughout Nanchang.
Many local streets specialize in certain kinds of merchandise and are often referred to by their goods, rather than by their names. For example, near Zhongshan Road there is a street seven blocks long that has nothing but shoe stores, side-by-side, on both sides of the street. One section of the very busy Beijing Xi Lu comprises porcelain shops and is followed by another section that sells nothing but bicycles and motorcycles.
In addition to shopping opportunities, there are also several movie theaters in town that charge 50 yuan for a ticket plus another 50 yuan for popcorn and soda. A decent haircut will run you an average of 10 yuan but I have an American colleague who boasts that he can get his hair cut near his home at Jiangxi Normal University for about one kuai.
If Nanchang people love to shop, it is safe to say that their second passion is eating. With a good translator, a visitor could spend years here eating at a new restaurant every night and still overlook some cozy, smoky little place with dishes that boast an amazing flavor.
To say the least, one of the highlights of living in Nanchang is the food, which can be found literally everywhere! The local gāncài cuisine is very spicy and rich in flavor. The tastes of dishes are synthesized from a medley of peppers, rice, ginger, and garlic, with an amazing array of fresh fruits and vegetables—some of which can only be found here, such as lìlào, a grass that is indigenous to Jiangxi’s Poyang Lake, and a chive-like vegetable called jiǔcài.
As Jiangxi is the nation’s largest grower of rice, it should come as no surprise that many dishes center around that particular grain. For me, lunch (an even breakfast for that matter) would not be the same without fěnsī (粉丝), a type of noodle resembling vermicelli made from rice flour.
All in all, visitors to Nanchang will find absolutely no shortage of places to eat: from high-end Chinese restaurants, like 0791, Yu Tu Jiu Dian, Jia Jia Chu Liang, and Jia Chang Fan to Chinese fusion establishments like Zen (香港彩蝶轩; Hong Kong Cai Die Xuan).
Don’t miss: FuCheng Fei Niu (beef hot pot), Xiao Fei Yang (lamb hot pot), Gloria Hotel (where there is a wonderful seafood restaurant on the second floor), Sofitel hotel, several Japanese and Korean restaurants around the city, Fresh Fish Taste, Detox, and, last but not least, le Bistro.
In Nanchang, “fast food” might mean McDonalds or KFC but, usually, when Nanchangren use the term they are referring instead to the quickly prepared little set meals in white convenience containers. These meals might consist of a serving of meat or fish, an egg, and two vegetables or tofu, priced between five and eight yuan. A same-sized container of white rice is also available for an additional one yuan.
Small restaurants and convenience food stands abound throughout the city, particularly around the in-town campuses, serving anything from baozi and tian jiao, a bargain at four each for one yuan, to full cafeteria-style meals ranging up to 15 kuai.
KFC is the largest Western food chain in Nanchang with upwards of 10 outlets, most in the CBD. McDonalds follows with five and Pizza Hut with two. Chinese chains, like Wallace’s Chicken (hua lai shi), B.R.O. Pizza, and Aosit also dot the landscape, especially near the universities.
Bus rides from one end of town to the other will cost no more than two yuan. A taxi flag drop will run you six kuai plus 1.9 yuan per kilometer. Most places can be accessed by taxi for less than 20 yuan.
Nanchang’s centrality to other popular entertainment spots around China makes it easy to hop over to locations such as Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and even Beijing for a weekend junket. Flights to these places can be had easily for as little as 30 dollars. As a central railway hub for much of the country, it is also very cheap and easy to travel by rail and traveling by train, bus, or car affords one the advantage of enjoying some of China's most stunning scenery.
I used to love being from Detroit. Sure, it wasn’t New York, Chicago, or even Atlanta but, for just a few dollars, anyone of those cities was just an hour away by plane. Nanchang is at the geographical epicenter of China’s most popular destinations: so whenever there is an item or product I can’t find here (“big men’s” clothes, shoes, etc.), I can take a day trip to someplace that has what I need, as most of China’s most popular shopping destinations are also only an hour away by plane. There are also many high-speed train routes originating from here to key cities in eastern China.
Tickets for traveling by plane and train, as well as for long- and short-distance bus rides, are all readily available at many convenient outlets throughout the city. Nanchang's Changbei airport accommodates international as well as domestic travel. Taxis will charge from 60 to 100 yuan for private service and the city's transit authority operates two regularly-scheduled airport bus routes between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.: the fare is only 10 kuai per passenger.
Driving in Nanchang is like the U. S. Navy: “It’s not a job … it’s an adventure!” drivers here do not generally follow the prescribed road “etiquette,” nor do they obey the usual traffic laws – especially with regard to driving on their own side of the road. When I worked for Jiangling Motors we were told that horns, brakes, batteries and clutches had to be better than those in cars and trucks in the European and American markets, because here they get more use. Pedestrians and motorcyclists cross the street whenever and wherever they please. Cars, trucks, and buses routinely drive on the wrong side of the road; and there are many 4-way bridges, such as Peng Jia Qiao – pictured here – that have no traffic controls whatsoever. Other signs of poor traffic planning are evident everywhere.
The right-of-way problem is so bad that in 2008 the city began installing lane fences in some of the problem areas, to prevent vehicles from crossing over the lanes going in their direction, and to relieve some of the gridlock that occurs at intersections which don’t have lights.
Teachers will have access to medical treatment and medicine, while they are in Nanchang. There are 16 public hospitals and 2 military hospitals in the city. All hospitals provide medical, dental, and pharmacy services. Each hospital issues its own version of a “patients’ card” that will be used whenever you need a staff visit, or when you need to use the hospital’s pharmacy. There are also many neighborhood clinics for colds or minor injuries. Most of these will also have an attached pharmacy.
Hospital pharmacies tend to be slightly more expensive that the regular pharmacies, like Huangqignrendayaofang pharmacy; or those inside Wal-Mart, Hong Ke Long, or Da Reng Fa department stores. As with other places in China, certain medicines, such as antibiotics, are sold over-the-counter (OTC). At the same time, some common Western OTC medicines, like aspirin, can be difficult to find and what is available is often sold in 25 or 100mg tabs as opposed to the standard 325mg tab.
Most of the universities in Nanchang will include housing for full-time teachers, usually on campus. Nevertheless, many teachers opt to find off-campus housing.. In most parts of the city a single person can find a furnished 50-60 square meter apartment for 1000 to 1200 yuan, sometimes less.
Nanchang’s housing developments are a vast mixture of old, new, and in-between. The oldest buildings in Nanchang are seven story walkups, typically with two bedrooms, a living room, dining area, kitchen, and bathroom with a shower and Chinese toilet (porcelain covered hole in the ground). Many of these older buildings have bad plumbing. Newer apartments built within the past 20 years will have elevators and some will even have Western toilets. Buildings built in the past decade offer more modern amenities such as solar or “on-demand” hot water, multiple ACs, broadband Internet, built-in wall plates for phone connections, panic switches, and 24 hour security.
Needless to say, there are some variations in cost. If there’s anything that personifies the expression “runs the gamut,” it’s the cost of housing in Nanchang. Rents tend to vary in great part by the apartment’s level of décor which varies from none to extravagant.
We looked at apartments for ourselves in spring 2008 and, again, for a new teacher coming to Nanchang in the summer. We saw a doll of a little place, furnished, two bedrooms, 90 square meters for 1200 yuan and found many similar offerings for no more than 1500. In the end, we were torn between two places, both over 120 square meters: one for 1500, the other for 2200 yuan based primarily on their respective proximity to the bus lines. As we are dependent on public transportation, we chose the more expensive one. Later we found the Canadian teacher and his cat a place for 1500 yuan but it was only about 50 square meters. In reality, he could have found a livable apartment the same size for about half that amount since it was just him, but he wanted a balcony, new appliances, and a few other amenities that put him into a higher price range.
The cost of utilities in Nanchang tends to be about average for mainland China. Gas, for both cooking and hot water, has two rates depending on which company you happen to live closest to. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll quote the higher rate of 13 yuan per cubic meter. Typical usage seems to run from about 80 yuan, at the low end, to 200 yuan per month at the high end. Electricity is billed at six mao per kilowatt and, barring the hot summer months, my normal electric bill is typically 50 yuan per month. During the summer and winter months, however, that monthly bill can be as high as 300 to 400 yuan (but I'm spoiled and like moderate temperatures only). Finally, China Telecom offers a package service, eHome, that provides basic telephone service, Broadband Internet (1.0mbps) and a wireless connection for 788 yuan per year, plus 20 yuan per month for local phone service. In the alternative, you can prepay your annual Internet service charge at 1200 yuan for 1.5mbps, plus 20 yuan per month for the phone.
Nanchang is a city of lakes and rivers. There are five rivers: the Ganjiang, Fuhe, Yudaihe, Jinjiang, and Liaohe. The city’s four principal outlying lakes are Qingshan Hu, Aixi Hu, Xiang Hu, and Huangjia Hu, the last of which is actually comprised of two smaller lakes, the Libu and Diezi. There are four small lakes in BaYi Park, which is located in the center of town: Dong Hu, Xi Hu, Nan Hu, and Bei Hu. There are also hundreds of other small lakes such as Junshan, Jinxi, Qinglan, and Yao. The city’s natural scenery has given rise to a saying that "there is a city inside of the lakes and there are lakes inside the city."
The nice thing about being in a place with so many lakes and rivers is there are always scenic places to "pine away the lazy times." On a hot summer day it’s not unusual to see 30 or 40 paddle boats navigating Dong Hu, or hundreds enjoying barbecue at Qingshan Hu Park. Although Nanchang is not a "tourist town," it has the robust charm you would expect from a place that has been around for more than 2,000 years.
Many other places of interest await the teacher coming to work in Nanchang. Indeed, I have only scratched the surface. A few of these places of interest include, Mei Ling mountain, Xing Hua Lou, Ba Yi Qi Yi Ji Nian Guan (and People's Army Memorial), Bai Hua Zhou, You Min Temple, Xi Shan Wan Shou Gong, Moon Bay in Houtian Desert, Xiaxia Waterfall, Hong Ya Dan Jin, Nan Shan Ji Shan, Qiu Shui Square, Qing Shan Lake, and FuHe Park.
As the provincial capital, Nanchang hosts the province’s two major universities, Nanchang University and Jiangxi Normal University, as well as more than twenty other institutions. About half of the province’s colleges and universities are located in Nanchang and its suburbs. In addition, the city is riddled with primary and secondary schools that have the need for foreign teachers. Salaries for university teachers tend to stay fairly close to the national norm of 4000 to 4500 yuan with a bachelor's degree.
The teaching community in Nanchang is fairly diverse. I have met teachers here from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Cameroon, Russia, India, Ghana, and the United Kingdom. Most are single white males, though I do also know one or two couples and have worked with a few females from time to time.
In the past, age didn’t seem to be a consideration in Nanchang as there are a few teachers here well into their sixties. Nevertheless, earlier this year, a 67-year old American colleague who had been at Jiangxi Normal University for about eight years was denied a foreign expert certificate by the provincial Foreign Experts Office, presumably due to his age.
Looking past the dynamics that may have contributed to this teacher being denied an FEC, I would otherwise summarize the life of a foreign teacher here as okay and, perhaps, free from some of the drama that characterizes schools in other places. Teachers are generally paid on time and paid in full. School provided housing ranges from good to excellent with some schools, like Nanchang University, in the midst of ambitious capital improvements that include new foreign expert housing.
Truthfully, many faculty members at Nanchang University have opted to remain in older apartments on the school’s urban campus, which, in their views, are larger, well-appointed, and closer to the center of town than those in the new building. For these teachers, the university provides a bus to get them to work on the new campus.
Most of the teachers I know teach in more than one school. Most of them also have primary school students. In fact, for some of them, the university teaching job is their second position. Many teach children in schools as well as privately in their homes. For the latter, private lessons range from a minimum of about 30 yuan per hour to an alleged maximum of 300 yuan. All in all, teaching English at the primary school level is far more lucrative here than teaching at any of the universities.
As with other places in China, English lessons for children are very popular. New training centers are opening frequently. These schools are always looking to hire foreign teachers throughout the academic year, many on an ad hoc, per class basis in which the teacher is paid in cash after each class. Some will hire teachers on an annual contract basis.
Of course, the majority of foreign teachers in Nanchang works for public schools here. Some of them have been with their schools for many years and have a good working relationship with the staff and students.
The fact is schools in Nanchang face the same difficulties other businesses here face: competition with the bigger and more popular cities for foreign experts. As a consequence, schools are always actively seeking out teachers to work for them even if they have to make serious changes to their schedules to accommodate the schedules of the potential teachers.
Overall, the apathy towards English learning that you experience in other parts of China is also evident here in Nanchang. First of all, in most classes you’ll have a segment of 10 to 20 percent of your class who will not understand a word coming out of your mouth through the whole semester and will not even try to understand.
At most universities in Nanchang, you will likely be teaching non-English majors. Jiangxi Normal University is the provincial teachers’ college and the one possible exception to this rule, as non-English majors in this university are taught by Chinese teachers. Furthermore, yours will often be the only English language class where your students are actually taught in English.
At some of the universities, especially where there are more science and technology oriented majors (e.g., engineering, art, design, biology, and chemistry), you’ll often find yourself in conflict with some of the Chinese teachers and their various department heads. These are often gray-haired uncles in white coats, whose mantra to their students is “You don’t need English: just focus on your major studies.” You’ll find that students are frequently scheduled for events and class projects that coincide with the time for your class, even though there is an open time right after your class that could have been used instead.
During my first semester at NanDa, my waiban pulled me aside and said—concerning some of my Engineering majors—“These guys only have to pass CET-3, so you don’t need to focus too much on good English.” In fact, as it turns out she was wrong on two counts as most of “these guys” actually took the CET-4 and about half of them passed it the first time around.
The frustrations I mention here are probably no different or greater than the trials and tribulations faced by foreign teachers everywhere else in China, at least based on what I have read from other teachers around the country. I mention these obstacles to ensure that colleagues who move here will not come expecting Fantasy Island.
At present, there are nearly 700,000 students in more than 60 universities and colleges in the province. Some of the better-known institutions include Jiujiang Financial and Economic College, East China Institute of Technology, East China JiaoTong University, Nanchang University, Jiangxi Normal University, Jinggangshan University, Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, Jiujiang Teachers College, Jiangxi Institute of Education, Jiangxi Agricultural University, Nanchang Institute of Technology, and others.
Overall, I have enjoyed working at Nanchang University. Colleagues who work for Jiangxi Normal University have also been generally positive about their experiences. Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics is a third university that gets very good marks from teachers here. For your convenience, I have appended contact information for these three universities below.
My one reservation is that schools here tend to wait until the last minute to announce schedules for the holidays as well as the new semester, textbooks, and so forth. You won’t get your teaching schedule and text until the middle of the week before classes start, and you usually won’t know the holiday schedule until a few days before the actual holiday. This makes it difficult to take advantage of one's time off as it is nearly impossible to plan ahead.
My university has always paid me on time and doesn’t usually “bother” me about minutiae, i.e., micromanage me. There are social events scheduled for holidays, like Christmas and New Year, and they even give us a nice moon cake arrangement for the Mid-Autumn Festival. I have a waiban who is very detail-oriented, so anything the university wants to communicate to me through her is always very clear.
In 2008 I signed a full-time contract with the Web International English Nanchang Center. Up to that point, I was working part-time for NanDa and teaching a few students privately. In the fall I asked the Teaching Department at NanDa to reduce my teaching schedule to accommodate my hours at Web, and they did so without hesitation. In addition, they also hired two colleagues to teach part time. (Part time teachers usually work more hours than full time teachers, about 20 to 22 hours, on average.
At the end of the day, I am well into my third year teaching here in Nanchang, and I anticipate this is where I’ll be for the foreseeable future.