Location and Climate
Changchun is located in the north east of China in the Jilin province, which borders whith North Korea. Changchun's location makes it one of the coldest Chinese cities in the winter, (-30) and one of the coolest in the summer (25). Although Changchun's temperatures are reason enought to discourage some English teachers, a wide range of winter activities, including skiing on the slopes and skating on frozen lakes and rivers, brings out the best of Changchun's winter climate, not to mention the world famous ice festival in Haerbin, which is just on Changchun's doorstep. Know how to dress* in this temperatures also goes a long way towards making life in a Changchun winter more comfortable
Though still relatively hot at 25 - 30 degrees C, Changchun's summer may be one of the coolest in China, and much more tolerable than the more southern cities, including Beijing. The evening reamins warm enough to wear a t-shirt, and is perfect for eating an drinking late outside one of many barbecue restaurants.
* During winter months, a thick long sleeved vest, (xianer yi) can be worn under shirts and sweaters, and a down filled overcoat (yurong fu) can be work on top of this. There are 3 thickness of long-johns that can be worn under the trousers: thread pants (xianer ku), wool pants (mao ku) and cotton pants (mian ku) from thinnest to thickest. In addition to this, some shoes and boots are lined with an artificial fur for warmth during the winter.
'Foreigners' continue to be treated with some degree of curiosity though not as much as before. Curiosity may take the form of giggling amongst girls or unnaturally brazen greetings amongst males, (sometimes just for the entertainment of their friends). Having said this, the Chinese who frequent the western style bars in Changchun will inevitable spend much more of their social time in the company of foreign expats, and therefore be mch more comfortable and natural in their company
It is relatively easy to survive in Changchun with no knowledge of Chinese. During school, you will be in contact with English teachers, after school you will have the opportunity to be with your English speaking workmates, and in the evening you will have the opportunity to go to a number of western style bars which attract a number of expats and English speaking Chinese. Apart from this, small written notes and body language will accompany any basic Chinese you have to order at restaurants and get you from place to place.
While this may be comforting to the new comer, it will only get you so far into Chinese culture. Being able to communicate in Chinese will help you to make friends with the locals, and in turn allow you to experience more of a true Chinese way of life. While hearing your Chinese will impress the locals, (and they really are easily impressed) hearing you speak their local north eastern dialect will actually excite them no end.
There are a number of ways to travel on public transport within the city, including taxi, bus, lightrail and tram. A subway is also currently under construction. Buses are generally 1 RMB, irrespective of distance travelled, (0.9 RMB with bus card) although there are a couple of routes which charge up to 3 RMB depending on distance. As well as being cheap, buses are very regular, typically running every 5 to 10 minutes. In spite of the regular services, buses tend to have more people standing than sitting, and at peak hours can be quite a squeeze. It's at these times that you need to be particularly vigilant about the valuables in your bag or pocket.
There are two lightrail and two tram line. Similar to the bus, these also run about every 5 minutes and can get very crowded at peak hours. Being unaffected by road traffic though, these forms of transport can be quicker (according to your destination) and provide a smoother ride.
Taxis are generally more private and comfortable, though this may not always be the case. Owing to congestion problems, Changchun has now allowed taxis to pick up multiple groups of passengers, provided they are travelling in the same direction as the first passenger. This may mean that you do not take the most direct route, but the drivers are generally pretty good about deducting the right amount. Taxi drivers, as you would imagine, are pretty adept drivers, though some may use this to drive in a way that might make unnerve some new comers - taking unnecessary risks and along sidewalks on occasion. However, most accidents are not caused by taxi drivers, but less able car owners. Expect to pay one extra RMB than is displayed on the meter, (this apparently is fee for 'fuel') except when sharing with other groups of passengers. And finally, be aware of taxis waiting for you outside bus and train stations, (except within designated taxi ranks). Many, though not all, hope to take advantage of visitors who are not familiar with the city. It can sometimes be worthwhile walking on and picking up a taxi further away from the station.
Intercity transport include trains, buses and special taxi services which you can usually find near bus stations. Trains tend to be cheaper than buses. For longer journeys, you can take a sleeper train and sleep all night throughout a 10 hour journey, (though some find it easier to sleep than others). There is a choice of soft and hard bunks, (soft including 4 people per cabin, and hard including 6 per area) and bottom, middle and top bunks, (although bottom bunks can be difficut to get).
Special taxi services can be faster, though not necessarily that much faster, especially when taking into account have to wait for taxis to return or other people to fill the cab. These are deemed somewhat less safe than more conventional forms of intercity transport. Being private companies, drivers' hours, driving speeds and honesty cannot be as regulated as state owned transport. Local passengers are reluctant to pay until the end of their journey, although it is normal for the driver to collect payments at gas stations or toll booths. If changing cars halfway through your journey, be surethat the second drivers is aware of you correct destination.
Located at 411km fro Changchun and easily accessible by train and bus, the most notable nearby scenic spot is Changbai Mountain, the highest peak of the Changbai mountain range. While most noted for its Heavenly Lake at 2189 meters above sea level, (the volcanic crater at the top) other scenic spots include Jiechuo River, Changbai Waterfall and the underground forest. There are a variety of resorts that visitors may stay at during their visit to the mountain, where skiing is also an option.
Towards the south east suburbs of Changchun city itself, you will find Jingyue Park - 200 square km of woodland and water, making this park the largest man-made park in China. Opening between 08:00 and 21:00 and costing 30 RMB entrance, spring and summer offer opportunities to hike, picnic, camp, cycle, fish, row and swim, while autumn and winter provide spectacular scenes of fire colored leaves and icy covered trees respectively for hikers and photographers alike to enjoy.
In the very heart of Changchun, amid the bustle of city life, is an oasis called South Lake Park, (Nanhu gongyuan) one of Changchun's largest inner city parks. In the middle of the 2.22 square km park is a 92 hectare lake. during the summer, lotus plants adorn many parts of the lake, while visitors can hire and row boats in other parts. During the winter, the park hosts a variety of winter activities, including skating, sledging and ice sculpting. Free to enter and open at all times, the park offers a convenient opportunity to get close to nature without having to travel far out of the city center.
Changchun offers a wide shopping experience, from underground and roadside market stalls to 'Ouya' malls, which resemble many western malls. Bargaining is normal practice anywhere except in supermarkets and the most illustrious of malls. It is not uncommon to bargain down to one fifth of the initial asking price, and if it becomes difficult to get the price down, simply walking away can be enough gentle persuasion to help you achieve your price.
In addition to the above mentioned shopping, scenic areas and skiing, there are many other forms of entertainment resembling what you might be used to at home. Cinemas range from 35 to 120 RMB, the more expensive beign new films and Hollywood blockbusters, and more likely to be in English. Changchun also has a number of pool hall, most of which have staff at hand to rerack the table after every game.
Nighttime entertainment traditionally involves karaoke, or 'KTV', as it's known in China. Unlike the West, the Chinese do not sing in front of stranges, but rent roos to sing with their friends. Along with the singing, KTV typically involves a lot of drinking, a lot of eating and a lot of dancing, (for which there are a variety of special tracks). Although in previous years, English songs were limited somewhat to The Carpenters and The Beatles, the variety is now becoming much broader.
Changchun also has a number of nightclubs, some of whic are catered more for foreign expats, and some of which are not. For those which are not, male expats should be aware that most girls there will be with a man, and approaching one of them could spell trouble. Female expats should be aware that men at these clubs can be forthright and tactile. Clubs which cater for westerners, most notably the four 'Mayflower' clubs, are likely to be muh more in line with expats' expectations, form music to the behavior of patrons.
For a slightly more toned down evening experience, expats can choose from a number of western style bars, including The Three Monkeys, Nautalus and Happy Home.
Eating and drinking
'Hotpot' is probably the most traditionally enjoyed restaurant food in Changchun, involving a pot of boiling water in the middle of the table and a variety of meat and vegetables which are added by diners before dipping into sauce and eating. However, stir fry dishes and rice, which are better known in the West, are also very common. While people naturally eat indoors during thecold winter months, the summer months provide a good opportunity for people to enjoy the warmer evenings eating barbecued meats, vegetables and even bread outside on the sidewalk.
All three of these dining experiences are generally accompanied with a fair bit of drinking, either of beer or baijiu (Chinese spirits). For men, drinking plays a large role in Chinese dininig culutre, where baijiu is a must in formal situations, and both beer and baijiu are drunk otherwise. In both formal and informal situation, it can e somewhat amusing fora new comer to see university beer chugging and pressure antics being repeated all over again amongst younger and middle aged dining companions. It is quite usual for diners to compete with each other on drinking prowess, and with or without this competitive atmosphere, those who can drink a lot are genuiniely esteemed among their male Chinese companions. Naturally, if you're not a big drinker, there is no need to force yourself, though entering into this culture can make for interesting social interactions.
While it is important to enjoy the Chinese cuisine, it is sometimes nice to be reminded of what you ate back at home once in a while. More and more establishments are appearing in Changchun to cater for the Western palette, including Die Backstube, (along with a number of other German bars) Grandpa's and Bella Pizza to name a few. In addition to these more up market establishments, there are hundreds of KFCs, a handful of McDonalds and Pizza Huts, and a Burger King, In addition to the smaller coffee shops, Starbucks was also introduced to Changchun in 2013.
Changchun today maintains a great deal of its traditional culture, while at the same time, providing outlets to remind expats of the experiences the used to enjoy back home. It is enough to feel that you are in a different part of the world, while being ableto alleviate some of that culutre sholck. For a new visitor, this can be a comfort, or maybe exactly what you were looking for during your stay in China, but with there being so many expats and English speaking Chinese ('many' only being relative to the surrounding countryside) it can be all too easy not to learn the language or immerse yourself completely into the culture.
There are many smaller towns around Changchun for which Star International can also provide teaching opportunities. Many of these towns have neither the establishments to cater for western needs, nor the population of English speaking Chinese (which, while small Changchun, is large in comparison). It is in these towns that expats can really immerse themselves into Chinese culture, both in language and culture. Even here, Changchun is still within 2 to hours reach for a weekend visit, though the number of visits you make depend entirely on how much you want to immerse yourself into that culture.