My dearest darling bestie, Jill, has asked Foreign Serivce bloggers to list the good, the bad, and the ugly about their current posts so that people who either are or will be bidding might have a glimpse of what life is like there before pushing that FSBid button.
This is because bidding can seriously suck.
This is because bidding can be something like this:
Because it's basically like the whole entire earth comes hurtling in your direction and, as a result, you end up comatose on the ground.
So in order to help you current/future Chengdu, China bidders, I present to you:
~ ~ THE PROS OF LIVING IN CHENGDU ~ ~
1.) The Food: Because the food is so awesome that descriptive words fail me. Plates and plates of yumminess just waiting to be brought to your table. Yes, a lot of it is spicy, but trust me - you'll quickly adapt. And then you'll be addicted. Because Chinese food in China is NOTHING like Chinese food in America... it's totally different and it's WAY WAY BETTER. And I believe that the food in Chengdu is much better than the food at any other post in China, because Chengdu has Sichuanese food and goshdarnit, people, it's seriously wicked awesome yummy.
2.) It's Cheap to Live Here: Not only is the Chinese food that I was just talking about cheap, but it's also cheap to live here. You can definitely save money, and that's a huge plus for us. Of course, whatever money we saved the first year we were here we just spent during our recent R&R, but that's not Chengdu's fault.
3.) Our School is Awesome: The school that my boys attend is incredible, and we are so, so blessed that it is here. Great teachers, great students - in fact, my boys literally don't have a single complaint about any other student at the school - such a wonderful atmosphere.
4.) It's Safe Here: Which I sort of took for granted until James and I started bidding for our next post and I started reading the Real Post Reports of other places and then it really sank in... how blessed we are that we are so safe in Chengdu. We can walk anywhere at any time, day or night, and be completely safe. No one is going to kidnap us or carjack us or try to hold us for ransom or bomb us or, or, or... you get it.
5.) The Post has Perks: Like TWO R&Rs (again, didn't realize how rare that is until we started bidding!), getting a consumables shipment, the fact that we have both APO and pouch here - we're grateful for those things, and we know that not all posts have them, or have then when you're bidding and then take them away, later etc.
6.) No Freaky Weird Diseases: Like Dengue Fever or malaria here, thank goodness.
7.) Household Help: Because it's relatively cheap here to live, we can afford a part-time ayi (pronounced like the two vowels i.e.), and thank the dear heavens above that we can. You'll read more about this in the Con section, below, but in addition to what I say there, it doesn't hurt that I don't have to clean my bathrooms or my floors. Now, mind you, it's much, much dirtier here than in the U.S., so things have to be cleaned super often... but I do love having an ayi, and the ayis here are good workers and are dependable.
8.) Local Doctors: Thank GOD we have some local U.S. doctors at private practices in the Chengdu area. Some posts don't, I'm finding out, and that would just be horrible. But when my kids have been sick or injured, our family has been able to go and get care on the local market, and that has been a huge lifesaver for our family. Also, we're really glad that we elected to have the Foreign Service Benefit Plan as our health insurance, for it's made filing health care claims overseas much easier than it would have been if we'd stuck with Blue Cross. (Actually, I can't even fathom the pain and suffering if we'd kept Blue Cross while we were overseas.)
9.) The Climate: Is very moderate, in my book. While it gets a bit cold, like not even as cold as Washington DC, it doesn't snow. And while it gets warm/hot, like maybe in Florida I guess, it's not like the hot you get at posts that are FREAKING SUPER HOT, and the hot doesn't last for months and months on end or anything. It has a nice mix, with nothing too extreme at either end. Because a bid for here is a bid for pandas, not ice.
10.) I Really Like and am Fascinated by the Chinese People and Culture: I love that, when we walk down the street, we see a completely different world than the one we grew up in back in America. I love that the Chinese people see things differently, do things differently, and live in different ways. I am completely convinced that the Chinese culture does a much better job with many things than the U.S. culture does, and I'll write about those hopefully soon. I love walking down the street and seeing Chinese people look at us, also, with curiosity and interest... because I know that some FS friends in other places aren't looked at that way, but rather with anger or hatred. China is a good place to be and it's really broadened the scope of our lives and souls. I am very grateful that we have gotten to be here.
That said, here are...
~ ~ THE CONS TO LIVING IN CHENGDU ~ ~
1.) The Air Pollution: Tops the list, by far, before anything else can come close. That and its resulting health problems. I've said it a zillion times on my blog, but in case you're new here, my family was pretty much permanently sick the first year we were here at post, and I'm not exaggerating. Ear infections/ lung infections/ coughs that wouldn't go away... it was bad. All of our issues went away during our R&R back to the States, and I'm hoping against hope that this second year at post will be better for us. But the air pollution is just... horrible. There's no merciful thing to do for bidders but to say it aloud.
2.) No Bilateral Work Agreement: Which means that spouses can only work at the Consulate. Because if spouses were to work outside of the Consulate, that would be illegal. It would be breaking the law. Because we spouses come in on our diplomatic passports, which don't grant us a work visa, and individuals need a work visa in order to legally work in China, and we don't have one. And since the Consulate is very small, there are only a teensy few jobs at the Consulate for EFMs and, come on now, none of them are very sexy. This is very important for folks to know before bidding anywhere in China, because EFMs need to understand that their only choice for working is at the Consulate or Embassy.
[In fact, I feel very strongly that if an EFM would like to work, then during the bidding process the family needs to determine which countries on their bid lists have (and don't have) bilateral work agreements, and then only bid on the ones that have them, because China isn't the only one who doesn't have one. I have heard stories of EFMs trying to work outside of the Consulate/Embassy even when there isn't a bilateral work agreement, flagrantly (not innocently, but knowingly and flagrantly) breaking the law, and this literally disgusts me. I have no patience for it whatsoever. Don't knowingly bid on and go to a country that doesn't have a bilateral work agreement and then feel like you're somehow so special that the laws of your host country don't apply to you. THEY DO. You bid on that country, you follow its rules when you get there. If it's illegal for you to work on the local market, then DON'T WORK ON THE LOCAL MARKET. How completely gross is it to think that, since you're the spouse of a Diplomat, you can get away with visa fraud? The same kind of visa fraud that my husband investigates back in the U.S. when it's done on our soil? GET OVER YOURSELF and behave with ethics and morals! And trust me, the EFMs who are obeying the law and not working illegally are loathing the EFMs who break the law because it suits them.]
3.) This is a Super Small Post: Which means that everyone knows what everyone else is doing (of course). Before coming here, I thought that I would be able to navigate the whole fishbowl thing okay, but I found out my first year here that I could not. Our family made some strategic changes over our R&R and, thus far into our second year, things are wayyyy better.
Also, the extremely small size of the post could be either a good or a bad thing because, sure, everyone could be fantastic and life could be grand, *or* there could be even just one or two people who are malignant... and then the whole entire thing could be a net negative, because there's no real way to dilute malignancy at a super small post. And when you're bidding, you have no way of knowing which way that cookie is gonna crumble.
4.) The Food: Wait a minute, didn't I just list the food here as the #1 positive?!?! Why, yes, I did. But the downside here in Chengdu (not so much in Beijing or in some other Chinese posts) is that you pretty much can ONLY find Chinese food here. There's not really any variety. AT ALL. So when you're going out to eat, you pretty much can pick Chinese, Chinese or... Chinese. And unfortunately, my children don't like the food here, though James and I think they're insane.
5.) The Internet: The good news is that we have it and that it isn't as bad as, say, dial up. The bad news is that it isn't good enough to do a whole lot with. Can't really stream Netflix movies. Can't use for Skype or Facetime without getting kicked off a lot. Can't make internet-based phone calls with it, which means that it's realllllly hard to talk to our parents or friends back home. It's a pain.
6.) What the HELL am I Going to Make for Dinner?!?!: Since Chinese food is all that's eaten here, Chinese food (Chinese produce, etc., which is totally different than U.S. produce) is pretty much all that's available here when you're shopping. Well, as I've said, my kids pretty much hate and won't eat the local Sichuanese food, and they're not alone...all the other Consulate kids I know refuse to eat it, also. Which brings us to the problem of... what to feed our families?!? I sure as heck don't recognize and can't cook Chinese produce. Nor does meat come pre-packaged like in the U.S. So a lot of Consulate moms, when chatting or whatever, will throw their hands up and wail about how it's nearly impossible here to cook food that our Chinese-food-hating families will eat. Which is why I'm so grateful that we have an ayi - she can make Chinese produce into food that my kids will eat. Sometimes. But "sometimes" is better than "never," which is what the kids would get with me.
7.) Not Really Western Clean: Okay, I'm being kind. Restaurant tables are wiped with dirty cloths that also wipe the floors. Sometimes there are roaches in the restaurants, climbing down the walls next to us while we're eating, and this is normal. I've actually gotten used to it. People hock up loogies and spit them all over the sidewalks. Again - we're used to it now. And, of course, we've already talked about the squatty potties and the split pants. It's all just part of... normal life here.
~ ~ ~
And that's it!
TEN positives and SEVEN negatives, my friends. Because there's a whole lot to like about Chengdu!
And be sure to head on over to Jill's blog this Friday to read about all the different posts worldwide and their respective pros and cons!