Looking to Hanzhou, we asked two instructors, Noah and Nethia, about their experiences living there and here is what they had to say:
The arts culture in Hangzhou is fantastic. There are numerous art museums, theatres as well as myriad poetry and live music groups with performances every weekend. After living here for over two years, I have been involved in a startup improv troupe, performed as Nick Bottom in a production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, attended play and poetry readings across the city, submitted poems for publication in English-language magazines in both Hangzhou and Shanghai, and have seen performances ranging from traditional Yue and Kunqu Opera to Evita the Musical to a Georgian-language production of Macbeth. Hangzhou has been useful for a young theater practitioner and writer such as myself to connect with serious and engaged artists (both local and expat) in a thriving arts community such as Hangzhou.
Architecture and city-planning-wise, Hangzhou strikes the balance between the urban/industrial chic of most contemporary Chinese cities with an extraordinary amount of greenery to such an extent that it is possible to take a hike in the woods at the far end of the West Lake and be back in the city in a matter of minutes. A large part of this is due to a reverence for Hangzhou’s indigenous cultural sites; the people here do not wish for office buildings to obstruct the West Lake. Moreover, Hangzhou’s restaurant scene has become increasingly international over the past few years with restaurants serving dishes from every nation under the sun while also maintaining ties to local tastes as well. In essence, an expat living in Hangzhou can enjoy all of the benefits of a cosmopolitan Chinese city without navigating the high population (and the resultant pressures) of the tier-one mega-cities.
It is in one’s best interest to develop Mandarin-language ability stronger than ten stock words and phrases if one wishes to spend a significant period of time in Hangzhou. While English-language ability is stronger here compared to the more rural areas of China, in order to navigate the city more effectively one should hit the HSK books prior to coming to Hangzhou in order to ensure a more smooth transition into the city (and maintain one’s independence from the “translator-friend,” which is a normal priority of mine).
Hangzhou is very affordable, easy to travel around by bus and train, and full of places to see. After becoming acquainted with fellow expats and natives, they introduced me to the night life and other popular local activities. It’s different than other cities in China and worth the experience. The weather varies, and the food is good. Before you come, read up on immigration and local laws, and learn how the rental process works. Look at apartments online if you can.