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Is basic/advanced Chinese necessary to live there???

JJ and Janice (324 posts) • 0

Hi Jules - - this from an American who has also traveled extensively. Although there are many (some?) foreigners here who make no attempt to speak Chinese - - it makes life much easier to learn the basics. Most younger Chinese have an understanding of English since it is a required course in school. There are also commercial interpreter services as close as your cell phone if you're in a store and need immediate assistance re: a purchase.

Don't let the naysayers give you the wrong impression. Kunming is a great place to live. About 80% of our "interaction" is with Chinese and 19% expats - - with the 1% being those who can't quite make the human category. Generally speaking, you find the type of folks you look for.

We live in the BeiChen area which is in the north. It is a newer area and generally considered up-scale. There are several western-style eateries in our area for those who need a taste of home (and their food is good!).

Certainly give it a try. We would love to meet you for coffee and give you the benefit of what experience we have had.

Good Luck - - and - - Cheers. JJ

lao_wai (18 posts) • 0

The answer is NO to all of your questlons...and don't think the expats are going to help you either. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule,say JJ and Janice, most people here would watch you bleed out on the sidewalk...then steal your stuff while you're still warm.Really suggest you try elsewhere.

jules77 (7 posts) • 0

hey lao,
i suggest YOU go elsewhere...i really don't like when
negative,cynical A-holes hijack legit threads with their
non-stop horse-shit...
so,
please,
just go away...

laotou (1714 posts) • 0

jules77
Kunming is a rathe rural culture - people are suspicious of strangers - but once you get to know them and they accept you - aka invite you to their homes - life is good. Kunming is also a rapidly growing city - so like any large city - it comes with more than its fair share of thieves, frauds, and pickpockets. The city is full of unskilled labor, and poorly educated people who can be quite angry for a variety of reasons...but again - that's just like any large city.

Seems you've travelled around - Kunming is just another flavor - except almost NOBODY (taxis especially) speaks or understands english here - except around the tourism universities and maybe some of the more well-known hospitals. Signs in english are rare.

As JJ mentioned, you are welcome to come visit - see if the flavor suits you - but as lao_wai warns - don't come with your eyes closed. The expats tend to be clique-y - but that's probably also part of a by-product of the Kunming culture they're immersed in.

China is as multicultural as Europe - so don't expect the "china" experience to be homogeneous. Kunming is exceptionally multicultural due to its diverse minorities and proximities to the golden triangle countries - thailand, vietnam, myanmar, laos, cambodia (did I get 'em all?)...and of course India. Chinese in general are extremely entrepreneurial - always trying to "make a buck", legit or otherwise - so as grandpa always advised - your wallet's best friend is your own pocket.

Health care is ... ok for simple maladies, but you'll need some serious insurance and a plane trip to beijing, shanghai, etc for anything serious...

So if you decide to jump in - Kunming is probably one of the best cities in China for climate, cost of living, and a fairly multi-cultural chinese experience with the occasional expat oasis when you tire of the local cuisine...and one more thing - Yunnan people don't have a concept of "not spicy". If you ask for "not spicy" - they typically interpret that as "ok...just a little spicy then"...so hope you have or can develop a tolerance for spicy food.

As for photography - you should be able to find a wealth of subject matter if your lens favors people and culture. You may even be able to discover "hidden tribes" although that's much rarer these days. Just remember to practice common sense - and maybe let someone know when you intend to "go safari" (like maybe JJ) so someone will know if you're missing.

Bon voyage.

lao_wai (18 posts) • 0

@Jules- It's a legitimate answer to your legitimate question. I think any of the longtime expats can vouch for the dying in the street part. People are afraid to help someone down in the streets for fear of being blamed for whatever accident and then losing large sums of money to compensate the victim. I personally know 2 people that this has happened to,compensating, that is, not dying. If your bag landed more than a meter from your body,it definitely would not be there when the street cleaners arrived. 
If you think you can survive in a place where almost nobody speaks English,you can't speak or read their language and almost nobody is willing to go out of their way to help you about,...come on over.

jules77 (7 posts) • 0

well,
i have to say thank you to all for being so candid and helpful so far...
lot's of really great input!!!
even lao-wai in a way...although i wonder...
if the place is so horrific,
why does he/she continue living there???

i actually don't require a lot of daily human interaction...
one reason i became a photographer is because i consider

myself very much an "observer" and not so much
a "participent" in this wild world of ours.
i'm quite happy looking through my lenses and recording the
beauty of nature and humans...

oh,
and i DO like spicy food:)

lawlz0mg (201 posts) • 0

I speak no chinese what so ever, i've lived here for a little bit now. I have not encountered any problems. Besides other foreigners can be pretty rude.

nnoble (889 posts) • 0

Yes of course you will survive and even thrive. Furthermore, I'd advise to remain self-sufficient. Welcome and accept help but only to make friends and for truly desperate situations - though I can't think of one right now.

Your basic needs will mainly be serviced by local traders and they will communicate since they want to do business. You can watch and see what others pay for foodstuffs and other items and when it comes to 'seemingly' more complicated transactions, such as travel, I would never consider using an interpreter (friend or otherwise): all you need is a map, watch, calendar, a smile, and the commonsense you must have since you survived other environments.

Pick up a copy of Pimsleur Mandarin part 1 (or similar) stick it on an MP3 player and you'll pick up enough to get by comfortably and enjoy Kunming and greater YunNan.

JingWei (30 posts) • 0

I have to disagree with Laotou statement that China is very multicultural. I am european and lived in London for several years, where something close to 40% of the population is not british born. Kunming is NOT that kind of environment. Han Chinese have the impression of multiculturalism in Yunnan because of the minorities (40% of the population) but for an outsider who don't speak Chinese that multiculturalism might be somehow diluted, especially in Kunming. Outside of Kunming the particularism of ethnic groups might be more striking and have less of a simple dress-up aspect.

Foreigners living in Kunming are mostly from Asia, Korean and Thai are a big chunk of them. The community of Western foreigners is a patchwork based on language, so it is actually a small group of communities that don't work as well together than in other more multicultural places like Hong Kong. Those western communities are also far less important to the locals in term of trade than they generally think. Symbolically Westerners are important to chinese, but more as a reverse orientalism than a need for real interactions.

English is useless in daily life in kunming, a lot of shop keepers are very poor people who never had the time for education and are just scraping a living. However with a minimal effort and language exchange you will pick up a 100-200 words that will allow you to go through daily life without too much frustrating experiences, as I do.

Only university students can speak a bit of english and none of them works in shops. But a lot of them will be happy to have social interaction with you, but you have to at least pretend that you are trying to learn chinese. Most Chinese i meet don't understand and take it as an insult to their culture when someone do not make a real effort to learn the language. They are also fairly unaware of the difficulty of learning their language, they notice the few westerners that are successful at it and forget the hundreds that are never going beyond intermediate level. Over time this can be a serious source of frustration. But 2-3 years is not such a long time, and as an outside observer Kunming can be pretty interesting and also offer a base of exploration that is fantastic.

laotou (1714 posts) • 0

JingWei
I agree in part but disagree in part on the multicultural counter - but agree JingWei is spot-on the other comments.

China is both homogeneous and at the same time, heterogeneous. Depends on what you see and what you're trained to see. Most foreigners view China and Chinese as a rather homogenous single culture and yet the cultural habits, diets, speech patterns across the length and breadth of China are as vast and myriad as perhaps even Western Europe. Within the Han race (the predominant race in China) - we are multicultural. Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Anhui, Yunnan, etc ad infinitum - we have dialectic, dietary, and obvious behavioral differences - both in personal and professional nuances, not to mention the not too subtle differences in clothing and accessory choices - and I haven't even touched on the oh-so-obvious religious and philosophical institutions - Islam (guys with the white skull caps), the myriad flavors of Buddhism, Dao, Kongzi (Confucius) - also etc ad infinitum.

To the uninitiated - all chinese (or all asians) look alike. The clothing and accessory behaviors of Shanghai dwellers versus Beijing or Yunnan can either be utterly obvious or oblivious. A Beijing taxi driver can identify his client's nationality based on their haircut and clothing.

Chinese can identify other Chinese as non-local based upon the simple dialectic nuances of a greeting - "你好" (ni hao).

To me - a foreign-born Chinese - China, Japan, Korea are as obviously multicultural with the associated social complications as a European living in London might observe.

Each province is distinct and unique. Someone on the Chinese internet once posted an amusing cartographic summary of each province's famous eccentricities - some not too flattering, others merely amusing.

My unsolicited advice to jules77 - as a photographer - was to look for those subtle nuances and try to capture them in history. Ethnic differences are easy - just photograph the different costumes. Any tourist with a camera can do that - although a professional photographer can obviously make the subject matter so much more appealing, alluring, or entertaining - but to capture the subtle nuances between provinces, cities, rural areas, age groups, gender groups, and the infinitely diverse social cliques - that takes a sharp eye, a sharp mind, and some serious talent with a lens.

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