Welcome to Hengyang, China! Located in the southern part of China in the Hunan province, you’ll experience weather that changes every hour and eat some of the spiciest food you’ve ever tasted. I loved living and teaching here and want to share a few things about navigating life in this city!
What to wear
Hengyang is in the southern part of China, so the summers are hot and humid. The winters aren’t brutal and you won’t see much snow, but the school I taught in didn’t have heating or air conditioning. It also rains a lot – especially in the spring. With that said, you have to prepare for every kind weather.
Hengyang does have some shopping malls but not a lot of foreign stores (which makes it a little hard to find shoes – Chinese women have really small feet!) Don’t worry too much – in bigger cities like Changsha and Guangzhou you can find bigger shopping malls with lots of Western stores and normal American sizes like H&M, Old Navy, UNIQLO, etc.
The apartments the foreign teachers at Nan Hua live in are nice, especially compared to other Chinese apartments. They’re fully furnished with furniture, appliances, pots and pans and dishes, towels and sheets, etc. Chinese people don’t usually cook with ovens, but the school has bought little ones for us. Some of the things have been passed along from foreign teacher to foreign teacher through the years though, so I ended up buying some things when I came here like new pans and towels. Bottom sheets are kind of hard to find here too, so I brought my own from the U.S.
Our apartments have two bedrooms, an office, a laundry room (with just a washer, no dryer so you will hang dry everything), a kitchen, a living room, a dining area, and two bathrooms. One bathroom has a western toilet and the other is a squatty. Our apartments also have wifi provided by the university.
What you’ll eat:
Chinese food! 😉 The school has several “canteens” where students eat. I ate a lot at the canteen close to our apartments. You can select a few dishes and some rice for 8-10 yuan (less than $2!)
Outside the university there are tons of restaurants. I have lots of Chinese restaurants I love to visit frequently – Muslim noodles, Chinese hamburgers, and dumplings are some of my favorites. Chinese food has so much variety to it that I didn’t get tired of it like I thought I would. Your students and Chinese friends are great resources for finding food! They will be more than happy to introduce you to new restaurants and translate menus for you.
Chinese grocery stores are going to be super strange at first. The food packaging, the weird smells, the pushy people – it takes a little time to get adjusted, but then you’ll find Chinese snacks you like and become a pro at getting to the fruit weighing station.
There are some days you’ll want some American comforts, and that’s totally okay. We’ve got Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut in our city, as well as grocery stores that carry some imported foreign foods like marinara sauce for spaghetti and tortilla chips for Mexican nights.
How you use money:
The school sets you up with a Chinese bank account when you arrive. There are a few banks who will let you withdraw money from your American account, but for the most part you’ll want to use the Chinese bank account and card they give you. China is a largely cash based society, so you’ll use the RMB bills and coins much more frequently than your Chinese bank card. Edit: Wechat pay is going to be your best friend! You can connect your bank card to your Wechat account and pay with that at most restaurants and stores.
It’s a little difficult to transfer money from this Chinese bank account to an American account, but not totally impossible. At the end of my 10 months I just withdrew money from my Chinese bank account, exchanged it into U.S. dollars through the university I worked at, and then brought the U.S. dollars back with me.
What do you do for fun in Hengyang?
Hengyang might be small, but there’s still plenty to see and do here. I loved Hengyang because of the local Chinese feel – there aren’t as many foreigners here, so everyday I was fully immersed in Chinese culture.
- See a movie at Wanda Plaza
- Walk around Jiefang Lu
- Eat Hunan Food (Read about it here)
- Visit Hengshan Mountain nearby (which I wrote about here: New Year on Mount Heng)
- Hang out with some foreign friends at a bar (check out Helen’s and Hutaoli)
- Go to a Chinese club (this will change your life – go to the club called 39)
How you’ll travel:
Hengyang has 3 million people, which is actually on the smaller scale of Chinese cities but still a lot of people! There are tons of buses to take around the city. Three buses go on the street near our apartment, and if you walk a little ways further you’ll hit even more bus routes. It takes a little time to remember the routes, but you’ll memorize the key ones that take you to Starbucks, the grocery store, the outdoor markets, the University new campus, etc. And walking is always a good option! Everything you really need is in walking distance: the University is about 7 minutes away, the Grocery store is about 13 minutes away, and Starbucks is about 18 minutes.
If you’re wanting to get out of Hengyang, you can take bus to a train station. Hengyang has a high speed train station (take bus 36 or 45 to get here) and a regular train station (take bus 160) nearby. I love the high speed trains in China and highly recommend using those.
What apps you should get:
Wechat. The top app you definitely should get is Wechat. Apparently it’s the most used social media in the world, but since only Chinese people use it, no one else has heard of it.
Chinese people are going constantly ask “what’s your wechat number?” and “Can I scan your QR code?” (You get a QR code on your wechat that people can scan to add you, it’s legit.) This is the best way to keep in touch with your Chinese students and friends and share pics with them. It’s also super addictive because you can download funny stickers to send to people.Read more about you can do here: 7 Cool Things You Can Do With WeChat.
QQ. It is owned by the same company as Wechat and has slightly different abilities, but it’s a pretty similar social media app and also very popular in China. I used both Wechat and QQ everyday. QQ is less private though. On wechat when I look at my friend’s pictures, I can only see other peoples “likes” if I am also friends with them. So you never know how many people have liked your friend’s picture. I guess this prevents random people from adding you.
Chinese dictionary app or translator. The one I use the most is Pleco, a great Chinese offline dictionary. The only downside is you can’t type phrases into it, just words. It’s still great if you need to ask someone in the store to help you find something or you’re trying to translate a menu. Google translate has an offline translator that I’ve started using as well.
Ctrip and/or China Train. When you start traveling in China, you’re going to need to look at train schedules a lot. You should download Ctrip or China Train, or another train app to quickly check train times. We normally don’t book them online, but we can see what’s available and the ticket prices.
Other popular apps used by Chinese people: QQ music (where you can download music for free) and Beauty Cam (a photo app that makes you more beautiful – they LOVE this app),
I also use Kindle a lot! As you can imagine, most libraries and stores are going to sell books written in Chinese. I love reading and missed having English books readily available, so I’m glad I have Kindle for reading in my down time, during traveling, etc.
Welcome to Hengyang
It’s so hard to to completely describe what living in Hengyang is like, but I hope this gives you a little insight into life as a foreign teacher here! If you have questions or want to be connected with some teachers currently in Hengyang shoot me a message on Instagram or comment below!