China / Society

Changchun website a platform for expats

By Deng Zhangyu (China Daily) Updated: 2014-01-19 08:02

Briton Richard Ridealgh has successfully integrated in the local society in Changchun, capital city of Jilin province. He married a Chinese woman, runs a language school and usually hangs out with Chinese to drink baijiu, a very strong spirit that is a must on people's dinner tables in the city.

Changchun website a platform for expats

Richard Ridealgh (left) and Richard Roman are committed to connecting Chinese and expats living in Changchun. Photos by Feng Yongbin / China Daily

In contrast, Richard Roman, Ridealgh's compatriot, retains his Western lifestyle in the northern city even though he has lived here for about 10 years. He only drinks wine and beer, usually goes to coffee bars and attends gatherings like music nights and poetry nights at fancy restaurants.

The lifestyles of Roman and Ridealgh are very different, but both of them can live convenient and happy lives in a second-tier city in China thanks to online platform, a website providing useful daily life information for expats living in Changchun.

In fact, it is Roman and Ridealgh who set up the website in 2006.

"Our initial aim is to connect foreign communities with local Chinese," says Roman, a lecturer at Changchun University.

The local website provides everything from maps of the city, to events and activities, to restaurant reviews, all in English. Both foreigners and Chinese living in the city can apply for membership. It has more than 1,000 registered members, half of which are expats.

There are now about 3,000 foreigners living in the northern city of Changchun, made up by two main groups: engineers working in the city's car industry and language teachers offering guidance for people eager to know Western culture.

The website allows expats and Chinese in the city to know each other and have fun together, says Roman. They always post activities such as New Year's parties, Western food dinners, poetry nights and the like for anyone interested in joining.

The lecturer says that although Changchun is small compared to Beijing and Shanghai, life there is more relaxed.

"The community is large enough to meet new faces. It's also small enough to meet friends easily," Roman says. And people in the city are known for their friendliness. They are willing to help anyone on the street who needs help. That was one reason he decided to live in Changchun.

Despite their different needs and lifestyles, the community they've established and the conveniences of life here have inspired both men to make long-term plans to stay - especially Ridealgh, who says the city is his "adopted home".

Ridealgh is impressed by the city's baijiu culture.

When he arrived in Changchun in 2006, the dean of the English department he worked for invited him to dinner on Christmas Eve. It was a large round table that could seat 25 people. On the table was a Christmas turkey paired with baijiu.

"One Chinese gave me a bottle of Maotai (very expensive baijiu) and said 'Merry Christmas'. It was fantastic and worked for me," Ridealgh says, adding he was drunk after baijiu for the first time.

From then on, he quickly became good friends with those Chinese who drank baijiu with him. They hang out for dinner and go fishing. It's a good way to become familiar with each other.

When Ridealgh visits his Chinese father-in-law, he is invited to drink . Now the guy from Leeds in England can drink up to 250 grams of baijiu.

But for Roman, the gentleman lecturer, baijiu is "too dangerous". Beer is his favorite. When he goes out with his friends, Chinese and foreigners, his pet phrase is "give me one more".

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