China / Regions

Chengdu's traditional charm captivates expats

By By Huang Zhiling, Li Yu and Peng Chao ( Updated: 2014-10-30 15:30

Editor's note:

People wonder why we pandas chose Chengdu as our hometown. Well, I don't think this needs much explanation. Come here and you’ll find life is very enjoyable.

— Rong Rong

Despite its rapid modernization, city retains venerable culture and feels like a 'second home'

With a large airport, luxury hotels, multinational companies and millions of cars, Chengdu has blossomed into an economic powerhouse similar to Beijing, Shanghai or other big cities.

Yet, lying beneath the modern face of the city is its unchangeable appreciation for the finer things in life, said Bob O'Donnell, a team leader at Damco Logistics' Chengdu Office.

O'Donnell, 26, has worked and lived in Chengdu since February of this year, and he said life in the city has been "very good".

He is among the increasing number of foreigners who are moving to Chengdu amid the city's quickening modernization. About 13,000 expatriates from more than 120 countries and regions now either work or study in the city.

O'Donnell comes from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States. He started working for Damco in the US with the hope of moving to China. As soon as a position opened up in Chengdu, he applied for it.

Damco has a presence in China's coastal areas such as Shanghai, Ningbo and Hong Kong. But all of the customer service is conducted in its Chengdu office. Set up in 2010, it is the largest office of Damco around the world, with about 1,000 people and an area of 10,000 square meters.

O'Donnell likes Chengdu better than Shanghai and Beijing. "Many of the coastal cities have changed their culture to be more like western countries, while Chengdu still feels like a real Chinese city with Chinese culture, delicious food and Chinese hobbies," he said.

Chengdu is known for its delicious hot pot, kung pao chicken, mapo tofu, dandan noodles and street-side snacks. It was named by UNESCO as "a city of gastronomy" in 2010, making it the first Asian city to win such an honor.

"I have traveled to many different cities in China in the last few years, and I think Chengdu has the best food," O'Donnell said.

He likes playing mahjong in the teahouses that can be found on almost every corner of the city.

The teahouse is to Chengdu what a pub is to London or a cafe to Paris. It is where people enjoy tea while chatting with friends. It is also where businessmen make deals.

Chengdu has managed to maintain a balance between fast growth and a relaxed life. People may work as hard as others along the coast, but they make time to drink tea at teahouses, where a cup of tea ranges from less than a dollar to more than $10.

Bars in Jiuyanqiao and nearby Lan Kwai Fong draw O'Donnell and many other expatriates to dance, sing and socialize.

O'Donnell goes to People's Park or travels around Sichuan to smaller towns during his spare time. People’s Park is where people get together to drink tea, chat, dance.

To Sasha Sokolova, her husband, Valeriy, and their 9-year-old son, Mykhaylo, Chengdu feels like home.

The family moved to the city four years ago.

"Since the very first days, people have behaved very friendly toward us. Many of them are our best friends now. I know the attitude to foreigners in many countries of the world. At least in Europe, you will not find such a warm and open welcome. I know a lot of foreigners who feel Chengdu is a second home," said Sasha Sokolova, whose husband teaches psychology at Guangya, a private school in Sichuan.

She has a doctoral degree in philosophy from the Institute of Philosophy of National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Her husband has a doctorate in psychology from National Pedagogical Dragomanov University in Kiev.

The family can buy almost all of the items they need in every big supermarket."If you are a regular customer, people at a local market give you a discount. So we have our favorite fruit sellers and bakeries here," she said.

She and her husband are used to Sichuan food, although it is still too spicy for their son.

Earlier this year, Guangya students established a charity organization. "I asked them who they want to help. And the answers were 'children in Africa' and 'for children in rural China to receive a good education'. They just want to make the world better. Although I am not Chinese, I feel very proud to have such students, Sasha said.

"We like the culture and people here. We expect a great future for China. Therefore, we decided that our son has to learn the Chinese language," she said.

Her son, a pupil at Guangya, speaks Chinese now.

"He even dreams in the Chinese language now. It is funny to hear him murmuring at night," Sokolova said.

O'Donnell, the team leader at Damco, is proud of his Chinese language skills, too.

"I have many friends who live in Shanghai, Shenzhen and other coastal cities who never need to use Chinese in their daily life because so many Chinese can speak English," O'Donnell said. "In Chengdu, I am forced to use Chinese every day, which in turn helps me to improve my speaking ability."

O'Donnell said he hopes Chengdu will not become a westernized city like Hong Kong.

"One thing I think Chengdu should keep in mind while it develops into a more international city is to keep its identity," he said.

"Become a modern Chinese city, keep the Chinese customs and 'feel', and Chengdu can become one of the best cities in China!"

Hot Topics