The Big Move To China

So, it finally happened. After years of all talk, we finally walked the walk and made our big move to China. Mary and I have been planning this for years now, but COVID made traveling to China impossible until recently.

Once China started opening up, we got a Q2 Visa for Leena and bought our one-way tickets to Shanghai. Prepping for the move was hectic and stressful, but we got it done and we are finally here!

Shanghai Airport

We did our best to pick the shortest flight possible, from Denver to Shanghai with only one short layover in San Francisco. I'll admit that I was very nervous about a 14 hour flight with Leena, but luckily it wasn't bad at all. We mostly played games and watched TV for half of the flight, and she slept through the other half. I did administer some Dramamine to her, which might have helped her sleep.

Leena Sleeping

When we landed, she was full of energy and we were happily greeted by Mary's parents and cousin.

There are obviously many facets to life in China that is different, but luckily Mary grew up here and I have visited many times before, so there wasn't much of a culture shock. The biggest adjustments we've had to make so far has been living behind the Great Firewall and trying to get WeChat Payments to work (still no success for Hunter).

The Great Firewall

On my previous trips to China, I've been able to easily bypass the Great Firewall using a service called ExpressVPN. You need to download the VPN to all of your devices before arriving in China, otherwise you are blocked from downloading them once you arrive.

I naively thought that the VPN would work flawlessly and I could stream Netflix into the sunset, but alas I was wrong. ExpressVPN only worked for a couple of days and then it stopped connecting. It didn't help that the internet at our new house in China was absurdly slow. After upgrading and adding more MBPS, the VPN still didn't work. We were essentially cut off from our Gmails and other forms of messaging.

This lead to an investigation into what services actually work in China, and which do not.

Services that DO NOT work

  • Anything Google, including Gmail and YouTube
  • Facebook and Instagram
  • Netflix
  • Disney Plus
  • Zoom
  • Telegram
  • Twitter
  • Discord
  • ChatGPT
  • LinkedIn
  • WhatsApp
  • Libby
  • Venmo
  • Yahoo Finance
  • Most Crypto Sites, including Coinbase and Uniswap

Services that DO work

  • Apple Services
  • Amazon Services, including AWS
  • Microsoft Services
  • Spotify
  • Audible
  • Chase Bank
  • PayPal
  • AirBNB
  • Slack
  • Github
  • Gitlab
  • Fidelity
  • Vanguard
  • Robinhood
  • Steam Game Store and Downloads

Luckily for us, Mary had another VPN services downloaded on her phone called Private VPN. We were able to log in and get it working, although it has been pretty slow.

After some personal hotspot tethering, we got PrivateVPN on all of our devices. We also signed up for new emails using Microsoft and set up email forwarding from Gmail to Outlook. We probably won't be streaming a lot of Netflix anytime soon, but at least we can glimpse past the Great Firewall from time to time.

Update: A Reddit thread recommended LetsVPN and it's way way faster than PrivateVPN. We'll be switching to LetsVPN for the time being and will monitor the results. It also has an instant free trial, which you can extend to 3 days if you use our LetsVPN ID: 169285125.

If you have an Apple device, you'll be able to access the Apple App store from behind the firewall and download China compatible apps. For Android users, the Google App store will be blocked, so you'll need to bear the burden of slow downloads over the VPN.

A Cashless Society

For those unfamiliar, China has become a cashless society. Everyone uses either WeChat Pay or AliPay, which is a form of digital wallet payment system powered by QR codes. If you want to use cash or credit card, be sure to ask the vendor before making a purchase. Everyone has a smartphone to make payments, from big retail stores to the smallest street vendors.

This presented another hurdle for us, because you need a Chinese bank account and an up-to-date Chinese ID card, which neither of us possessed. Mary had to renew her expired Chinese ID and link up a Chinese debit card, before finally able to set up WeChat Pay.

It's a bit trickier for US citizens who do not have a Chinese bank account. We are still doing some trial and error to get WeChat Pay working on Hunter's phone.

Update: We were able to get AliPay to work quite easily with a US Passport and a Visa credit card as the source of funds.

AliPay and WeChat Pay
Payment QR codes at a local butcher's shop

Life In China So Far

We are living in the city of Jiaxing, which is fairly close to Shanghai. After about a week here, our minds are still in "vacation" mode as we explore the various parts of the city. Everything is relatively clean and safe, and there is a lot of green open space. The traffic in China is still a chaotic mess, but it's a lot better than what it use to be.

Modern Building in Jiaxing

A lot of new, modern buildings have sprung up since our last visit, which was about 4 years ago. There is also a huge new park with black swans, a lot of walking paths, and a large playground. The pace of life feels slow and leisurely.

Jiaxing park at night Jiaxing Night Festival

The weather has been hot, humid, and very rainy. We're talking Thailand level, sticky shirt to skin type of humid. There's an abundance of fresh tropical fruits, both native and imported. The food is cheap, simple, and delicious. We've been gorging ourselves on wontons, various noodles, and dumplings. The food delivery services are like DoorDash on steroids, you can get anything delivered literally anywhere.

Authentic Wonton Soup

Goods are also cheap and plentiful. Anything you can get on Amazon, you can expect to get it here for much cheaper. We packed light on purpose for this reason and there's a constant stream of packages arriving at our house.

As for the house itself, it's pretty much the nicest home I've lived in. Everything is brand new, top of the line, and "magic" as Leena would say. It feels like a high end lux hotel, I only wish the internet was a bit more reliable.

There are still lots of adjustments to be made, and we are currently in the process of furnishing the rest of the house. The most rewarding part has been watching Leena interact with Mary's family. Everyone adores her, and she is able to communicate very well in Chinese with all the relatives we've met. She's already picking up some new skills from grandma!

Leena Playing Mahjong

So far, we've all been having an awesome time with the move. Hopefully we'll continue to adjust to the lifestyle changes and keep an update on our journey!

Water Lily Pond