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Author Topic: Handan, Hebei  (Read 5783 times)

decurso

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Handan, Hebei
« on: July 27, 2007, 08:17:08 AM »
 I have written two prior reviews of Handan but as I am now leaving after just over two years this would have to be considered the definitive review.

 Handan is located 4.5 hours southwest of Beijing and is within an hour of Shanxi, Henan and Shandong. It boasts over 2000 years of history and was the capital of Zhao during the warring states period. It is also the birthplace of Qin Shi Huang (the first emperror of China), the birthplace of Tai Chi and where over 2500 Chinese proverbs and idioms originated. The population is around 3 million but nearly 2 thirds of them are rurals.

 Nowadays Handan has little to show for it's history save for some ruins in the countryside and a few parks built around Zhao Dynasty ruins. Today it is mostly known as a coalmining and steel production mecca.

 The best thing I can say about Handan is that I have really enjoyed living here. It's cheaper than the average Chinese city so you really can live well on 4000 RMB. Cabs start at 5 RMB and unless you in the sticks you shouldn't need to have spend more than 10 to get anywhere.

 The character of the city is a mix of rustic charm and semi-stone age underdevelopment. The latter is disappearing rapidly as dozens of posh new shopping malls, hotels , apartment complexes and gated communities have gone up. In another five years this city will be unrecognizable. Personally I liked the semi-uncivilized atmosphere here.

 It's a pretty green city as far as China goes...and by that I don't mean enviornmentally friendly. There is an abundance of parks and trees.

 While there really isn't a lot to do there is an abundance small eateries and (in the summer) BBQ places where you can have a good time chatting with the locals and practicing your Chinese. You may even make a real friend or two. There's also a few nightclubs if that's your thing.

 Handan is also a very convenient place to travel from. Beijing,Tianjin, Zhengzhou, Luoyang and Xian are all within 8 hours by train. There are currnetly no eastbound trains from Handan but the bus to Jinan is 4 hours. The airport recently finished construction and is now running test flights.

 Pollution is bad here. Not just air pollution from cars, factories and coal burning...but every kind. The streets are filthy and covered every manner of rubbish and waste imaginable. The Fuyuan River runs through the city center and is a vile green cesspool.

 Western ammenities are becoming more common(Pizza Hut opened shop this year) but are still rare. You still won't find bricks of cheddar cheese here.There is a handful
of coffee restaurants that have a limited and pricy selection of western food that isn't very good. There is also a very mediocre Brazillian BBQ.

 English speakers are exceedingly rare. There also seems to be a much more gawkers, looky-loos and obnoxious "halllooo" people here. Drunks will fall over professing their undying friendship on a semi-daily basis.

 I'll miss this place.

Tuco

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2011, 01:01:06 AM »
I went through Handan several years ago and recall that it was not a place i would like to live.
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rollerboogie

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2011, 01:26:21 PM »
China changes a lot in a few years. Handan isn't exactly the most happening place, but it has developed considerably over the last two years. A train to Beijing or Zhengzhou (Henan) is equidistant. Cost of living there is reasonable. It has all of the big western fast food chains, a couple of Watsons for western bath and cosmetic needs, and the people are fairly laid back. I was there for a week last semester. It's not paradise, but it is hardly the worst place to be spending a year in China. I also caution people to consider years old recollections as an altruism about how a city is today. This applies to raves just as much as it does to rants.

randyjac

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2011, 09:13:42 PM »
It sounds like paradise to me. I cannot imagine why decurso would leave.

AMonk

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2011, 12:00:36 AM »
iirc, he had a visa dilemma....
Moderation....in most things...

rollerboogie

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2011, 08:47:38 AM »
It sounds like paradise to me. I cannot imagine why decurso would leave.

Do I detect snark?

Decurso's review is from 2007. Development in Hebei province has been speeding along at a rapid clip since 2008. Even shit holes like Xingtai (a half hour's train ride north of Handan) have received provincial financing to put some spit and polish on the town. Handan's air pollution has improved since my first stop there in 2009. Cheddar Cheese can indeed be found in certain markets there if one looks. The computer district has expanded and you can still grab your western and English subtitled movies there. If you fancy taking in a movie at the local cinemas, well you'll find it wanting. Most of what it screens are domestic movies, or dubbed blockbusters. The city has been expanding its streets and improving its sewage system, so a lot of the old buildings have been raised and a lot of cement and steel eyesores have since replaced them. More clubs have opened and there are several large scale shopping malls where you can pick up foreign goods. There aren't many foreigners there because there aren't many universities or colleges there. More buxiban have moved into the city since 2009, if that is one's cuppa. I feel confident in assuming that the foreign presence in Handan has grown a bit since Decurso's days there, but the foreign population is still relatively small. As I mentioned before: it has actual western style food there from international, western chains (KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, two pizza buffets which have become trendy in Southern Hebei over the last two years, etc.), and there is Japanese and Korean cuisine there, as well as the usual mainland suspects (Xinjiang, Lanzhou, and Sichuan cuisine). It is a city I would recommend to couples travelling together, or for someone who wants urban conveniences but a far more casual, less hectic stay on the mainland. Its rail station is easy to navigate and a regular stop for all of the major trains coming and going through the area. It is very easy to get seats to Shijiazhuang and Beijing and Zhengzhou there. Taxi flag fall was 6rmb and I never had trouble flagging one down, as I do in larger cities. The bus lines are convenient and not overly crowded. Staring at laowai is not so much of a problem there as it would be in smaller Hebei cities like Xingtai. Handan is a third tier city, plain and simple.

I don't enjoy finding myself in a position that remotely resembles being a cheerleader for China, but some perspective and accuracy are called for. In China, many of yesterday's primitive shit holes are now a nondescript, fourth or fifth tiered city. Paradise? By no means. A hell upon earth? Perhaps neither fish nor fowl for some. I happened to have spent time in Handan recently. I saw it with my own eyes, smelled it with my own nose, and heard it with my own pair of ears. 2011. My job requires me to travel to some truly backwater Chinese shit hole universities and college towns. I don't think it's particularly special, but if you work in the urban district of Handan, it certainly is not an armpit.

Rin

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2012, 04:25:09 AM »
I have lived here two years now. I hated it at first, I was a first timer in China and it was nothing like I had expected. After a few months, getting out more and making friends, I have grown to love it. It is a fairly tight knit community and nearly everyone knows everyone. Every time you go out for dinner you will find somebody knows you or knows somebody who knows you! It is very baijiu fuelled here, but isn't every city in China? The city is dirty and polluted, rarely is there a blue sky to be seen. Huge piles of rubbish line the smaller streets. We have numerous KFCs, a Mcdonalds, a Pizza Hut and various other fast food chains. (no Subway restaurant though) A few German themed bar/restaurants where they brew their own beer and many Korean and pizza buffet style restaurants(All you can eat for 45 RMB). We have a Walmart, but in my opinion the large Meishilin stores are better for Bacon, real Ham and real bread.. rarely cheddar cheese though, and no Baked Beans. I have a friend bring that from Beijing when he comes to visit me. Though you can get from Shijiazhuang which is closer. Trains to Beijing are about 3.5 hours if you take the fast one. Shijiazhuang the provincial capital takes about an hour and 45 minutes and they are very frequent. We are on the main line from Beijing to Guangzhou, so trains to anywhere (except going East for some reason) are abundant. We have a small airport, friends have used it for flights to Shanghai, Beijing and so on, and have said the service is good though I have never used it, it is kind of expensive. It gets unbearably humid here in summer, we are only just into May and it is already starting.. it will continue through til September. We have several big parks and one houses a small zoo. There are four or five night clubs but no quiet bars where you can enjoy a beer whilst sitting on a stool at the bar. There are few foreigners here, I estimate less than fifty who live here on a permanent basis. Very few people speak English, so it's handy if you are trying to learn Chinese here.. You need it. And just outside town is a small place called Yongnian that it the birthplace of Tai Chi.. Even Jet Li visited there last year! :)

Chief

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2012, 12:56:05 PM »
Decurso's review is from 2007. Development in Hebei province has been speeding along at a rapid clip since 2008. Even shit holes like Xingtai (a half hour's train ride north of Handan) have received provincial financing to put some spit and polish on the town.

 ahahahahah ahahahahah ahahahahah

It's not so bad, quite nice when you get to know it infact!

potemkin

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #8 on: June 03, 2014, 04:35:38 AM »
I've been here two years and I think Handan's great!

The disadvantages:
- very dirty, smelly and noisy
- air very polluted (fourth most polluted city in China last year - asthmatics beware!)
- very ugly (mostly scraggly trees, dusty pavements and nasty Soviet-looking apartment blocks)
- few opportunities to escape Chinese-ness (western restaurants are all horrendous junk food)
- not many historical sites (actually Handan has a very rich ancient history but there's not much left to see. There are a few outside the city, though.)
- low foreigner population. It's harder to make foreign friends here than it would be in a bigger city.

The advantages:
- extremely friendly locals
- low cost of living (you can live frugally for 1000 a month, live well for 2500, live like a king for 5000)
- restaurants EVERYWHERE (food from every province in China, many restaurants are terrific)
- plenty of shopping
- reasonably pleasant weather (almost no rain, but usually a nice breeze to cool you off in summer)
- transportation is cheap and convenient. Traffic is steadily worsening but is still pretty good.
- rapid economic growth = plenty of opportunities to make money if you play your cards right!
- high demand vs. supply for foreigners, so less competition than in other cities
- close proximity to major urban hubs (2 hours from Beijing by train, 4 from Jinan by bus)
- lots of things to do: karaoke, pool, gyms, cinemas (more and more movies these days have English subs). What more do you need?

For me Handan is not too big, not too small. It has all the amenities you would expect from a city, but none of the stress. Every time I go to Beijing I can't wait to get away from the hectic pace there and return to the relaxed pace of Handan, where you can actually live your life instead of spend it queuing for things and getting stuck in traffic.
« Last Edit: June 03, 2014, 05:56:25 AM by potemkin »

decurso

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2014, 08:16:06 AM »
Ha! I am delighted some other folks are experiencing the joys of Handan! You are quite right....Handan was on the fast track to development 7 years ago...and anything I wrote then is more or less meaningless now. I have several Chinese friends who have been there recently and tell me the city is unrecognizable. However, it seems that it is still a great place to get some in-depth cultural immersion. Best beer gardens in the country. Just...please tell me Donkey King (Zhang's Lao Hong Men....across from Sanzhong) is still open....and my picture is still on the wall.

Oh....if you read my earlier review....I seem to have predicted this  bjbjbjbjbj

decurso

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2014, 08:18:41 AM »
Where do you work, Potemkin? It was a pretty short list of employers in 2007. Jinwutong (where I worked), San Zhong, Er Zhong, Maple Leaf, Lilac and the two universities.

potemkin

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Re: Handan, Hebei
« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2014, 01:15:36 AM »
Yes, there aren't a huge number of employers. There are two kinds of employers: public and private. I've worked for both kinds (first San Zhong and now Chuang A), and they each have their advantages and disadvantages.

The public schools and universities: San Zhong, Yi Zhong (though they have an exclusive deal with an American company so you can't get a job there easily), Handan Engineering University all maintain a contingent of foreign teachers. Si Zhong occasionally has one, Er Zhong and Handan College I'm not sure. These places are relaxed, low-pay, low-hours, often with a very mediocre apartment provided for you (most often on-campus, which sucks). But you get a couple months holiday a year, which is great.

Private institutions: Lilac, Maple Leaf, Crazy English, Jinwutong, Chuang A. They're a mixed bag - Maple Leaf and (particularly) Lilac have a rotten reputation amongst the foreigners here for piling on unreasonable hours and being dodgy with pay. On the other hand, I had a friend at Jinwutong and he was very happy there, and I've only just started with Chuang A but so far they treat me very well. These places have fewer/no holidays, good pay, (generally) good apartment, more hours.

In the short time I've been here salaries are already a lot higher than they used to be. 4000RMB jobs exist alongside 10,000RMB jobs, so there's a big variety. Speaking Chinese is a HUGE asset if one wants to get the good positions.

Handan's economy is exploding, especially in the outskirt cities. So private teaching is a great money-maker in Handan. When I arrived the pay was rubbish, it was hard to get students even at 150 an hour, but nowadays foreigners aren't as numerous as before so you can get away with 200 or 250...even 300-500 if you have REALLY good guanxi. With the cost of living so low here, at one point I was saving about 120% of my salary (!) thanks to the extra work.

Aside from private tuition, many schools and kindergartens are eager to give you part-time work. Overall I recommend new arrivals in Handan go for low-pay, low-hours jobs with a relaxed employer (I'm told Maple Leaf regularly fires teachers for taking on extra work, but San Zhong and Chuang A turn a blind eye as long as it doesn't get in the way of your job). Then put yourself out there and pick up a few extra hours a week to really boost your salary, maintain flexible hours, and build up connections to get a better position when your contract expires.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2014, 01:56:50 AM by potemkin »