5 Reason Why I’m Loving Life in Nanjing

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I know I’ve been a bit slow on the update front over the past few weeks, but I’ve got an excuse! Life in China has been very good to me so far, but it’s also been mile-a-minute as I settle into a new job, a new city, and a new social scene. Rest assured, I’ve got some exciting travel plans on the horizon as well as some great pieces about my life, travels, and experiences here in China.

This one’s more personal than informative, so I apologise for that, but I’ll be sure to put up a few helpful articles (and a long awaited Recommended Reads) real soon.

Now that I’ve had a shade over two weeks in China, I thought I’d weigh in with the five factors that are contributing to my newfound love of life since hitting the scene.

#5 – The School

I’ve really lucked out when it comes to my work environment. Far from the 40 hour weeks I was working in Sydney, or even the 30 hour ones I worked during my time in Korea, a relatively cushy 20 hour working week means I’ve got ample time to focus on my life outside of work.

In fact, three days a week I’m finished with my classroom responsibilities by noon – giving me plenty of time to go for a run, explore my city, or just take a sorely needed nap after my draining four hour day. That’s sarcasm, folks. Feel free to hate me.

My classes so far have been good. Made up of 22-25 students who are new to the school, they’re still sufficiently intimidated to be behaved and they aren’t yet disillusioned by English study. My challenge is to keep them interested without losing control of them.

chinese classroom
My kids hard at work on a practice exam

While I’m certainly not pulling in the kind of cash I did in Australia or South Korea, I’m still making well above what the average Chinese worker makes. While 8000 RMB doesn’t sound like it would stretch very far, it’s possible to live something like a king and still put some money aside. Some of my co-workers here drink most nights and eat all of their meals out and still manage to put fully half of their pay check into savings.

And did I mention the free apartment on-site?

chinese apartment living room
My spacious living room here in China. I never had one in Korea!

Another big perk of my job is eight weeks paid vacation as well as having the ability to take unpaid leave should I need it. You’ll be seeing entries from Tibet, Mongolia, and the United States as a result of this free time. I’m also aiming to spend the next Chinese New Year in either Thailand or the Philippines.

I’m only a week into my teaching here, but I can’t imagine getting to a point where 20 hours a week proves too much for me. I’m lazy , but I’m not that lazy.

#4 – Location, Location, Location!

Not knowing anything much about Nanjing before I got here, I was really surprised to find that my school lay right at the heart of the foreigner ‘square’ in the city of 8,000,000. Situated right by two prominent Chinese universities that take foreign exchange students as well as being by a Chinese wing of Johns Hopkins means there’s no shortage of foreigner bars, foreigner friendly restaurants, and friendly faces in my neighborhood.

The Bars

My school lies right next to Another Jimmy’s – a small second store based off of a popular sports bar in town. Boasting a good selection of imported beer and pizza for delivery, I’ve already availed myself of Jimmy’s once or twice.

jimmys bar nanjing
Photo from eChina Cities' Best Bars in Nanjing

Then there’s the ever popular Talking franchise – which has Talking #1, Talking #2, and Talking #3 all on the same stretch near the university. My school cricket team just so happens to be sponsored by Talking #2 – so I’ve had a few drunken nights there already. With a bloody impressive list of imported beers (including Erdinger, Franziskaner, and a number of Belgians) and a big menu of food and cocktails, it’s fast becoming my foreigner haunt of choice.

Just up the road is the mysteriously titled 1931. With nightly drinks promos and a menu that includes banana splits, hot dogs, and Cajun chicken wings – it’s a place I’m eager to try out real soon.

I’m a ten minute walk from Blue Sky Australian Bar & Grill. By far the largest of the foreigner bars I’ve stepped in so far, Blue Sky has live sport on the TV most of the day and pool tables to entertain. Catering to an older expat crowd, the place does provide Aussie meat pies and has the space for a big function.

A short taxi or bus ride takes me to Nanjing’s 1912 night-life district. It’s littered with night clubs and expensive whiskey bars, so I wouldn’t have thought it my kind of scene – but I did enjoy a wild night of table dancing underneath chandeliers at Little Scarlet and drinking free cognac at Racerwhere groups of four or more foreigners are greeted with a free bottle of spirits.

The Restaurants

As if the food on offer at the above bars wasn’t enough, there’s a score of foreigner friendly spots nearby. From the arbitrary McDonalds, KFC, Subway, and even (Korea’s own) Paris Baguette to the local cuisine, I’ve had no trouble finding delicious treats when the mood strikes.

KFC and McDonalds also deliver. Be afraid.

Across the alley from Another Jimmy’s is Istanbul Turkish Food. While their kebabs aren’t quite what I’ve become accustomed to in Australia, there’s still a good mix and the promise of baclava in a few weeks once the place gets on its feet.

Directly across the road from my school is Skyways Bakery and Deli – offering custom made sandwiches, baked goods, and gelato for hungry foreigners. If the crowd of white faces out front on sunny days is any indication, it’s a damned popular meeting point for the local foreigner scene.

skyways nanjing
Photo from eChina Cities' How to Satisfy a Western Food Craving in Nanjing

When I’m not feeling like Western food, it’s easy to find something local. Old Friends lies between Talking #2 and my school and has a great range of traditional Chinese cuisine and (most importantly) an English menu. A few hole-in-the-wall style eateries nearby provide similar fare, and a personal favorite of mine is a Dong Bei place boasting some bloody fantastic sweet and sour pork for those able to navigate there way through a maze of back alleys to find it.

Nearby Korea street means I’ll not be missing my South Korean cuisine. I daresay galbi and soju lie in my immediate future…


Much like Korea, Nanjing has a slew of convenience stores providing essentials. I’ve become particularly familiar with Suguo – a chain somewhere between a 7-11 and a fully fledged grocery store. There are four within walking distance of my apartment.

Nanjing also has several Walmart department stores as well as the popular Carrefour, a French chain boasting cheaper prices that my friends swear by.

Another short walk from my apartment takes me to Times Grocery. Where in South Korea I’d need to trek all the way to Seoul for cereal, pop tarts, or snacks from home – ten minutes has me with all of the kettle corn, pudding snack pack, and Canadian Club I could ever desire.

I found this article on import stores in Nanjing to be very helpful, albeit a little out-dated.

#3 – The People

I got really lucky when I landed a job in Nanjing. Knowing only one person who lives in China, I somehow managed to end up in the same city as that person. David and his girlfriend, Shannon, were a part of my first night out in Nanjing and I’ve caught up with them a few times since. They’ve certainly made settling in a whole lot easier.

Then there’s my co-workers. I’ve quickly fallen in with a pair of north American girls who are regularly asking me out to grab dinner or just take a wander around the area. Kara, Jenny, and myself have ironically dubbed ourselves the Menstruation Nation. That sounds like an all female pro-wrestling stable…

girls in china
Jenny and Kara - two members of the 'Menstruation Nation'

There’s also a big group of older (30+) guys here at the school who are regularly keen to talk fantasy football, watch the game over at Talking #2, or head down to the nearby university field for a hit of cricket. I spent a bright and sunny Monday out taking wickets and being bowled for ducks with a likely group of local lads.

I’m only two weeks in, so my social circle isn’t massive just yet, but I’m finding being so close to the university district and having some wing-women so early in my time here is a big improvement on my relatively lonely early existences in Gwangju and in Busan.

Hell, I’m more social here than I was in Sydney!

#2 – The Food

I waxed lyrical about the food situation earlier, so let me just leave you with some pictures of some of the delicious local food I’ve had since touching down.

pocket bread china
A mix of braised meats, vegetables, and coriander/cilantro served in pocket bread. Delicious!
chinese street food
Street food outside Xuanwu Lake Park
fried mushrooms
Fried mushrooms at a traditional Dong Bei restaurant
Qiezi (literally fish fragrant eggplant) is ridiculously good (and does not contain fish)

And special mention to my school cafeteria – providing me with a buffet lunch of local food for less than 80 cents a day.

#1 – The Culture

While I’ve certainly noticed similarities between South Korea and China, there’s enough differences to keep me on my toes. Whether it’s dodging electric bikes in the special bike only lanes on the highway or being temporarily gagged by the smell of stinky tofu cooking by the road, I’ve definitely found my first 14 days here to be an adventure.

Zifeng Tower
Zifeng Tower is Nanjing's tallest building. Subway is in the basement!

More than the cities I visited in South Korea, I’ve found a greater appreciation for the outdoors here in Nanjing. While it’s true that hiking is something of a national pastime on the peninsula, South Korea just didn’t have the space for vast parks in the heart of their cities.

A short walk from my apartment takes me to stunning Xuanwu Lake Park. Here I can walk idyllic, tree lined paths through beautiful parkland scattered across several islands at the heart of a large lake. By day the water is alive with boats and snack vendors do brisk business with families enjoying the sun, but by night the place comes alive with some vivid light displays.

Zifeng tower at sunset
The sun sets over Zifeng Tower as I watch from Xuanwu Lake
xuanwu lake cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms and families on the shore of Lake Xuanwu
xuanwu lights 1
Closed for the day, a snack shop still manages to draw the eye by Xuanu Lake
xuanwu lights 2
The walk back to Nanjing proper is lit beautifully as I leave Xuanwu Lake Park

With spring upon us here in China, cherry blossoms are also out in bloom. With the falling petals have come crowds of locals eager to snap photos with the iconic pink and white blossoms. It makes for a festival atmosphere as I weave through crowds and catch a whiff of cotton candy or toffee apple being sold from the back of a motorbike nearby.

Cherry blossoms partially obscure Rooster Crow Temple near Xuanwu Lake Park, Nanjing
Cherry blossoms partially obscure Rooster Crow Temple near Xuanwu Lake Park, Nanjing
A cotton candy vendor does brisk business on a spring day in Nanjing
A cotton candy vendor does brisk business on a spring day in Nanjing

I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg, though. Nanjing has a number of famous sites including Rooster Crow Temple, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, and the Nanjing Confucius Temple that I still need to visit. Then there’s Purple Mountain – a large park area renowned for its quiet shrines, arduous hikes, and beautiful lakes.

And that’s just in my back-yard!


As I spend more time here, I find that most foreigners tend to be what we call ‘lifers’. The majority of the people at my school have been living in Nanjing for 3-5 years now, and while ‘the girls’ are in their first years here – they’ve both told me that they find Nanjing to be their favorite city in China.

It’s early days yet, but I’ve definitely found a lot to love about Nanjing and my life here. Here’s hoping it keeps on in that vein.

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