Guangzhou: Foreign lives of a different sort are being played out in the sprawling, well-mannered residential complex of Jingui Gardens, only five minutes by taxi east of the station, and host to a thriving expat community.
Originally a non-descript clutch of low-rise and poorly maintained farmhouses, the site was cleared to make way for the present high-rise development, which opened in 1998. Today, Jingui Gardens is at the center of a bustling trade district -- it has its own leather trading center and is near the garment, watch and accessories markets of Zhanxi Lu and Baima Shopping Center.
There are currently 387 foreign residents living in Jingui, alongside 8,500-plus local Chinese, says Xie Huan. Xie, the liaision officer at the local police station, speaks English, Korean and Arabic and says the foreigner profile has changed over the years, from predominantly African, to Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern. Recent years have seen more Koreans arrive.
While booming trade brings prosperity to the foreigners flocking to the area, the hand of expat life dealt to each varies greatly. Kim Chang Zip, who lives with his wife Kumi and new baby daughter and runs Jingui's Korean convenience store, says he is very happy. "It is safe and convenient and all our (Jingui) customers are our friends," says Kumi. "In South Korea we work very hard for five days a week, then have a rest. In Guangzhou, we work seven days a week, but everyday is like a holiday."
Shahid Mehamood, a Pakistani jeans trader who has lived in Jingui for a year agrees. "Guangzhou people are friendly and Guangzhou is a good place to do business," he says. "My uncle has been living here for a long time and he suggested I come."
Feri Ardirieu, an Iranian who has been living on and off in Jingui for a number of years, says Guangzhou is good because the "people are good". However, the exporter, who buys leather goods from the onsite trade center and ships them back to Iran, says communicating with locals is difficult and everything has to be done through an interpreter.
Perhaps owing to their traveling, Mehamood and Ardirieu are content, but the reality for many of the Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern expats is a little grim. In their 20s and 30s, unmarried and alone, these men are working far from home, in a place where language and loneliness can be a problem. The pair spend most weekends drinking with friends or talking in the park. Dating is difficult because of the language barrier.
(China Daily August 17, 2007)