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Trailblazing In Jinghong, China

Foreign Retirement Benefits In Jinghong, Southern China

Jinghong, China

“I’m in Jinghong, southern China, staying at the College guesthouse,” writes intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst. “My room with private bath and free wi-fi costs US$4 a night.

“The College guesthouse is at the entrance to a local vocational college. In the evening, students wanting to practice their English drop by the guesthouse to chat with Westerners. One kid told me he was from ChengDu, several hundred kilometers north. I asked why he chose to go to school so far away.

“‘I wanted to change my environment.’

“He told me that the college has 4,000 students, nearly all from out of town, 3,000 living in on-campus dorms, the rest in rental apartments. Most teachers come from the population centers farther north, too, and also live on campus.

“I asked, ‘How many English teachers are Westerners?’

“‘One, part time.’

“The kids encouraged me to try the college canteen, and I did. The canteen had a Moslem line and a pork line; I ate in the pork line.

“When I paid, the server tossed my bill into a basket and fished my change out of the same basket. Later, someone gathered the baskets, poured the money into a common pile, and started counting. How wonderful–or foolish–to be so unconcerned with accountability, theft, internal control, or other fallout.

“I heard two police stories, both secondhand. In nearby Gejiu, a French woman had her bike stolen. She reported it to the police, who were extremely apologetic. Then she and her husband took a bus to the next town. Three days later, the police tracked them down; they’d found the bike.

“The police arranged for the couple to return to Gejiu, invited them to a meal, and presented the bike. The perp had been caught trying to sell the bike at market. All the woman’s valuables were intact, still in the bike bag.

“In the second police story, a young German and a young Swede got into a bar fight with locals. The police showed up and hauled all fighters down to the station. Upon questioning, the police determined that the Chinese boys had started it. The police made the Chinese boys apologize to the German and Swede and pay them 100 yuan (UR$15) apiece. Afterward, outside the station house, the German and Swede returned the money. The fighters shook hands all around and went on their way.

“My biggest surprise in Jinghong has been the traffic. Not the amount of traffic, which is moderate, but how the local drivers lack any respect for road rules. On motorcycles or bicycles, in cars and trucks, they drive on sidewalks, cut diagonally across intersections, run red lights, look behind them instead of forward, and generally make me nervous.

“They do all this with relaxed aplomb, rarely looking around. Most seriously, to me anyway, they drive the wrong way on one-way streets, dodging oncoming traffic and pedestrians, passing stopped buses.

“Apparently, they’d rather take on traffic than go around the block.

“In the closest I came to an accident, a boy on a bike almost ran into me. He was desperately trying to slow down by dragging his feet.

“Apparently bikes here lack brakes, or riders refuse to use them. I’ve seen the foot-dragging several times.

“A few expats have already made Jinghong their home. The MeiMei cafe, where the staff speaks English, and the College guesthouse appear to be hangouts.

“In February, I wrote about retiring in gleaming, modern, metropolitan Kunming…or more laid-back Dali. In both these places, you must speak Chinese. In some ways smaller, more compact Jinghong might be a better bet. More people speak English, especially around the college.

“Jinghong is more cosmopolitan, very near the borders with Laos, Thailand, and Burma, with a heterogeneous population that might make it easier for foreigners to fit in.

“You’d be a pioneer, one of the first expats to call Jinghong home. That might be fun.

“Another advantage: The border with Laos is only about seven hours away by bus. In an easy one-bus trip, you can get to Laos, spend the night, then check back into China the next day. You’ll get another 30 days, 60 days, or whatever on your visa.”

Kathleen Peddicord

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