Traffic is probably the No. 1 complaint on most Chengdu residents' list, but that's been true only for a few years: Before that, you could cross the city east to west, north to south with a 20-kuai, 15-minute taxi ride. Partly that was because the Second Ring Road represented the far edges of the city, and the Third Ring Road was a faraway suburban belt rarely given any thought. Times have changed: The city has sprawled, the population has grown, car-ownership rates have skyrocketed, and new ring roads orbit the city.
How to deal? If you can, avoid weekday rush hours and construction bottlenecks. Do your grocery shopping on late Monday mornings. Be flexible with transportation modes; sometimes a bus ride can be much faster than a taxi, and riding a bike or scooter can help you pass by the gridlock. But don't force it, and don't sacrifice your safety at the price of winning a minute.
To cut down on the stress of the daily commute in traffic, when possible, plan no-commute days when you stay within walking distance of home. Familiarize yourself with the bus and subway lines (and the tools that will help you use them, such as Google and Baidu maps), and study the centerfold of CHENGDOO.
The city moved all factories away from the urban areas years ago, and despite a sharp increase in motor traffic, the air quality seems to have improved slightly. However, there are still days, especially in the hot summer, when pollution is high enough to affect your day-to-day wellbeing. Try to stay indoors on those days, and if you can afford it, look into purchasing an air filter. Frequent outings to the green help you to recover. Some people may develop symptoms of severe health problems, and if it gets too bad, foreign residents always have the option of moving away, as several high-profile and long-term China expats have done this year.
Spring and autumn are very pleasant times in Chengdu. Unfortunately they seem to pass by in a matter of weeks, if not days, every year. Chengdu supposedly sees fewer sunny days per year than London, so whenever they arrive, make sure to use your sunshine days wisely. The gray days are a serious downer for a lot of people, so take opportunities as they arise to take day and weekend trips to explore surrounding areas. Even on hot summer days be prepared for torrential rainfall that can leave you totally soaked in a matter of seconds. Winter sometimes gets to freezing, but the chill keeps you feeling like it's much colder. Apart from new and upscale flats, most apartments are not centrally heated. Spend a little bit on an electric blanket or even an electric butt/foot warmer, and instead of running the air conditioner, you can buy an oil radiator for a few hundred yuan to keep your place warm.
4 Sanitation & Health
New arrivals as well as old veterans have their fair share of experience with diarrhea and food poisoning. Minimizing the vomit-inducing incidents seems to be a matter of building up tolerance and using common sense: Avoiding meat and produce that have been stored in questionable manners, boiling tap water before consuming it, and using bottled water or a water filter. Some people prefer to avoid street food and restaurants where it's a dirty-oil party (chuanchuan xiang, we're looking at you). Finally, the availability of hand gels and wet wipes at shops makes it easy to carry those around if you think it will help.
We don't have the actual numbers, but if we had to make a bet, we'd guess most Chengdu residents don't speak enough English to communicate, and many struggle to suppress their local accent when speaking Mandarin. So if you really want to "soak up" the local culture, it's in your best interests to learn as much Chinese as you can, whether via university classes, private schools, or professional private tutors. In the past few years, a rather full range of online and mobile-device Chinese-learning products (many free) have been developed, and no doubt they will continue developing. By all accounts, learning Chinese is not easy, but your reward is the opening of doors to many more social opportunities, the ability to navigate life issues and travel in China independently, and so forth.
Regardless of your cultural background, you'll eventually find some differences here. While you don't need to throw all your values out the door in an attempt to assimilate, an understanding will contribute to your all-around experience even if you disagree. In unfriendly situations, try to stay calm and avoiding shouting and fighting.
Your ability to create a personal network is most likely the key to a good time in town. As a new arrival it's never easy to adjust to a new environment. Try to meet people and make friends based on your interests, but don't shy away to try the new. Pretty much everyone likes a little house warming. Staying in a completely foreign environment usually means going through the phases of culture shock. But if you get through the initial stages, you'll find yourself better able to reflect on the other culture, your own, and finally yourself.