Living in a Chinese Economic Development Zone

I live on the very edge of Shanghai, in a Chinese economic development zone. What exactly does that mean?

I live in Huaqiao: the last stop on Shanghai’s metro line 11 on the opposite end of the newly opened Disney Resort. Where I live is technically not considered to be part of Shanghai, instead my long address includes Kunshan, Jiangsu and Suzhou.

Kunshan is a satellite city located in the greater Suzhou region, which is known for its ancient water towns. Jiangsu is the province that both Shanghai and Suzhou are part of. So, if Kunshan is the city that I live in, then what exactly is Huaqiao?

Huaqiao is an economic development zone which means that there are many factories, warehouses and residential buildings. One of the best-known companies with an enormous warehouse in Huaqiao is Jingdong Mall (basically Chinese Amazon).

Living in a development zone requires patience and flexibility. There is a lot of construction, new stores pop up overnight and your favorite restaurant might not exist in a week or two. There are some huge pluses to living in a place like this. Prices on rent, food and e-bikes, for example, are much lower than in Shanghai.

Socially, a development zone is not the most exciting way to live. Sure, there’s a gym, pool-hall, KTV, large supermarket and even a dingy little club. But it’s easy to get bored quickly and feel like you’re trapped in a tiny village packed with sun-blocking 20+ story apartment buildings instead of never-ending fields and animals.

The public transportation system in the area is good and frequent, but the last buses leave at around 20:00. After that you need to choose long walks in the polluted air, taxi drivers that will try to rip you off or rickety tuk-tuks that are only fun when you’re a tourist.

But hey, the post office and banks are open during the weekend. There is a lot of unique street food to try and hundreds of tiny little restaurants to visit. Manicures, haircuts and massages are offered at every corner and at great prices.

There are very few rules so you can spend your free time playing beer pong in grocery stores or even exploring rooftops covered in mannequin body parts.

Living in an economic development zone is not all that bad. Especially when you can spend the money you save on ridiculously cheap rent on wild weekends in Shanghai. After all, it only takes about 60 – 90 minutes to get the heart of the third most populated city in the world!