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Though Taiyuan is a heavily populated urban center and the capital of Shanxi Province, it is still something of a frontier town for foreign nationals. Situated on the banks of the Fen River, it is best known for its coal industries and the mega quarries located just outside the city proper. In the recent past, Taiyuan has been largely overlooked as a possible place to take up residence due to the pollution and the lack of modern amenities; but as the local and national authorities pour resources into cleaning up the environment and industrial investment begins rolling in, foreigners have begun to see the value of Taiyuan as a travel and living experience.

Make no mistake: Western groceries, international dining and familiar nightlife are close to unavailable. The foreign population is small and transitory. Most of the expatriates are on temporary appointments at the many local universities (Taiyuan being Shanxi's educational center), or they are studying Mandarin, or are in town for several months on business. However, the city is one of the few capitals within shouting distance of Beijing and Urumqi that provides an opportunity to totally assimilate into Chinese life without living in a mountain town or small village: and if you've had some experience of Beijing's glitzy malls cookie-cutter bars, you may see this as a welcome opportunity.

Of course, rental properties in a place like this come with phenomenally low price tags. If you go through a Chinese rental agency, you'll find that you're able to rent a 130sqm apartment in an older building for as little as RMB 1,800 per month in any district. Do ensure that you enquire about the heating system before you move in to any new apartment, as Taiyuan winters are cold, dropping to lows of -14C (7F) during January. Air conditioning also helps, especially during July when temperatures can reach a fairly humid 88F (31C).

As mentioned above, Western food and dining is only sporadically available in Taiyuan. However, the local cuisine, while not fancy, is easy to like with its hearty flavors and artful use of fine Shanxi vinegar. Try the Shanxi Restaurant on Nanxiaoqiang, and for a taste of the famous Shanxi noodles, head for the Taiyuan Noodle Restaurant in Jiefang Lu. Fast food abounds, too, and delis like Houcaller offer edible salads and sandwiches. Your best bet for a good night out can be found at the classy Angel Bar, laid-back Ba'er Bar, or at any of the Chinese discos or hotel lounges. Coffee, happily, is not in short supply. SPR, Dio, Mingtien and UBC cafes have all opened chains within the Taiyuan city limits.

Public transportation is crowded but efficient.  There are bus routes (standard fare is RMB 1-2) to and from all major urban destinations.  Taxi fares begin at RMB5.

Taiyuan dialect (Mandarin: taiyuanhua) is only mildly divergent from standard putonghua and will present few C if any - problems for Mandarin speakers. 



 

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