WTF, Suzhou 14th worst place in the world to work? Sissies!

A recent article in BusinessWeek featured a slideshow displaying 20 of the World’s Worst Places to Work. Unsurprisingly some Chinese cities made the list – surprisingly Suzhou was among them.

The list, compiled by New York-based human resources company ORC Worldwide, states the major reasons for giving Suzhou the thumbs down are pollution and a lack of culture & recreation facilities. Other problems included disease/sanitation, medical facilities, education facilities, and availability of goods and services.

It needs to be asked: has ORC Worldwide ever even been to Suzhou?

Granted, their list was compiled for BusinessWeek and specifically for an article about hardship pay, but really?

From the report:

While Suzhou is famous among Chinese as a beautiful garden city, ORC analysts are less impressed. The eastern Chinese city near Shanghai “can be a difficult place for expatriates” because of the pollution and the limited opportunities for culture and recreation.

Now, I’m not receiving any sort of hardship pay to be here, so maybe not the report’s target audience, but I would consider myself an expat and I’ve lived in Suzhou for some time now, so let me tackle these one by one:

Pollution: I will concede that pollution is a problem, as it is in virtually every 2nd tier Chinese city. That Suzhou appears on the list, while Shanghai and Beijing don’t (both having, in my opinion, worse air quality), is a bit baffling.

Lack of culture & recreation facilities: Huh? Did they miss the 150,000 sqm Suzhou Science and Cultural Arts Center (SSCAS)? On top of being home to a large cinema (with English language films and an IMAX screen), it also contains a large live theatre that routinely features symphonies, Celtic dancers and recently played host to Elton John’s Aida. If that’s not enough to keep you entertained, how about any one of the bazillion expat-focused bars. Pool halls. Suzhou Kunqu opera. Bowling (at least two locations in the city I know of)? A plethora of gyms and swimming pools. Any of the UNESCO World Heritage worthy gardens. A museum designed by world-renowned architect IM Pei. A good number of lakes and mountains to hike around.

But then maybe the hardship pay lot are a hard to entertain bunch.

Disease/Sanitation: I’m no expert on either, but I don’t imagine it’s any worse than any other city in China.

Medical facilities: Chinese hospital visits and Chinese bank visits will go on my grave as two things I never learned to love. Despite that, I’ve been to Suzhou’s hospitals (several of them) and though I wouldn’t treat a dying goldfish at some of them – SIP’s Kowloon seems decent enough to get this scratched from the list.

Education facilities: With a number of my friends working for several of the international schools here I take a bit of offense to this. SSIS, Dulwich and EtonHouse are all well-respected international schools offering accredited curricula.

Availability of goods and services: This may be the last offender, but it is the one that proves unequivocally that the ORC folks had their heads up their asses when they assessed Suzhou. Granted, the rare expat that lives downtown might have a hard time finding goods from home. But as most expats live in the SIP or SND districts, I just can’t imagine the ORC surveyors did their homework properly.

A stones throw from my house are a variety of international restaurants (Thai, Tex-Mex, burgers, Indian, Korean, Japanese, European – you name it), a foreign import supermarket, a foreign-run dentist, a Starbucks, a foreign-language bookstore and a Cold Stone Creamery ice-cream shop. If those things don’t suit my fancy, I simply order delivery pizza from Melrose (2-for-1 Tuesdays!), delivery subs from Subway, or delivery groceries. On the odd occasion I actually go out and “shop”, I’ve got two massive supermarkets a 10RMB ($1.50) cab ride away – and a soon to open Walmart.

But then maybe the folks that require “hardship” pay to take a job overseas are especially hard to please.

The full list, though if Suzhou is any example, it’s about as useless as a Chinese typewriter (I’m still trying to coin this phrase):

    Very High Risk

  1. Lagos, Nigeria
  2. Jakarta, Indonesia
  3. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  4. Almaty, Kazakhstan
  5. High Risk

  6. Mumbai, India
  7. New Delhi, India
  8. Nairobi, Kenya
  9. Bogota, Colombia
  10. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  11. Chennai, India
  12. Hanoi, Vietnam
  13. Guangzhou, China: Lists “phyiscal remoteness as a problem, and then lauds its proximity to Hong Kong as a “major plus”. WTF?
  14. Tianjin, China: Report says “With limited availability of international flights, Tianjin can feel remote” – yet Beijing is 30 minutes away on the fast train – and from there the world. WTF?
  15. Suzhou, China
  16. Qingdao, China
  17. Shenzhen, China
  18. Bangalore, India
  19. Medium Risk

  20. Cairo, Egypt
  21. Kiev, Ukraine
  22. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

One last thing. The report stated: “Santo Domingo is the worst-ranking city in the Western Hemisphere, according to ORC. ‘While the pleasant environs of the Caribbean are a plus, hurricanes, power failures, poor roads, crime and the threat of disease are drawbacks to this location.’ Crime, natural disasters, poor roads and (legitimate) threats of disease and it’s five cities above Suzhou? WTF?

(h/t @ednaczhou)

20 Responses

  1. Yeah, a big german newspaper recently listed the 20 cities with the most skyscrapers and Shanghai wasn’t in there, too. Fcuk the old media, haha.

  2. The article is mistaken. The lowest ranking city in the Western Hemisphere is Bogota, not Santo Domingo. They can’t even get their geography right…

  3. What I find interesting on that list is Qingdao. Anyone that I know that lives there, or has travelled there, loves it and wouldn’t live anywhere else. I was also told that it was one of the cleanest cities in China. Go figure!

  4. @Nicki: But then, that’s peripheral or non-existent for most of the expat managers that move to China. It’s generally a career or monetary move, and has little to do with exploring a different culture.

    @Tang Tang: You’re absolutely right! I got so caught up in smacking my forehead about this list in regards to the Chinese cities I totally missed that.

    @Tina: I’m also surprised. Obviously this list was first narrowed down to places corporate expats might be “stationed”, and then ranked from there (which is why this list makes it appear that these cities are worse than the dirty little coal towns in Shanxi), but their choices and reasoning just seems … odd.

    As for being “clean”, they say the same thing about Dalian – and after having lived there for a couple years, I’m confident in saying it’s not necessarily a “clean and beautiful city”. It does have it’s tidy spots for tourist consumption, but it is loaded (like all dongbei cities) with miles of coal-spitting cheap housing echoing “shou pila-r!”

  5. As I said on Twitter when I saw this, there was probably little or no groundwork done on this, and they used information that was at least 8 years old (I suspect) when the city did indeed have little in the way of recreational facilities or good restaurants. But, as they really ought to know (as, erm… ‘professionals’), things change very quickly here. As ‘Jakob’ sort of said, to hell with the old media!

  6. you obviously need to give yourself a raise to make up for the terrible conditions under which you’re working.

  7. Having made regular visits to Suzhou over the last two years(about 4 months cumulative) I also find this list very surprising. I’ve never had a problem finding things to do. In terms of pollution I guess I must not be there at the wrong time. I’ve never really noticed the pollution as really bad, but then I live in Chicago and I was LA in the ’80s so my idea of bad pollution is a Stage 2 Smog Alert (no physical activity outside).

  8. As I said in my blog, I think that there are some good points made by the good people at Business Week. This city, SIP in particular, is a bit of rough spot for culture and recreation. That being said, the new Cultural Arts Centre is a huge plus, and the Subway coming in will certainly make the cultural heart of the town accessible. As it is right now, the old town is a great source of culture, but SIP, not so much. I think that is certainly going to change drastically in a short amount of time.

    That being said, to state a “Lack of cultural and recreational facilities” as a major problem, is probably a bit of an overstatement. I would certainly take a year’s worth of boredom over a day’s worth of malaria any day.

  9. @Marty: I agree. I mean, pollution is definitely there and definitely an issue – no argument from me. However, this is true of *every* 2nd tier or higher city in China, and is much worse in the coal-burning chilliness of the north and north east.

    @G: Here’s the thing – lets consider London, Toronto, or any major global city. They all have suburbs, and SIP is most definitely that. It is the wide-street, strip-mall section of town where the houses are comfy but all look the same. That it takes 10-15 minutes (and 15RMB) from my door in the ‘burbs to the cultural hub of the city downtown is an afterthought really. It’s nothing.

    Granted, rush hour will make that 10-15 minutes a bit longer, but not by much – certainly not by comparison to living in the suburbs of other major metropolitan areas.

    I think it’s tough to compare Chinese cities to Western cities, as they’re just not apples and apples. Taking for example the fact that Suzhou’s population is greater than the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but also understanding it is a “small” city by Chinese standards. It’s just a completely different scale.

    However, there are plenty of things to do, and they wont cost you an hour on the TTC or a $45 taxi ride to get to. To me, that makes it very unworthy of the stuff the report claims.

  10. Good call, this is a major WTF! “Lack of culture & recreation facilities”!? The Suzhou Science and Cultural Arts Center is more “culture & recreation facilities” than you can handle in one go, and that’s just the beginning. And as for air pollution, it’s a bit chokey when it’s in the 30s (Celsius) but visiting Suzhou from Nanjing this spring was literally a breath of fresh air. Weird list.

  11. Yes agree, it’s quite a baffling story…The index seems to be biased. What are things you can live with and what not? We live in Suzhou, come from South Africa (Johannesburg)and I can tell you the weather is good over there but that’s about it. Violent crime, drugs, HIV, education are all major issues over there…I’ll rather deal with polluted air than having to fear for my life every time I get into bed or into my car…

  12. K
    <> Information Department on August 30 announced
    that the latest world livable cities list, first elected in Melbourne,
    Australia, over the past decade to top the list of frequently drop to
    third place in Vancouver, Canada. There are eight cities in mainland China list, ranking the best of Beijing’s No. 72, followed by No. 73 Suzhou.

    check here:

  13. Those articles are very irresponsible and show the ignorance of the editors and writers. I also live is Suzhou as an expat and Suzhou has nearly everything you would need. True, pollution has been bad the past week, but normally it is pretty good for the size of the city in China. And if Suzhou does not have it, you are 20 minutes from downtown Shanghai by train….it is a great place to live as an expat. I think the best in China.

  14. Could someone please explain to me that, while larger neighboring Shanghai has an air quality index of 163, Suzhou has an air quality index of 396 this evening (2/2/14)? Is it simply that the sea wind is blowing the air pollution inland? Having walked around much of old-town Suzhou, I can say that it is quite dilapidated, with crumbling buildings, poor roads and a lack of supermarkets selling decent food. Most are of the 7/11 type. If you want to buy vegetables or wholesome bread, you have to go to the SIP.

  15. I have lived in some pretty polluted places including Cairo and Manila but they are nothing compared to Suzhou for pollution. The pollution has really got worse in the last two years. Seriously, do not come here is you have very young kids. The air is not at all good. An official rating of hazardous says it all!. Apart from the pollution I have nothing bad to say about the city. It isn’t Europe but if you want Europe – go to Europe

  16. I’m a local student in Suzhou. The pollution here is getting worse and worse especially in Winter and the city is getting more and more crowded. My foreign teachers almost all have some diseases caused by the pollution. If you want to visit Suzhou, you’d better come in summer. Apart from pollution, Suzhou is a very beautiful city.

  17. The original article will now be 6 years old, along with this blog article. So whilst it’s perhaps a bit out-of-date, I came by this as I’m looking to possibly move to Suzhou in the near future.

    The other 2 places I was considering were Xiamen and Qingdao. That Qingdao was next on the list was an even greater surprise. It’s mix of Western with Eastern is a true gem here in Asia. But the fact that one of the main reasons for including Qingdao was due to “Foreigners who don’t speak Chinese have difficulty living in the city” is a complete farce. What? They didn’t know that English wasn’t the first language of everybody in the world? Thought they were talking about culture for a moment. My bad for thinking that diversity and language had some relationship with culture.

    Have been in China for a while, and am looking to finish my 3.5 year stint in Beijing because of pollution and lack of culture. So this article was highly interesting. Suzhou’s pollution index reads considerably lower than north China. And as for culture, I would believe that the original writers mean ‘Western culture’, by way of English speaking bars and clubs for example. Otherwise how anybody could consider a city like Beijing to have culture is beyond me? City population has increased 1500% in the past 60 years. Anybody with a brain would know that adding 25million people to a city would result in ‘mass’ building – which always comes at expense of culture. The city walls were torn down. Temples “refurbished” for tourists (i.e. knocked down, rebuilt and coated with shiny paint). Gardens, parks and hutongs destroyed for new, tall rise and compact apartment blocks… But hey, it’s ok, cause they built a couple of clubs that sell expensive beer and play Western music along the way in Houhai and Sanlitun. Throw in some fireworks and newly re-built section of the Great Wall and it’s China right? Jeeze!

    Admittedly, as a tourist I was disappointed during my travels to Suzhou. Mainly because the hype of Suzhou’s romanticised gardens (which may have been true before the communist party came to power) was a massive over-exaggeration. So whilst I wouldn’t recommend Suzhou as a tourist destination, it’s comparably dynamic ‘cultural’ history, location (equivalent to Englands Lake District – truly gorgeous!!!), smaller population (convenient and super cheap for getting around), and lower pollution levels than most cities that I’ve lived in here in China, make it the reason why I specifically included Suzhou on my shortlist for desirable places to live in China.

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