Changshu is always warm. Travel to and from here is relatively easy from most cities. With Shanghai only an hour and a half away, Suzhou and Wuxi about 40minutes away and Hangzhou and Changzhou about an hour away by bus, you will never feel trapped in Changshu. Busses in the province run like clock-work, and are easily purchased on the day. Unfortunately, there is no Train line running through Changshu, but with all these big cities so close, it’s not hard to jump a train to anywhere.
Welcome to Changshu Aston English School, we are one of the top English schools in Changshu. The school opened here 8 years ago, and has shown continuous growth ever since.
At Aston the aims in the classroom are to provide a fun learning environment for the students to practice and develop oral English. Across China, children attending state schools, attend English classes, but with anything up to 50 students in a class they rarely get the opportunity to perfect their oral skills.
Outside of the classroom we try to provide teachers with the opportunity to experience China in a safe environment. Throughout the term we will provide you with accommodation and support with any services you might need. At any time you can contact the front desk on the number above or the manager (Lynn or Jenny) for help and support; you will also find the Chinese teachers are always willing to help you out.
The teacher's apartment is located a ten minute stroll away from the school tucked away in an alleyway of an area called Lingtang Beicun. Located on the first floor, the apartment is a large two-bedroomed flat with all the creature comforts that one could hope for, such as a sofa, dining table, and huge wardrobes in both bedrooms.
There is no shortage of places to eat in the vicinity with an especially alluring barbecue place (offering everything from lamb on sticks to vegetables and fish), located right down the road from the apartment. People of Changshu really love noodles for lunch and there are one or two restaurants offering great noodles within walking distance from the apartment. Western restaurants and Fast Food places including Dairy Queen and Starbucks are also conveniently nearby for those craving for a taste of home.
For the adventurers among us the lure of Yushan Park, (open both day and night), beckons with the maze of foot trails that wind through the wooded mountain. Yushan Park is situated across from the school and only a five minute walk from the apartment.
Transportation is no problem as the apartment is situated against the main city artery of Beimen Dajie, and there is a constant stream of both buses and taxis along this main road. Travelers should note that there are two long-distance bus stations in Changshu, one in the North of the city and one in the South. The apartment is about a 15 minute taxi ride from either of those.
Changshu is quite different from most cities in China because of the good air quality. This is because the local economy is focused primarily on light manufacturing, garment production, technology and hospitality services; rather than on heavy industry. Changshu means "long harvest" in Mandarin and is known as the "clothing capital of china", for its status as a worldwide leader in garment distribution and trade. This light manufacturing means shopping here is not to be missed. To the south of the city are markets for just about anything. There’s a shoe city, alleyway mazes of clothes markets to get lost in, Technology Street, Small commodities Market, the list goes on. This is an old part of the city, and when wandering around there, the atmosphere will make you want to go back time and again. Well, that and the prices.
The cuisine of Changshu features familiar Western chains, such as Starbucks, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, as well as high end dining, plus a tempting selection of Chinese food. The local delicacy is freshwater crab and crawfish, but all the flavors of China can be tasted here, from the spicy Sichuan hotpot to the sweetness from Shanghai. A multitude of street stands serving shish kebabs, dumplings, as well as some new Chinese food few people outside China are aware of. The food markets stock nearly everything, plus there is a Metro, a foreign goods store, which will always have everything an expat could desire. Expats living here are lucky to have a wide variety of foods to choose from.
Changshu is an ideal location to explore China's most fascinating cities: historic Suzhou (1 hour), Hangzhou (3.5 hours), Nanjing (3 hours), and the megacity of Shanghai, just down the Yangzi by coach bus (2 hours). Changshu's expat community includes American and European businesspeople and a small network of foreign teachers. However, Changshu is a Chinese city. You will not see many foreigners on a walk through town, yet you will find that the local people are very kind and helpful. Changshu would be an ideal city to learn Chinese, which is difficult to do in larger cities that are filled with Westerners. Changshu's size is another factor that benefits the expat community, with a population of 1 million people. Distances are not insurmountable and with a little motivation you can cross the main city center in an hour or so on foot and the city has a useful bus system. Exercise opportunities include hiking, jogging, bicycling, and health clubs. The central pedestrian street features coffee and tea houses, shopping and a lively street scene.
What is there to do here?
The school and your apartment are located fairly close to the city center, so most of the things you might need shouldn’t be too far away.
Some of the most frequented Chinese eateries have acquired affectionate, informal names, and their staff are usually pretty good at making sense of our attempts to order dishes in Chinese. All of these are in close proximity to the school and apartments:
“The fish place”: Among other things, this restaurant serves a lovely fish dish (as you probably guessed). They have a picture menu, which makes ordering easy.
“Lamb noodles”: The best place to get a bowl of delicious lamb soup noodles. They only serve this one dish, and orders are placed in amounts. A 10kuai bowl is great!
“Lunch noodles”: The usual restaurant for Saturdays/Sunday lunch time. They serve a lot of different noodles bowls. Unfortunately there is no English or picture menu.
“Xinjiang BBQ”: OK, that’s the actual name, but it’s a great place to eat. They have regular traditional dancing shows at night
This is just a small selection that are trusted favorites of the Aston teachers, but you can be sure that you are never more than a few minutes away from another good place to eat in Changshu. As a general rule, if the place is busy, then the food is good. If it’s empty, maybe it’s empty for a reason… Some great things to look out for are jiaozi and baozi (boiled and steamed, meat-filled dumplings), yangrou paomo (broth poured over small pieces of torn bread, topped with chunks of tender mutton), and kaorou (barbequed mutton, chicken wings, squid, plus kidneys and intestines if you’re feeling brave). Hotpot restaurants are a keen favorite with both Chinese and foreigners, and are never hard to find.
Also included is your Chinese phrasebook which I hope will help you order food in any restaurant in China.
KFC and McDonalds have a presence in Changshu and are marked on the map. There is a McDonalds right next door to the Aston.
You can shop for most of life’s essentials without having to travel too far from home. If you can’t find what you want in this selection, just ask at school.
The nearest pharmacy is very close to the school, behind the fresh food market. You can find something to help sore throats, coughs and colds. If you need something that’s difficult to describe using only the power of mime, try asking a member of the school’s Chinese staff to write the Chinese characters for you to show the pharmacist!
There are now a few bakeries close to the school, which sells cheap sandwiches (a choice of ham, egg and salad, or blackcurrant-paste), and will make personalized birthday cakes for us too. But the best, by far, is 85*. Not too far a walk, but definitely worth it. This bakery sells the most delicious treats and snacks, both sweet and savory.
For supermarkets, there are plenty of large supermarkets which will be able to cater to your needs, most are located fairly close to your apartment and the school. This is a good place to find some home comforts like 100% fruit juice, cheese, bacon, tins of tuna, pasta, ketchup, and even western-brand chocolate, hidden amongst the aisles of MSG and the occasional crocodile head. Au Chan is probably closest and is less than 5 minutes from the school. Au Chan has a larger Western foods aisle and is only a short bus ride away. Metro, the largest and best stocked with foreign foods and delicacies, is a taxi ride away, but be careful, you’ll spend a lot of money there.
There are lots of places to find clothes in and around the city. Department stores line the Walking Street, with some markets around there too. But the place to shop, in Changshu, is “The Clothes market”. All the taxi drivers know it, but if you need to catch a bus or some assistance shopping, the Chinese staff are more the willing.
Try the “Xin hua Bookstore” on Walking Street. This is a good place to start if you’re looking for books to help you learn Chinese or anything China-related, plus they have a decent selection of novels and other books.
There are lots of smoky internet bars scattered throughout Changshu, filled with unblinking Chinese teenagers playing online games at all hours of the day and night.
The supermarkets are a great place to go grocery shopping, but for a more Chinese feel, try the Fresh Food market. The prices you see quoted are per ‘jin’, which equates to roughly one pound, or half a kilo. You can find a great mix of meat, both live and otherwise, seafood, including eels, crabs, frogs and other fish, and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Looking for a cool beer? No problem.
Every stall in China sells beer. You will have no problems finding a drink. Most teachers enjoy a few beers in the restaurants any one of the many bars in the area close to school.
Starbucks Coffee is the best for this. Not too far from the apartment, with friendly, English speaking staff. The air is conditioned and the seats are comfortable.
85* also serves a great cup of coffee, but doesn’t have much space to sit.
There are a few gyms in the area. The membership price is often negotiable, so you may be able to get a discount. You can always get somebody from the school to help you negotiate.
There are some swimming pools around Changshu, but be aware that some reportedly do not allow foreigners to use them. If you feel like a swim then ask us in the office and we’ll help you out with finding somewhere.
Banks (Bank of China, Construction Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank, etc.)
Banks are quite easy to find in Changshu. There are ATMs everywhere. Your Chinese bank account will probably be with Changshu’s Agricultural bank of China, which is very visible and close to you apartment.
Hospitals (large public hospitals, dentist, clinics, etc.)
If you get sick and need to see a doctor then please inform somebody at the school. Someone from the school can go with you to Changshu No.2 Hospital. Dentist’s surgeries are easy to find, but best to go with one of our Chinese staff.
Should anything unpleasant happen to you during your time here then you can always call on the Aston staff for help or advice. If it’s a serious matter then we can send a member of staff with you to help you communicate with the local police.
Entertainment (cinema, internet cafes, pool halls, arcades)
There is plenty in and around Changshu to keep most people satisfied. If you enjoy a game of pool you could head to one of the bars with a free pool table, or one of many pool halls in Changshu. Don’t be surprised if the locals want to challenge you though.
If video games are your thing then you are well catered for in Changshu. Aside from the internet cafes for all your online gaming needs, there are a few amusement arcades to be found too.
There are numerous cinemas around Changshu, one located right behind the school and one at the Starbucks. They often show English movies, but be sure to ask before you buy a ticket.
If you like your entertainment a little more traditional you could always play mahjiang or Chinese chess with the locals. These games often take place out on the street, although there are bars that cater specifically to mahjiang lovers, with rooms full of fancy tables that will automatically mix and restack the tiles for your next game.
But if you really want to integrate with Chinese culture, why not head to KTV with a bunch of friends and impress them with your singing ability.