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
- Lagos, Nigeria
- Jakarta, Indonesia
- Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- Almaty, Kazakhstan
- Mumbai, India
- New Delhi, India
- Nairobi, Kenya
- Bogota, Colombia
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Chennai, India
- Hanoi, Vietnam
- Guangzhou, China: Lists “phyiscal remoteness as a problem, and then lauds its proximity to Hong Kong as a “major plus”. WTF?
- 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?
- Suzhou, China
- Qingdao, China
- Shenzhen, China
- Bangalore, India
- Cairo, Egypt
- Kiev, Ukraine
- 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?