New Kid on the Block: A Beginners Guide to Suzhou

New Kid on the Block: A Beginners Guide to Suzhou
By Patrick Donahue ,

It used to be that Suzhou was seen as a burg on the fringe of the real city life in Shanghai. Not anymore, now it is the Shanghainese who escape via the 22 minute bullet train to Suzhou for its gardens, restaurants, comparatively fresh air and its friendly, affordable night life. Suzhou has a lot to offers and is attracting more and more people.


So if you are new to Suzhou how do you adapt and get connected to the local scene? Well, it will never happen if you just stay in the comfort of your own home, seduced by comfy A/C and cheap DVDs! You need to get your there and manage your integration into the network because the network won’t just come to you. Here are some suggestions on how to get plugged in.

1) The websites
In the modern age, Internet is an obvious place to begin your search. There are plenty of great websites out there that have reliable and timely info on the city. One example is the website of the Suzhou Expat association at Here you can see what is happening in the expat community. Check out the forums to find an ayi, get involved in sports, find things to buy and join clubs. They have a coffee morning once a month and it is a good place to meet people who are also newcomers and get info from seasoned Suzhou hands. They have a welcome package of information and taxi cards to help you get around town. It is a first-stop “must” especially for non-working spouses.

Another source of “what’s happening” is the website of “What’s on in Suzhou” (WOIS) at (email: They put out a monthly calendar of all the events and you can get discounts if you bring a copy of their calendar to the clubs and restaurants that advertise in the booklet. Make sure to sign up for their newsletter. Besides the Internet, there are other publications such as give-away magazines “OPEN” and “More”. Like WOIS, these have upcoming events, maps of the “hot spots” and also have articles relating to life in the city. And of course, there’s always our own Suzhou city guides and Answers section, where newcommers and those in-the-know can participate in discussions and answer each other’s questions.

2) Community centers
Once you have done your research, and made your selections it is time to put yourself in the flow of things. A first place to visit might be the Huxi Community Neighbour Committee Center. This initiative of the S.I.P. administration helps new arrivals find an ayi, pay gas, water and electricity bills and meet local neighbours—you can even buy train tickets in their lobby. They organise free social activities and concerts and it’s a great way to make your first Suzhonese friends. Of course they speak English and are very helpful. It’s an easy way to get involved in your community if you live in the S.I.P.

3) Bars and cafes
Unattached young people will find the ambiance of “Bar Street” on Shiquan Street no different than any clubbing street except the prices are lower and the service and crowds are more on the friendly side. Those who aren’t attracted to the noisy bar scene might like the ambiance of one of the two Bookworm cafes either just north of Shiquan Street off Fenghuang Street or in the center of the tourist walking street Pingjiang Road. They have lots of activities such as poetry readings, trivia nights and open mic nights. The atmosphere reminds one of the left bank cafes in Paris in the 60’s. It is an easy place to strike up a conversation and share ideas with strangers over a drink or a game of Scrabble and it’s especially cosy during the cold, wet winter months.

4) Sports
Sports are always a quick entrance into a new circle of friends. You can join one of the many gyms such as BODI Health Club on the 4th and 5th floors of the Xinghai Sports Centre or Power House Gym on Xinghai Street. There are the informal groups such as the Hash House Harriers (email: for running every other week as well as biking clubs such as Silver Storm Bike Club. If you have children, getting them involved in activities is a great way to meet other parents at weekend team events. Check your school’s website for school committees, the PTA and for volunteer work or go to

5) Religion, clubs and Chinese lessons
Religiously, Suzhou offers expats a mosque and Catholic and Protestant churches in the city that are always welcoming to like-minded worshipers. If you want to meet locals go to the meetings of the Happy Home Club (email: on Wednesdays evening for some Iranian drum playing, tea, a presentation on a variety of subjects followed by an open discussion. This is frequented by some very interesting English speaking locals who are happy to honestly share their points of view with you.

There is also the English language Toastmaster Club every other Thursday at the SIP Science and Cultural Center, 1st floor, on Jinji Lake. For more information you can email Herman at or call him at 138 6131 5326.

And don’t hesitate to sign up for Chinese lessons in one of the many language schools such as New Concept Mandarin ( or Mandarin King This is better than bringing a tutor into your home as it gets you out and in contact with other expats and locals. Classes are often followed by a drink.

So there is plenty to do and it is easy to get into a groove balancing work, family and friends, but it won’t come to you. You have to research it, plan it and go out and get it. Suzhou has a lot to offer expats and it is all there for the taking.

Venue info:
Huxi Community Neighbor Committee Center View In Map
Add: 165 Xinghai Street, SIP, Suzhou
地址: 苏州工业园区星海街165号湖西社工委5楼
Tel: 0512 8818 3536 / 0512 8818 3536 / 0512 8818 5267
Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:30
Website: (Chinese)
Skype: huxiexpats

The Gongxiang Christian Church 苏州宫巷基督教堂View In Map
Add: 20 Gongxiang, Pingjiang District, Suzhou
Tel: 0512 6522 4152

Suzhou Islam Association 苏州伊斯兰教协会View In Map
Add: 29 Taiping Fang, Suzhou
地址: 苏州市太平坊29 号
Tel: 0512 6533 4325

Suzhou Taoism Association 苏州市道教协会View In Map
Add: 3 Dongjiaomen, Guanqian Street, Pingjiang District, Suzhou
地址: 苏州市平江区观前街东教门3 号
Tel: 0512 6720 0785

Suzhou Apostle 苏州市基督教使徒堂 View In Map
Add: 130 Yangyu Lane, Pingjiang District, Suzhou
地址: 苏州市平江区养育巷130
Tel: 0512 6522 7701

Suzhou Buddhist Association 苏州市佛教协会 View In Map
Add: 18 Xiyuan Lane, Liuyang Lu, Jinchang District, Suzhou
地址: 苏州市金阊区留园路西园弄18号
Tel: 0512 6533 1860

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Keywords: new in Suzhou living in Suzhou getting connected to Suzhou expat community in Suzhou beginners guide to Suzhou


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if you are coming to Hong Kong, I recommend you learn a language in the international language centre.

May 28, 2019 13:58 Report Abuse