Suzhou is a medium sized city 1.5 hrs by car from Shanghai. It’s a popular tourist spot for people who like gardens since there are many beautiful gardens / temples scattered throughout the city. And like everywhere else in China, Suzhou has much real estate development, in particular Irvine, CA-like industrial parks.
Suzhou is a good city but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a real garden buff. My visit was great because I had a contact there — someone who works for a company which helps Western businesses assess the China market and then helps them get set up in China if they do want to a) manufacture in China (easier), or b) sell to the Chinese market (harder). I had a good dinner with him and then we went over to one of his friends’ house, an Australian ex-pat, and watched Game 1 of the World Series. Most English speaking people in China, I’ve found, illegally pirate in Philippine TV which offers broader sports and news channels than the Chinese state media.
There were a few other ex-pats there and I wondered what the typical friend distribution is for an ex-pat. 50/50 ex-pat friends and local friends? 75/25? All ex-pats tell me they have local friends, but I suspect it’s skewed farther to the ex-pat side than sometimes say. The reason is no matter how fluent in Chinese you are, this is still a homogenous society that’s suspicious of their own people, let alone foreigners. The kind of social bonding that occurs when, say, watching a World Series baseball game, is a different can of worms than simply getting along with someone in the office. A social life is probably the most difficult for an ex-pat: you don’t want to be one of those foreigners who’s in on a sweet ex-pat package and hangs out with other foreigners all the time, because then you lose local culture and contacts, and why are you in China for the first place? On the other hand, let’s face it, you’re working really hard all day long to figure out what’s happening around you, trying to process a different language, and so forth, and on the weekends you want to take a break.
I expect to do an extended stint of overseas study and/or work, and this will be a consideration.
Of course you can always solve the social life challenge the way most ex-pats do, which is just be a workaholic!