Portland, OR after Beijing, China?
February 20, 2011 5:35 AM   Subscribe

Should I move to Portland, OR after years abroad?

I'm a 30-year-old Chinese American who has been living in China for the last few years. By the time I leave this August, it will have been 6 years exactly. I have spent my entire life in megacities: born in Hong Kong, grew up in Los Angeles, began my adult life in New York, and have lived in Changchun and Beijing in China, a country where a city of 8 million is considered a small town. I'm dying to live in a truly smaller city, where it is easy to bike (I'm spoiled by China's pervasive bike culture), liberal, less polluted (tired of melamine in milk scandals and the grey skies of Beijing), with easy access to organic produce, etc.

A friend of mine living in Portland has been pitching the city as a potential place to live after returning to the States. I'd like to hear from a more objective perspective.

I'm aware of Portland's dire job market, and this makes me nervous. Of course, Los Angeles--where I will be based when I move home--is not much better.

I have been working in publishing for most of my career, even here in China, where I've worked mostly in magazine marketing. In terms of my skills and experience, they mostly lie in event planning, writing, editing, translation, and teaching (English as a second language/English lit/Chinese as a second language).

Here are my questions:
1. Would my Chinese language skills and China experience give me a competitive edge in Portland's job market? Although I am not a native speaker, I'm certainly proficient and have years of experience in Chinese companies. I also will have a master's in teaching Chinese as a second language and after being certified to teach, could teach at least beginner and intermediate Chinese students. It seems that Portland is also at the forefront for bilingual immersion K-12 program in Mandarin and there are job opening for teachers of Chinese.

2. What is Portland's food scene like? This will sound very silly but I've never lived in a place where there wasn't amazing Chinese food. On Yelp it seemed that Cantonese was covered, which is great since I'm Cantonese myself and need dim sum the way others need coffee, but I'm wondering about the more obscure Chinese cuisines. Yunnan, Hangzhou, etc. Would I be able to find Sichuan peppercorns at the local Chinese market?

3. What is the dating scene like for a woman in her early 30s who is looking to settle down? Is Portland a friendly city where it is easy to get to know people? To be honest, I'm dreading the process of breaking into another city where I do not have a strong social network, even if it is in my native language this time around.

Thank you for any insight you may have into these questions. I've looked through some of the previous questions here as well (particularly this and this), and they've been good reading. My alternatives would be to stay in Los Angeles or to move back to New York, both places where at least I have stronger social networks.
posted by so much modern time to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Resident Portlandian here. Forgive the uncharacteristic honesty.

!. No. Chinese is very much a minority here. You would be better off with Spanish, Somali, Russian or Ukrainian. That said, we do have a strong hi-tech sector which demands your talents. Intel or any other hi-tech industry would be a fool for passing you up. It would be to your benefit to have a PMP or SBA certification, but that can be negotiated.

2. The food is generally great, Chinese especially but as a native San Franciscan, I have yet to be overwhelmed. Mandarin, Hunan and Sze Chuan are woefully underrepresented. We have a strong Asian culture in the outskirts; Uwajimaya or SE 82nd should be able to fill your needs. I'd be happy to be a tour guide there.

3. At the risk of being stereotypical, if you're an Asian female, you will have no trouble finding dates here. You're somewhat of a novelty. We are probably the whitest city on the west coast. Just be prepared that your appearance will be more interesting to most potential daters than your personality.

This is all based on 20 years of living here. I'm fully prepared to be eviscerated by the PC police, but these are my observations. ymmv etc etc

That is not to discourage you. You sound awessome and would likely make our city better for your presence. I just want you to have some perspective from a resident.
posted by geckoinpdx at 7:13 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

>Is Portland a friendly city where it is easy to get to know people?

I don't live in Portland, but have a lot of friends there and have visited at least a 10-20 times in the past five years. In my experience, a lot of Portlanders are very friendly and social. There is an undercurrent of sketchiness in some circles, but lots and lots of sweet, decent, smart people. If I could move, that's where I'd be.
posted by clango at 7:20 AM on February 20, 2011

I love Portland and visit as often as I can, but I'm always bowled over by its overwhelming whiteness (compared to SF and Seattle, for instance). If you're looking to leverage your experience in China, you might have an easier time finding jobs in those two cities, which both have higher Asian populations.

In terms of friendly: yes, in my experience. And PDX mefites are a pretty awesome bunch.
posted by rtha at 8:24 AM on February 20, 2011

Is this a move to the States specifically? Have you considered Vancouver? Big city, yes, but smaller than what you're used to. Huge Chinese population. But, real estate prices on par with San Francisco's.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:07 AM on February 20, 2011

How much job searching can you do before you move? When you arrive back to the states, are you in a position where you could fly up for a week, stay with your friend, and do interviews? I know people do it all the time, but I have trouble imagining moving somewhere without a job (or a solid idea that my profession was in enough demand that finding a job would not be an issue).
posted by maryr at 9:42 AM on February 20, 2011

I'd second jimmythefish. In my opinion, Vancouver would be the best fit, if you can make it work. Vancouver doesn't feel like a big city at all (I lived in Seoul), but unlike Portland it's much more intentional/Asian, and you'd fit right in. The Chinese food in Vancouver is much better than the Chinese food in Portland. And dating wouldn't be a problem. That said, Portland is a nice city. It's just (in my opinion) a bit too quiet and a lot too white.
posted by smorange at 9:47 AM on February 20, 2011

posted by smorange at 9:48 AM on February 20, 2011

My job works with the Chinese community in Portland on occasion, in a very peripheral way, so my answers are semi-informed by that. Take the below with a grain of salt.

China is Oregon's #1 trading partner and many businesses are looking for insights/language help/etc. there. NW China Council (www.nwchina.org) does a series of china biz talks and they may be worth a call for help there.

From my Chinese friends, if you are Chinese and speak Chinese, the food experience "off menu" is drastically different in the good way. Fubonn is the biggest market and considered a decent source for most things.

As for dating, my 30 something female friends are all convinced that nothing is worse than Portland's scene. More than 1 is considering moving just because of it.

All in all, as others have stated, Vancouver may have a better Chonese community with all the amenities but my Chinese friends in Portland are very happy here.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 12:45 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe consider the Bay Area as well (San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, etc). Lots of Asian immigrants, a couple of Chinatowns (where there's good Chinese cuisine), and I assume there's a reasonable demand for Chinese language skills. Berkeley is also very bicycle-friendly.
posted by ambulatorybird at 1:39 PM on February 20, 2011

I moved the opposite direction (PDX to Shanghai). Compared to Beijing/Shanghai, you may find the pace of life uncomfortably slow.

Maybe Vancouver Canada? Much larger Chinese population, much more of a touchpoint for CN/North American trade, etc. (citizenship issues aside)
posted by markovitch at 4:24 PM on February 20, 2011

Thanks for all the answers so far. I'm intrigued by so many people saying that Vancouver might be a better match.

I'm not sure how that would work for me as someone who is not Canadian, and I'm not sure how I feel about moving to another country again, but it's certainly worth a visit to check it out.

I love San Francisco, but it seems like quite an expensive place to live.
posted by so much modern time at 6:36 PM on February 20, 2011

San Francisco is expensive. On the other hand, yesterday in the Chinese New Year parade we counted at least five public Chinese language immersion schools, and another handful of private schools (there must have been at least a thousand adorable children in bunny costumes, but I digress). I imagine the job market here for someone with your skills is quite promising.
posted by judith at 8:20 PM on February 20, 2011

Vancouver, BC is quite an excellent city with a very, very well-developed Chinese community but, as you've surmised, it is in Canada which is, in fact, a whole different country. As an American, you'll be able to enter and visit without a visa for up to six months. If you want to actually live and work in Canada, however, you will need some kind of work permit or visa.
posted by mhum at 8:57 PM on February 20, 2011

Another Portlander chiming in:

1. Maybe, but as mentioned above, it would give you an edge only for companies exporting to/dealing with China. Teaching, not so much. The job market here in general is rather poor.

2. Food: the comment above about ordering off-menu is probably your best bet. Lord knows that I've had better luck ordering anything anywhere in Vancouver BC than I have here at some of the better places in Portland.

3. Many of my female friends of any age have had better luck after moving away from Portland than they have in Portland.

I just feel it necessary to mention again that the job market here is really not great. If you're high enough profile in what you do, you can probably write your own ticket. If not, well...one of Portland's nice points has been the relative ease with which you can live cheaply, but it's a hell of a lot nicer place to live if it's not paycheck to paycheck.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:37 PM on February 21, 2011

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