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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

My time in Shanghai – the harsh realities there

Of all the 3 postings between Shekou, Shanghai, and Athens, I loved Shanghai the best!

Whenever I travel to a new place, I would savour the local food, water (I don’t drink), and “flower”:

Shanghai food – It suits me perfectly. I like sweet stuffs and Shanghai cuisine is sweet! I especially love this giant meat ball dish called “Lion’s head” (狮子).

Shanghai tea – Oh you have to try this Dragon well’s tea (龙井茶)!  This green tea is an interesting departure from the oolong Iron Guan Yin (铁观音) tea that I was brought up with in Singapore. Especially for those of you who are into healthy living; this Dragon well’s green tea has lots of anti-oxidant properties!

Shanghai girl – Let’s put it this way, they must have some special quality that makes the Shanghainese men willing to do the marketing, cooking, washing-up, and housekeeping after marriage! But beware, like sports cars, they’re not exactly low maintenance!

Behind all the glitter, prosperity, growth, and vitality in Shanghai, I soon learned the harsh realities there.

It’s better to hunt in pairs or in a pack

I was pleasantly surprised with the “liberal” lifestyle in Shanghai. Many of my mainland colleagues were co-habiting with their boyfriends or girlfriends? And singles were bunching up together 5 or 6 of them in a tiny apartment.

It’s more about economics than anything else. If you are away from the prying eyes of your family and relatives, “sexual liberation” becomes a bargaining chip to help oneself better survive the high cost of living in Shanghai. 

By sharing rent and food expenses, or get someone to pay on your behalf, life in Shanghai would be less arduous – especially if you are not local Shanghai born and bred.

There is this Hukou system (户口) that discriminates against non-city dwellers. Where you are born has a big impact on your life in China…

Less 10 years of striving

There’s a saying amongst the Shanghai girls there if you marry “well”, you would save 10 extra years of striving in Shanghai. This attitude is also prevalent amongst the well-educated graduates and career women.

There are 4 categories of good catches starting from the most desirable:

1)    Westerners (hmm, this sounds familiar)
2)    Overseas Chinese (Hong Kongers, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, etc)
3)    Mainland Chinese men who have worked or studied overseas  
4)    Local mainland professionals and businessmen

I can empathize as the wealth and poor gap is much greater in Shanghai than in Singapore. Nobody wants to fall behind. Who am I to judge?

Can you imagine being a Shanghai man? As if affording an apartment is not stressful enough, he now has to compete with the #$%&%(^! @* “foreign” men!

It’s English Premier League every year

We have a Shanghainese company driver and he was always very glad when the Shanghai property prices went up and up – despite the numerous central government “clamp-downs” (the most recent one seemed to have finally worked)?

He explained most Shanghai families would have at least 2 apartments. One bought very cheaply from their employers or state in the early 1990s when Shanghai finally joined the economic reforms in 1991. Another private apartment bought prior to 2000 before prices went ballistic!

This way, if they had a son, they would have a ready apartment for his marriage. In Shanghai - no apartment; no marriage.

So if the Shanghai property prices continue to go up, it would make it tougher for non-Shanghainese men to afford an apartment there. Making it harder for these non-Shanghai “talent” to remain in Shanghai to compete with their children – be it schooling, employment, or marriage!?

At the railway station, I often see two groups of faces.

One group beams with smiles and wide-eyed enthusiasm; the other with dejected and sullen faces.  No prizes on who is leaving, who is arriving. 

Promotion and relegation. Dream seekers and realists.

I guess this ritual is the same in all cosmopolitan cities – be it New York or London. And in Singapore.


  1. Hi SMOL

    Your experience sharing and insights is fascinating for a mountain tortoise like me who has only worked 1 week stints overseas :-) Never stayed overseas for work long unless you count 2 weeks in Australia for SAF exercise! :-P

    Be well and prosper.

    1. Panzer,

      And I have learned much from your sharing about preparing for our next step - be it our next retirement home or next career step ;)

      I will brush up on my Bahasa Malayu. Besides China (Xiamen, Chengdu), Penang is also on my watchlist ;)

      I am very comfortable in Penang and loved the way they have preserved Georgetown and their ancestral and clan houses.

      Joy and happiness to you too.

  2. Hi SMOL

    Were your family from Penang previously? I still have relatives there but hardly keep in touch. :-)

    1. Hello Panzer,

      No, not from Penang. My ancestors are from Chaozhou, China.

      Although my paternal grandmother is from Batu Pahat.

      I've been to Penang for work and pleasure. They have Sir Francis Light, we have Sir Stamford Raffles. We have many things in common.


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