You could drink at a hole in the wall, bring your own bot­tle to a KTV (karaoke par­lor) and have a blast for 15 bucks, or head to one of the swanky places like M1NT or Cirque du Soir (on the Bund) and spend 20 dol­lars on a cock­tail like in New York.”

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Re­cruit­ment manager Tom Birch saw his trans­port bill drop to 10 yuan ($1.60) a month af­ter he pur­chased a sec­ond-hand elec­tric moped on a whim while paint­ing the town red in Shang­hai re­cently.

The 27-year-old English­man moved to China’s gleam­ing fi­nan­cial hub six months ago to launch the first Chi­nese branch of Stir­ling An­der­sen, which is head­quar­tered in Perth, Australia. It now claims to be the fastest- grow­ing in­sur­ance spe­cial­ist re­cruit­ment busi­ness in Asia-Pa­cific.

“You can do any­thing in this city,” he said. “It is a city of contrasts, the land of op­por­tu­nity. Riches and glamor con­trast with peo­ple sell­ing break­fast on the same street for the equiv­a­lent of 20 cents.”

If the cen­tral gov­ern­ment can find a way to re­lo­cate more fac­to­ries away from city cen­ters, fix the short­age of charg­ing sta­tions and meet its goal of get­ting five mil­lion elec­tric cars on the road in 2020, peo­ple here hope Shang­hai’s car­bon foot­print will drop.

Plug-in hy­brids are al­ready gov­ern­ment-sub­si­dized and ex­empt from li­cense-plate fees in Shang­hai but the shift to elec­tric won’t hap­pen overnight. Con­di­tional love

Like the Chi­nese them­selves, Shang­hai may be one of the most com­pli­cated cities in the world in terms of the re­ac­tion it gen­er­ates from those who flock here each year to strike gold as jobs dry up back home.

Once the hon­ey­moon pe­riod sub­sides, many ex­pats say they love some parts of life here and strug­gle with oth­ers — and many lo­cals will agree.

It now seems to be at­tract­ing a dif­fer­ent de­mo­graphic to 10 or even five years ago.

“That’s one of the big­gest dif­fer­ences be­tween when I first came and now,” said IBM project manager Casey Werth of Sun Val­ley, Idaho.

“In 2007, it was mostly ca­reer ex­pat sin­gle dudes. Now there are loads of young peo­ple com­ing to seek their for­tune or in­tern here in hope of land­ing a full-time job.”

Some came to work for for­eign pavil­ions dur­ing the 2010 Shang­hai World Expo. Oth­ers were drawn by child­hood mem­o­ries of Blade Run­ner or In­di­ana Jones and The Tem­ple of Doom, which presents Shang­hai in the 1920s as one of the world’s most glam­orous and cos­mopoli­tan fi­nan­cial cen­ters. The lat­est na­tional cen­sus shows that over 160,000 ex­pats are living here. Bet­ter than Bogota

Jen­nifer Stevens, 32, re­cently moved back to Asia from Bogota to teach at an in­ter­na­tional school in Shang­hai. The Tampa, Florida na­tive said she feels more at home in Asia than in South Amer­ica.

“It’s pretty easy to live here. I would say the only draw­backs are the pol­lu­tion and the cost of living — both much higher than I’m used to,” she said.

“The rent is com­pa­ra­ble to back home, but in terms of life­style you ba­si­cally choose your own level,” she added.

“You could drink bai­jiu at a hole in the wall, bring your own bot­tle to a KTV (karaoke par­lor) and have a blast for 15 bucks, or head to one of the swanky places like M1NT or Cirque du Soir (on the Bund) and spend 20 dol­lars on a cock­tail like in New York.”

Like­wise, ex­pats can dine at M on the Bund or an ar­ray of Miche­lin-starred eater­ies on the op­u­lent river­side that bi­sects the city, or dive into some kung pao chicken (diced chicken with peanuts, spices and a sug­ary sauce) for un­der $5. Those who chafe at bat­tling the city’s user­friendly bus and metro sys­tem will find “didi-dache”, a lo­cal cab-hail­ing ser­vice, an af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive. Uber is an­other step up but the price of hail­ing an Audi A6 is still uber-cheap. New breed of ex­pat

Birch rep­re­sents a new gen­er­a­tion of Shang­haibased ex­pats: Younger, more so­cially mo­bile, per­haps a lit­tle brash. Like many, he is try­ing to learn the lingo. Most have an in­ter­est­ing job that falls some­where be­tween the tra­di­tional di­chotomy of multi­na­tional ex­ec­u­tive and ship­wrecked back­packer (for­eign mis­sion­ar­ies left about a cen­tury ago).

They can fit into the so­cial fab­ric of a brave new world faster than their pre­de­ces­sors, and with less fric­tion, by cap­i­tal­iz­ing on strong ex­pat net­works both off­line and on­line to boost their up­ward mo­bil­ity.

Due to China’s low util­ity bills and ag­gres­sive push to pro­mote elec­tric ve­hi­cles, Birch gets his own park­ing space and per­sonal charg­ing unit each month for half the price of an Americano at Star­bucks. Elec­tric­ity is in­cluded, he claims.

“Now I can get around for 30 yuan a quar­ter,” he quips over lunch at Sprout­works, a hip eatery spe­cial­iz­ing in sal­ads and soups near down­town tourist site Xin­tiandi (New Heaven and Earth).

“I never imag­ined I would be driv­ing past grid­locked Fer­raris in this maze of a city on a 48-volt, 200-dollar scooter,” he added. Sky­scraper city

It helps that his 31-story apart­ment build­ing has an un­der­ground lot. But this is not un­usual in a city where high rises, or build­ings of at least 35 me­ters or 12 sto­ries, seem­ingly crowd ev­ery street.

When it comes to sky­scrapers, only five other cities have more of them. Hong Kong ranks first with 1,268, New York is sec­ond with 603 and Shang­hai has 253, ac­cord­ing to Em­po­ris.com.

De­signed by Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect Benjamin Wood and com­pleted in 2002, Xin­tiandi’s clus­ter of high-end-bars, restau­rants and bou­tiques are wrought in the style of Shang­hai brick town houses and tra­di­tional grey-colored shiku­men, high­light­ing Shang­hai’s nos­tal­gia for its own past.

This area is one of the most ex­pen­sive in town. But life can still be en­joyed on the cheap de­spite fast-ris­ing con­sumer prices, the fall­ing ex­change rate — a dollar would get you 8.19 yuan in 2005 but only 6.25 to­day — and the eco­nomic im­per­a­tive of hav­ing to help sub­si­dize fac­tory salaries that have dou­bled in the last few years.

On a qual­ity of life in­dex pro­vided by Num­beo.com, a high prop­erty price to in­come ra­tio and stub­born pol­lu­tion see Shang­hai reg­is­ter just 53.17 com­pared to 114.33 for New York, yet the for­mer is cat­e­go­rized as safer with cheaper con­sumer prices. Don’t worry, be app-y

Life is eas­ier for new­com­ers like Birch and Stevens cour­tesy of a rash of apps that fur­ther grease the wheels: SmartShang­hai shows the best happy hour deals and pro­vides di­rec­tions in Chi­nese to show taxi driv­ers; Pleco, an English-Chi­nese trans­la­tion app, paves the way for au­to­di­dac­tic lan­guage- learn­ing; WeChat caters to so­cial net­work­ing needs; and City Fu, de­vel­oped by City Week­end, of­fers a full list­ings guide.

Within a few weeks, Birch had formed a new cir­cle of friends, dived head­first into one of the most ex­cit­ing nightlife and dining scenes in Asia, and fig­ured out how to burn the can­dle on both ends on a con­ser­va­tive bud­get.

A friend’s rec­om­men­da­tion landed him a 103-squareme­ter apart­ment for $1,000 a month at “Big Har­mony Gar­den,” a plush high rise com­plex down­town. Porsche Panam­eras, Ger­man SUVs and other fancy for­eign cars fill up his un­der­ground lot, which is only a five-minute walk from Tianz­i­fang, a bo­hemian labyrinth of cafes, restau­rants and ar­ti­san stores.

Not that mov­ing to Shang­hai is free of cul­tural — or visa —re­lated headaches.

It can be lonely at first. Some wres­tle with the dis­tant de­meanor of the lo­cal peo­ple and the tran­sient na­ture of life. Shang­hai’s eth­ni­cally di­verse ex­pat pop­u­la­tion changes overnight like the phases of the moon.

“There is al­ways a goin­g­away party,” said Stevens, a tall All-Amer­i­can blonde with model good looks.

“I also feel like there’s less in­ter­ac­tion with the Chi­nese. I used to live in Seoul and peo­ple would take my photo ev­ery day and want to talk to me, maybe be­cause they want to be West­ern. But here no one looks at me.” Hol­ly­wood call­ing

The ini­tial al­lure of this burning dy­namo of a me­trop­o­lis is hard to re­sist. There is a wild­ness to the city and a sense of free­dom. It tends to at­tract high-fliers, en­trepreneurs and those with a dare­devil spirit.

It of­fers an abun­dance of cre­ative ar­chi­tec­ture and a river­side sky­line in the fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal of Lu­ji­azui to ri­val that of Hong Kong. The fin­ish­ing touches are now be­ing put on the $2.4-bil­lion, 632-me­ter Shang­hai Tower, China’s new­est tallest build­ing. That’s more than twice the height of the Eif­fel Tower.

You may have seen Shang­hai with­out even re­al­iz­ing it. As Hol­ly­wood hungers to off­set the fall in box-of­fice re­ceipts world­wide, the city has fea­tured in a slew of re­cent block­busters in­clud­ing Trans­form­ers: Re­venge of the Fallen, Sky­fall, Spike Jonze’s Her and Looper.

As one of many hard-to­fathom statis­tics, China added 5,000 new cinema screens in 2013. This took the to­tal to 18,200, or half what in­dus­try an­a­lysts con­sider suit­able for a ma­ture in­dus­try of this size, Va­ri­ety re­ports. Cabin fever

On the flip side, it is a con­stant battle to find a rush­hour taxi or restau­rant seat for lunch in this chaotic me­trop­o­lis of 25 mil­lion. But most res­i­dents and ex­pats would not want to live any­where else in the coun­try af­ter mak­ing this their home.

When they get tired of Shang­hai it is usu­ally a case of “zai jian” China.

Werth is feel­ing China fa­tigue af­ter nine years. Many ex­pats ex­pe­ri­ence cabin fever in the ur­ban wilder­ness ev­ery few months and need to es­cape the city for a breath of fresh air. A sense of hu­mor should also be con­sid­ered an es­sen­tial part of any ex­pat’s ba­sic sur­vival kit.

Yet Werth has pros­pered dur­ing his time here.

He was orig­i­nally sent to Shang­hai by an­other Amer­i­can com­pany to source fac­tory goods. When the global re­ces­sion de­voured his job he stud­ied for an MBA at Shang­hai’s pres­ti­gious Chi­naEurope In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness School (CEIBS).

The 32-year-old now earns dou­ble his for­mer salary, has a beau­ti­ful wife from neigh­bor­ing Jiangsu prov­ince, and re­cently moved to ac­com­mo­date his six-month-old baby.

“If you want to live an Amer­i­can life­style here, it’s ac­tu­ally more ex­pen­sive than in the US,” he said. “Gro­ceries, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, child prod­ucts, clothes and shoes that fit — they are all more ex­pen­sive. It’s only cheaper for me be­cause I don’t need a car.”

Some find the un­pol­ished man­ners of some of the Chi­nese a bur­den and retreat into a for­eigner-friendly bub­ble of in­ter­na­tional restau­rants and West­ern pubs and clubs. Shang­hai has al­ways been a mi­grant city, and re­la­tions be­tween the “na­tive” and new mi­grant pop­u­la­tion can some­times be com­pli­cated. Amer­i­cana

How­ever, al­most all ex­pats rel­ish be­ing able to hop on a bus, train or au­to­mo­bile to visit nearby wa­ter towns, the West Lake in Hangzhou or the haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful peaks of Yel­low Moun­tain in nearby An­hui. Do­mes­tic flights to re­mote Yun­nan, trop­i­cal Hainan is­land or panda – and hot pot – in­fested Sichuan can be had for bar­gain prices.

Amer­i­cans may be heart­ened to learn that even though one in two Chi­nese men smoke, health and fit­ness is in­creas­ingly ap­pear­ing on the Chi­nese radar af­ter it fea­tured promi­nently in the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s five-year plan.

This has led to the sprout­ing up of more for­eign-run or­ganic food and salad-based restau­rants in Shang­hai like El­e­ment Fresh and Baker & Spice. West­ern fads like yoga are com­mon­place among lo­cal white col­lars.

Quick fixes are also avail­able for Amer­i­cans miss­ing their ap­ple pie, per­sonal space and gridiron bar­be­cue par­ties in this city that never sleeps.

Werth found no short­age of Philly steak sand­wiches, chilled jugs of Bud­weiser and new friends from places as far-flung as Chicago and Cape Town at The Spot in the pre-dawn hours of one Mon­day morn­ing last month as he watched the Pa­tri­ots edge the Sea­hawks in one of the most thrilling Su­per Bowls in re­cent mem­ory.

And the se­cret to not los­ing the plot when Planet China starts to over­whelm: Take things with a pinch of salt.

“I call my bike ‘The Bronze Chime’ be­cause it sounds like a clock strik­ing ev­ery time I hit the brakes,” said Birch with a grin.

MAJA KELLY / FOR CHINA DAILY

Jen­nifer Stevens of Tampa,

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

Xin­tiandi,

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Tom Birch

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