Bei­jing vs Shanghai

Ex­pats from dif­fer­ent cities dis­cuss what made them choose be­tween China’s two ma­jor me­trop­o­lises

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Yin Lu

Which is the cooler city, Bei­jing or Shanghai? This is an ageold ques­tion that nei­ther Chi­nese nor ex­pats get tired of dis­cussing. Both of the Chi­nese main­land’s most ap­peal­ing me­trop­o­lises of­fer good op­por­tu­ni­ties and life­styles for for­eign­ers, but which one is the bet­ter fit?

To set­tle this dis­pute, Metropoli­tan has talked to ex­pats who have had ex­pe­ri­ence in both cities to see where their loy­al­ties lie.

Team Bei­jing

Em­cee Heretic, a mu­si­cian and vet­eran ex­pat from New York, has been liv­ing in China for more than one decade and speaks flu­ent Chi­nese. Even though he has lived in Bei­jing for most of his stay in China, he has had his share of liv­ing in both cities due to work.

On his first visit to Bei­jing back in 2003, the 19-year-old Heretic felt that the city was dif­fer­ent from what he had imag­ined.

“It was a ‘con­crete jungle,’ dif­fer­ent from South­ern China with bam­boo and other tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­tural fea­tures.”

How­ever, af­ter liv­ing in Bei­jing for a few years, the city started to grow on him, and he came to re­al­ize that Bei­jing is the bet­ter city, in many ways.

His first im­pres­sion of Shanghai, when he vis­ited in 2009, was that the city was a bit “too mod­ern,” he con­fessed.

Be­tween the two dis­tinc­tively dif­fer­ent lo­cal cul­tures, Heretic prefers the more “down-to-earth and straight­for­ward” Bei­jingers than the Shang­hai­ness cul­ture, which feels a bit “too flashy” for him.

“But it’s not nec­es­sar­ily bad,” he said. “I just per­son­ally pre­fer a cul­ture where ev­ery­body is ‘ (buddies) with each other.”

It’s eas­ier to be a for­eigner in Shanghai, and it might spoil you, ac­cord­ing to Heretic.

“Peo­ple there are very nice to for­eign­ers, some­times too nice. They want to talk to you in English and if you try to speak Chi­nese, they will al­most feel of­fended, be­cause they feel their English is good,” he said. “So ex­pats might be­come proud, or spoiled, even for those who are not very ca­pa­ble or dili­gent, and they can live a good life no mat­ter what.”

Mean­while in Bei­jing, he added, peo­ple are “cooler” with for­eign­ers.

One way Shanghai tri­umphs over Bei­jing is that it is more in­ter­na­tional and more in­clu­sive to dif­fer­ent cul­tures, ac­cord­ing to Heretic. “It’s a lot like my home­town, New York, in that sense. It’s a city of di­ver­sity,” he said.

It is es­pe­cially so food-wise for Heretic and he thinks the cui­sine in Shanghai beats Bei­jing. While Bei­jing has its dis­tinc­tive fea­tures and snacks, he en­joys the more in­ter­na­tional food scene in Shanghai, where he can find all sorts of good res­tau­rants from dif­fer­ent food cul­tures.

“I feel Shanghai peo­ple are more stylish,” he said. “Shanghai is more de­vel­oped and mod­ern, which is good. But here in Bei­jing, it’s more ‘China-China,’” Heretic said.

A tale of two cities

It was Bei­jing that con­vinced Matthew Rea to come back to China af­ter he spent a short time study­ing in the cap­i­tal city. How­ever, he chose to set­tle down in Shanghai.

“For me, it was be­cause of the busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in Shanghai,” he said.

Liv­ing in China since 2008, Rea now owns a restau­rant in Shanghai that serves au­then­tic Ca­jun and Cre­ole food from his home­town New Or­leans.

Upon mov­ing to China, Rea wanted a com­pletely dif­fer­ent life­style than what he had back home, which was quite “laid­back.” And Shanghai, with its rapidly grow­ing trade sec­tion and fast-paced work and life­style, seemed to be the per­fect choice.

How­ever, there are things that he misses about Bei­jing.

“Peo­ple are much friend­lier in Bei­jing,” he said. “For one, the taxi driv­ers are nice and want to talk to you. They don’t talk much in Shanghai.” The ex­pat com­mu­ni­ties are quite dif­fer­ent too. “In Shanghai, for­eign­ers are every­where. In Bei­jing, they tend to gather in cer­tain ar­eas like Wu­daokou, Haid­ian district and San­l­i­tun, Chaoyang district.”

Marco Brun del Re, who works in busi­ness devel­op­ment in IT, has been a res­i­dent of Bei­jing for eight years.

He has come across op­por­tu­ni­ties to liv­ing in Shanghai, in­clud­ing job of­fers that pay more, but un­like Rea, Bei­jing is his choice.

There is a com­mon idea among ex­pats that if you only go to Shanghai, you haven’t re­ally been to China. Brun del Re ex­plained that Bei­jing has been the im­pe­rial cen­ter for so long that there are way more things go­ing on than what you would ex­pect “stereo­typ­i­cal” China to be like.

“You come to Bei­jing be­cause you want to come to China, whereas you go to Shanghai be­cause you want to do busi­ness or you want a re­ally nice nightlife,” he said.

For Brun del Re, the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween the two cities lies in peo­ple.

“There’s a sense of pride that the Shang­hai­ness are more in­ter­na­tional, cos­mopoli­tan and some­how dif­fer­ent from most of the coun­try. One in­di­ca­tion is that they have pride in their cul­ture by speak­ing their own di­alect.”

As North­ern­ers tend to be more for­ward and tough, he ex­plains, Bei­jing ap­pears to be a lit­tle bit more ac­cept­ing of peo­ple around China and from the West.

When it comes to the ex­pats from the two cities, they are dif­fer­ent too. There is a com­mon view­point among ex­pats that Shanghai is more eco­nom­i­cally fo­cused.

“If you go to Shanghai, you can meet peo­ple who are way more into busi­ness and ca­reer fo­cused,” he said. There­fore, when it comes to life­style, Shanghai seems to be more up­scale, which for ex­pats in­clud­ing Brun del Re, is not as prefer­able as Bei­jing, which of­fers a more re­lax­ing and down-toearth at­mos­phere. “I don’t have to worry too much about how I might be per­ceived as a ca­reer-fo­cused or suc­cess­ful in­di­vid­ual,” he said. “When I think of places to go to in Shanghai, they seem a lit­tle more re­fined. You want to show up there a lit­tle more nicely dressed.”

Team Shanghai

For many ex­pats like Nick, a 26-year-old Rus­sian chef, it is the clas­sic con­cern of which city has bet­ter air qual­ity. Nick has trav­eled to Bei­jing, and re­al­ized that pol­lu­tion is a big con­cern. “There’s a lot of smog. In shanghai, it’s also some­times dif­fi­cult to breathe, but I think it’s bet­ter than in Bei­jing,” he said. He has also tried out sev­eral south­ern cities in­clud­ing Shen­zhen, Guang­dong Prov­ince, but has found that Shanghai has the per­fect weather for him, nei­ther too hot nor too cold. On top of the cli­matic rea­sons, it’s very im­por­tant that the city he lives in has the most con­ve­nient fa­cil­i­ties and mod­ern tem­per­a­ment. “Shanghai is a mod­ern city, and it fits bet­ter with my life­style. It’s a re­ally big city and has ev­ery­thing you want,” Nick said, cit­ing many of his fa­vorite supermarkets, cin­e­mas and clubs that are more to his taste. He con­fessed that he is drawn to mega cities. Shanghai’s lo­ca­tion is also at­trac­tive. In the eyes of many for­eign­ers, Bei­jing com­par­a­tively stands out, over­shad­ow­ing its neigh­bor­ing cities and towns, but Shanghai lies in the heart of the Yangtze River Delta, one of China’s great eco­nomic pow­er­houses. On top of the con­ve­nient fa­cil­i­ties, close cor­po­ra­tions and strong for­eign trade in the re­gion, it also leads in in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and tourism in the coun­try. For ex­am­ple, a new pol­icy start­ing Jan­uary 2016 al­lows a 144-hour visa-free en­try for in­ter­na­tional tran­sit pas­sen­gers in the re­gion, the Global Times re­ported.

Nick sees the lo­ca­tion as an im­por­tant fac­tor, which al­lows him ac­cess to more busi­ness and tourism re­sources in the re­gion. He has been to cities near Shanghai such as Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang Prov­ince and Wuxi, Jiangsu Prov­ince.

Go where your heart leads you

For those who are con­sid­er­ing com­ing to China and do not know where to start, or those who are faced with the dilemma of choos­ing be­tween Bei­jing and Shanghai, Metropoli­tan’s ex­pat in­ter­vie­wees of­fer their ad­vice, and how they think the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process works.

Brun del Re shared an “im­print­ing” the­ory, ac­cord­ing to which, ex­pats can be like geese, which im­print with the first an­i­mals or peo­ple they see as par­ents and fol­low them around.

“Peo­ple who have lived in Bei­jing first see Bei­jing as their home, and vice verse for Shanghai. I think both have some­thing to do with your im­print of China based on where you live first,” he said.

But more im­por­tantly, it’s also about what type of per­son you are, he added. While both cities of­fer a great life, they can be at­trac­tive to dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to Brun del Re, while back­pack­ers, stu­dents, English teach­ers and oth­ers who are more in­ter­ested in cul­tural as­pects of China usu­ally come to Bei­jing, Shanghai tends to draw busi­ness-minded in­di­vid­u­als.

“If you are all about busi­ness and you want a great nightlife, cock­tails and awe­some res­tau­rants and you come to Bei­jing, I think you might be dis­ap­pointed,” he said.

“And vise verse, I think if you go to Shanghai and all you want to do is meet Chi­nese, drink cheap beer and eat chuanr, Shanghai will also be dis­ap­point­ing,” he said.

To most peo­ple, it’s a trade-off sit­u­a­tion and they would name and as­sess all the fac­tors they want. How­ever, when it comes to each in­di­vid­ual, it’s of­ten some­thing per­sonal that set­tles the tie.

As a rap­per, in Heretic’s mind, Bei­jing, the mu­sic cap­i­tal of China, would al­ways win.

“While Shanghai has nice jazz and blues mu­sic scene, Bei­jing is the place where you find de­cent rock shows and clubs for rap mu­sic,” he said.

Heretic runs his own mu­sic stu­dio and writes lyrics, and he looks deeper into both the mer­its and the prob­lems such as the cut-throat com­pe­ti­tion or the de­clin­ing hu­man re­la­tions in the so­ci­ety.

“The longer I live here, the more in­ter­est­ing I find Bei­jing to be,” he said.

Photo: Li Hao/ GT

Ac­cord­ing to vet­eran ex­pats, choos­ing which city to live in of­ten comes down to what type of per­son you are and your pur­suits.

Pho­tos: IC

Ex­pats lik­ing one city over an­other is a re­sult of com­par­ing many fac­tors in­clud­ing life­style, cul­tural scenes, ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties, liv­ing con­di­tions and more.

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