Visit to Shanghai- observations

January 11th, 2009

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Over the past couple of weeks, some of us visited Shanghai, China. Shanghai is a vibrant, rich and cosmopolitan city. People, especially the young, generally dress well.

In comparison to Australian roads, the roads over there were chaotic and dangerous. Cars, motor-bikes, scooters, bicycles, trucks, buses and pedestrians crisscrossed haphazardly among each other. Drivers tooted their car horns indiscriminately and continuously. We wondered, if the car horns were so arbitrarily misused and drivers get used to such noises, then wouldn?t its original purpose (warning of danger) be nullified? More alarmingly to us, pedestrians in China have to give way to cars. Danger lurks when you cross the roads even when the pedestrian traffic lights shows green. We encountered a few near misses already. The other few foreigners whom we observed seemed more nonchalant than us on such dangerous living.

As foreigners from Australia, we were not accustomed to the dirty and dusty air in Shanghai. There?s always a haze in the air. A newly cleaned window pane will collect dust within a day. Apartment blocks built a couple of years ago look ?old? and dirty today. A layer of dust seemed to cover every vehicle. We wondered, if you stay in such an environment over an extended period of time, how much dust will accumulate in your lungs?

We tried to seek refuge from the unhealthy and dirty air inside air-conditioned restaurants, cafes, shops, banks and other buildings. But we were totally disappointed. There were almost always smokers (who were usually males) lighting up indoors. We wondered, is it healthier to breathe dusty car-exhaust-filled air or second-hand cigarette smoke? What a tough choice! Maybe we should follow the example of a few cyclists, motor-cyclists and pedestrians wearing surgical masks outdoors. It seemed to us that smoking is the bad habit of the Chinese in the way drinking is for young Australians. Perhaps fighting lung cancer will be good businesses to invest in the decades to come?

On the plus side, the transport infrastructure is very efficient in Shanghai. Taxis are plentiful and cheap (in Australian dollars), buses run frequently and the trains (metro) arrive every few minutes. Shops, restaurants, convenience stores, services and department stores are everywhere. It is very convenient to get anything anytime. Compared to Sydney, Shanghai is bustling with activity. In Australian dollars, food, clothing and transport are cheap. But electronics and branded luxury goods can be more expensive. But relative to their local income, we can imagine Shanghai to be a very expensive city to live in. If housing is unaffordable in Australia, it is more so in Shanghai. But on the other hand, the cost of labour is much cheaper in China.

Compared to Australia, we feel that Shanghai (and perhaps, by extension, the rest of China?s major cities) to be more ?capitalistic.? If you feel that there?s no such thing as a free lunch in Australia, then you can include breakfast, dinner, tea and supper in Shanghai. It is much easier to bleed your savings over there. Businesses are more adept at profiting at your expense. Conversely, for those of you who are business-oriented, this is an opportunity, although it is likely that you will find greater challenge in ethics over there?also, watch out for predators.

Tomorrow, we will talk more the Chinese economy from the interesting insights we learnt from conversations with the locals and the observations we made. Keep in tune!

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