Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shanghai, China

Shanghai has a population of around twenty million people, making it the largest city in China. Before going to Shanghai I had no idea what to expect cultural wise, but I was extremely pleased with my experience there. My friend Ryan, whom is interning at China Economic Review, has really become immersed in the Chinese city lifestyle and was the perfect host/tour guide. His Chinese, Mandarin, is at a very impressive level and was very useful in getting around the city. One of the major initial differences between Seoul and Shanghai is that China is still a developing country, but things are rapidly changing in Shanghai as there are numerous construction projects almost every where you look. Also there is a much more apparent wealth gap in Shanghai, but this made the traveling experience even more interesting. Cost of living in Shanghai can be about as low cost or expensive as you can imagine, really it can go both extremes. Your basic necessities all cost well under a dollar, for example: a bottle of water cost about 14 US cents, or one Chinese yuan, and a plate of dumplings can cost around 73 cents, or 5 yuan. While on the other hand Shanghai has many of the Western franchises and luxuries which can seem very expensive when compared to the low domestic cost of living, but many of the people in Shanghai seem to embrace the international culture. While Ryan and I were sitting down some people would discreetly, and non-discreetly, take a picture with us. Ryan informed me that these people were most likely from the country where seeing a foreigner is much more rare. But being a foreigner in Shanghai also is also an indicator that you probably have money, and there are a few common scams that people in Shanghai try and pull on the unsuspecting tourist, other than that though Shanghai is supposed to be a rather safe city. When some sketchy looking person would come up trying to talk to us in English, Ryan would say a seemingly magical phrase with a small hand gesture sending the other person quietly and quickly walking away. This 'magical phrase' was just "I'm not interested" in Mandarin, which was a quick indicator that he was no tourist.

While in China I was able to experience a wide diversity of food. My two favorites being a dumpling that had a small soupy substance in it (fourth picture) and a giant breakfast egg roll with pickled ginger (second picture). Although not all food was pleasurable for me, I had a minor allergic reaction, that being my lip slightly swelling, to traditional Uighur food, a Chinese ethnic minority. The second to last picture on the bottom is the view from Ryan's apartment, and shows how quickly Shanghai is developing, small apartment buildings were in the desolate lot just a few days prior to my arrival.

I was happy I was able to experience a bit of China before leaving Korea, it helps put my Korean experience into greater context. Both China and Korea have many shared cultural norms, but both are also extremely distinguishable from each other. Although just being able to get out and see another city with an old friend really was great, and Shanghai was a really cool place to do that.

On a similar note, Shanghai's subway system is great and growing fast. While not quite as nice as Seoul's, it's still probably one of the nicer ones in the world and the subway system is going to have a number of additional lines added very shortly. So one is able to get around the city very easily, and taxis in Shanghai are another experience all together, which are another affordable option of getting around, as a typical fare would just be a few dollars or less.

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