8 weeks ago I landed in a city I fell in love in 2011 when discovering the mesmerising contrasts between old and new, tradition and modern lifestyle, huge skyscrapers surrounding temples and a city that never stops amazing. “Why would you want to live in Shanghai?” my friends or colleagues would ask me, and my answer (which is the answer I give for most questions!) was “Why not?”. Why wouldn’t you want to experience the craziness of a city developing faster than any other, gathering individuals, companies and cuisine from all around the world and holding onto Eastern roots whilst borrowing more and more Western ways?
Undoubtedly, 24 millions inhabitants in one gigantic city calls for modernity and high technology; Shanghai’s very well organised (and extremely punctual) metro, state-of-the-art escalators and lifts as well as high speed trains are all more than necessary to move the crowds around efficiently – whether horizontally or vertically and fitting so many people on a limited surface would not have been possible without all the high-rise buildings offering accommodation and offices.
Pretty much everyone here have their phone in hand whilst walking in the streets, standing in the metro or at restaurants, browsing the Internet, checking out the latest news, gossip, video etc.. on WeChat (the Chinese equivalent of Facebook and Whatsapp) or buying clothes on T-Mau or Tao Bao (China’s very own Ebay) and electronics on JD.com (apparently Amazon is literally only used for books here!).
The Western influence is palpable in so far as the streets are literally paved with McDonald’s, Starbucks, KFC and dozens upon dozens of enormous malls with hundreds of international stores such as Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Sephora, Marks & Spencer, Nike, Apple, etc… as well as luxury brands in the likes of Chanel, Gucci, Prada etc… but one has to wonder who actually spends thousands of RMBs (China’s currency, locally named “Kuai”) on the latter as anyone displaying these top-tier handbags, glasses or T-Shirts could easily be showing off their latest purchase from the famous Fakes Market.
Whilst most Chinese having moved to Shanghai for better opportunities and lifestyle agree that living in this superb city (as it is the case in hugely popular cities such as New York, London or Paris) isn’t cheap – especially as far as rent is concerned – it seems a lot of money gets flashed around in shopping malls, restaurants, bars and clubs. Western brands mentioned earlier cost the same here as in Europe or America so comparatively to the wages paid out in Asia versus Westerner countries, you’ve got to spend much more of your hard-earned money in Shanghai than you would in Paris to get a branded item. What surprises me the most about the Shanghainese money-flashing is the clubbing experience. Although entrance fees are usually under ¥100 (a tenner) or even free for Westerners, a lot of clubs (except the more “underground” venues) require that you book a table (which will usually come with a few bottles of Champagne) in order to be allowed in – for the astonishing price of ¥3,000 (around £310 or $480). Walking into these clubs is highly entertaining as all Chinese youngsters are sat at their table in the middle of the room, dressed to impress, drinking their Champagne or spirits with iced tea (yep, you read that right!) and staying amongst themselves whilst the Westerners will usually be grouped onto the dance floor, in more casual attires and downing drinks like it was water.
Before experiencing Chinese drinking for myself, I had heard two contradictory stereotypes which appeared to vary depending on whether the speaker came from America, Australia or Europe: one the one hand some people stated that Chinese are known to be heavy drinkers and on the other hand that they could not “handle their drink”. It has been noted that alcoholic beverages are not always very strong here and I have seen more Chinese people completely intoxicated than I have Westerners or even anyone back home (in France or even the UK) but that does not provide any indication on how much was ingurgitated before becoming totally inebriated. One memorable clubbing experience that goes towards confirming the second theory was seeing a Chinese man walk straight into a (rather posh) bar to be pulled onto the counter where he laid with his legs hanging in the air whilst being poured whatever spirit first came to the bartender’s hand. The Chinese man, believed to be averaging 30 years old (but then again, I have assumed one of my colleagues was in his early 40’s when he’d actually just celebrated his 60th so I could be totally wrong here…) got up and lifted his arms in a sign of victory to be cheered by his mates and then turn around to lean against the very same counter he’d completed his drinking challenge to throw up all the alcohol he had just swallowed. Nice!
Does the need to show off how come from the Western Civilisations or from the Chinese perception of life in Europe or America extracted from all the movies they watch and TV series such as Sex And The City, House of Cards, Suits or Gossip Girl?
It seems the younger generations in Shanghai really aspire to become more Western, wishing their parents and grandparents felt the same way but the older generations are still hung onto traditions whereby a child has to have a good education, then after graduating oughts to find a decent job, a good boyfriend/girlfriend, marry (before 30), have a child (or children if they are allowed to have more than one – will be detailed in another post) and then look after their child’s life cycle and become grandparents themselves. Such is the traditional pattern that generates so much friction between the generations and puts pressure on today’s youth, but that is a topic to be continued in another post…