As you may have gathered from the last post on this blog I have been in China and unable to access the WordPress website which hosts the blog. For the past month I have been without Google (and more importantly Google Maps), Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and many other websites which the authorities in China have deemed nefarious under their policy of internet censorship. I know that many of my friends would cry at the thought of not being able to access these but it was actually a refreshing change not to check my Facebook page every day! The main frustration for me was the blocking of WordPress. I am aware that you can use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access certain sites in China but I have never really been too much of a tech wizard. For expats living there for longer periods, however, it’s definitely something that you would want to look in to. This useful website has a brief overview of VPNs and China.
So I am now back in Blighty for a few days before heading off to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain but I can’t spend a month in the most populated country in the world and with the second largest global economy and not blog about it can I?! The Chinese premier Xi Jinping has been in the news of late as he visits the USA for the first time as President – although this seems to have been overshadowed by the Popes first visit to the States too. Between them these two nations account for a whopping 36% of the global GDP (that’s China and the USA, not China and Vatican City!). This time last year I was in the USA but my longest trip during this survey has been to China and there are definitely a multitude of differences between the two countries.
When I arrived in Shanghai one of the first things I did was hop on to the fastest train in the world. The Shanghai Maglev Train travels at over 430 km/h (265 mph) and zips you from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to the city centre in no time at all. After dropping off my luggage at the hotel I jumped on to the extensive metro system and headed to Lujiazui metro stop where many of the top end shopping malls are located. It was past six in the evening and the sun had gone down. By the time I had stepped out on to street level I was met with one of the most amazing metro exits that probably exists. It was like stepping on to the set of Blade Runner, with neon everywhere and huge towers reaching for the sky, most notably the awesome rocket-shaped Oriental Pearl Tower. At 468m high it’s not even in the top two of the tallest in the city. You may know from previous blogposts that I am a skyscraper fan (the taller the better) and the Pudong business district of Shanghai is no disappointment, especially at night, where you can pretend to be Harrison Ford for a while! And with three of the world’s tallest buildings all at the same road junction my skyscraper-lust was most definitely sated.
As well as being the largest city in China, with over 24 million inhabitants, Shanghai is also the world’s most populated ‘city proper’. A city proper can be loosely defined as ‘that within administrative boundaries which doesn’t include a wider metropolitan population’. Situated in the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River it is also the busiest container port in the world. Whilst the capital, Beijing, has remained the political centre of China during the country’s meteoric economic rise over the last few decades, Shanghai has very much been the showcase financial centre. It has all the glitz and glamour of any of the West’s great cities and is even said to have the most number of restaurants of any city in the world. There are over 200,000 expatriates in Shanghai and so it was not surprising to find that all foreign tastes are catered for, which is not always the case in some of China’s second tier cities (more on that in upcoming blogposts). There are a variety of specialist shops with all sorts of imported goods, although at a price of course. In fact, Shanghai ranked as the 8th most expensive city for expatriates globally and 1st in the Asia Pacific region for expatriates, according to ECA’s most recent Cost of Living survey.
After Shanghai I moved on to the nearby city of Suzhou and I’ll be posting about that and more of my trip to China very soon. I promise not to leave it as long this time!