I just got back from a week-long trip to Yunnan province where I traipsed around Xishuangbanna: “China’s Thailand” and hung out in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. While my trip had its ups and downs, Yunnan certainly seems to be a beautiful place and I’m keen to explore the rest of it. Especially as the weather is always nice! However, I definitely had a few minutes of missing my home in Shanghai while I was gone which got me thinking about what made Shanghai such a great place to live in. I’ll save stories of my adventures in Yunnan for another day.
So, without further ado, my list of the 10 reasons that Shanghai is the best city to live in China:
1. The pollution isn’t that bad
Not that Yunnan had polluted cities. Yunnan was quite the opposite and it was nice to breathe fresh air. But as most foreigners who live in China are either located in Beijing or Shanghai, Shanghai definitely wins for cleaner air. When deciding where I was going to spend my year in China, I knew I couldn’t do Beijing as I can’t deal with a brown sky! Lots of the more northern cities similarly have pollution problems, especially during winter when more coal is burned to stay warm.
2. Night life
Shanghai has some of the best clubbing ever! All my friends agree Shanghai is at its most beautiful during night time. The Bund and French Concession are all lit up making for a stunning view of the city. What’s more, many clubs are situated at the top of these high buildings so you can see the city laid out beneath you. And there’s something for everyone! From the college bar pubs with relaxed environments to upscale celebrity hang-outs, Shanghai has it all.
3. International City
One of the best things about living in Shanghai is that I’m basically living in the New York of China. That means there’s a lot going on. People are living here from all over the world, making for an interesting mesh of cultures. There’s also always some cool event going on. In the 2 ½ months that I’ve been there, Shanghai has already hosted quite a few different music festivals: Chinese and Western alike such as one weekend dedicated to 100 different DJs. I’ve also experienced different things like the World Expo, Shanghai Fashion Week, and Beerfest. I can’t wait to see what else pops up during my year here!
Beijing boasts one of the best food scenes in the world and has specialty dishes such as the famous Peking Duck. However, Shanghai definitely has a plethora of different cuisines to try. There’s Shanghai’s famous take on Xiaolongbao, dumplings with savory soup inside which have become my comfort food. There’s always mouth watering street food such as the fried rice I’m fond of frequenting in the evenings. There’s some of the best noodle shops around. There’s Sichuan cuisine and a few different hot pot restaurants I can’t get enough of. And then there’s the international food! I had never tried Korean BBQ until I got to Shanghai (man was I missing out!). You’re also never lacking in Western food like pizza and I’ve even found some pretty decent Mexican restaurants!
5. Art scene
Believe it or not, Shanghai has a pretty lively art scene. This should make sense as it’s a huge metropolis but I never really thought about China and modern art together. I was able to see a pretty famous modern artist comment on his work during Shanghai’s International Arts Festival. M50 is a pretty unique area where you can stop to peek in different studios. And you can also check out places like the Propaganda Museum which is a pretty cool look into Chinese propaganda throughout the decades. I’m not really an art connoisseur or expert in any way, but so far I’ve enjoyed the art scene Shanghai has to offer.
6. You can still practice your Chinese
With such an international environment, I was worried that I wouldn’t be encouraged to use my Chinese while living in Shanghai. Being as my primary goal is to be able to speak this language, I saw this as a potential issue to living in Shanghai. And there is some merit to this fear. It is definitely quite possible to live in Shanghai and not pick up Chinese. There are plenty of foreigners here which can allow people to get trapped in an expat bubble. Plenty of people speak English so you can get by without the language. However, working on Chinese hasn’t been as hard as I expected. I have plenty of chances to practice: restaurants, taxi cabs, mani pedis, etc. and meeting Chinese friends hasn’t been that hard. They speak the common language in Shanghai instead of a local dialect (one of the hardest parts to learning Chinese) so that hasn’t been an issue. If you’re willing to put a little effort into it, Shanghai is definitely a city where you can use and learn Chinese.
7. Not that expensive
Another expectation I had before moving to Shanghai was that the city would be really expensive. Not so! Dining in Shanghai could definitely be an expensive endeavor if your heart wished. You could also blow a lot of money on shopping. However, Shanghai itself doesn’t have to be really expensive at all. My lifestyle is quite affordable. A fancy meal for me costs maybe $10USD but oftentimes I eat for less than $2USD. And that’s not even by intentionally trying to save money! Some of my favorite dining spots are just super cheap. Transportation is similarly very cheap. Public transport costs next to nothing. And splurging on a cab (especially when split between friends) is only a few bucks. Some of my friends have looked into housing in Shanghai and it’s also very affordable. While probably more expensive in comparison to other Chinese cities, you can live comfortably in Shanghai without having tons of dough. It’s certainly nothing compared to what my living expenses were in Australia!
I was pleased to note before moving here that Shanghai and Dallas fall about roughly on the same latitude line. (That’s the horizontal one, right?) Meaning that the seasons and weather temperature are similar to home. If you know anything about me at all, you know I HATE cold weather. With a passion. I’m just not cut out for that harsh environment. So Shanghai is the perfect place for me. Northern Beijing would be much too cold. Shanghai on the other hand is just starting to get chilly, and it’s still not that bad. (Or so I tell myself.) What’s more, it’s good to know it’ll start getting warm again in March.
I guess the art scene and nightlife fall under this category, but Shanghai is also pretty big in shopping (duh!) and sports! Shanghai hosts the Shanghai International Marathon Race, the Diamond League Shanghai, Tennis Masters Series Shanghai, and FIA Formula One World Championship Shanghai. I’m not that into sports, but it’s cool Shanghai has some big sporting events and reminds me of Melbourne in that way. (Who knows? There’s probably way more I don’t even know about.) And shopping is always fun! I’ve been able to get my Forever21 fix here and there’s always a good time exploring the fake markets.
Apart from the metropolis itself, there are lots of cool things to do in the neighboring cities of Shanghai. Nanjing and Hangzhou are both only two hours away by train. I was able to take a nice weekend trip to climb Mount Huangshan in the neighboring province. There are several canal cities, such as Suzhou, also close to Shanghai. Day trips include interesting places such as Chongming Island and Zhujiajiao. Beijing is only five hours by high speed rail. And what’s more, as one of the central hubs of China, it’s very easy and affordable to get from Shanghai to other areas of China. Traveling around China is important to me, and Shanghai is a convenient base to do it from.
I’ve heard from other Chinese people that they don’t like Shanghai because there’s too many people and not enough history and culture. I’ve also heard from some other foreigners (a select few) that they don’t like Shanghai either as it isn’t the “real” China. However, lots of foreigners love living in Shanghai. I think it’s the perfect place to both broaden your knowledge of China as a whole while still being able to indulge in Western comforts. And the unique international big city life is definitely a pro on my list!
Would you agree that Shanghai is the best place to live in China? Where would you live in China? Any other parts of Shanghai that you love?