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I would be remiss if I left Shanghai without a quick blog post, for a few reasons.

For starters, I’m having a beer at the Big Bamboo pub just prior to catching my flight back to Hong Kong. A block from here, at Malone’s, is where I launched Zhongnanhai almost exactly five years ago. It’s crazy to think this blog has been around that long; it got off to a fast start in 2007/2008 in the lead-up to the Olympics, and later tailed off as some of our writers left and I became busy with other pursuits.

Secondly, I have a real soft spot for this city. I moved here in March 2007 to work at Jongo, which was then supposed to be a legitimate online news source for English-speakers in China. As my three-month probation was coming to a close, the company decided it wasn’t sustainable and laid everyone off (me included). I then left Shanghai for Beijing, having felt that I never really arrived and never had the chance to see how the city would grow and change.

After the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I knew I wanted to live somewhere else: while Beijing is a fun town, it wasn’t a place I saw myself settling down long term (primarily because of issues like weather, traffic, and pollution). The choice, for me, was clear: Shanghai or Hong Kong. I could’ve gone to either one, but a job opportunity appeared in Hong Kong and the rest is history.

I don’t regret that decision at all, but I do wonder how my life would’ve gone had I come to Shanghai instead. While Hong Kong is fantastic, Shanghai seems much more vibrant. Hong Kong is an established financial centre — the New York of Asia. It has fulfilled its potential. It has arrived. Shanghai, by comparison, is a young upstart. It is fun, it is trendy, it is filled with people who are pushing the city in different directions. While Hong Kong is established, Shanghai is still finding its way. There is a vibe and optimism here that doesn’t seem replicated in Hong Kong, and it’s incredibly attractive.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Shanghai will ever get as far as Hong Kong has, for a whole plethora of reasons. And there’s no doubt that Shanghai is China’s domestic financial centre, while Hong Kong is a globally important city. They just aren’t at the same level — yet.

But Shanghai has a lot to work with. Aside from it’s financial ambitions – the city plans to launch an international board and become a global financial centre by 2020 – it seems to also offer a good quality of life. We walked from Shanghai Centre to Xujiahui, in a very round-about route, and enjoyed it thoroughly (the walk took four hours). Passing by old British, German and French buildings, through tree-lined streets, past galleries, shops and cafes, it was clear that Shanghai is coming into its own. If it wants to replicate Hong Kong’s success, it will need to provide western amenities (restaurants, schools, English, nightlife) that are comparable to other global financial centres. It will need to provide a quality of life that attracts the best and brightest from both China and overseas. I think Shanghai gets it, and it’s off to a good start.

We had a great night sipping sake and shochu at Izumi in Shanghai with a couple of locals and expats, none of whom said they had any desire to leave. One of the expatriates is working with Disney on the new theme park, which is another attraction that will — when it fulfills its promise — probably dwarf Hong Kong’s version of the same.

As much as I love China, and as much time as I spend up here, there are few places in the country I’d consider settling down long term to raise a family. Shanghai is one of them.

It will definitely be a city to watch. I can’t wait to come back.



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  1. gregorylent says:

    no soul, no juice, no shakti … my take after 3.5 years in shanghai … i was fine until i went to paris for a couple of weeks .. coming back, realized shanghai is a cow town, and will forever be so.

    just my 2 mao worth …

  2. admin says:

    Gregory, I’m in full agreement Shanghai is no Paris, but considering the different development cycles of the two places, could it perhaps one day be? Also, Shanghai need only be compared to its continental peers. of which few are truly world class. Outside of Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore (with, arguably, the inclusion of Bangkok and Mumbai), there aren’t a lot of international cities in this region of 2 billion people. Shanghai stands out as one of the youngest and most dynamic, I think.

  3. George says:

    Nice positive take on Shanghai.

    For me though, liking a city is not much about its trendy aspirations or amenities. It’s more defined by its inhabitants, since by definition a city is crowded with people and that’s usually the reason why you are there. Shanghai and Beijing have a lot of locals – they’ll make sure that’s quite clear to you, and no amount of internationalizing is going to dilute that. Look how metropolitan Hong Kong is and yet how parochial it remains.

    So for foreigner or Chinese prospective inhabitants of these cities, check if you are as positive and tolerant as Zhongnanhai first, because it’s not a given that you will love the locals.