Shanghai on a shoestring still a thrill, expats say

Updated: 2015-03-13 13:00

By Matt Hodges in Shanghai(China Daily USA)

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 Shanghai on a shoestring still a thrill, expats say

Jennifer Stevens of Tampa, Florida moved to Shanghai six months ago to work at an international school. A self-confessed foodie, she enjoys discovering the city's street food like xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings) and shengjian (pan-fried stuffed bun). Maja Kelly / for China Daily

American and European expats have crazy fun living as princes, princesses or paupers in Shanghai, a city of contrasts, culture and creativity that is always full of surprises.

Recruitment manager Tom Birch saw his transport bill drop to 10 yuan ($1.60) a month after he purchased a second-hand electric moped on a whim while painting the town red in Shanghai recently.

The 27-year-old Englishman moved to China's gleaming financial hub six months ago to launch the first Chinese branch of Stirling Andersen, which is headquartered in Perth, Australia. It now claims to be the fastest-growing insurance specialist recruitment business in Asia-Pacific.

"You can do anything in this city," he said. "It is a city of contrasts, the land of opportunity. Riches and glamor contrast with people selling breakfast on the same street for the equivalent of 20 cents."

If the central government can find a way to relocate more factories away from city centers, fix the shortage of charging stations and meet its goal of getting five million electric cars on the road in 2020, people here hope Shanghai's carbon footprint will drop.

Plug-in hybrids are already government-subsidized and exempt from license-plate fees in Shanghai but the shift to electric won't happen overnight.

Conditional love

Like the Chinese themselves, Shanghai may be one of the most complicated cities in the world in terms of the reaction it generates from those who flock here each year to strike gold as jobs dry up back home.

Once the honeymoon period subsides, many expats say they love some parts of life here and struggle with others - and many locals will agree.

It now seems to be attracting a different demographic to 10 or even five years ago.

"That's one of the biggest differences between when I first came and now," said IBM project manager Casey Werth of Sun Valley, Idaho.

"In 2007, it was mostly career expat single dudes. Now there are loads of young people coming to seek their fortune or intern here in hope of landing a full-time job."

Some came to work for foreign pavilions during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Others were drawn by childhood memories of Blade Runner or Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, which presents Shanghai in the 1920s as one of the world's most glamorous and cosmopolitan financial centers. The latest national census shows that over 160,000 expats are living here.

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