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My Daily Life in China 2005

by Bruce Briscoe

Life in Communist 'Red' China. What's that like you may be asking yourself? What is the day-to-day life of the 'average' citizen like there? What's the food like? How about transportation? TV? Internet access? Drinking water? Cost of living? Entertainment? Etc.!

Without actually being a life-long citizen and resident of a place, I don't think anyone can really answer the most fundamental questions about life. I can only speak of my particular experiences of being in China. So here goes:

Background:
I retired from living in San Francisco in 2001 and moved to Bali; married Balinese girl in 2003; was trained to teach ESL English in 2002; moved to China to teach English for 1 year in 2004. Lived in a medium size city (pop- 8M) 5 months (Nan tong), then moved to Shanghai (largest city in China - Pop- 20M). I teach at the best English school in China (Wall Street English).

Living:
My wife Yanti & I live on the 28th floor of a 31 story apartment building in the Pudding area of Shanghai. It has 2 bedrooms and two bathrooms, living room and dining area; large kitchen and a laundry room. It's furnished with the normal furnishings including a ferriage; washer; bathtubs; etc. Total area is about 110 sq. meters or 1,200 sq. ft. The views are of the river; many high-rises including the building I work in, which is the tallest building in China - Jimmie Tower; ship building; river traffic, including many container ships, cruise ships, and everyday ships like barges. You can see my website for many pictures of the views and area.

My workday: Usually, I work from 12:30PM to 9PM, 4 days a week, and 9Am to 5PM on Saturdays. Yanti & I usually get up at about 8AM, she fixes a great breakfast for me (you KNOW how I love breakfast), I shower, etc. and leave for work about 10AM. Why so early you ask? It's because I live only a 15 minute walk from my work AND it's Summer here and very hot. It's usually in the 90's by 11AM :-( So I leave early, because it's cooler that way. Plus, I'm still new at the job and I can use the time to prepare my days lessons.

Observations about Chinese daily life: only 12 years ago, this area of Shanghai was under-developed and was mostly poor working man's housing and some ship yards. Now, it is filled with beautiful and modern high-rise apartments and office buildings. Our building is right on the river but has two sides that are still ship-building and workers housing areas. We can see that about half the ship building area is idle and about to be torn down in preparation for more high rises (we guess). So, basically, this is like living in New York City! The sidewalks are wide, the average buildings is 7 stories tall and there are many, many business at street level. On my side street there are several small business that clean and wax cars; small street-side restaurants; small fresh vegetable and fruit stands; hair salons; and small convenience stores. The PO is a block away and a nice fresh fish and meat market is 2 blocks away. The super super market (Lotus) is a 10 minute bus ride and is stocked with all the local foods as well as a huge selection of western foods! After I reach the main street on my walk to work, there are many larger restaurants; banks; businesses; salons; cigarette stores; DVD stores; coffee and tea houses; etc. Mostly, I'd say the local people are very happy here. The streets are both very clean and very safe. Shanghai is one of the safest cities in China. The buses are clean and on-time; there is a great subway system that gets us to the best shopping in about 15 minutes and costs $.45. The buses are $.12 and a short taxi ride is $1.10! Here are some other prices: bread - $.30; eggs - $.55/dozen; chicken - $.50 for 4 de-boned chicken breasts; apples - $2/6-8 large apples; asparagus - $.20/ 1/2 lb. That gives you a 'little' idea. DVDs - $.80 for a first run movie; Friends - 1 season - $6.

In the evenings (about 9:30PM) when I walk back from work, the sidewalks seem even more like NYC. Many families outside (most don't have AC and it's cooler outside) playing; sitting in groups and talking; playing cards or dominoes; or eating at the local sidewalk cafes.

Crowds: Yes, China has a population 4 times that of the US and is about the same size. So, what are the crowds like living in the largest city in the largest country in the world you may be asking. Not bad. Sundays are the days to stay OUT of the stores. It seems to be the day EVERYONE in China shops, so we shop other days. The buses can be packed, but we just wait for the next one. The subway is crowded at commute time like subways everywhere, but delight-full, clean, and fast the rest of the time. Taxis - plenty, EXCEPT if it's raining - again, like everywhere. So, I'd say we don't notice the crowds too much here. Perhaps other places are more crowded than here, maybe not.

Saturdays and Sundays, families are out walking together or in the many parks here. Just down the street is a large aquarium (smaller than Monterey, I'm sure) and several museums.
 

Internet: China has an incredible broadband internet available almost everywhere.  Mine is about 1MB/sec!  The cost is about US$10/month and comes thru our cable TV cable.  It's very reliable.  How about censorship you ask?  I've heard that some web sites are blocked but have not experienced this at all. 

What's the food like? Like most places in the world there are expensive restaurants, very cheap street stalls and vendors and everything in between.  An expensive (read Western) restaurant can be as expensive as San Francisco.  Most Western restaurants are expensive.  The street stalls and vendors are VERY cheap and delicious!  Breakfast from a street stall consists of a crepe like thing with egg, green onions and a sweet sauce.  It's cooked and then rolled up!  Mmmmmm.  Cost: US$.25 each!  I love a thing that is bread dough rolled up with pork and shredded cabbage, then flattened out and fried.  Crispy and delicious!

How about transportation? Shanghai has a great subway system with 5 lines currently.  Cost is US$.50 for an average ride.  There's also a great bus system that can take you anywhere.  Cost is US$.12.  There's also many taxis, they are easy to find and the cost is US$1.20 to start.  Most rides are in the US$1.20-2.00 range.

TV?  Our cable TV has what is known as CCTV9 which is the only English channel.  It has world news; financial news; documentaries; travelogues; and dialogs.  Satellite TV is also available and carries all the normal satellite channels like HBO; DISCOVERY; CSPAN; and others.  The cost is about US$20/mo.

Drinking water?  The normal tap water is not drinkable.  It's ok for cooking, but you need to buy water (it's delivered for about US$2 per 3 gallon bottle!

Cost of living?  The cost of living in Shanghai I'd say is higher than Bali.  Our Balinese 2 story, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with nice yard and view is about US$150/mo.  Our apartment here in Shanghai is about US$480/mo.  Food and clothing is cheaper here however.

Entertainment?  Shanghai has excellent museums; many movie theaters including an IMAX, live shows, and many places that have live music. So, entertainment here is better than Bali and almost as good as San Francisco.

So, I hope that gives you an idea about life in Shanghai, China.  It's an adventure!

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