by Bruce Briscoe
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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.
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!