Show me the Money! Er … Shanghai

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHANGHAI — I begin to see why semiconductor executives get in a tizzy whenever they talk about Shanghai.

From the moment you take the gleaming, brand new maglev train — reportedly the world’s fastest commuter train, topping out at 430kph — into the city from Shanghai-Pudong airport, to the impromptu tour of the city thanks to a confused cab driver, it is evident that there is money here, and lots of it.

Some say the cost of living in Shanghai is on par with the Bay Area of Northern California; I find that hard to believe, given what I’ve learned in the week I’ve been in China. But I’m sure it is more expensive than Beijing — you can tell just by looking. Oh, the miles and miles of tenements are here, sprawling in every direction, but most of them are new, and interspersed with gleaming, brand new office towers and business hotels.

Even the taxicabs are new. And you still have plenty of people on bicycles, but not as many as you see in Beijing. And the private cars are nice and bigger than you see on a freeway in Beijing, that’s for sure.

It’s as if this notorious port city built by laowai for laowai (laowai being Caucasian foreigners) woke up when China opened up, dusted itself off, and partied like it was 1899. And it still is. Imperialism still runs Shanghai; it’s just a different kind this time around. The Bund — the French colonial section of Shanghai — is surrounded by office towers proclaiming companies that call Japan, Europe and the United States home — and a few Chinese companies too, which is also telling of how things are different. These were parts of Shanghai that were off limits to Chinese once upon a time, in its colonial days.

But this is still a foreigner-friendly city; it’s definitely China a la laowai. I wasn’t here 20 minutes and I saw a Taco Bell Grande — which is, I can’t believe I’m writing this — an upscale version of Taco Bell. I swear I’m not making that up.

Wow, I just went to post this on the site, and I glanced at the comments on the previous blog entry, “How Much is that Doggy in the Window?” And there’s a suggestion about Taco Bell Grande for Mexican food …

I want to introduce my interpreter, Tony, to Mexican food — but I don’t think I can introduce him to Taco Bell. Why is it that with all the wonderful things American culture has to offer, the rest of the world latches onto fast food and inane television? I’ve already heard from two different Chinese people, who have never left this country, how much they love the TV show “Friends.”

At least the Chinese appreciate some of the finer things to come from U.S. shores, such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. I’ve heard from several different Chinese citizens who bring up the symphony when I mention I was born and raised in Cincinnati. That almost makes up for “Friends.”

Jeff’s China Travel Tips!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to bring you the premier of a brand new feature here on Jeff’s Silicon Road blog: Jeff’s China Travel Tips!

I was planning on saving this up as an entire blog topic, but then I thought it would be better to just tack them onto blog entries as they occur to me. So here’s a few that I have whirling around in my head:

  1. Staying in Beijing? For God’s sake, pick a hotel near a subway station! At least make sure your hotel is more than a year old; if it’s not, NONE of the taxi drivers in town will know where the hell your hotel is. Trust me, I know what of I speak.
  2. Coming on business for more than a few days? Be prepared for mundane tasks to take a long time, like printing an expense report and mailing it back to the states. If you’re smart, unlike me, you’ll have someone send airmail envelopes from China ahead of time. Find a hotel between a subway station and a post office, like the Holiday Inn downtown in Shanghai, and you will be in heaven.
  3. If you’re like me and are in the habit of drinking at least a gallon — really — of water a day, bring your backpacking water purifier, or else remember to buy a lot of bottled water; drinking tap water here without boiling it is a no-no. Even says so in the hotel bathrooms.
  4. Electronic News Travels to China

  5. Don’t bother with the VIP tickets on the Shanghai airport maglev, unless it’s really busy or you have a lot of luggage. Yes, they are not that expensive by Western business expense account standards, 100 yuan, or about 12 bucks, but you’re only on the train all of five minutes. Regular tickets are only 50 yuan; save the other 50 yuan for cab rides — the cabs in China are dirt cheap, compared to the United States.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

Editor’s Note (slight return): D’oh! Once again, when I downloaded the Silicon Road microsite, Adobe Acrobat didn’t manage to grab the 13 comments that were attached to this blog entry – it grabbed more than a thousand other pages (most of them empty; I guess it’s an inexact science), but not that one. Damn.

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