China: The Verdict Is In

The Good

  • Public transportation is efficient and very affordable. Buses cost 2 yuan (RMB) each trip (~28¢) and run frequently, while the metro costs 2-9 yuan each way (28¢ – $1.28), depending on the distance. The D train from Hangzhou to Shanghai was 54 yuan (<$8), and another (slower) train from Shanghai back to Xiaoshan was 26 yuan (<$4). A 30min taxi ride from the airport to hotel was 85 yuan (~$12).
  • Construction is happening everywhere! Infrastructure is improving and high rises are popping up all over the place. (If fact, there is extremely loud construction happening right outside of our hotel room window…) Architecture firms with projects in Asia should be thriving.
  • The West Lake in Hangzhou is beautiful, as with a lot of the new architecture in Shanghai. If I were a real painter or photographer, I’d move to Hangzhou and paint the four seasons repeatedly (pictures to come at the end of this post).


The Bad

  • Living costs are not that low. Rent in downtown Shanghai is equally absurd (and comparable to San Francisco). Food can be cheap (street vendors, hole-in-the-walls, supermarkets, convenience stores, etc.), unless you eat at the New World Plaza, where a dinner set at any one restaurant was 30-50 USD. Ridics. Shopping mall items cost about the same…maybe even more if they’re American brands.
  • Public transportation during rush hour is pure chaos. You are always standing with someone literally spooning you from behind…while you offend the person in front of you. People will push and shove hard without saying “excuse me”.
  • It is f!cking cold in December (but apparently a “warm winter” this year). At night outside, I wore two long-sleeved thermals underneath a knit sweater, underneath a hooded sweatshirt, beneath a wool coat. Raising one arm to hold on to the handrail was pretty difficult.

The Ugly

  • People are rude as hell. While I was in line buying tickets at the Hangzhou train station (which btw has no English signs or translations of any sort…), a lady from the end of the line marched up to the front and started yelling at the group of girls in front of me for taking “too long” (maybe 5min max). She stormed back after her final words, “討厭”! Later on, I asked the young gal managing a baggage check booth how much it would cost per luggage. She mumbled something like “ten dollars” without even looking up, so I asked her kindly, “Ten?” and she just glared at me then went back to her reading. While sitting in the waiting room, the lady a few chairs to my left cracked nuts loudly and threw all the shells and all of her nasty trash on the floor nonchalantly. On the train, people talked loudly on their cell phones or to each other, played card games with rowdy arguments and bouts of laughter, slurped cup noodles and smoked inside (in your face)—courtesy is apparently a foreign concept. Pedestrians also never have the right of way, and I’ve been cursed at quite a few times for simply crossing a bike lane or a crosswalk during a green light.
  • The socioeconomic gap between the rich and the poor is extreme and highly unsettling. At the train stations, I saw all sorts of people…people from the countryside carrying sacks on sticks, merchants with giant boxes of who knows what, students with backpacks, businessmen with suitcases, you name it. A beggar with her child stopped in front of each person in the waiting room and placed her cup on our shoes as she mumbled, “Food for baby…” On the train, a woman with burnt hands led a blind man through the halls as they begged for money (before scuttling off right before the train pulled away from the station). At the high end shopping malls and plazas, people walked around with Burberry scarves, LV handbags, Chanel glasses, and so on. At these places, I also saw a lot of foreigners. At major tourist attractions, street vendors particularly targeted (more like harassed) people who didn’t look Asian (not me) and people with very conspicuous cameras (me).
  • Political propaganda still exists. A man was selling collectible Mao stamps on the train and went on and on with a microphone or megaphone about Mao’s contributions, how that related to the train we were on, how Taiwan will “return” to China one day and hopefully buy Mao stamps too…I mean wtf?! The stamps sold fast too. On TV, I kept seeing highly skewed news reporting about Taiwan’s local elections and political disputes (and how “ridiculous” the DPP was being…)—Fox news aiint nothing in comparison. The Great Firewall is equally ridiculous. I haven’t checked Facebook or Tumblr in five days!

The verdict: with all of that said and done, I don’t see myself working in China, so ignore all of my indecisive China posts since the beginning of October. Conferences, freelance projects, design competitions—we’re all on again? (Please?!) As Ben said, “It’s good that I came to visit and stopped being indecisive.” (btw Ben, your blog is blocked.)

Now back to the good stuff…with pictures this time!

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Hangzhou is supposedly known for having the most beautiful Chinese women because of the high moisture content in the air — regardless, the scenic views were magnificent. We walked around the West Lake then wandered in a tea village before getting lost in the woods. (We backtracked out of it though.)

 

Shanghai is a truly cosmopolitan city with a serious clash of architectural styles:

Old vs. new:

Perhaps I’ll miss China…just a tiny bit.