One of my favourite shows of all time, Mythbusters, will end after this season. In tribute, I would like to bust some common myths spouted on the Interwebs and elsewhere about life in Shanghai. I moved here six months ago and have the documentary evidence of experience to evaluate these myths.
Probably no explosions in this episode, unfortunately.
Myth #1 – If you don’t live in Xuhui, you don’t live in Shanghai.
Shanghai is massive. MASSIVE. Coming in on the taxi, flying along the busy elevated ring road from Pudong International Airport in April saw to my initial impression of the city as one of the biggest construction projects I’d ever laid eyes on, followed by an even bigger construciton project and another.
By latest accounts, the population of Shanghai is 24,256,800. The population of Xuhui district? 982,200. A whopping 4% of the megacity’s population.
Bear with me, because I’m an English teacher and not a Maths teacher. But the non-Chinese foreign population of Shanghai is about 170,000 this year, down 2% from last year. That’s a tiny portion of the total population of the city. Maybe the perceptions among English teachers are skewed by the ‘fact’ that so many foreigners live in Xuhui district, but I’m not convinced the numbers are there. One might be tempted to say, ‘But but but, breweries and restaurants and nightlife and that LIGHT nightclub that’s blindingly covered in LEDs!!!’
But that’s not ‘real Shanghai.’ That’s an entertainment district, whose description could fit almost any major city’s similar quarter.
Besides, it’s obvious from the sheer numbers. 96% of Shanghainese (foreign or otherwise) don’t live in Xuhui.
This one could get a Politifact ‘Half True’ rating.
If you eat Western food every day, and only ever shop at City Shop, and drink heavily at bars on the Bund, and take taxis everywhere…sure. Things that are expensive in all major cities are about the same price here. I lived in London for a year and a half, and the prices are comprable for many Western goods and services.
But there’s a huge amount of ways to keeps costs down. The bus is dirt cheap (think 20p in GBP per trip). Chinese food is cheap. Crappy local beer is cheap. Train tickets, even all the way to Guilin, are cheap. The Internet is cheap. Groceries are cheap if you shop locally. You get the idea.
The main thing is not to fall into expecting your lifestyle here to match exactly what it would be in a major Western city. In many ways, it’s more convenient and (dare I say) better! You can save quite a lot of money here, if you put your mind to it.
Myth #3 – The Internet is slow/blocked/unusuably archaic.
The fact that you are currently reading this post should do away with that myth neatly. There is Wifi almost everywhere. There are smartphones almost everywhere. People get antsy when they can’t connect to WeChat for a couple of minutes (ok, seconds).
The Internet is practically as usable as anywhere else in the world. My theory is that this myth comes from those who come on a 72-hour visa and stay in a major hotel. That’s where internet tends to be slowest.
This one’s Busted.
There may once have been a time when TEFL certificates were not necessary and you could live on a great salary while working a mere 12 hour week, travelling and learning as much Chinese as possible in your copious hours of free time. That time is not now.
Demands on English teachers in Shanghai are high. You will work long hours, have frustrating administrative tasks, have extra training that makes you have to come in for a 12 hour shift, and have a lot on your plate. Some people just honestly can’t handle it.
This is a job, and it’s one that is far from family and support systems. Some people genuinely freak out. Some party way too much. Some retreat and stop talking to coworkers. A few adjust and do okay.
It’s hard to be a teacher in Shanghai. This one’s Busted.
Or…they are in literally every store I’ve ever checked. Every Family Mart. Every All Days. Even the cruddy shop up the road near the bus stop has some OB in their original packaging.
And there’s Tesco, Walmart, and Carrefour to boot! You can even have your special selected imported fancypants expat tampons and deodorant delivered to your door by any number of grocery delivery companies.
Busted. Busted. Busted.
And here’s a finale explosion, just to keep the spirit of Mythbusters alive. In German, for some reason.