Label Cloud

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Holiday Travel - Shanghai affair

AFTER seven wonderful years in Taipei, it was not easy to just pack up and leave, which I decided to do several months ago.I was eager to see for myself the reality behind the hype about China being the rising new economic superpower whose GDP (gross domestic product) has been surging past those of many traditional powerhouses.My motivation was partly the pull factor – the promise of new prosperity – but there was also a bit of the push since Taiwan’s importance has been overshadowed by China in recent years.

However, I was lured by the exciting prospect of a fresh start in Shanghai – the most westernised and cosmopolitan city in China.

There was a bit of nervousness from the prolonged cross-straits tension that has put the island in a volatile and vulnerable position. At the same time, my job as a journalist in Taipei did not seem to offer much prospect, with no salary increment in sight after two years.

The time was right, I convinced myself, to embark on a new adventure.

So, last October saw me packing up my stuff in Taipei and setting off for Shanghai.

During the first two weeks, I shifted accommodation three times. First, I stayed in a budget hotel, then bunked at a friend’s home and, finally, I found an apartment in the upscale Jinganshi district that was shared with a bunch of French expatriates.

It was only after I moved into the apartment that I realised how international Shanghai had become. The rapid development in recent years has attracted not only a massive influx of capital from abroad but also hordes of foreign talent.

According to Business Week, over 150 multinationals had set up offices in Shanghai in 2006 alone. The city reported 12% economic growth the same year, even higher than the blistering national average of 10.7%.

“I am worried about the future competitiveness of Taiwan,” lamented a Taiwanese friend after her trip to Shanghai.

Don’t get us wrong, we are still deeply in love with Taipei, and we have so many fond memories of the city. Taiwanese are open-minded, they have press freedom and passionate about politics; this is a huge contrast to mainlanders.

From my years staying in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Taipei, I felt most at ease among my Taiwanese friends.

But I chose to look for something new and, thus, began my flirtation with Shanghai.

Shortly after landing in Shanghai, I became acquainted with a bewildering variety of foreigners from as far away as France, Russia, Spain and even Malaysia, all seeking their fortunes in this city of opportunity.

Almost immediately, I sensed it was not going to be easy. Shanghai, being the wealthiest city in China, is a magnet for millions of immigrants from smaller mainland cities and rural villages, all trying to make it big.

The number of fresh graduates fighting for a job market is scary. A friend who hails from Guizhou tells me that fresh graduates are happy to secure a job offering 2000 yuan (RM900) a month.

With so many expatriates, myself included, trying our luck in China, it remains a big question mark if local companies would be willing to hire me, let alone pay according to my high expectations.

The last time I checked a recruitment website, there were over 200 people vying for the same vacancy!

Just when I was beginning to wonder if I was losing my edge in the job market, something unexpected happened.

I discovered that one of the fellow students at my ballroom dance classes in Shanghai is from my hometown, Malacca! And, the 30-something lady is in charge of operations at “Three on the Bund”.

Touted as one of the best places to see in the new China by Time magazine in 2005, Three on the Bund is a renovated 1916 building strategically located along the renowned Shanghai bund.

It houses four of the city’s top eateries, an art gallery and a spa that boasts of rivers flowing with Evian, as well as an Armani flagship store.

She extended a warm welcome and even offered me a job in her glamorous firm. Who could have expected to meet someone from the same hometown, and even get a job offer, while taking dance lessons in a strange land?

This, to me, is the charm of the new China – anything is possible, anything can happen. It never ceases to amaze me how much and how quickly it has evolved.

Still, I decided to say goodbye to Shanghai, despite the promise of great possibilities. My three-month sojourn there made me realise that, after all these years, I have become used to the warm and friendly Taiwanese and I missed them so much when away.

But, should wanderlust strike me again, I’m thinking ... Beijing.