Since my trip to the mainland, I’ve been mulling over my impressions of Shanghai and Beijing, and how they compare to the closest thing to a big city Taiwan has- Taibei. Before my vacation, I had a really distorted view of what the mainland was like. Living in Taiwan, I haven’t really had access to much mainland media, and everything in the papers here is pretty negative. Anyway, this is what saw in Shanghai:
When I first arrived in Shanghai, I was pretty underwhelmed. Other than the simplified characters all over the place, and seeing more tall people on the subway carriages than I’m used to, it seemed pretty much like a big version of Taibei. While cheaper restaurants, i.e. road stands, were much cheaper that those in Taibei, upscale places cost a bit more. The Shanghai version of Häagen-Dazs was particularly over the top. Fortunately, Taiwan’s insane beer prices haven’t caught on. In general, drinks in Shanghai cost from quarter to a third of what they do in Taibei.
There were quite a few nice things in Shanghai, other than the prices. One big one was the sidewalks. Usually, in Taibei, sidewalks are narrow, cluttered with illegally parked scooters, and built at a different height in front of each building. In Shanghai, they were level, wide, and uncluttered. Walking was a joy. Another nice thing was the fact that people seemed to expect me to speak in Chinese and to do so as a default. The very one thing that frustrates me most in Taiwan is how often locals try to speak English to me… even if I initiate the conversation in Chinese. All in all, the people I met in Shanghai were fairly friendly, albeit focused on money. The selection of dining, both Chinese and western, in Shanghai was also far better than anything I’ve seen in Taiwan. They had authentic foods from every province, great western restaurants, like Papa John’s, and even a decent Mexican restaurant. Rounding out the good stuff I noticed, Shanghai’s much more bicycle friendly.
On the down side, taxi’s are much harder to find. Another thing is that while ATMs are plentiful, they’re far from ubiquitous, like they are all over Taiwan. Instead of having one in every convenience shop, I actually had to go into the ATMs outside banks, or in nice malls. The very worst thing about Shanghai is that the subway commuters had all the patients and rationality of 5 year-old crack addicts. Despite the very prominent signs saying 先下后上, people rarely observe any train ettiquette. If they want on a train, they shove whoever the heck is in their way and push as hard as they can to force their way on, regardless of how many people on the train are still trying to get off.
Random Observation: Shanghai’s huge! With a population of 20 million, it’s comparable to all of Taiwan.