Shanghai: Leader of the pack

Though developments have been taking place in Shanghai for the best part of a generation, things started to really accelerate at the start of the 21st century, as if the new millennia demanded the city set in stone strong foundations for a new age.
Ten years on and the transformation is jaw-dropping. It is now the most modern metropolis in the world, reflected very visibly in its showy, miscellaneous and architecturally dazzling skyscrapers. New York, once the crown prince of the high rises, no longer can compete in both scale and numbers.
It has all been possible because of the goliath engines of industry that have taken China from near abyss to world leader, pushing ahead in the name of progress. Thanks to the mammoth economic boom experienced by the country, Shanghai has been catapulted to the big league.
A reflection of its importance as a base of opportunity can be seen in the fact that it is the most populous city in the country, more so than even the capital Beijing. Approximately 23 million people live and work in the sparkling expanse of Shanghai, enjoying a decent quality of life, boosted by high incomes.
Money matters in Shanghai. As the nucleus of finance and trade in China, as well as in the world, it contributes significantly to the country’s GDP. As a consequence of this, it has become a global hub for multinational corporations and financial institutions seeking to tap into a very lucrative market.
Interestingly, it is not all about banking, stocks and shares, equity and hedge funds, as Shanghai’s wealth comes from a diverse background.
Construction, for example, has been in a constant state of productivity ever since the economic reforms of 1992. With the city set to keep adding to the skyline, it remains a dependable source of income and work.
Another prolific area is the city’s port, which, as of 2010, is the busiest in the world (it overtook Singapore to claim the feat). On average, the Port of Shanghai deals with over 20 million shipping containers, generating approximately five per cent of the country’s GDP. The scale is not to be underestimated – 20 per cent of all exports pass through this base.
As a result of all this, Shanghai has grown to be a very confident, self-assured city and, aware of its centrality to global finance and trade, has adopted much more of a western culture than other Chinese cities.
This is one of the reasons why, for many expats moving overseas, adjusting to a new life in a radically different country is not earth-shatteringly difficult. It’s globalisation at its best, packing in capacious shopping malls with all the best brands, while infusing the city streets with pockets of down-to-earth eateries and cafes.
Now, while amalgamation into city life might be easy enough, moving there is not so straightforward. There is a lot of bureaucracy involved, made all the more difficult by the inevitable language barriers.
Expats thinking about embarking on a spectacular adventure in Shanghai – and China per se – need to apply for and have in their possession a valid visa. It is not possible to organise this in the country.
The type of visa required is subject to the specific circumstances. Most relevant are the permanent visa (known as a D Visa), which allows certain individuals a five-year period of residential grace; and the work visa (Z Visa), which all foreign workers must apply for. Employers are usually required to take up this responsibility.
Another area that warrants serious consideration is banking. Though China has opened up massively over the last ten years, it is still a nation that is very protective of its own institutions and unique identity.
Consequently, domestic banks still hold sway over international ones, with regulation of foreign institutions quite strict. Bank of China has been cited as a popular choice – its international focus is quite good – as has HSBC.
In mulling over these two areas, explicit differences between East and West manifest themselves more clearly. While life in Shanghai might not feel too different to that experienced in London, Paris or New York, China is a world apart from what people are used to.
But, if you’re appreciative of that reality, Shanghai is one of the best places to be in the world. In such a small space of time it has completely reinvented itself. Imagine what you could do.
Shanghai is today’s future.
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