Friday, January 12, 2007

I have heard Shanghai compared to New York, Paris, and Hong Kong. I’d have to say that those may be true, but I would say it is closer to a combination of Vegas and Los Angeles. It can be as gaudy and bright as Vegas, but everybody is as fashionable and attentive to style as LA. Paris? I don’t see it at all. People are nice, the city is cheap, and they don’t mind if you speak a little English. The only thing that is similar is that the Americano served at Starbucks is a shot of espresso mixed with hot water. Here are my other first observations from the first week in China:

1) There are tons of KFCs. I knew KFC is popular, given the fact that the Chinese love chicken as well as anything fried. But I didn’t expect them to be on every corner and offer free wireless internet as well.

2) Street food seems to be popular in every developing country, but I didn’t expect a guy with a metal box full of burning charcoal selling beef kabobs off the luggage rack of his bike. Katie made me promise not to buy meat products on the street.

3) There is a greater variety of banks than in the United States. The US has a pretty regional banking market, but in any given big city, there are only a few major banks (BofA, Citi, Chase, Wells Fargo, WaMu, etc.) Here in China, it seems that there are 10-20 different banks to choose from, almost all equally prevalent and popular, except two: Bank of China (my bank of choice because it is the only bank I found with an English account application form) and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).

4) There are very few homeless people. Perhaps it’s because the Public Security Bureau (i.e. police) sweep them off the streets at night to be carted out to the country, or because the socialist government provides for their well-being. Regardless, I am particularly aware of their absence since I lived in downtown DC and I couldn’t walk 10 feet without being accosted. Now I can’t walk 10 feet without being asked if I want a Rolex watch or a LV bag, but at least they’re trying to make a living.

5) Nobody sells Diet Coke. Nobody needs to be on a diet here anyway, since I’m easily the heaviest person in the room at all times. I have yet to see anybody with a BMI of over 28. Coke is available everywhere, but if you ask for diet coke, or coke light, they look at you as if you asked for a glass of dirty water. Everybody that is except for Carrefour. But more about that later.

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