Prologue: Cambridge, 2013
Back in 2013 fall, while my friend, Mike, who was pursuing his doctoral degree at Selwyn College in Cambridge University, we had a discussion about the most desirable place to nest and grow.
“Which city are you planning to settle down in the future?”
“I might prefer to live in Barcelona. There are full of beautiful architecture, decent weather, and work opportunities. How about you? “
I haven’t got an answer but I’ve spent the past few years traveling to 80+ cities all over the world and seeking for the unseen forces that make a city livable, humane and sustainable.
“ Maybe there is a city, which is equipped with an affordable living cost, housing fee, sufficient job opportunities, innovative art/design scene, and most important of all, an open-minded culture that embraces newcomers from the globe.”
Why do you choose to stay in Shanghai?
Recently, I spent few months living in Shanghai and talking to the people who live and work here to figure out the reasons that invite domestic and international workforces to dwell here.
Group 1: Senior International Professionals
Yen-Sheng and Howard arrived in Shanghai around the 1990s due to the reform-and-opening-up policy. They have earned a huge income for the past 20 years and witnessed the growth of the mainland economy. For them, Shanghai is a dynamic, open-minded and speedy place to work. However, Yen-Sheng recently found the decline of architecture and interior design industry costs him significantly.
The market is not as great as it was and they have been seeking abroad connections or investment to sustain their achievement.
Group 2: Experienced Chinese Managers
Charles, Jo, and Ling have been working in town for 10+ years. They enjoy their life and believe the market continues to grow. At least, according to the data from World Bank in 2017, China took the 3rd place on a list of the largest consumer markets of the world.
Frequent commerce activities accelerate demands of design and technology industry. They are positive about Shanghai.
Group 3: Overseas Workforce in town
In terms of economic growth and future development, Phillip and Max make a comparison of China and their motherland, Germany and the United Kingdom. They are confident at least in the next 5 years, Shanghai or major cities in Asia would be the best place for them to earn a massive salary. Meanwhile, they also understand if they would like to be wealthier, high-quality lifestyle is the first they shall forget.
They are here for learning Chinese as well as quick money.
Group 4: Domestic Young Human Resources
Yun Yun has an absolutely busy lifestyle: 5-7 days of work and staying on-call most of the time. “My boss employs me with an impressive income so I would stand the long working hours and non-stop calls/messages from him or clients on WeChat.”
Yun Yun focus on work without worrying too much about the environments. They make a good business.
As a curator who cares more about art and culture, the mainstream is not designed for her profession and ambition. Jie Wen acknowledges the reality and takes portfolio tutor and online editor as her second job in the evening after work.
Jie Wen doesn’t feel bright about the industry but she is trying hard to improve domestic cultural and art scene.
What makes Shanghai captivating to a particular type of persons?
Local Chinese tend to believe the strength of the market whereas for international people, they sense the risks and just see Shanghai as a temporal spot to boost their career.
For young professionals who are keen for large-scale design projects and prosperous annual income, Shanghai is definitely the battlefield to score the goal.
Changing and unpredictable condition are the key drama that drives the city forward. Polluted air, untraceable food source, unreliable local folks and some tiny bugs in daily routines are the basics that each warrior in Shanghai should forgive and forget.
If the rest of global cities are akin to stock markets, the opportunities in Shanghai are more crypto exchange alike.
Epilogue: Shanghai, 2018
Mike acquired his doctoral degree and working for Cambridge Innovation Consulting from 2015. I head back to Asia right after completing a postgraduate study at Central Saint Martins in 2015. For the past few years, the answer to the question remains unknown.
As a designer who has a dream of building up a humane, liveable and sustainable urban environment with a decent living experience for the general public, residing in a spot which offers more freedom and bottom-up culture is the priority.
Shanghai is an ideal city for a career achievement but regarding a more genuine focus on designing new products, the city and the industry would never leave you a space to think and develop- they need it now or no later than next week.
In a nutshell, don’t expect to discover an endangered creature in the Amazon rainforest with a comfortable bed and well-prepared shelter. Just dress up for the hunger game.