Chinese whirlwinds and ghost towns.

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December 12th 2013
Published: December 15th 2013
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This is quite a belated blog, as we've been in China for three months now. You know how things are when you are starting a new job and moving to a new country, and then getting addicted to games like Candy Crush Saga and reading The Daily Mash?..... No? .....Just us then?

Hitting the Chinese ground running

We landed at Pudong airport in Shanghai early on a Tuesday morning back in September and were picked up by the very efficient and chirpy English assistant from our university department. She drove us to Shanghai Ocean University and dropped us at the campus hotel, where we were to stay for the first three nights.

"You must be tired, so you should have a rest" she said perceptively.

Noone looks good after an 11 hour flight, especially on top of four hours on a National Express bus. We sleepily agreed, hoping she would let us crawl into bed, put on eye masks and crash out for a few hours.

"I'll pick you up in two hours and we'll look for apartments"

Not quite the relaxing-get-over-long-flight day we had planned, but it sure was efficient.

Our apartmentOur apartmentOur apartment

We're on the third floor, behind that tree
12 o'clock, she picked us up, took us for lunch and then to look at nearby apartments. Six apartments later, we had chosen somewhere to live. Barely 8 hours after landing in China, we were sat in a letting agent's office, negotiating an apartment contract.

And that was to set the precedent for the next week in China. Within the next seven days we had:

• signed a contract, paid a deposit and three months rent on and moved into an apartment
• filled the apartment full of homeware left by a previous teacher
• got the internet connected, bought a wifi box and set it up
• got Chinese bank accounts with the childish sounding ABC bank (Agricultural Bank of China)
• got mobile phone contracts with the more grown up sounding China Unicom
• been for medical checks for our work permits
• got transport cards for Shanghai

Oh, and started work. All with zero Chinese. It was a whirlwind, made easier by having a small English speaking Chinese woman to direct/drag us everywhere we needed to go with a "Let's go".

We moved into a new two bedroom apartment in a complex about a 40 minute walk, or 5 minute bus ride from the university. It has balconies front and back of the living room, wooden floors, a modern, if bright yellow kitchen with two hobs, microwave and fridge and a bathroom with a sink, bog, shower and washing machine in it, as per Vietnam. Just like Vietnam, the washing machine is cold water only. Both bedrooms and the living room have air conditioning units, which was useful for summer, but it vital now it's December because they also heat the rooms and it's bloody freezing.

I've seen the Future...and it needs more people

The apartment complex is called 'Future City' in English. It's 'Future' in the 'I am Legend' type of future. The one where a mysterious virus/zombie plague has hit the earth and everyone has died/turned into flesh eating monsters who have then gone on to eat each other. It is seriously empty. The apartment is part of a five storey block of ten apartments, of which only one other is occupied. Typically, it's the one directly above us. The other apartments have never been lived in. They still have sheets of plastic over the doors. The block opposite us is completely empty.
The edge of the city.The edge of the city.The edge of the city.

See, it' still being built
When you first see Future City, it looks like it's old and run-down. Oddly since it's part of a 'new city' (more on that later). However, on closer inspection, it's not old, it's just not finished. The balconies have been built, but not completed with a layer of rust-protecting paint, so the bars have rusted really quickly. The windows all look dirty with what looks like several years of muck over them, but then you realise they have just never been cleaned after the diggers and heavy duty building equipment pulled out.

On the plus side, the lack of people means the apartment was very, very cheap. We pay £220 a month to live here, when the equivalent apartment would be three times that or more closer to the centre of Shanghai. We're on the edge of one of the biggest cities in the world. It's like paying that much to live just outside London.

The reason for the lack of people is that we live, not in Shanghai proper, but in a Chinese 'new' city called Lingang, about 60 km south of the city. Because of the sheer volume of people in cities like Shanghai, the Government
Shanghai Maritime museumShanghai Maritime museumShanghai Maritime museum

First museum to be built in Lingang.
has encouraged foreign investment to build whole new communities on empty land around existing metropolises. If you Google 'Chinese ghost towns' you can find some interesting articles on empty cities in Inner Mongolia. Anyway, in Shanghai, many universities have been relocated to these new cities to relieve congestion and allow them to develop. Lingang was apparently built on land reclaimed from the sea, and is next to the deep water port, and so the Maritime and Ocean Universities were moved out here, along with another one that I'm not sure of the name of (it's in Chinese). Along with the universities, they have built a full conurbation, with shopping centres, office buildings, hotels, apartment complexes and big wide roads. The centrepiece is a huge circular lake - Dishui Lake (using the Chinese name is better than the English translation 'Dripping lake' - it's apparently more romantic sounding in Chinese) surrounded by green spaces for fishing, relaxing and flying kites. It's really quite pretty. It's just that few people have moved out here yet, and thus the shopping centres are empty of shops, there are few businesses in the offices and people have yet to move into the apartments.

This is likely to change very quickly. One of the trial free trade zones is either next to or includes Lingang, I'm unsure which. This is predicted to bring in the foreign companies and help the area develop. The metro line from the city centre (line 16) is due to open any day now. This will mean that these wide open spaces, the fresh air, the wide roads and the new apartments will be within easy travelling distance for Shanghai commuters. Shops are opening around us on a daily basis. There's a huge supermarket where you can buy most foods, cheese and butter excepted, without needing to understand any Chinese. There are a couple of pizza places and lots of places to buy Chinese foods from all over the country. A long awaited bar cannot be far behind! I think what I am saying is, if you are reading this because for whatever reason, you are thinking of moving to Lingang and you have stumbled across this blog on a Google search (which doesn't bring up much at the moment) then don't let this description put you off, because when you are reading this, it's probably a thriving community that we would not recognise.

In the words of Wayne's World: "If you build it, they will come".


15th December 2013

If you build it, they will come
Great to at last get the inside goss on your move to Lingang. You may recall when you were considering the move from HCMC to Lingang I suggested you check out whether it was populated before you rushed in. I'd seen an item on 60 minutes that included Lingang and plenty of film footage of empty streets of this "ghost city". Delighted to hear you are upbeat and enjoying life there and looking forward to its future. "If you build it, they will come" is a Chinese ethos as well, certainly if it reads "If you build roads, they will come."
15th December 2013

No people
Yep, you have good advice Mr Dancing. It's an interesting experience. Before and after....??
13th January 2014

I am envious of your lifestyle, and hope to one day do the same! Thanks for sharing your minibreak travels, looking forward to your explores of the area.

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