Let’s face it, China’s 城市(chéng shì) - cities don’t have the world’s greatest reputation. When I talk to my family and friends back home, they often worry that I’m battling overcrowding, extreme temperatures, and pollution.
But, I always tell them: “life is great!” In fact, there are loads of advantages to city life in China compared to my home country (the UK) and I love my adoptive hometown of Shanghai. That’s why in this blog post I want to introduce some of the best things about life in Chinese cities.
1. Long Opening Hours
It’s not an exaggeration to say that many businesses near where I live in Shanghai are open, literally all the time.
Most large chain stores 开门 (kāi mén) – open, as early as 10am, and don’t lock up and 关门 (guan mén) – close until 10pm, while smaller family-run restaurants, hair salons, and convenience stores don’t close until the last customer leaves, which can often be in the middle of the night.
While the chances of actually needing, say – a haircut – at 2am are slim, the long opening hours are super useful when it’s 11pm and you realize you’re out of toothpaste, or have to catch a train or flight in the early hours of the morning and want to grab some dumplings to keep you going on the journey ahead.
In fact, I’ve become so used to being able to pop out to the store whenever I want that I often get caught out at home in the UK, where many business close in the evening and on Sunday. Not a big deal usually, but when you’ve foolishly left it to the last minute to buy your mom’s birthday gift, it quickly becomes a problem!
2. Cheap and Reliable Public Transport
As far as Chinese cities go, Shanghai is pretty expensive. But, it still costs only $0.60 USD to 坐地铁 (zuò dì tiě) – ride the subway to the center of town, and even less, around $0.30 USD, to 坐公共汽车 (zuò gōng gòng qì chē) - ride the bus.
Not only that, but most public transport – especially in big cities – is clean, reliable, and (most importantly) air-conditioned. (Check out our lesson on transportation here!)
Getting out and about on public transport can also be a great way to practice your Chinese. Taxi drivers are often especially keen to chat and each time you 打车 (dǎ chē) – take a taxi, you have an opportunity to practice speaking.
Older Chinese often don’t have the same sensitivity to personal questions as we do in the West, which can sometimes result in me getting quizzed about my age, income, rent, and why I don’t – at the ripe old age of 27 – have kids yet!
But, once you get used to the forwardness, talking with your taxi driver is a fun way to improve your Chinese skills and learn more about the city.
3. Easy Express Delivery
Whether it’s take-out, furniture, or designer handbags, Chinese people love to shop online - and the great thing about living here is that you can get almost anything delivered directly to your door at short notice.
In fact, this is both a blessing and a curse. The good thing is that online shopping often has great bargains, and 快递 (kuài dì) – express delivery drivers are extremely flexible and will come back later if you’re not home, meaning there’s no need to stay home for the day to wait for the parcel.
The bad thing is that my cooking skills have really taken a hit: when it takes only the click of a button on my laptop and $2-3 (including delivery) to have a healthy, delicious 外卖 (wài mài) > – take-out meal brought to the door within half an hour, it’s hard to find the motivation to cook!
4. The Buzzing Atmosphere
When Chinese people ask me why I love China so much, I always answer: 因为中国很热闹 (yīn wèi zhōng guó hěn rè nao) – because China is really 热闹 (rè nao) .
Literally meaning “hot and noisy” 热闹 (rè nao) is one of my favorite words in Chinese. It’s hard to find an English word that fully captures the meaning, but “buzzing” or “bustling” probably come close.
热闹 (rè nao) describes the atmosphere when you walk down a busy street and hear dance music pumping out of every shop, waitresses calling out to potential customers, and families and friends laughing and joking.
It also describes when you enter a loud, raucous restaurant full of people eating delicious spicy food and playing drinking games.
Being in such a 热闹 (rè nao) place fills me with energy: it’s impossible to feel tired when everything around you is so buzzing with life.
(To learn about other great Chinese words that are tough to translate into English, check out this blog post!)
5. Great Public Spaces
Walk through a city in China, and you’ll soon see a bunch of (usually elderly) people gathered around a stone table, staring intently. You’ll wonder, “what are they looking at?”
Get closer, and you’ll see they’re watching a chess match or card game being played on a public table designed especially for that purpose.
This is another thing that I love about Chinese cities: there are loads of well designed and useful public spaces to 玩儿游戏 (wánr yóu xì) – play games, 聊天 (liáo tiān) – chat, and 做运动 (zuò yùn dòng) – do sports to keep fit.
In particular, if you need a break from the 热闹 (rè nao) atmosphere of the rest of the city, China’s 公园 (gōng yuan) > – parks are beautifully designed, peaceful, and often come equipped with tables for chess, ping pong, and playing cards.
Not only do these public spaces let you have fun for free, but they’re also a great way to meet local people, or just watch and enjoy the friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Do you agree that life in Chinese cities can be awesome? What do you love about Chinese cities and why? Please share with us in the comments section below!