I guess most people have an affinity with Shanghai, they have either visited, or the have seen the skyline and the building’s from films such as Lara Croft, Mission Impossible and James Bond (Not to mention Paul Merton’s recent TV series), so everyone has an image of what they will see before they arrive – what TV, Films, Magazines and news articles don’t show you are the extremes of the everyday people who live, work and play in this enormous city.
Just across the HuangPu River in Pudong, you have an area called Lujiazui, this is where the worlds financiers have located and contains probably the most famous sights of Shanghai, The Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, HSBC Bank and an assortment of the best hotels in the world. Here you will find the usual pin stripped men and women of the financial world, a place to work, eat, sleep and play, along with the thousands of tourist that visit each day.
On the other side of the river you will find the Puxi area of Shanghai, is where the first modern day foreigners settled, and gave rise to the famous Bund area with its colonial architecture, nearby a district called the French concession, which as the name suggests was an area set aside for the French during the Foreign occupation of the city, it is still inhabited by many foreigners and is a chic, cosmopolitan area. Where dozens of fancy restaurants mingle with classy boutiques and designer hotels.
The choices of where to live in Shanghai are enormous, unlike Nanjing where you can only select between half a dozen or so expat compounds – the accelerated growth, and invasion of the foreigners in Shanghai, has led to a building boom for high class, extremely expensive and in some cases bizarre housing compounds, all designed to make us foreigners feel at home.
When we decided to move to Shanghai we limited our choices due to 2 distinct factors, The first being that having experienced traffic in big Chinese cities, we realised that it that it takes twice as long to get anywhere, and our desire not to have our children spend hours travelling to and from School, meant that we would choose somewhere that was local to the school of our choice, and secondly I would be working quite far out of the city and needed somewhere with good transport links to my work.
The injection of foreigners has seen an enormous growth in foreign schools, these employ English speaking teachers from around the world – they charge exorbitant rates for an education that finds itself tending to non-English speakers, rather than providing advanced education for private school money. Not a great situation, but then beggars can be choosers! We had decided that the British International School in Puxi, fitted our 2 criteria best – so all that was left was to identify somewhere to live.
Close to the school are many housing compounds, in many different styles. The closest 3 are the Shanghai Racquet Club, a resort based on the club med way of life, with apartment living in low rise structures, individual swimming pools dotted around each building, and a fantastic club house with professional tennis courts and coaches, a sprawling pool, large gym, squash courts, 2 restaurants, a shop and a beauty salon, all of this without a cash register in site – you pay with a membership card and settle your bill at the end of each month. The place has a holiday club atmosphere about it all, and caters to those who want to completely forget that they are in China.
The next and the most impressive is a place called Forest Manor, this has to be one of the most prestigious housing developments in the world, yes I did say world. Each house is individually designed, with rents ranging from $8000 per month, up to a staggering $32,000 per month. For that you get your own replica Whitehouse, including men in black style guards whispering into earpieces, and your very own golf buggy to help you ferry the kids back and forth to the lavish club house.
Well the choice we made wasn’t as ostentatious as Forest Manor (our budget barely got us past the security gate to have a look!), and the Racquet club just didn’t feel real – I love going on holiday because it is something different, living in a resort complex for more than a few weeks, seems more like hell than heaven to me!
We fell in love with our chosen abode as soon as the electric gates opened, and our car past under the hacienda style entrance. It’s hard to explain exactly what it’s like, but imagine a cross between Bonanza, High Chaparral and the BBC soap Eldorado. With grapevines hanging from the carport, lime trees in the garden and whitewashed villas dotted around creeks and plantations, its incredibly beautiful, strangely authentic and completely surreal experience – quite what the dozens of local workers who tend to the gardens, empty the rubbish, clean the swimming pools and man the security think heaven only knows – to be honest I’m not quite sure what to make of it either, but while the sun is shining and I can reach out from my garden chair to pick a lime for my bottle of local beer – life is pretty good!