Thursday, November 30, 2006

Shanghai from an Indian perspective

Indian software engineer Nimbupani writes about his experience as an expat living in Shanghai. He provides some comparative insight on Indian (messy, but democratic) and Chinese (authoritarian, but sometimes very efficient) development models. (See here for related IHT article.) The parts I like best are the small observations; since I know Shanghai they really tell me more about India by comparison. I hope he continues to blog from Shanghai!

Personally, I don't see how India can improve its GDP per capita unless birth rates come down significantly. There will undoubtedly be an upper class of hundreds of millions of affluent, well-educated Indians (and that alone will have a big impact on the rest of the world), but I don't see how things will get better for the average Indians in the villages unless significant changes are made. In China rural people are leaving the farms and heading for the cities, one of the greatest human migrations of all time. This is made possible by manufacturing. While software development and other higher end activities (which have fueled India's development recently) provide much better jobs, they cannot absorb hundreds of millions of low-skill people from the countryside. On the other hand, who knows how stable China is, under the surface.

Let me start with introducing my self, I am an Indian, professionally Process Consultant (six sigma Black Belt) who got a job offer from a Shanghai based company to work on to improve processes of their client in Shanghai. When i told this to my parents, reaction was China..why what will u eat will you sustain, people(from India) usually go to US, UK but China..nnnnaa..Even i was confused..but offer was good, not v good in terms of money but the exposure and as a value add, yes it was worth making an attempt. So i made up my mind, ok i will go, which was not easy ...

One of the costliest city in world, best city of China, more like Mumbai in india, crime rate was low compare to other international cities, language will be a problem, one of the best airport in world, business city of world with lot of skyscrapers..and indian knowledge of china - they are small, hard working, stubborn, dominating, not friendly, difficult to strive there.

But let me tell you Shanghai and China its not as we see them in India..

This is what I can tell you about Shanghai from Shanghai,

About Infrastructure: It is rightly said they have have one of the best airports in world, international airport at New delhi is very small as compared to what they have in Shanghai, in fact in terms of infrastructure they are very advanced, the government here has invested a lot in infrastructure, not only in major cities like Shanghai but even in small towns, even public transport, traffic management, day to day work, its smooth not as complicated as in india, I cant find a car in India without a scratch but here one scratch means a big thing.. They have excellent and still expanding Subway(metro in india) covering Shanghai. Taxi service covers whole of Shanghai, simply day to day work in not complicated.

About people: they are very friendly, they do everything to ensure that they are able to help you even majority do not understand English, although you may some time feel little annoyed but overall its not an hindrance. They don't cheat and not as often as you see in India, at least i have not seen. They are not stubborn, they are polite, but in general they speak loudly and some time it annoys me but its a different culture all together, while eating, lot of noise during chewing, personally it annoys me but some in India have same habbit.

About food: if you love Non veg and Sea food you will love it here, In india i occasionally had Chicken, but here i have tried everything pork, chicken, fish, beef, prawn, crab, small octopus look like thing also, and recently I saw a dish it was like gel but that gel like thing was made up by freezing blood of Chicken and duck, i was not able to try that..and after 3 months, I have finalized on following food- chicken, fish, vegetable, tofu (paneer without fat) as priority dish :). In vegetables they have stems of sea plants, v healthy, generally Chinese food is low in fat as compared to india food. We do have some Indian restaurant and we go their occasionally as we cook food at home, it reminds how difficult it was finding out wheat flour and then getting a 5 kg pack..:))

Overall it's a great place and indian democratic government needs to learn a lot about how to build up infrastructure as this is what drives economy and standard of living, for example, in delhi, we get exhausted by the time we reach work place and home because of traffic and jams and small issues..which is loss of national energy...

Also last but not the least, women are safe here, no teasing and they wear what they want( in terms of fashion they are v advanced), not like india, where everyone is worried about women in their family, however not realizing doing the same act on street. Bottom line its safe...


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting!

I would be most interested in hearing about your perceptions of Chinese cities, what life, infrastructure is like relative to say the US...

Based on my Indian experience, I misjudged the extent of China's advances. I read all the glowing articles about India, but from first-hand experience see many gaping holes in development. As Nimbupani("Lime water":)) wrote travelling within a city like Delhi is a huge ordeal, and physically draining. I thought the same "hype" applied to China. Clearly, it is not the case in at least some instances, like infrastructure.

You are abs. correct regarding India and the IT revolution. IT has helped very few in India. The Chinese manufacturing approach has helped a lot more. The infrasturcture in India is abysmal; I see serious problems in the future without considerable improvement.

Regarding democracy, I would agree that India probably can absorb shocks to the system better than most other countries(including most of the western world, in my opinion). However, I think a large part of it is the Indian culture itself. Plurality/multicultutralism helps a lot as well.


Steve Hsu said...


The infrastructure in Shanghai and Beijing are very good. The airports, light rail, etc. are better than the average here in the US or Europe, mainly because they are new. The roads are very good, but traffic is becoming a serious problem. There were never any problems with power outages or water shutdowns while I was visiting (no one has to buy water from water trucks).

Keep in mind that these are elite "show" cities, so well above the level in the rest of China. However, regarding power, water and roads I would guess the level is pretty similar in the many cities with population > 1 million.

Also, both Beijing and Shanghai have floating populations of migrants who do a lot of dirty work, but don't have the same rights as official residents. For these people, life is much worse. However, keep in mind that they come to the city voluntarily, and what they find is better than what they left behind in the countryside (they literally vote with their feet).

One poignant moment came when I was buying a pair of leather shoes** in Beijing. The fashionably-dressed salesgirl asked me where I was from, and when I told her the US, she sighed and said she thought she'd probably never be able to afford a trip here. Well, at least not until the RMB revalues :-)

**The level of design and fashion is pretty high in urban China - logos, menus, commercial signs, clothing, accessories, etc. are at roughly the same aesthetic quality as in the west or Japan. The shoes were only $40 or so, but could easily have cost $120 here.) There is definitely a big PPP adjustment factor.

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for a most informative comment; this one was especially priceless to me!

While somethings in India(like phones, # TV channels, internet banking) are not far from what we have here, the difference in infrastructure and basics(like water, electricity) in major cities in India and China is then HUGE, not merely of degree, but one of kind. Slums(all illegal, by the way) are a big problem, with politicians having to accede to the demands of the slum dwellers. To be fair, Delhi does have a decent metro, but it still has a long, long way to go...

Regarding water, I remember having to lug water from water trucks for about a km during some days in the summer. And we are talking about Delhi, the capital! It is worse in other parts of India including Hyderabad and Bangalore, especially now. Interestingly, it was found that the water problem in Delhi was due to subsidization and hoarding of water. Recently they started a pilot project in a part of Delhi where water would be charged at "market rate" and be available 24 hours a day(unheard of in India!), but no hoarding of water was allowed. Don't know how it is going...

Amazing(and grateful) you do the blogging for free!


Steve Hsu said...

Probably nothing new for you, but this New Yorker piece on the water problem in India is really good:

The part about farmers drilling deeper and deeper into the water table and making more from their water rights than growing food is just chilling. It is claimed that democracy is what prevents the government from reforming water rights policy.

Future consequences are scary. They are also facing a water crisis in China.

Here in Oregon there is no shortage of water :-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post and comment; excellent.


- jj said...

Hi there,

This is a great blog of yours, Your site is very informative and I can relate to your posts. My husband and I are also EXPATs in China. I have just started my own blog: TheShanghaiExpat. Please feel free to visit and let me know what you think for a link exchange.


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