Sunday, 11 May 2008

The cost of a 'normal' life

  • This is an entry I have been threatening to write for months, but as my last BLOG was about money – it seems appropriate that I finally got down to putting finger to key.
    As the title suggests I wanted to write about the cost of living in China – not for a local (maybe that one would come later) but as an Ex-British citizen (I think I’m ‘Ex’, I will have to check with the consulate!).
    Bulleted List
    You see the cost of living depends on your lifestyle, eating habits, living style, family size, transportation preference, and in some respects what you can actually afford! I guess many people think that the cost of living in China is extremely low in comparison with the UK, and if you wished to live life as a local – that would almost certainly be true. As I recently wrote, if you’re an indigenous Chinese worker – you will be living on far less than your western expatriate, or comparable UK worker. However living the normal Chinese lifestyle would not appeal to many westerners – if any.

    When I lived in Nanjing, I had to adapt my standard of living considerably. The lack of western nicety’s caused me and my family to do without many of life’s simple pleasures, leaving anything made by Cadbury, Walkers, Stella Artois, Marks and Spencers, NEXT or Clarks just a dream or long distant memory. After a while you start to accept (I wont say enjoy) rice with every meal, sweet bread and hairy crab crisps.

    Moving to Shanghai was like moving to a new country, we ran around the specialist foreign supermarkets like, well like children in a sweet shop – reminiscent of a scene out of a Peter Kay stand up show, we picked up Cadburys Chocolate Fingers like they were made of gold, showing them to each member of the family in disbelieve that we actually found some identifiable food stuff!

    Believe me, please believe me I have tried to lead a more simple life – but I always end up craving for a tin of Heinz Baked beans, HP Sauce, or Air-Conditioning in 45 degree heat.
    So I am writing this BLOG as a simple-minded westerner trying to live an Englishman’s life in a Chinese city, rather than an English man living in a Chinese city, trying to live a Chinese lifestyle.
    I have tried to break down the cost of living into 7 parts, eating in, eating out, taxation, commodity bills (Including vehicle fuel), rent (vehicles and property), transportation and clothes. Today’s first installment is about eating in.

    Eating In

    The most famous western supermarket chain in China is Carrefour, it also happens to be the largest in Europe and 2nd only to Walmart in the world.
    Opening its first Chinese store in 1995, it now has 42 stores employing over 23,000 people. Carrefour is the center of most western dwellers shopping habits in mainland China, apart from shopping it’s the first place you meet other people in a similar position, it’s a focal point to set distance and directions from, and it remains a key indicator for change in China.
    I have to say that Carrefour has never been my favorite store – but it was a god send when we lived in Nanjing – we would visit each week and dream of them increasing their foreign brand range by another product (It never did!), and the live fish, turtles and frogs on sale always raised a laugh.
    I rarely visit Carrefour in Shanghai, mainly because we now have choice! A couple of local stores provide (almost) everything we need – although at an extortionate price!
    I could write lists, and lists of products which whilst interesting – I would probably get an avalanche of abuse because someone out there doesn’t buy sardines pickled in human brine (Just me then!). So I just decided to pick the top 20 ‘favorites’ from ‘most’ peoples shopping trolleys. If you did want any other product compared – let me know, I am now the expert!!
I recognize that you could not make much of a meal from all of that, and believe it or not I never picked items to show an uneven spread of prices (I.e. cheapest UK Vs Most expensive Chinese). If I had included chocolate sweets or wine the gap would be even wider (a standard Mars Bar costs 1.12 and a bottle of Jacobs Creak Chardonnay is over 9.00 a bottle). If you want to check out the prices yourself try .

You will notice that I have missed meat and fish from the list, well we are encouraged by western doctors to eat only imported Australian meat, and to avoid all locally produced meat and fish.
You ignore this advice at your own peril, I recognize that the UK has suffered with BSE, foot and mouth and salmonella outbreaks despite the extremely stringent rules and regulations to control hygiene etc. But these outbreaks pale into insignificance with locally produced produce in China, where human excrement is the flavour of choice for farmers fertilizer and a recent outbreak of blue ear disease in pigs doubled the price of pork and left at least 5% of the 500 million pigs in China culled or slaughtered – or at least those that were prevented from being sold on the black markets!
Farming, slaughtering, logistic and food handling standards I expect don’t meet European standards? Although I am happy to be proven wrong!The price of imported Australian meat is incredibly expensive, and locally produced meat incredibly cheap in comparison – so I chose to leave these out of the equation to provide a more level and realistic playing field.

So cooking at home in Shanghai can be dangerous and expensive, the alternative is to use one of the 1001 restaurants in Shanghai. Which of course only use imported meet, the freshest of fruit, vegetables and ensures that they prepare, clean, cook and serve with the highest levels of cleanliness – or do they? More next week.


Ian in Spain said...

HP is no longer British. It is owned the Dutch and is made in The Netherlands.
This begs the question what is made in the UK these days?
Apart from Taxis that is!

Anonymous said...

I REFUSE to visit Carrefour and give my money to the FRENCH sorts.

I am a Mykal or Jusco sort of man.