USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Us and Them.

The days of European imperialism in Shanghai are technically long over, technically.  Thousands of expats reside throughout Shanghai today.  They tend to group together, creating foreign specializing communities.  As a foreigner myself, I tend to gravitate toward these foreigner oriented areas.  However specialized these areas are, one cannot but recognize how this specialization exists throughout the city and within the mindset of the locals as well.

I have seen a definitive difference between what is meant for locals and what is meant for expats.  There seem to be two sets of everything.  I first noticed this some time ago while eating out.  Looking for affordable places for lunch there are two types, ones that are local oriented and one that is expat oriented.  The local oriented food consists of really excellent street food and small vendors which cost less than 10rmb per person.  The other class of restaurants is generally upwards of 60rmb for lunch.  Decent, sit down restaurants for dinner are also polarized.  The Chinese version can be as little as 30rmb, while its western counterpart can be about 120rmb for dinner.  Although you will find a really high end Chinese restaurant for 120rmb dinner, or more even, you will not find western food the prices of Chinese food.  Furthermore, upon going into any of these Western restaurants there are not Chinese families here.  There are very westernized Chinese people, mixed couples, Asian business professionals- not families, not people who wouldn’t already be capable of travelling out of country.

Conversely, while in the Electronic district with my Chinese speaking friend I became subject to different kind of separation.  While haggling, my friend was told she could get a better price because they are of the same, both ‘native’ Chinese, not some foreigner.  Until the seller realized I was with her, and she was probably also a foreigner, then the deal was off.

When reading a local equivalent of LA Weekly expat edition, I realized how extensive this divide truly is.  I found an article about where to buy jeans, it specifies if you are proportioned like locals then you can go to this place, but if you want more western sizes then go to this place.  Or if you don’t mind being inundated in street culture and haggling then go here, but if you want to be waited on by an English speaker go here.  I continued reading to find an article about some European women who couldn’t find quality leather purses they wanted here, so they just started their own purse manufacturing company here.  This is more than just entrepreneurial.  This is identifying a level of quality that can only be identified with those who are NOT local.   This is about class divide, not a racial divide.  However unlike most immigrant situations, it is the immigrants who are the well-to-do and elite.

Beyond a sense of elitism, there is more.  As comparing immigrant communities in the US to those here there is a large defining difference.  Most immigrants come to the US and assimilate into ‘American’ life.  Most try to hold onto their own culture while still meeting American expectations.  Here there doesn’t appear to be any effort to assimilate.  In Shanghai, the effort is shown by making whatever place they settle into more like their own culture.  Instead of integrating their own culture into that of the local one, their culture dominates and the local culture starts to absorb their changes.  This difference once again becomes the most prevalent to me in food, but not in the prices, in the authenticity.  Almost every cuisine in the US has dishes that are not native to the cuisine, but American takes.  They are dishes developed by immigrants with an understanding of their own cultural food and an understanding of American goods and tastes.  An example of this is cioppino. Cioppino is rich seafood stew associated with Italian cuisine; it was developed by Italian American fisherman in San Francisco based on their local catches.  The same is true numerous types on makizushi.  These ‘Japanese’ sushi rolls are made inside out (rice outside of the nori, instead of inside) with cooked food like tempura soft shell crab inside.  These are purely American interpretations that have become so widely popular they have moved beyond the US borders and right back into the cultures they started from.  This doesn’t happen for Chinese interpretations of food.  Food doesn’t really ‘fusion’ here, it’s either/or but never both.  I can actually live in Shanghai without ever eating Chinese food or any semblance thereof if I so choose.  Does this exist because of the earlier mentioned elitism?  One cuisine is too pure for fusion with another? Or is there no demand for fusion?

Shanghai is an atmosphere of separates- separate food, separate prices, and separate clothing sizes creating two overall vastly different experiences.  Are both foreigners and locals choosing to stay separate? Is it possible that it is not the foreigners at all but the locals who refuse this integration?  Could Chinese people be so accustomed to China’s previous cultural isolation that fusion is just not even a question yet?




Filed under: America, China, Fusion, Psyche, Shopping

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

%d bloggers like this: