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Hi Shanghai, Backpack!gate, and China Cheapskate Syndrome

August 19, 2010

I arrived in Shanghai! Shanghai dao le! Everything has been great so far. Everything except the one thing. The casualty. Or, rather, the casualties.

I left my backpack in a Beijing cab. I didn’t get a receipt. I lost a lot of valuable things, most notably my computer, which explains the lack of blog updates recently. (I am typing this from an Internet cafe in the basement of my apartment building.) Other casualties include my new Amazon Kindle (tear), my camera, my external hard drive, my wallet, my driver’s liscence, and my dignity.

Yeah, THAT happened. It’s the kind of thing you always worry about, but never actually happens. But it did happen. I could kill myself for being so negligent!

Thank goodness my best friend Michelle got me a little travel bag for my birthday. It had my money, ATM card, train ticket, and passport inside. Otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened. And everything in the bag is replacable, other than the pictures I took over the summmer.

As the cab drove away and I realized what had happened, I felt like I was going to throw up. Then I cried. Then I got over it and got on the train!

Rick’s and my new apartment – our new apartment – is absolutely wonderful. It has a foyer/sitting room in front, a bathroom off the foyer, a kitchenette down the hall, and a nice big bedroom with a small enclosed balcony. Pretty decent view, too. The apartment came furnished, so a lot of the moving-in pains are already taken care of. We even have a washing machine! Score! It’s clean and comfy and a good size.

But the best part is the location! Everything I could ever dream of buying, or eating, is a short walk away. We’re less than 5 minutes from a main subway line, and we’re also really close to Shanghai Jiaotong University, which is pretty sweet.

Rick already has an awesome new job (hooray!) at the young consulting firm Lucid 360, so I’ve spent most of this week exploring my new neighborhood and buying things for the apartment. It’s been really fun, and there are SO many restaurants we need to try (I can’t wait).

I’ve recently discovered the reason why economits so fear inflation. I call my particular situation China Cheapskate Syndrome (CCS). Here’s what happens:

You come to China. You convert some US dollars into Chinese yuan. At first, you’re shocked how cheap everything is, and it makes you very happy. Then, CCS begins to kick in. You’re unwilling to spend 200 yuan on a nice meal because it feels like such a big expenditure – 200 yuan! No way! You can go get noodles down the street for 8 yuan!

200 yuan is less than $30 US. You spend that much all the time in the US.  But the numbers–the numbers mess with your mind. Suddenly, nothing is worth what you would pay in the US.

Now, there is certainly reason for this. If you’re on a Chinese salary, like Rick is, then you can’t afford to think of everything in terms of US dollars. You have to think in yuan, and you adjust. But if you’re living on savings, as I am at the moment, the behavior is totally unjustified. It’s all mental.  Nevertheless, it’s probably very healthy as I’ll end up saving a load of money by being a cheapskate.

As I plan for the future, it’s useful to consider where I’ll be saving major money in China, and where I won’t be:

Things that are significantly cheaper: transportation w/in the city (and Asia), restaurants and local groceries, rent, utility bills, personal care (local salon haircat – $11 USD), bad quality clothes/accessories or brand knock-offs.

Things that are not cheaper: transportation to the US, imported groceries and goods (like coffee – sigh), furniture and household appliances, electronics, high quality clothes/accessories, reliable healthcare in English.

As I’ve been buying or considering buying lots of household goods and some (replacement) electronics lately, no wonder I’ve suffered major CCS. I don’t want to buy anything, it’s all too expensive! Microwave for 400 yuan? Forget it! Trash can for 270 yuan? Are you KIDDING me? I’ve become more picky, that’s for sure. I’ve also put off buying a new computer for many reasons, but the typical 3000+ yuan price tag on most netbooks is definitely part of it.

Thank goodness for IKEA. Just as cheap and convenient here in the PRC, although I would guess notably more crowded. IKEA is a destination here! It’s a consumer experience that Chinese people are eating up, I’ll tell you! I love it too. It appeals to all my American consumer instincts. And the prices! Finally something I can stomach. Got the trash can for 150 yuan – with a lid (win!).

So, in essence, it’s been both a leisurely and action-packed week, and I love my new home. I can’t wait to keep exploring it!

Also on the horizon is the job/fellowship situation. Went to visit Jiaotong University today. I like the campus. Figured out what I need to do to get my student visa. Still unsure whether I’ll actually be attending said University… we’ll have to see what happens over the next few weeks. But the chances look good.

I’ll keep you posted. Zaijian!

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