5 Reasons Why Shanghai is Asia’s New York

1. Energy level is HIGH


A city’s energy is driven by many things, like population density, operating hours, traffic levels…even the quantity of street lighting.

My first, and strongest, impression of Shanghai has been the overwhelming feeling of motion, noise, and energy. It gives you a real adrenaline boost. Like you’re missing out on life if you go to sleep or stay home all day.

The only time I’ve felt this way was my 2 years in New York. There are GOOD restaurants open 24/7. People are walking and talking in Washington Square Park at all hours. On weekend nights there were too many people to meet up with, clubs & bars to check out. Other cities have come close, like Tokyo, but none have quite the energetic chaos of Shanghai.

2. Lots and lots of people

According to Google:

Shanghai: 23 million-plus (and most people believe this underestimates Shanghai’s migrant and short-term populations)
New York City: 19 million (including the broader metropolitan area)

When you sort cities by population density, both cities can’t compare to India (a country I need to visit), but for someone who grew up in Austin, it’s a big leap :)

Shanghai's not like this...yet
Shanghai’s not like this…yet

Speaking of “lots”, I recently heard on Stitcher’s Freakonomics podcast that there are more than 1 BILLION parking spaces in the U.S. – almost 4 per resident!!

3. Sense of LIMITLESS opportunity

limitless-de-niro Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) to Carl Van Loon (de Niro): No scenario? I see every scenario, I see 50 scenarios, that’s what it does Carl – it puts me 50 moves ahead of you. (one of my favorite quotes from an underrated movie)

High energy, high density cities like New York and Shanghai attract people seeking high-powered opportunities. They feed off the adrenaline, the people, and the motion. They’re generally younger, more ambitious, and more extraverted.

As a result, people in both places love “new”. New friends, new opportunities, new jobs…

This affects everyone’s behaviors, myself included. I find myself partying until 4am like my New York days, and waking up early for brunch. The hookup culture seems even more prevalent here, and like in New York, serious relationships are tougher to find and hold.

There are all sorts of interesting conclusions I’m drawing on the business side, but I’ll save that for another post.

4. Big city costs

There’s a tax to big city living. In return for the energy, the social connections, the opportunity, you also have to put up with:

  • Rude people (like New York, it’s mostly superficial, but people in big cities develop this public shield)
  • Bad air (Shanghai isn’t Beijing, but it’s no Cheyenne either)
  • Inflated prices (apartments here are about 20-25% cheaper than SF. Nice discount, but not compared to 10 years ago)
  • Construction, and lots of it
  • Random things, like this photo album I’m building of “creative places where Shanghai people hang their clothes”
Like in the middle of a public park...
Like in the middle of a public park…

5. Big city benefits

But I’ll end on a good note, and reasons why I’m enjoying my time here :)

  • Like Seamless Web in Manhattan, you can get AMAZING food delivered ANYTIME, ANYWHERE, ANY CUISINE. Slight exaggeration, but oh-so-awesome. Shanghai’s got Sherpa…Mealbay…even McDonald’s delivers 24/7. I’ve been to two restaurants where, on a weekday evening, I counted more delivery guys waiting for their orders than customers sitting inside!
  • Amazing subway system. 90% of my traveling is on the subway. It’s reliable, extensive, and clean enough
  • Overall great restaurant scene, including tons of cheap and good food options. From my New York days, there was Mamouns…Ramen Setagaya…Crif’s Dog…the list goes on. Shanghai’s more limited, but if you like Chinese food, you’re going to save a lot of money. Just load up on the Immodium!
  • Thriving nightlife, with things going on seemingly every day of the week, and so many options on weekends that meeting up with friends becomes a big optimization problem. In SF, it was either Lusk, 5a5, or The Grand. Although Shanghai’s got “Club Grandi” :)


P.S. Not sure if this is a benefit or cost, but both cities have a decent amount of “weird”. For example in Shanghai you get:

  • People walking cats on leashes. Not a great photo but didn’t want to be seen as a stalker
  • Pizza Hut has a selection of fine wines. Huh
  • A sunwear brand called HELEN KELLER NO I AM NOT KIDDING
  • Grannies walking around wearing PJs at night

…just some random thoughts from my time here :) More to come!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.