The summer of 2017, Shanghai

Cashless Payment: WeChat Pay v.s. AliPay


WeChat Pay and Alipay are the two dominant mobile payment players in China. Mobile payment replaced cash or bank card payment about two years ago throughout 1st and 2nd-tier cities in China. It has been accepted widely from breakfast vendors on the street to international unisex casual-wear brands, Uniqlo. WeChat Pay, owned by Tencent, supports transfers on both ways. An individual can also receive money from other contacts or pay for the sharing bike rental fee from OfO (Xiao Huang Che) after scanning the QR code on the bike. According to Tencent, Alipay which is owned by Alibaba Group, lost his dominance in online payment in China since 2017. The introduction of one feature Red Envelope (Hong Bao) by Wechat enables virtual Red Envelope transfers between Wechat contacts for the Chinese New Year. However, WeChat Pay and Alipay are both going strong despite of the fact that Baidu and Sina launched similar features recently. It is now also a good way for the locals to spot non-locals by looking at whether they use mobile payment or by cash.

Wechat Pay screenshots in Chinese and in English


The Rap of China


Hip Hop, the subculture which originally comes from the U.S., is becoming very popular in China thanks to this TV program. The various forms of Hip Hop were already known in the past in China. But now Rapping, breakdance, tattoo, graffitiare gaining some ground and are becoming more accepted by more main streamers. I, together with hundreds of thousands of Chinese millennials were the super fans of Jay Chou back in the year 2000. He is the Godfather of Chinese-style Rap and R&B. And later on, my study exchange program in the U.S. brought me closer to the artists i.e. Eminem, Snoop Dog,50 Cent and so on. Many Americans or Europeans from my generation probably would agree with me that this type of music is danceable. 🙂

The producer of this a web-based TV show, Wen Chen, works for the influential Chinese YouTube & Netflix: Aiqiyi. The risks he took was tremendous according to his managers and colleagues. However, Aiqiyi is proven to be the big winner in the competition of online streaming platforms according to Caixing.

When I was wandering around in the newest and the most luxurious shopping malls, the new collections designed by the international brands for the millennials were signalling similar trends. They are the ones who are grabbing the opportunities from the wave of The Rap of China.

Photo: Aiqiyi website


Shanghai Book Fair, Shanghai International Literacy Week and Shanghai Popular Science Products Expo


Shanghai Book Fair takes place yearly and it lasts for a week. There are Day Ticket and Night Ticket to meet different needs of the locals. The enthusiasm from the parents is perhaps the biggest drive behind the book fair and the science fair.

At the Shanghai Book Fair, the busiest area was at Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore. The parents and kids were going through thousands of imported English books. No wonder the book prices are more or less the same as they are sold in Europe or in the U.S. My attempt of finding English versions of Chinese children’s’ book was not a success. The good thing was that I found some in the biggest bookstore in Shanghai during another visit. Shanghai International Literacy Week is also one of the programs that is integrated in the Shanghai Book Fair. There are various workshops and lectures throughout the city. Authors from abroad came to give lectures and workshops.

During Shanghai Popular Science Products Expo, a friend of mine reserved tickets ahead with discounts. We found robots, electric trains, DIY machines etc. We saw a pretty cool theatre which utilised holographic techniques. It operated under franchising model.

In addition, it is worth mentioning that the Shanghainese kids are exposed to the newest technologies. They experience VR/AR devices in a shopping mall next door. Places such as Disney Resorts or indoor theme parks are equipped with the best(-looking) shops and products. Colouring on a piece a paper which could later become live on the projected walls. These are all the great things that I did not encounter yet in Europe. But they were all quite commercial.

Calligraphy robot (Photo: Miki Dai)


Food Innovation: People love food!


Chinese people’s passion for good food has never been so strong. During a meet-up, I met a couple of local Experience-Designers who are designing architect spaces next to designing food. One of them is going to quit his good job and study Food Innovation in Italy. There are lots of interesting hip and trendy Market Places in the shopping malls or outdoors.

When I just arrived in Shanghai, my stomach, my eyes and my mouth were no longer used to the delicious and good-looking food anymore. I was an easy-to-satisfy customer before I arrived at my hometown. I was very happy eating at a normal restaurant near my parents’ 14-floor apartment. And I could not really not tell which restaurants were of premium quality and which dishes were actually badly cooked. I guess that is what many living abroad Chinese get to feel as well. In my opinion, many restaurants in China could probably receive one or more Michelin stars.

Fusion restaurants have been very popular as well as the Chinese restaurants marketed by the locals. Many restaurants where we used to eat disappeared of course. So constantly checking Da Zhong Dian Ping, similar to guarantees our dining experience.

Cakes from a cafe (Photo: Miki Dai)


Modern Art is in: nice and new museums & galleries


I reserved quite some time during my stay in China to get more understanding of the Chinese art scene. I visited public and private museums among others.

One of the public museums, PSA, is located in a former Shanghai Expo building near my high-school. The facilities which the museum has can be described as world-class. It offers the view over the HuangPu River and Nan Pu Bridge inside of the museum completely out of anyone’s expectations. And it also has a wonderful roof terraces and more. I enjoyed the interesting contemporary art exhibitions there with a group of art lovers. The solo Exhibition commissioned by a Polish graphic design artist, Henryk Tomaszewski, was an interesting one. He is a controversial artist. His famous saying is “Politics is like the weather; you have to live with it”. After WWII, he managed to find a way between government censorship and artistic freedom. It is of course also interesting to point out that this museum is free to enter, fully subsidised by the city government and run by the state.

Another city-backed museum is more well-known in Shanghai. In comparison with PSA, it is a rather “old” museum called after the name of the city, Shanghai Museum. The entrance fee is also for free. There were two very long queues in front of the museum no matter how the weather was. The local news media reported “The queue is back”. They were comparing this long queue with the queue during Shanghai Expo time. An average of 3-hour waiting time can be expected for the museum visitors, and they came especially for the temporary exhibition “100 objects from the British Museum“. This exhibition was one of the hottest cultural happenings in Shanghai at that moment. While I was standing for about two hours for the other exhibition, Sissy and Hungary, in the same museum.

The Chinese calligraphy works and Chinese traditional paintings are still being auctioned at ridiculous high prices nationally and internationally. I also found many calligraphy enthusiasms not just at the museums, but also throughout the city at bookstores or stationery shops.

A brand-new museum in Ningbo (Photo: Miki Dai)


Startup scene


If you are an entrepreneur, you are a cool person in the eyes of the Chinese young generations. The numbers of co-working building have been increasing rapidly in the past years thanks to government incentives and regulations. They are often owned and run by the real-estate companies and real-estate developers. Due to some oversupply in the housing market in Shanghai, some apartments or office buildings need to find new users and new functionality. Hot money has been looking nationally and cross the border to create high yield. As a result, many real-estate companies turned some of their new buildings into senior care apartments, some made them into co-working spaces or marketed them as “Incubators”. The word “Incubator” is perhaps being used too easily. The exact functions of “Incubator” were non-existing or unknown to the owners in many cases. Many young entrepreneurs are hoping to build the next “Empire” and they believe in the impossible. We can call this naïve, ignorant or brave.

Many young entrepreneurs are doing the same as their peers in Europe. They also participate in i.e. various innovative markets (Shi Ji) to present their unique products to the public or pitch their ideas to the investors online or off-line. The millennials are the one of the driving forces behind the startup scene.

 an incubator in Beijing (Photo: Miki Dai)

Kids’ life: Happy childhood is a dream


The majority of the city kids lack happy childhoods that are filled with free-playing memories. That is also particularly true among my friends whose children passed the age of 6 (school age). Most of these kids were already going to piano classes, dancing classes (if they are girls), and English classes (valid for both girls and boys) before 6 years-old. In 2009, due to some water accidents, the Shanghainese government has been promoting the idea of “Every student has to be able to swim”. So now swimming has also occupied some hours of a student’s school days. Parents are fighting, the grandparents are struggling and poor kids have no choice rather than follow the strict schedules. One extreme example is from a Tiger Mother who happens to be my high-school classmate. The daughter of her typically spends 2-3 hours practicing piano during the week days and 4-5 hours during summer holidays. This girl has received a piano level of 6 (out of 10) at the age of 6. The average age of receiving this level when I was a child was around 10 years-old.

I did not have a lot of luck buying a school bag in a normal shop for my daughter. As most of the school bags have special burden-relief function which should be able to carry many kilos of books and notebooks. These school bags have broad bands and sizes are too big for my daughter who just started to attend the primary school in Amsterdam. Playing is the most luxurious thing.

a playground inside of Global Habour (Photo: Miki Dai)


“Jump to the conclusion”


I am going to stop writing and keep the good memories for next trip. I am very curious to hear different voices and findings that the readers would like to share about Shanghai. Perhaps you also noticed things like the Sharing Bikes and the old Shanghainese houses continuously being demolished.

For me Shanghai is in my blood and it shapes how I am now. During my stay in Shanghai, I was breathing in the energy that the city offers and I was feeling the heart beats of the never-sleeping metropolis. There were moments when I felt I was living in a high-warfare city thanks to the facilities the city provides, the free entrances that the public museums, parks, toilets and more offer. When I look ahead, I bet on Shanghai’s further rise in the coming 20 years. No doubt it will face bottlenecks and storms, but it will eventually sail through.

Rafting with thousands of people in Anji (Photo: Miki Dai)

About the author:

Miki Dai is the founder of Floating Feather 羽(荷兰)文化艺术策划, a consulting company which provides advice and project assistance to Sino-Dutch cultural and art projects.