As you walk through the tree-lined streets, the aroma of coffee and freshly cooked bread drifts in and out of cafes covered in vintage décor and bustling with people in the midst of their morning ritual. Tourists stop to take photos, passed by never-ending streams of motorbikes mounting the cracked concrete paths.
At night, the streets come alive as international pubs and bars fill with people congregating and celebrating the countries they’re from. Music and lights create a new atmosphere that tastes like late-night Asian cuisine and the local famous Tsingtao Beer brew.
Here in Shanghai’s renowned Former French Concession neighbourhood it’s easy to see why so many Australians are falling in love with this most international of cities and all it has to offer, immersing themselves in the rich expatriate culture of beautiful Shanghai.
Foreigners are flocking to Shanghai for all kinds of reasons – none more so than the business opportunities that this eventful, exciting city boasts.
And Australians are making the most of it. Although it’s hard to say just how many.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) say there are no official statistics on the number of Australians living and working in Shanghai simply because the Australian Government doesn’t record or track such information.
But by all accounts, the number of Aussies calling Shanghai home is on the rise.
Young expat and Laowai Careers Shanghai customer relations officer Samuel Hertz says he’s noticed the increase.
He’s recently placed 66 Australian interns into jobs across China.
“I definitely think there’s been an increase – just even in the five years I’ve been here, for sure. There’s a lot younger ones too,” he says.
“There’s even some bars that Australians kind of congregate at and you run into them all the time.”
Samuel Hertz isn’t the only one that’s noticed more young Aussies saying ‘nihao’ to living and working in the global economic powerhouse that is China.
Australian Shanghai Association President Wendy Landy organises events for more than 450 Australian expats and has certainly seen an increase in budding business people making the move earlier on in their careers.
“There are a lot of young Australians coming to Shanghai for short term working assignments or internships,” she says.
“There seems to be a different demographic landscape now.”
India Mustard is one of those young Aussies taking up Shanghai on its offer of an exciting Chinese lifestyle and stimulating, successful career.
At 24 years old she has already established herself as a Shanghai expat. The motivated Perth woman has been travelling back and forth to China since she was 19, looking to settle into a career in one of the most economically prosperous countries in the world. Now a consultant at prominent law firm King and Wood Mallesons, she says most of her work is coordinating with Australia anyway – just from the busy, bustling Shanghai headquarters.
Her firm works with companies that are investing in the free trade zone being established between China and Australia and her consultant team specifically helps with trademarks and registration as part of the re-branding department.
But is it any wonder so many Australians are moving to Shanghai? With so much focus on the rising powers of China as part of our government’s foreign policy and trade partnerships, more millennials than ever are inspired to choose China as the best place to kick start their careers.
In 2015, the Australian Government chose China as a key destination for the New Colombo Plan, encouraging an increased flow of students between the two countries. According to DFAT, the opportunity has allowed more undergraduate students than ever to study and undertake internships in China and establish important business links in the region, to enhance participants’ job prospects.
Additionally, the China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) was set up in 2015 to unlock new opportunities in Australia’s largest goods and services export market. DFAT again promises an array of benefits for many Australian industries and encourages further cooperative relations between the two nations, as a result of the deal.
India Mustard says she never would have had the same success if she had stayed in Perth, and she doesn’t plan on moving back anytime soon.
“Perth is in the shits at the moment,” she says.
“I definitely plan to be here for the developing years of my career at least. So the next handful of years, I’m definitely staying here. Which is fun, it’s exciting because then you can learn and really invest yourself in it.”
Doctor Yixiao Zhou is a lecturer of economics at Curtin University Business School who completed her undergraduate degrees at Peking University in Beijing.
She agrees that China seems to offer better prospects for young business people.
“I think people are pursuing opportunities for a better career and life in China, given the fact China has been growing rapidly for decades,” she says.
“Business investment (continues) to decline in Perth. As a share of GDP, mining investment has fallen to around four per cent, down from a peak of eight per cent in 2012. Non-mining investment has also declined.
“Given the significance of mining industry in Perth economy, Perth is facing a hard time including job loss in the mining sector, weak business investment… (and) there has been a significant outflow of population from Western Australian mining areas.”
Dr Zhou says this isn’t even the strongest version of China we will see.
“In recent years, growth has in fact slowed, to 6.9 per cent in 2015. But the economy is still growing at a rate that is very high compared with the growth rates in other economies. In developed economies, the annual GDP growth rate is about two to three per cent.
“And the Chinese economy is still growing. There is still great potential of growth. China’s income per capita is now around 25 per cent of the US’, which means there is still room for further catch-up towards the world technology frontier – they’re a growth miracle.”
But with so many impressive and stimulating cities across China, why choose Shanghai?
Dr Zhou was born and raised in Shanghai so has first-hand experience in living and working in both China and Australia.
“Shanghai is indeed a very liveable city. Shanghai is not only a financial, economic and cultural centre in China, it is also confluence of the East and the West,” she says.
“(It) has never stopped developing and growing more beautiful. It is now very international and highly connected with the world.”
From an economic perspective, she can easily justify the choice of Aussies, and foreigners from around the world alike, in choosing Shanghai to kick-start a career in business.
“Shanghai’s GDP per capita is the third highest within China,” she says.
“The city established Shanghai Free-Trade Zone, officially China (Shanghai) Pilot Free-Trade Zone in August 2013, which opens up great job and career opportunities for business and finance professionals.
“The largest industries are retail and wholesale, financial services, real estate, and high-tech manufacturing including automobiles, machinery, electronics, biotechnologies and pharmaceuticals. Shanghai will further develop financial services, logistics, telecommunication, and cultural industries in the future.”
Wendy Landy also says it was an easy decision for her family, who were looking to pursue an opportunity to experience a new culture and grow and develop in a new environment.
“Shanghai is certainly one of the major hubs for doing business in China so it is attractive for employment reasons,” she says.
“It is also pretty well set up for expat life. There is lots of good quality, mainly high-rise, accommodation available, a high standard of education is available in the international schools and there are plenty of opportunities to socialise.
“It’s probably the most ‘international’ of the big cities in China.”
China’s sea port city has a rich history of multiculturalism.
Shanghai has experienced more foreign influence than any other city in China.
It boasts its very own British settlement in The Bund overlooking the Huangpu River and Shanghai’s incredible skyline, and French settlement in the aforementioned Former French Concession area.
Professor Xiaoquan Chu of Shanghai’s Fudan University says the city’s history of being multicultural changes the dynamics of the place and makes it a much more welcoming than other places in China.
“Here, you really can find a difference in our mentality – we always speak about the Shanghai mentality because Shanghai people tend to be more open,” he says.
“If there is something that can really categorise this city, it is our open mind. Why not work together and live together?”
So not only is the city full of opportunities for success, it’s bursting with friendly locals that make the experience of living and working abroad not just easy, but also enjoyable.
Samuel Hertz says he’s always felt right at home in Shanghai.
“The Shanghainese people – obviously they don’t care that we’re here. They’ve been around foreigners their whole lives.
“They’re very welcoming.”
However, although Australians are flocking to Shanghai to achieve their career goals and business visions, the Shanghai dream doesn’t seem to be a long-term one, with almost all expatriates staying an average of just three years.
Hertz says he rarely sees expats stick it out for anywhere near the five years he’s been in Shanghai for now.
“There are advantages and disadvantages,” he says.
“Most people stay for just a couple of years and then they leave.
“There’s the pollution that they’re kind of tired or aggravated with.”
Landy says there’s plenty of things she misses about Australia: fresh air, smaller crowds, wide-open spaces and swimming in salt water, to name a few.
But she says there’s plenty of ways to cope on days when you’re missing home – including her social expat organisation, the Australia Shanghai Association.
“Shanghai can be a challenging place for Australian newcomers,” she says.
“But being able to network with people, socialize, engage in interesting activities in the Australia Shanghai Association makes it easier.”
India Mustard agrees that her home away from home can sometimes be complex and she does miss Perth, but says that the parts that test her, are also the parts she loves the most.
“The best part about living here is, you know, the lovely people and the intense culture,” she says.
“And the worst part about living here is the not lovely people, and the miscommunication within the culture.
“But it’s still wonderful.”
Mustard can’t speak more highly of her decision to move and her overall experiences in Shanghai, and recommends it to anyone considering working abroad.
“What have you got to lose?” she says.
“You have that exposure to the media (now) and all those kinds of things and I think we’re all living quite international lives.
“It’s not that different abroad, it’s not intimidating or scary and it’s kind of standard these days? It’s very acceptable – especially for Perth! I mean, everyone’s doing it.”