Filipino China: My Pinoy Life In Shanghai China

by Melchor Saribay

Since when have you been staying there? Can you recount briefly why you moved there?

I have been living in Shanghai since January 2011. Before that, I had lived in Dubai from 2005 to 2010, working for Creative Kingdom Inc. – an American architectural design & master planning company. At around July 2010, Halcrow, a multinational urban design and engineering company, offered me a better job opportunity in Shanghai. At first I declined the offer due to the fact that I did not know much about Shanghai. I did not know the language, and my previous company gave me no reason to complain. At that time, I was working in our office in Chiang Mai, a popular tourist destination in northern Thailand. After several meetings and negotiations, I was convinced to accept, and in January 2011, I moved to Shanghai.



Tell us something about your place?

Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city with a population of approximately 24 million people, made up of the local Shanghainese, migrant workers from all over China, and expats from all over the world. It is the premier financial center of China and a popular tourist destination renowned for its historical landmarks such as the Bund, the Yu Garden and the former French Concession, as well as the Lujiazui skyline with its modern skyscrapers. Shanghai has many parks and museums, and is in close proximity to several beautiful water towns. It has been reported that Shanghai Disneyland will open to the public on June of 2016.


What do you do for a living? 

I am an architect and urban designer/planner. I am responsible for leading several teams of urban designers and architects in the concept and detailed urban design of large scale developments such as new towns & cities, central business districts, mixed-used, commercial, residential, industrial and resort developments located all over China. I also visit the Middle East when I am requested to help out in our offices there.

Our projects are located all over China, so my job requires extensive travel – around 20-30 trips a year by plane or high speed train. And mind you, China is almost as big as Europe! One time, I had to go to the city of Urumqi in Xinjiang province located in western China, and the plane ride took 6 hours.


Is there a Filipino community there?

Yes, and there are more than 3000 Filipinos living here in Shanghai. There are different Filipino groups that are classified by profession, hobbies and sports.

The few organization or groups that I know are:

  1. FilsDrawing – an organization of Filipino Designers composed of architects, urban designers/planners, landscape designers, interior designers and graphic designers.
  2. United Architects of the Philippines – Shanghai Chapter
  3. Pinoy Roadies – Filipino cycling group
  4. Filsba – badminton
  5. PMAS – musicians
  6. BPCom (Bagong Pinoy Community) – Filipino community in Shanghai

The Philippine Consulate organizes and sponsors an annual event where all Filipino residents and groups in Shanghai are invited to celebrate the Philippine Independence Day.

Tell us about your life there? 

Life here in Shanghai is very comfortable. It is a multi-cultural city, and it is not difficult to blend in as there are a lot of establishments where English is understood and spoken. Of course, being able to speak the local language is very helpful. I can only understand a few words and phrases, but I have managed to survive 5 years here. At work, my colleagues speak to me in English and translate for me during meetings with clients and other consultants.

We live at the Lujiazui CBD area located in the Pudong New District .It is a mixed-use area which has commercial, office, residential, entertainment, dining, retail, recreational and tourist destinations. We live in a residential development that is composed of 8 high rise residential apartments and has its own park, children’s playground and a nursery & kindergarten. It is very ideal for a young family like ours (We have 2 young girls aged 2.5 years and 1year old). It is within walking distance to a riverside park and boardwalk where I take my kids for a walk in the morning and on weekdays before I go to work – that is, when the weather is good. Shanghai has four seasons. It gets really cold in the winter, and there are times when the air quality is bad due to the pollution.

I get to and from work by subway or taxi. Shanghai has a very good public transport system consisting of taxi, bus, ferry and the metro/subway. These can all be accessed using just one transport card. Shanghai has the most extensive subway network in the world. It is more than 600km long and has 366 stations. Plans and construction are underway for additional lines and stations to make sure that by 2020, every part of the city will be less than 10 minute walk from a subway station. Shanghai is also a very safe and walkable city.



What do you do for recreation?

On weekends and sometimes in the evening of weekdays, I go cycling with my Filipino friends or with a multinational cycling group. There are many cycling destinations within Shanghai and one lane in each direction of almost all the roads are dedicated for bicycles and scooters.

My family and I often go out to eat and have coffee in one of the many restaurants, bars and coffee shops in the city. Dining out is one of the popular activities for people in Shanghai. It is reported that there are about 45,000 restaurants, bars, coffee shops and food kiosks in the city.

Before we had children, my wife and I would go on day trips to nearby resort cities such as Suzhou which is 20 minutes away, and Hangzhou, which clocks in at a bit over an hour, both by high speed train.

Shanghai is only a 3 and a half-hour flight from Manila, and less than a 2-hour flight from Seoul, where my wife is from. This makes it very convenient for us go home for the holidays.


What cultural practices/behaviors have you acquired from your host country?

Naturally, China’s cultural heritage is rich and wide-ranging, but some of the most prominent are:

1.) Drinking tea is very popular in China. There are many different teas for different occasions and seasons.

2.) Giving out business cards with two hands with the card facing the recipient,

3.) The need to toast to the client or host when they proposed a toast to you. Refusal would be disrespectful, and if they drink it bottoms up, you have to do the same.

4.) Personal relationship is very important, especially during meetings or presentations. All your efforts and good deeds will amount to nothing if you do not attend a meeting called by the client. There are instances where we would travel 3 hours by plane or high speed train and stay overnight in another city, just to have a 20 minute meeting with a client for a minor adjustment to the design. In other countries this could be done via a simple email or teleconference.



Your greeting to Filipino across the globe?

Nihao! If you have not been here to China, it is worth visiting. It has a lot of history and beautiful places to visit. It is very different from the negative comments that you may have heard about. I too had a negative notion about the country before I came over, but I was surprised to see how good the developments are in this part of the world, especially in cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

FYI, China is not cheap for expats. From my experience, the cost of living is more expensive here in Shanghai than that in Dubai. Shanghai is currently the 6th most expensive city in the world.



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