2018Jul 8

SPAD in China Series: Modern Life in China

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 4.06.02 PMBy Mackenzie Jenkins

Getting off the 14 hour flight from Toronto to Shanghai, I was ready to take in all that China had to offer. Included in this, is the modern lifestyle that has similarities and differences to modern life in western countries. With a focus on the four categories of transportation, bartering for goods, housing, and technology, we get a glimpse into the everyday lives of those living in China


There are many means of transportation when it comes to getting around China and through the populated cities. During our two weeks we had the opportunity to take busses, trains, taxis, and subways, to get to our destinations.IMG_1084

Taxis in China are a number of different colours which designate whether they are an independent company or part of a taxi union. The independent companies have purple coloured cars whereas each taxi union has a designated colour to them. Customers use taxi apps similar to Uber to hail a taxi in the populated streets. This is also a country where you can barter with the driver for a lower fare. Although, with the increase of technology, it is making it more difficult. Many tourists still get ripped off by taxi’s who take longer routes that are prone to traffic to raise the fare price.

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 4.20.19 PMThe bullet train was a convenient and quick way to get from Shanghai to Beijing, and can be used throughout China. The bullet train is the fastest passenger train in the world, taking just 5 hours to get from Shanghai to Beijing going 350km/h. The train was smooth, took us through mountainous regions, and gave us a unique look at the Chinese countryside. A suggestion would be to make sure you are on time for your train as they leave exactly on time. We would know this as we were caught running through the train station, luggage in tow, trying to make our train.

Our primary mode of transportation when in China was a bus. This means we were extremely susceptible to sitting in traffic with the millions of others trying to get from point A to point B. Things got extremely creative when driving in China as it seems as though the lines on the roads, as well as some stoplights were merely a suggestion. 4 lanes held 6 cars across, and if enough cars went at one time, the colour of the stoplight was irrelevant. This made for interesting road trips, and made us thankful for good bus drivers our entire trip. Adding to the chaos that was driving in China, there were also copious amounts of bikes that followed their own rules of the road.

Bartering for Goods

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 4.20.07 PMBartering for goods in China was an experience all in its own. Not very often in North America are you able to walk into a shop and name your own price. At many market style shopping centres you would be able to barter for goods, often purchasing the item for 1/5 of the original price. In Shanghai we visited the Yu Gardens (pictured) where we got our first taste of bartering for items. When in Beijing, we had the opportunity to go to the famous Silk Street market where you are expected to barter for anything from souvenirs, to custom fitted suits. We spent a lot oftime here honing in on our bartering skills in order to get the best price for our goods. Here are a few tips for bartering when in China:

  1. Be friendly! They’re more likely to give you a good price if you’re not fighting with them.
  2. Don’t show an extreme amount of interest in a product. If they know you really want it, they know you’ll pay a higher price for it.
  3. Starting to walk towards the door when bartering, as if to leave, puts pressure on the sales associate, often leading them to give in to your lowest price.
  4. If you are ok with the amount they’re offering, don’t miss out on the item for the chance at a lower price.
  5. Buy multiples of the same item! If your friends want the same item, discounts are often given if purchasing multiples.


Housing in China seems to have the policy “build up, not out.” Most people tend to live in apartment buildings, which are smaller than the average apartment in North America. In the outskirts of major cities, it common to see 15 – 20 identical looking apartment buildings in a cluster. This seems to be necessary to meet the population demand in growing cities.

It was also noted that gardens were a sign of affluence in China. The family did not necessarily have to have a house with a garden, but simply enough space on an apartment balcony to fit both the hanging laundry, and a small garden of plants was considered to only be for the wealthy. Laundry was seen to be hung from every apartment balcony.


Technology is king in the increasingly innovative cities of China. Everything is done from a smartphone, and cash is seen to be dying out. Alipay and WeChat were used on phones to scan barcodes to pay for goods everywhere. We even tried to use cash to pay for ice cream and they laughed at us because they hadn’t seen anyone use cash in a long time.

Further, instead of using multiple social media channels, everything was under WeChat. WeChat is a social platform that is their primary mode of texting, calling, video chats, paying for things, and even had a dating website built into the platform.

Automation is becoming increasingly popular, including the robot that served at a Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 4.19.48 PMjuice stand in a shopping complex in Hangzhou. You told the robot your order and he made it on the spot. Although this is a neat idea, I wouldn’t want to be taking away jobs from the millions of people that live in these cities. While visiting the Alibaba campus, a quote from Jack Ma was brought up that they want to train computers to do what we can not do, rather that what we can do.

The Alibaba group specifically is doing a lot with technology to aid traffic problems, quickly and efficiently ship products around the world, and decrease China’s carbon footprint.

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