Expats are stereotyped as being well-off high livers and partygoers in Shanghai - and they are charged "foreigners' prices" accordingly. But numerous young expats said they had struggled to make ends meet.
Esther Shen was fired from a small US investment company in New York like thousands of others made jobless in the global financial crisis. The 26-year-old Shanghainese, already a US citizen, went to the States for college eight years ago and flew back a month ago, hoping to explore opportunities in her hometown.
After all, so much has been made of expats seizing opportunities in Shanghai, making money and making their dreams come true.
"But it's quite difficult since there's all kinds of talents in Shanghai now. People like me are not rare anymore," Shen sighs. "Before I left eight years ago, people with great English skills could easily land a decent job. All that has changed. Even my foreign friends are not getting by as easily as many people thought."
However, many Shanghainese still hold high-end financial stereotypes about laowai being loaded and enjoying an easy life. And expats pay "foreigners' prices" accordingly more for the same thing a Chinese would buy.
Not fair, say many expatriates. In reality, many expats, especially those around 30, consider themselves no different from, or even poorer than their local Chinese peers, usually other white collars. That's in relative terms, of course.
Expats are often seen as a typically rich and privileged group that usually purchases imported goods, lives in luxury apartments or mansions, works in international enterprises, hires ayi to do all the housework and hangs out at expensive places on the Bund or Xintiandi. Their kids go to expensive international schools.
It is true. Many foreigners, mostly over 35, are transferred to Shanghai as part of the management team in a transnational company. They get a relocation package that usually includes housing allowance, transport, school tuition, regular airfare home, among many other benefits.
More and more foreigners rush to Shanghai every year from all over the world. Many come straight out of college or as exchange students. They are seen as party youths who explore the nightlife, live cheap, cab everywhere because they earn a lot teaching English a few hours every week and party the rest of the time.