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City of Choice

By Valerie Ng | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-21 15:01


China Daily conducted interviews with one white-collar executive each in seven cities where we have representative offices to find out about his or her way of life, the cost of living and what he or she likes or dislikes about the city.

The cities included are Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, London and Paris. This is not a scientific research nor a report to tell readers which is the best city to live in. It is a presentation of what it is like living in the seven cities and what one person likes differs from another as it depends on the stages of life and priorities.

According the Economist Intelligence Unit, one of the features of the cost-of-living ranking over the last few years has been the rise of many Asian cities offsetting traditionally more costly European locations.

In the report, rising Asian hubs namely Singapore and Hong Kong are among the top 20 most expensive cities. Asian cities also make up 11 of the world's 20 most expensive compared with eight from Europe. A decade ago this was six Asian compared to 10 European cities, with four cities from the United States.

Among the factors for the rise in the rankings of Asian hubs is economic growth, which has supported inflation and currency swings to make them more costly.

Although the people we spoke to have their grouses, they share with us the silver linings in the cities they live in.

Beijing, with its attraction as an ancient city and the current economic pulse of the world, is driving people away with its pollution.

Wei Dongjian from Beijing says he and his fiancée Wu Yuanping plan to move to Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, in the next few years where the climate is milder, and where she can escape Beijing's notorious smog.

"I'm not suited to Beijing's environment. On average, I end up in the doctor's office every other month," says Wu.

Winky Lee's biggest complaint about living in Hong Kong is also its pollution. But like many Hong Kong residents, Lee has a love-hate relationship with the city.

"The climate is hospitable. It is easy and inexpensive to travel and experience different cultures within Asia," Lee says. "The low taxes are a big plus. The city offers a lot of public holidays which helps break up long hours at the office," she says.

But, Lee feels that it is difficult to meet romantic prospects because of the city's transient nature. She also bemoans the housing market and how difficult it is to afford a flat.

Another Asian city that shares similar characteristics as Hong Kong is Singapore. Residents are drawn to the city-state because it is safe, sheltered from natural disasters, wired and has one of the lowest income tax in the region. English is widely spoken and understood, and being a regional air-transport hub – one can travel anywhere in the world at a fairly low cost.

But because of its small size, the island is crowded and as a result, prices of housing and private vehicle have been skyrocketing, and current infrastructure and public transport struggle to meet the needs of the population size.

For those who love the arts, London and Paris are two cities that are oozing with it.

Frederick Schneider who works for an advertising agency in London says one could walk into the world's best museums without having to pay.

He says London is also a good place to build one's career. "It is a truly metropolitan city and you meet the most amazing people here," Schneider says, but he quickly adds that, "It is exciting, but it is also exhausting."

Housing and transportation in London are among the most expensive in the world, and the weather is rarely comfortable.

Aurelie, a Parisien, says she enjoys living in Paris because of the city's rich artistic and cultural life. She keeps aside about $45 a month for art exhibitions and shows.

"There is also a tremendous choice of painting exhibitions, theatre plays and old movie theaters such as Cinema Mac Mahon that replays old films," she says, adding that she finds the magnificent architecture of Paris endearing.

If there is anything that Aurelie hates about Paris, it is the fact that the Parisiens are less friendly compared to those from smaller towns. Plus, people have to work much longer hours than those living in other French towns.

Meanwhile, New York City, often described as "the capital of the world", is a place where contradictions co-exist and thrive side-by-side.

"All you need is an open mind and an appreciation for the opportunity to experience so much in one place," mortgage consultant Joseph D'Alessio says.

But he admits that "it is very hard to relax when you live in NYC" and that "it is more difficult to raise a family" in the city.

One common denominator stands out among those interviewed. Travel ranks as their top priority, with almost all of them saving up for overseas trips.

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