What city is the best….?


“In London one could walk into the world’s best museums without having to pay”

Which city has the lowest rental, which city sells the cheapest hamburger meal, and which city would you go to buy designer bags? China Daily sends out correspondents to seven cities to get you the answers.

Every city has its bright or bad facets and most of us have love-hate relationships with our chosen site of abode, in varying degrees. Our investigative team does a random sampling of interviews in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, London and Paris, to find out the ups and downs of daily life in terms of dollars and cents – and come up with some surprising answers.

This is neither scientific research nor a report to tell everyone which is the best city to live in,but rather a presentation of what it is like living in these cities and a reflection of its urban psychographics.

According the The Economist’s 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 our interviews, we find rising Asian hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong among the top 20 most expensive cities. In fact, of the world’s 20 most expensive cities, 11 are from Asia. The rest are from the West. A decade ago, it was six Asian cities compared to 10 European cities, with four from the United States.

Wei Dongjian from Beijing says he and his fiancee Wu Yuanping plan to move to Guangzhou,the provincial capital of Guangdong province, 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 taxes 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 vehicles 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, theater 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 toraise 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.

CHINA : Shanghai’s dead pig story stretches back upstream

English: Huangpu river in Shanghai, view from ...
English: Huangpu river in Shanghai, view from The Oriental Pearl Tower Polski: Rzeka Huangpu w Szanghaju, widok z Perły Orientu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Behind the thousands of dead pigs floating down the Huangpu River, there lies a murky tale of waterway pollution and river management failure. The Guardian reports


The residents of Maogang looked on in despair as first dozens, then hundreds, and ultimately 10,164 dead pigs were pulled out of the Huangpu River.

This small town south-west of Shanghai is near the Xietanggang water intake for the Songjiang Water Pumping Station and one of the four main sources of water for Shanghai.

“We don’t dare drink the river water,” said one villager. The township government has had to bring in a week’s worth of drinking water.

The pigs are believed to have floated downstream from Shaoxing, in the neighbouring province of Zhejiang.

It’s a new problem, but the causes – waterway pollution and failures to manage rivers across administrative boundaries and government departments – are old complaints.

“Dead pigs have always ended up in Shanghai. This time they just went there by river, instead of by truck,” said one Shaoxing pig farmer, pointing at a porcine corpse.

Illegal selling of dead meat

It was only two years ago that pigs started to be dumped in the river. “In the past you could sell them, so they didn’t end up in the river.” The pig farmers all referred back to a court case two years ago, which shocked the city.

Everyone in Shaoxing knows about the case, which saw 17 people tried. In November 2012, the three ringleaders were given life sentences.

It was a typical tale for a pig-farming village. Dong Guoquan and two others ran an illegal butcherhouse, buying in dead pigs. “They got them cheap, one yuan or so per jin.” One farmer explained that a young pig which died of illness would weigh less than 50 jin, an older one no more than 100 [one jin is half a kilogram].

But that didn’t do business any harm. The city’s intermediate court found that in only two years Dong and the others had bought and butchered 77,000 pigs and sold the meat on for 8.65 million yuan. Most of them came from the townships of Fengqiao, where the village is, and Xinfeng.

“Once they’d been arrested nobody wanted to risk buying up dead pigs openly,” 57-year old villager Guo Yue (not his real name) told Southern Weekend. His village of Zhulin, in Xinfeng, is famous for supplying pigs to Hong Kong.

But that meant more pigs were getting thrown in the river. Environmental protection staff in the Songjiang district of Shanghai said they’d taken a trip up river all the way to a concrete plant in Pinghu, Shanghai. Traces of dead pigs were visible all along the route.

A worker on a dredger boat in Caoqiao, Pinghu, said that on March 17, when they had already been working for a week, his boat was still pulling out over 20 pig carcasses a day.

“We do it every year at this time,” said a Zhulin villager responsible for the work. The fishermen all change jobs for a while and start catching pigs.

A Zhejiang environmental protection report in 2011 found that 7.7 million pigs were being farmed in Shaoxing. On average 2% to 4% will die, which means between 150,000 and 300,000 corpses need to be disposed of.

“If dumped, they cause bacterial and viral pollution, as well as 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of chemical oxygen demand,” the report said.

But, still, there are no provisions for proper disposal in place. Many officials – including Chen Yunhua, village secretary in Zhulin; Yuan Liqiang, deputy neighbourhood head in Caoqiao; and Dong Yue, deputy neighbourhood head in Yuantong – said that it was only in 2011, that Shaoxing saw any large scale construction of disposal pits.

But it’s been nowhere near enough. Zhulin is a major pig farming village, but Chen Yunhua explained that there are only seven pits, with an eighth being built.

Others pointed out that one pit can handle three to five thousand corpses. But according to the Shaoxing Daily, 18,400 pigs died in the village in just the first two months of the year. Capacity is overstretched. “The rest just get dumped in the fields or the river,” the villagers say.

Officials try to limit pig farming

A Shaoxing government report admitted that: “the dumping of pigs which have died of illness happens to varying degrees in all districts of Shaoxing.”

“The dead pigs weren’t a big problem in the past, it was pollution from the farming,” said Wang Yubing, deputy at the Pinghu Environmental Protection Bureau. Pinghu borders the Shanghai district of Jinshan and is upriver of the city, and pollution from pig farms further upriver in Nanhu and Haiyan damage water quality.

“The biggest pollution problem for Shaoxing is poultry and livestock farming,” said Xu Luzhong, an inspector with the Zhejiang environmental authorities, when he visited the city. Pig excrement, slurry and the corpses dumped all over mean that the beautiful water town is giving off a bit of a stink.

“There are 130,000 farmers raising over 7 million pigs. Each pig excretes as much as 6 or 7 adult humans,” said Yu Hongwei, deputy of the city’s environmental bureau.

“The government are trying to limit numbers, persuading us to change jobs,” said Chen Yunhua. To cut pig numbers, in 2011 the city set up zones where pig farming was banned or limited, including in Zhulin: “By 2015, pig numbers will be reduced from 7.5 million to about 2 million.” And no pigs may be farmed within 200 metres of minor waterways, and within 100 metres of more important ones, Chen said.

This was intended to improve worsening water quality. A source with the Shaoxing environmental authorities said that despite the measures the city accounted for two of the locations named and shamed when the provincial bureau checked water quality province-wide. Both the urban centre and the wider city had water of sub-Class 5, the worst level of water quality.

And this pollution ends up in the Huangpu River. National People’s Congress representative and professor at East China Normal University Chen Zhenlou said that agricultural chemicals from upstream threaten water quality.

Shanghai relies on water from outside its boundaries, a major headache for its government. It has never managed to do anything effective about upstream pollution.

“The waterways in Shaoxing are just so complex it’s a struggle to monitor them,” complained Ren Weiliang, deputy of the Pinghu water authorities. There are 3,458 waterways in Pinghu alone, stretching for 2,256 kilometres.

And pig farmers are usually very small operations, which makes them harder to regulate. Yuan Liqiang says that most of the farmers in his jurisdiction are households keeping pigs in their yards. There’s so many of them that “sometimes it really is hard to keep control.”

The way waterways are managed is also being re-thought. Ren Weiliang explained that in the past the port, urban, water and environmental authorities were all involved.

“Sometimes they see waste floating downstream but can’t do anything,” said Ren. Pinghu is considering changing the way that works. And to solve problems with cross-boundary coordination the Shaoxing water authorities have set up mechanisms in Xinfeng, Fengqiao and Caoqiao, with boundary rivers being divided up into stretches assigned to different towns.

But those efforts don’t connect up with Shanghai. Zheng Zheng, director of Fudan University Basin Pollution Control Research Center, said that it is currently easy for blind spots to arise between upper and lower stretches of rivers. Shanghai is powerless to regulate its rivers upstream. “We can’t enforce the law, or issue punishments,” Zheng said.

“When pollution crosses boundaries, people try and pass the buck,” Zheng continued. In the end nobody knows who should pay. “A tracing mechanism would solve it.” He went on to explain this would mean 24-hour monitoring, so “as soon as you notice something coming from upstream, it’s the upstream government’s problem – as for which specific body or authority, they can figure that out themselves.”

But water quality on the upper Huangpu – a long-standing source of drinking water – has long been badly damaged. “Water quality on other tributaries was Class 5 or worse as far back as 2004,” recalled one official who participated in a meeting on preventing pollution in important watersheds that year.

Maogang is located by an important source of water, but is still powerless. On January 10 this year, two months before the pig scandal, a leak from a boat carrying chemical containers forced the nearby pumping station to halt work.

To avoid these risks, Shanghai has been forced to look for alternative ways to quench its thirst. “From the sources of the Huangpu to building the Qingcaosha Reservoir at the mouth of the Yangtze, Shanghai is looking for safer water,” said Chen Zhenlou. But the Yangtze isn’t any safer, and its water quality it also under threat.

So Shanghai is even looking at desalinisation. The latest idea is to take water from Qiandao Lake in Zhejiang – “more than 2 billion cubic metres a year.”

• Originally published in Southern Weekend. With contributions from Southern Weekend intern Wang Yue.

CITES 2013: Five shark species win protection against finning trade

English: Collection of different body parts of...
English: Collection of different body parts of sharks, including fins and tongues. Chinese Medicine in a chinese pharmacy in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cites summit votes for strictly controlled permits to export fins of oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerhead. The Guardian reports

The millions of sharks killed every year to feed the vast appetite for shark-fin soup in Asia now have greater protection, after the 178 nations at the world’s biggest wildlife summit voted to crack down on the trade.

An image of the Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcha...
An image of the Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) with Naucrates ductor. The photo was taken on 21 October 2006 at Small Brother Reef in Egypt in the Red Sea. Photo: Johan Lantz, Malmö SWEDEN, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those fishing for oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerhead shark will now require strictly controlled permits to export the fins. The move is a landmark moment for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) because many previous attempts to protect marine species – including these sharks – have failed, largely due to opposition from Japan and China. Those nations argued other bodies have responsibility for fisheries, but their opponents, including the EU, US and Brazil, said Cites is far more effective and conservation campaigners were delighted. Manta rays also won new protection.

“Dealing with fisheries is always hard due the huge economic and political interests involved,” said a delegate from one of the world’s top fin-exporting nations. She added the cultural attachment to serving shark fin soup at weddings in China – now affordable for millions more in the country’s swelling middle class – was very strong and very hard to break: “It would be like telling the French not to have champagne at their wedding.”

Sharks are highly sought after but are slow to mature and have few offspring, making them extremely vulnerable to overfishing. The culling of 1 million oceanic whitetip sharks every year has resulted, for example, in its Pacific population crashing by 93% between 1995 and 2010. Today the species was given protection in a close vote that just achieved the two-thirds majority required.

The porbeagle, once sought for its valuable meat especially for European markets, also saw a population crash, dropping 85% from 1981 to 2005 in the north and west Atlantic. In 2010, the EU had to halt fishing due to the tiny numbers left. The porbeagle shark lost out on protection in 2010 at Cites by one vote, but this summit, being held in Bangkok, saw a much wider coalition of 37 nations backing the shark proposals.

The fins of the scalloped hammerhead are among the most valuable of all and it is estimated that 2 million a year are killed. They are one of the rare sharks to school together, making it easy to catch large numbers. The Cites summit also voted to protect the great and smooth hammerhead sharks, because their fins are very similar and could have been targeted if only the scalloped hammerhead was protected.

Previous Cites meetings had seen similar protection proposals for sharks rejected, but new support from Latin American and west African countries, and the promise of cash from the European Union to help change fishing practices, won the day. The decisions could be reopened for debate at the final plenary session of the summit and potentially overturned. If, not all the measures will be implemented after an 18-month period in which enforcement measures can be set up.

Scientists estimate that about 100m sharks are killed by humans every year, representing 6-8% of all sharks and far above a sustainable level.

The shark fin trade is a global one, with Hong Kong at its hub, where 50% of all fins end up. Ten million kilogrammes of shark fins are shipped to its port every year, from 83 countries. Spain and Indonesia the leading sources, but other top 10 nations include countries such as Argentina, Nigeria, New Zealand and Iran.

One-third of the 450 known species of shark are endangered by overfishing, but the species protected on Monday are the most valuable and sought after. Vessels are often officially fishing for tuna or swordfish but can in fact catch far more sharks, particularly the oceanic whitetip shark. By finning the fish at sea and throwing the bodies back, single trips can results in many thousands of dead sharks.

The impact of the huge fishing fleets of Spain and France has been particularly severe on the porbeagle shark, whose meat is sold for a high price, and it has fallen by more than 95% in the Mediterranean an 90% in the north-east Atlantic.

Prof Nick Dulvy of Simon Fraser University in Canada and a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature expert panel on sharks, said wiping out populations of the fish often plays havoc with the ecosystem: “When we remove the top predator, their prey can burgeon and affect the food chain all the way down.” This can affect seafood prized by people, as happened off North Carolina when commercial fishing destroyed the big shark population, leaving rays to thrive which in turn destroyed bay scallops.

“We are thrilled that the tide is now turning for shark conservation, with governments listening to the science and acting in the interests of sustainability,” said Elizabeth Wilson, manager of Pew’s global shark campaign. “With these new protections, they will have the chance to recover and once again fulfil their role as top predators.”

Manta rays, known by divers as friendly and inquisitive gentle giants with a seven-metre wingspan, also got new protection against exports at the Cites summit, backed by 80% of the voting nations. They are easy to catch but extremely slow to reproduce, delivering just one pup every two to five years. Their populations are being devastated off Sri Lanka and Indonesia to feed a newly created Chinese medicine market in which their gill plates, used to filter food from the ocean, are sold as a purifying tonic. Around 5,000 a year are killed, generating $5m for traders, but where protected they bring in $140m from tourism.


Finally, the nations at the Cites summit chose unanimously to ban all international trade in a species of freshwater sawfish that is now restricted to northern Australia. They are virtually extinct over much of their former west Pacific range, and have not been seen for decades in Indonesia and Thailand. They were sought for their highly valuable fins ($4,000), their saws ($1,500) and by aquariums. Monday’s vote means all sawfish species have been banned from international trade.


Carlos Drews, head of WWF’s Cites delegation, called the shark votes “a landmark moment”. Ralf Sonntag, shark specialist for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “This is a bold move by Cites. These sharks are worth far more alive than dead to local communities.”

POLLUTION : City has enough air quality index stations, but more are being planned

The government would consider building more air quality monitoring stations in the city even though there are already enough for policymaking and scientific purposes, lawmakers were told. South China Morning Post SCMP reports 

Two new stations in Tuen Mun and Tseung Kwan O are already planned in response to development and the growing population in those areas.

Apart from those two, the Environment Bureau would consider adding more stations to the 11 general and three roadside ones to satisfy the public’s desire to have specific air quality readings in the districts where they live, Undersecretary for Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai said.

She was speaking at a Legislative Council public accounts committee hearing convened in response to last month’s Audit Commission report, which had criticised the government’s pollution-cutting measures as ineffective, inadequate or stalled by red tape.

Environment officials told the hearing that they were briefing government departments about a new air quality index and hoped to discuss it with the Legco environmental affairs panel by June.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director for the Department of Environmental Protection, said there were enough stations to cover Hong Kong.

He said it was not necessary to have more stations for scientific research and policymaking, adding that the department reviewed the network of stations every year.

Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit was sceptical about Mok’s comments. “Logically speaking, if resources allow, the more data you collect, the better it is for scientific purposes,” he said.

Loh replied: “We may add more stations according to the public’s needs. But there hasn’t been a conclusion within the government yet.”

Loh said the bureau accepted an expert report to replace the existing 17-year-old air quality index and were in touch with experts from the World Health Organisation for further studies. She said the new index, modelled on a Canadian approach, was innovative. It would include how air quality affects health.

Mok said it costs HK$3 million to build a station and HK$1.5 million to HK$2 million a year to maintain it.

Wildlife 2011: “Annus horribilis” for African Elephants, says TRAFFIC

Moi Avenue in Mombasa
Image via Wikipedia

As the year draws to a close, TRAFFIC warns that 2011 has seen a record number of large ivory seizures globally, reflecting the sharp rise in illegal ivory trade underway since 2007. Report from TRAFFIC http://twitter.com/#!/TRAFFIC_WLTrade

Although official confirmation of the volume of ivory involved in some  cases has not yet been registered, what is clear is the dramatic increase in the number of large-scale seizures, over 800 kg in weight, that have taken place in 2011—at least 13 of them.

This compares to six large seizures in 2010, whose total weight was just under 10 tonnes. A conservative estimate of the weight of ivory seized in the 13 largest seizures in 2011 puts the figure at more than 23 tonnes, a figure that probably represents some 2,500 elephants, possibly more.

The most recent case to come to light was of 727 ivory pieces discovered on 21st December concealed inside a container at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, and destined for Asia.

Over the last 12 months, most large seizures of illicit ivory from Africa have originated from either Kenyan or Tanzanian ports.

“In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data for ETIS, this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures—2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s Elephant expert.

In 2009, an ETIS analysis revealed a sharp increase in illicit ivory trade after steadily rising from 2004 onwards © TRAFFIC Click graphic to enlargeMilliken manages ETIS (the Elephant Trade Information System), the illegal ivory trade monitoring system that TRAFFIC runs on behalf of Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). ETIS holds the details of over 17,000 reported ivory and other elephant product seizures that have taken place anywhere in the world since 1989.

Once the records of hundreds of smaller ivory seizures are at hand, 2011 could well prove be the worst year ever for elephants in the database.

“The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking. Most illegal shipments of African elephant ivory end up in either China or Thailand.”

The smugglers also appear to have shifted away from using air to sea freight: in early 2011, three of the large scale ivory seizures were at airports, but later in the year most were found in sea freight.

“The only common denominator in the trafficking is that the ivory departs Africa and arrives in Asia, but the routes are constantly changing, presumably reflecting where the smugglers gamble on being their best chance of eluding detection.”

In six of the large seizures in 2011, Malaysia has been a transit country in the supply chain, a role that TRAFFIC first drew attention to in 2009.

A typical example occurred earlier this month, when Customs in Malaysia seized 1.4 tonnes of ivory (widely misreported as 15 tonnes) concealed inside a shipping container en route from Kenya to Cambodia.

Once inside Asia, the documentation accompanying an onward shipment is changed to make it appear as a local re-export, helping to conceal its origin from Africa.

“That’s an indication of the level of sophistication enforcement officers are up against in trying to outwit the criminal masterminds behind this insidious trade,” said Milliken.

“As most large-scale ivory seizures fail to result in any arrests, I fear the criminals are winning.”


Large-scale ivory seizures, 2001-2011

Year No. of Large-scale Seizures Wt of Large-scale Ivory
Seizures (kg)
2001 5  7,062
2002 6  19,539
2003 3  4,421
2004 2  2,750
2005 2  4,742
2006 6  16,442
2007 2  2,152
2008 0  –
2009 8  19,314
2010 6  9,798
2011 13  23,676*
   * estimated, provisional figure
  TOTAL   109,898

Large scale ivory seizures in 2011 (some await official confirmation)

Seized Month in 2011 Number of ivory pieces Actual/estimated weight (kg)
Kenya December 727 2575
Kenya December 465 1647
Malaysia November 1400
Viet Nam November 1100
Tanzania September 1041 1895
Hong Kong August 794 1898
Malaysia August 405 2974
Malaysia August 664 1587
Malaysia July 695 2000
China May 707 2234
Thailand April 247 2033
Kenya March 115 1304
Thailand February 118 1026

Further information & images: Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC. +44 752 6646216 (m), Richard.thomas@traffic.org

About WWF
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint programme of IUCN and WWF.