For some, the intense urban environment of downtown Shanghai is not particularly attractive. Whether it’s the traffic, the noise or the sheer number of people, they prefer more subdued surroundings. On the Puxi side of the Huangpu River, Huacao Town is the answer. There kids can ride their bicycles or walk to school, the traffic is comparatively nonexistent and in the context of Shanghai one could go so far as to describe the setting as tranquil. Like its counterpart, Jinqiao, on the Pudong side of the Huangpu, the town was created by design to serve the needs of expat families and wealthier locals both in terms of environment and services.
Life in Huacao is defined for many by compound living. Behind the walls of the numerous luxury villa compounds, residents have access to a variety of services which in some cases amount to a community within a community. Grocery stores, clubhouses, restaurants, health clinics and a wide variety of recreational services are contained within some of the larger compounds like the Shanghai Racquet Club. Security at these compounds is first rate and the accommodation ranges from luxury apartments or townhouses to grand villas of several hundred square meters in size. The atmosphere is definitively suburban and provides many families with a sense of continuity with their lives back home. The town itself offers a range of services including several restaurants, a pub, massage, a sprinkling of shops and a soon-to-be-opened shopping centre.
Critics of the compound lifestyle say that it’s like living in a bubble that lacks any connection to authenticity; however for some, a ‘real Shanghai experience’ is not why they came to China. For others who either work downtown or venture out into the city to explore, compound living is a welcome respite from the frenetic pace of Shanghai proper.
Huacao is relatively small in area bounded by Jinguang Lu to the east and, only a few blocks away, Jidi Lu. The northern edge is defined by Beiqing Gong Lu, while to the south it’s Baole Lu. The entire area is perhaps only about one square kilometre in area, but is home to hundreds of villas and apartments.
While Huacao Town is in Minhang District, the directly adjacent town of Xujing lies in Qingpu District. Xujing Town itself is mostly local but on its periphery a significant number of villa compounds have been developed in the past 10 years, including a few top-end luxury developments in the past few years. These developments have become increasingly popular with expats as rental prices tend to be somewhat lower for equivalent properties compared to Huacao, and there is a wider variety of homes on offer. While intra-municipal bickering has prevented the extension of proper road links between the two towns, expat residents of the Xujing area often use the shops and services of Huacao as it is still the closest fully expat-oriented neighborhood. The connecting road is Zhuguang Lu.
Villa compounds in the area are along a number of streets such as Gaojing Lu south of Huqingping, Xujing Zhong Lu east of Panlong Lu and west of Xuying Lu, Zhuguang Lu south of Huqingping and along Huqingping Highway between Gaojing and Zhuguang Lu.
Expat health services in Huacao are currently limited to a ParkwayHealth Clinic in the Shanghai Racquet Club, though a large world-class medical facility is scheduled to open in 2013. This opening will make the area one of the best served expat areas in terms of medical services. Beyond general clinical needs, expats travel to centers in Hongqiao to have their needs met.
Foreign residents of Xujing tend to travel to Hongqiao for medical services due to the reasonable commute (20-30 minutes) and the depth of service in the area.
One of the main draws of Huacao is the proximity to international schools. The largest international school in Shanghai – the Shanghai American School – has an expansive campus in the heart of Huacao with perhaps the best facilities in the city. It’s walking distance from the compounds in the area and is planning to expand in the near future to meet rising demand.
The British International School has a campus on the edge of Huacao proper, though being on the edge does not mean it’s out of the way, given the intimate nature of the area. Mothers often cycle with their children to school prior to tennis lessons at the Racquet Club or coffee at Starbucks with friends. The school re- cently opened a brand new secondary campus with excellent facilities that brings it up to the top tier in Shanghai in that regard.
Though not within short walking distance, the Shanghai Singapore School has a campus about 1.5 km from the centre of Huacao.
The French-German Euro Campus and Western International schools are located in the Xujing area and have buses to pick up students from the Huacao and Xujing areas.
For residents of Huacao, getting around locally usually means walking, cycling or electric scooter, as nothing is too far away. Beyond these means, however, and aside from private drivers, options are limited to taxis and shuttle bus services provided by some compounds which run at regularly scheduled intervals to downtown and elsewhere.
The spread-out nature of the villas in Xujing means that private drivers or taxis are the best options, though intrepid expats can occasionally be seen cycling down busy Huqingping Highway on their way to Carrefour.
The closest Metro stop is Xujing East Station, located near the corner of Xumin and Zhuguang Lu about a 10-minute taxi ride from Huacao town center and only a few minutes from the villas of Xujing. It is, however, Metro Line 2, which runs to People’s Square in the centre of Shanghai, through the central financial district in Lujiazui and all the way to Pudong Airport. Given that it’s the last stop on the line users are virtually guaranteed a seat.
As with the Hongqiao area, Huacao and Xujing’s proximity to the Hongqiao Transportation Hub is a huge benefit to expats who travel regularly to Beijing or elsewhere in China. The hub is also home to China’s high-speed rail network, providing access to one of the most comprehensive and advanced rail networks in the world.
The recent completion of a number of massive road and elevated road infrastructure projects connected to the construction of the Hongqiao Tranportation Hub has greatly reduced downtown commute times for residents of both Xujing and Huacao. While there are still occasional traffic jams at the transition between Yan’an Elevated Road and the G50 Freeway and on Huqingping Highway during rush hour, the commute is about 20-30 minutes to Hongqiao and 30-40 minutes to the French Concession. In light evening traffic with an ambitious driver, it can take as little as 30 minutes to get to the Bund.
Shops and Services
Compared to other areas in Shanghai, shops and services catering to foreigners are somewhat limited in Huacao and very limited in Xujing. There are however the requisite McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway and the like. There are Thai, Indian and Mexican restaurants, as well as a number of good cafés. Huacao has good City Shop and Pines supermarkets, while Xujing has a large Carrefour and attached mall serving both areas. A large mall is under construction in the heart of Huacao which promises to eliminate the need to commute for services not already available.
The Shanghai Racquet Club is the focal point for recreation in Huacao with tennis, badminton, squash and indoor and outdoor swimming as well as classes of various types. One-year family memberships cost RMB60,000.