Seoul vs Shanghai
Since leaving Seoul, I have described it fondly, but have always qualified that with 'but...'. See, having stayed there so long, I also got to witness a lot of the difficulties of Seoul. One thing that would frustrate me with it was the lack of unoriginality in the majority of the districts. It seemed I would walk for hours without encountering any visual stimuli, instead being confronted with the same greyish colours and businesses.
But returning to Seoul, I saw how colourful it was. Compared with Shanghai, Seoul seems liked Disneyland, or a huge playground. Sometimes, even the pavement is pink or green. I was staying near Hongdae, which is the party part of Seoul. I stayed in a place called Trick Art Guest Hostel, where the owners were so friendly, and kind. They helped me with everything, and let me relax in the sun on their balcony, overlooking the relatively small and distinct modern architecture before me.
The whole district is like something out of Monocle Magazine, clean, artisanal coffee houses and independent Korean restaurants with funky branding (Bib-BIM-BBAAAP! etc.). The staff were usually charming and happy to help. Maybe sometimes too cool. The sun was shining, the sky was blue. The week provided me with more of these things than I had received in months in Shanghai. Shanghai can be uniform, serious, adult. The sky is so rarely colourful, preferring an indifferent white, or light grey.
The partying is all concentrated in districts (principally Hongdae and Itaewon), unlike in Shanghai, where we always used a taxi during a night out. This creates huge areas with music and dancing and eating and happiness in Seoul, which is found to be rather diluted in Shanghai. I'm sorry Shanghai. Bear in mind that this is quite an immature argument.
The culture of Korea is boasted throughout Seoul at every corner. Food, brands, history, K-Pop, etc. Shanghai tries the same thing with products of China past and present, but it can be lacklustre. Korea is celebrating topping the charts of influential contemporary Asian cultures, so it has used the brightest! shades of colours! to paint its walls! and ceilings!, and the people are reflecting the energy! But, Shanghai just sort of lays it out on the table. Here you go, here's one of our pop stars. She's OK.
Comparing these two cities isn't easy, and I've thought long and hard about it. It's unfair for me to pit them against each other as I have been in them under different circumstances. In spite of what I've said, Shanghai has numerous one-ups on Korea. Freedom. Weirdly, surprisingly so, you'll feel this enormous sense of freedom in Shanghai, once you touch down. It also contains a pompous grandeur which Seoul never attempts, particularly in the East side of Puxi, near the river. This means it can provide a bit more of a spectacle for more traditional types of tourists. Also, the industrial areas of Shanghai, like Suzhou Creek (think Beijing's 798) are also far more genuine than Seoul's attempts at Urban grit.
So, Shanghai trumps Seoul in honesty and freedom, if you could ever believe it.