I know I’m crazily behind on my blog posts (if you didn’t get the memo, I actually came home from Asia end of September…) – most of the blame goes on not having a working laptop for a month, and then coming home to a tsunami of studying and family ‘hoo-ha’s – but I’m still determined to see my whole trip through in writing!
When I started this trip in July, one thing I had in mind was to see where else in the world I could potentially happily live. At the top of my list I already had Hong Kong but I wanted to see if there were any other contenders out there. (This seems like an expensive way to ‘just make sure’ but ya know, here I am).
After a pretty, errr, ‘challenging’ week in Beijing and intro to China, (almost being homeless, train ticket nightmares, communication failures) which led to a slightly crazy rant, you can imagine I was skipping in delight about the idea of arriving in metropolitan Shanghai. And it didn’t disappoint! Let’s see how it fared. (I’ve only employed a ‘rating out of 5’ system so I have an easy way to rank each city! I’m not wanting to judge anyone else’s homeland harshly!)
Compared to Beijing, I found people in general were friendlier in Shanghai. Perhaps it’s something to do with more locals being able to (or willing to) speak English. There was definitely a much livelier and ‘lighter’ atmosphere in Shanghai than in Beijing, which I appreciated, so I felt less alienated. And there’s certainly culture and history to be discovered but perhaps not to the extent you will find in Beijing. I did love the contrast of French Concession, old Shanghai streets and modern-day Bund happenings. Again, as with anywhere in mainland China, there’s still my biggest bugbear: spitting. Also, internet censorship, starring and friendly ‘harassment’ from curious locals, and insane traffic/road-use. As one relative, who lived in Shanghai for two years, said to me: traffic lights are optional.
I don’t know if my Mandarin had dramatically improved whilst in Beijing or Shanghai just has many more English speakers (let’s be honest, it’s more the latter) but hallelujah, communication was almost a breeze in Shanghai compared to Beijing! At the times I couldn’t speak much Mandarin, like meeting more delightful old people in parks, they seem to speak a teen tiny bit of English. At one point, a lady I was trying to talk with hit a wall with my Mandarin so instead kindly wrote on her hand (in Chinese) what she was asking. Since my reading is better than my listening, this worked fine! Until she ran out of room on her hand… We then resorted to handwriting using Pleco which is fine, unless the person you’re trying to talk to is a technophobe! (Check out my China tips for more handy hacks).
Again, there is still a ‘Chinese’ way of doing things, like queueing, but in a more metropolitan city like Shanghai, more people are appreciative of queueing logistics. Still, don’t be afraid to get your elbows in and politely stand your ground! I’m British and managed to do it, despite all my queueing instincts. Although having a car beep it’s horn at you when you’re crossing the road with the green man showing will never not be irritating!
Shanghai has a pretty much flawless (and cheap) metro train system which runs all across the city centre and the outskirts. It’s super easy to take the metro straight to/from the airport and the national train station as well. You can get a ‘top-up’ metro card or a variety of one-day, two-day, three-day passes but for whatever reason I didn’t think these were available until the end of my trip, so I ended up buying single tickets each time I took the metro. But seeing as an average metro journey cost me ¥4, you might not be saving much (or anything) by getting a one-day pass at ¥18. Depends if you plan on taking the metro a lot. If possible, I always prefer to walk places to get my bearings and see the sights but Shanghai is a massive city and their summers are ruthlessly hot!
I actually didn’t get on a bus until my very last day (the lady I was renting the studio from kindly helped me) and I never actually took a taxi so I can’t give my opinion but Shanghai traffic can be pretty poor in the centre of the city so bear that in mind. And it’s probably best to always have your destination written in Chinese for taxi drivers.
Things to do/nightlife 4/5
For most people, you come to Shanghai to do business or to shop, eat and drink. (Highlights being xiaolongbao, Shanghai hairy crab and yangchun noodles). As you’d expect, the city has an amazing social scene with all the top restaurants along the Bund fully booked on Friday and Saturday nights, and a big selection of bars and clubs. I promise you won’t ever be bored in Shanghai! I wouldn’t say there are a lot of typical tourist things to do during the day – I mean, there’s Disneyland, the Pearl Tower (which for me was actually a big disappointment) and an aquarium – but you’ll definitely find enough quality things to do if you know where to look. The city actually has a great contemporary art scene and many galleries, as well as stunning temples and a few interesting museums. Similar to Beijing, one big joy of Shanghai is just wandering the streets of different districts and seeing what you discover.
Like many of China’s biggest cities, you hear horror stories of Shanghai’s pollution. However, for the 8 days I was there, the skies were clear and sunny! (Bar one day of torrential rain storms but hey, tropical climates for you). It was deathly hot though, reaching a balmy 36C at one point, which even a local expat told me was unusually scorching! But after a grey, wet and fairly miserable week in Beijing, I was loving the sun. Just make sure you have an umbrella on you at all times – for unexpected rain showers but also to shield yourself from the sun. You might think you look crazy but believe me, the locals know what they’re doing.
I adored Shanghai’s buildings and skyline as well. There’s a true metropolitan mix of architecture and some stunning modern skyscrapers. You can take many magical walks at sunset along the river, although my favourite thing is to find yourself a good spot at a rooftop bar (check out my Sir Elly’s Terrace review) from across the Bund and watch the sun set, the boats sail by and the sky-scrappers change colour/slogan. Shanghai definitely had more colour and ‘shininess’ to it than Beijing!
Perhaps my underwhelming trip to Beijing allowed me to feel more impressed with Shanghai than the average tourist but I really did love Shanghai and, for me, 8 days wasn’t long enough! It’s an enormous city which never seems to stay the same, yet has so many old/new contrasts. I can’t wait to go back and explore again one day. But would I choose to live in Shanghai? I honestly don’t know. Maybe for a little while, but I’m not sure about long-term. I have relatives who lived there for 2 years with their two young children and it seems they all loved it. If I was to not have any choice in the matter, like if my company transferred me to Shanghai, I certainly wouldn’t complain!
Have you been to Shanghai before or perhaps you live there? What do you think of the city? Tell me in the comments below!