I have now been in China for 4 months, although I have lost track of time and finally feel like if not a local then most definitely an expat. In writing my tips I’ve tried not to let them fall into the trap of being too cheesy or generic however this was hard to do. I will however provide anecdotes to accompany each to hopefully make them slightly more interesting than what you would typically find in your Shanghai guidebook.
- Get used to troublesome taxis – my first day in Shanghai, my first hour in fact I stood on the street outside my university and tried to get a taxi back to dorms. Here is what I encountered…
- First 7 taxi’s refused to stop for me – you think New York taxis are bad, in Shanghai get used to being rejected on a number of different levels: Initially because you are bai ren (white men). The second rejection phase is location based. I live in Pudong, around 40-50 minutes from the ‘cooler’ parts of the city. Once you get in to the taxi you don’t have the luxury of being able to relax, your location could be tai mafan le! (too troublesome) and again (as I have many times) you could be kicked back onto the curb (and scoffed at for your ludicrous destination request)
- Once safely inside a taxi get used to repeating your cross-street 10-100 times. If you weren’t insecure about your Chinese proficiency before you will be after this ordeal. What with tone confusion you aren’t sure if you’re trying to get to somewhere in Beijing, or some obscure 3rd tier city, or of the taxi just lacks a functioning GPS.
- Once you start moving you’ll wriggle around to find your seatbelt. Don’t bother their won’t be one. When first arriving in Shanghai I was alerted that it was in fact rude to reach for your seatbelt as it insults the driving abilities of the driver (in many cases this proficiency should be insulted)
- Finally during the ride get used to what a Westerner would view as substandard hygiene in terms of cultural habits. Although I’ve only been ripped off (and shouted violently in Chinese at) once in a Chinese taxi, what I have witnessed is smoking inside (with the windows closed) and of course a large jar of spit, generously and regularly used during the ride – have a nice trip!
- Don’t be afraid to be an expat – upon coming to Shanghai (as you’ll realize from my prior posts) what I wanted was the real ‘Chinese’ experience. Full cultural immersion with as few Western friends as possible. What I have come to realize is that this is only one facet of Shanghai. Shanghai is a metropolis, its layout and history (The Bund and French Concession serving as two perfect examples) characterize it as created by a mishmash of cultures. Some of my best moments, and favorite stories are from expats, hearing their stories, why and how they moved and their experiences of the country and culture. On travelling to other parts of China you begin to really appreciate the way that the gǎigé kāifàng – (opening up) – has affected Shanghai. Each little French Café, Taiwanese bar or Japanese DJ comes with a story, and each one is fascinating to hear.
- Travel, Travel, Travel (Domestically) – In order to travel in and out of China on a student visa what you need is a residence permit. If you’ve been following my prior posts, the one on ‘Mishaps’ in particular, you’ll become aware that for me, this never happened. Do I regret it? Not in the slightest… China is incredibly vast and unlike endless travel blogs and Instagram posts I’ve seen on Japan, Hong Kong and South East Asia until I was in Shanghai (and a couple of terms into my university if I’m honest) I had no idea that places aside from Beijing and Shanghai (maybe also Chengdu because of the pandas) were so desirable for me to visit . I’m even staying an extra 2 weeks until my Visa expires, using Shanghai as my base, to fully make the most of domestic travel: I hope to visit a Shaolin Temple, a village full of painting forgers as well as some fishing villages and an abandoned archipelago! (all under a 3 hour flight away!)
- BUT Be careful with your connecting flights – I learned the hard way that domestic flights are notoriously unreliable – waiting in an airport in Chengdu for 7 hours not being told that my flight was cancelled but rather that there was an uncertain waiting time. My flight did eventually take off, but like the people in line in-front of me who really got the burden off their chest at the complaints desk, I was far from happy. .
- Finally don’t live in Pudong (East bank of the Huangpu river) –I’m nearing the end of my time in Shanghai and don’t feel I risk being kicked out of housing/ the university and at risk of sounding ungrateful I have to say that living in the dorms 45 minutes away from Shanghai center is one of the biggest (and actually only) regret of my time here… –Puxi (West bank of the Huangpu River) is a great area, expansive, bustling and vibrant with the easy access if not quite of New York then certainly of London. Pudong where we live is quite another story – the NYU dorms, mandatory housing, is next to little but a shopping mall (with one great restaurant admittedly) and aside from the fact it is now partially inhabited by the future Disneyland Shanghai employees, holds little excitement. My time in Shanghai has been characterized by 100 RMB taxi fares and a price for dorms with which I could house myself in a wonderful Puxi apartment. Although this hand holding and mollycoddling was initially incredibly necessary, as my time in Shanghai has moved on I’ve been wishing I was on the West of the river.