Once you have found your new home, settled in and enrolled your kids in a good school, life in Shanghai begins. Those elements that comprise the quality of life that you are used to are for the most part available in Shanghai. In many ways your quality of life may increase.
In Shanghai you will have access to a new world of possibilities including sumptuous and affordable massage, world-class shopping and fun and interesting activities to enjoy with your loved ones. This section will help guide you through the basics of living and enjoying your life in Shanghai. The information and advice offered here is only the beginning however. Beyond the internet, you will find many hidden treasures that will surprise and amaze you whilst at the same time broadening your understanding of one of the oldest civilisations on Earth.
Getting Around Shanghai
For the first few weeks – even months – it’s a good idea to carry a street and Metro map around. Shanghai is not a grid, and the sporadic maze of alleys, streets, boulevards and freeways is difficult to navigate, even for the city’s seasoned veterans.
Despite the massive size of greater Shanghai, most of the central areas are grouped together and manageable in size. Once inside a neighbourhood, getting around on foot is relatively easy. All street signs are written in both Chinese and pinyin (phonetically romanised Chinese). The range of street numbers on each block is also posted on the street signs.
Taxis are generally a cheap and efficient way to get around Shanghai, traffic permitting. There are approximately 45,000 taxis in operation in the city, belonging to seven privately owned companies. It’s easy to flag one down on most busy streets – unless it’s raining, in which case be prepared to wait for the weather to clear, or head to the nearest Metro stop. Taxi fares start at RMB 14 for the first two kilometres, RMB 2.4 for each additional kilometre. Tipping is not expected, but welcomed nonetheless. Cash or stored valued cards are accepted as payment. Most drivers speak limited or no English, so you should be able to show them your destination in Chinese. The driver will supply you with a receipt (fapiao), which shows the taxi number and the company telephone number – very useful information if you leave something in the cab. If you have a mobile phone, you can take advantage of the DiDi Da Che service to book taxis during peak hours - you will need to speak Chinese though.
This is the fastest way to travel across the city. Trains are almost always on time and at busy stations in the central areas arrive every three to five minutes. This is generally a nice way to travel. The trains are clean, quiet and safe. Tickets cost RMB3-7, or alternatively you can purchase a stored value card (jiaotong ka) from one of the booths. They’re valid for the Metro, buses and taxis and can be purchased at any Metro station As opposed to buses, signs and maps are clear and in English, making the train system easy to navigate. On the downside, crowds are almost unbearable during the daily rush hours of 7:30-10am and 5-7:30pm.
Opened on January 1, 2004, the Shanghai Maglev is the first commercial maglev in the world and offers a very fast and convenient way to travel between Pudong International Airport and Pudong. The 30 km distance is covered in 7 minutes and 20 seconds, reaching a maximum speed of 268 mph.
There are well over 1,000 bus routes, taking you to every corner of Shanghai, operated by a variety of private companies. The rides are cheap. Direct journeys, which can be purchased in cash from the driver, cost about RMB 2. However, prepare to hit a major language and navigation barrier. Unlike in the Metro, maps are not easy to read and do not provide an English translation. On the whole, this is not a recommended mode of transportation for a newcomer.
Walking is a great way to get around central neighborhoods in Puxi. The sidewalks in the former French Concession districts of Xuhui and Huangpu, the old city area of Yu Yuan, and the area around People’s Square are particularly good places for walking, with restaurants, shops and housing all situated next to one another. Sidewalks are wide and well-maintained, making for pleasant strolls that will give you a chance to take in the rich and dynamic urban environment.
Neighbourhoods in Shanghai Kangqiao
Kangqiao is an established development on Pudong’s south side, built to accompany nearby international schools and local industry. The area is growing rapidly due to its ideal location across the river from Puxi and proximity to central Pudong. Most of the housing exists within gated communities.
Based on plenty of practice in built-up areas like Hongqiao and Jinqiao, property developers offer new and improved villas in Kangqiao. Look for rents in the RMB 30,000-up range for villa property. Smaller townhouses in developments like Oasis Villas are cheaper than in other suburban areas, with rents from RMB 20-40,000.
Kangqiao is near the medical facilities of Lujiazui and Jinqiao.
The zone enjoys an excellent geographic location, with Nanpu Bridge only 8 km away and People’s Square 10 km away. Because the area is newly planned, it offers plenty of green space. Parking is not a problem and traffic generally moves freely.
Jinqiao has rapidly developed to become a popular place to live for families and expats. Its large compounds are similar to that of Kangqiao and the area has a very American feel.
Located to the eastern side of Pudong, Jinqiao has all the conveniences that an expat family would need.
Housing here is similar to that of family friendly Huacao town, with large modern villas which have been built within the last 15 years. Prices for villas such as the popular Vizcaya and Tomson Golf range in the 40,000RMB per month to 60,000RMB per month.
There are Healthcare facilities directly in Jinqiao.
Good to Know
There is a well-established expat community with all the conveniences that come along with this. Villas are large and spacious and links to and Puxi are good. There are also good Western food and dining options. Traffic can be a problem here as there are major infrastructure projects which are ongoing.
Pudong’s business and financial centre and the district’s most developed area, Lujiazui covers the eastern bank of the Huangpu River. Lujiazui’s showpiece futuristic skyline is made of high-end business centres and five-star hotels. A few years ago the landscape was barren of housing, but that’s changing. The area is welcoming more up-scale apartment complexes that attract young Chinese and expat professionals. New shops, restaurants and bars are popping up to accommodate the new wave of people moving into Lujiazui. In many ways, Lujiazui is an ideal neighbourhood for people working in Pudong or downtown Puxi who don’t mind living in a forest of shiny high-rises.
Lujiazui housing is dominated by new high-end apartments in large property developments popular with singles and couples. They usually include 24-hour security, pools, gyms and parking. Rents start at RMB 8,000. Family-sized apartments are usually privately owned and rent ranges from RMB 15-60,000. While there are very few villas worth mentioning in the Lujiazui area, the major apartment complexes such as Shimao Riviera, Yanlord Garden and Champs Elysees offer large two-storey apartments which some families find ideal.
The Shanghai East International Medical Center on Pudong Da Dao offers out-patient and in-patient medical care for expats. A modern dental clinic, Care Dental, is on the seventh floor of Super Brand Mall. Alternatively, residents of Lujiazui can travel to any of the clinics in neighbouring Jinqiao for treatment.
Lujiazui is popular with young professionals and singles. It’s an exciting place to live, with dozens of futuristic skyscrapers and world-class hotels offering spectacular views while you sip an expensive martini. There are a growing number of excellent restaurants and bars, especially along the ‘other Bund’ facing the real Bund on the river, and it’s easy to get across the river to People’s Square on Metro line 2. Driving is relatively stress-free, unless you’re trying to get across to Puxi during peak hours.
Unlike neighbouring Kangqiao and Jinqiao, Lujiazui was not designed for expat families. There’s not much open green space, and housing consists primarily of towers. However, it’s much more lively than the other expat areas and, with the Metro, it’s easy enough to get over to Puxi.
Healthcare in Shanghai
Living in Shanghai, while fun and dynamic, can be physically and mentally taxing. It’s easy to neglect to maintain a healthy mind and body. Many expats who move to Shanghai suddenly find that they have an incredibly busy schedule, mixing work, long commutes and social events. Given the poor air quality and lack of open green spaces, it’s important to organise time and space for your health. At first, Shanghai appears to restrict your ability to exercise and find mental peace. However, the city is surprisingly accommodating, with many conventional Western-style gyms and fitness facilities. Living in Shanghai is also an opportunity to experience traditionally Eastern approaches to mental and physical wellbeing, such as yoga and acupuncture. And, given the number of expats from around the globe living in Shanghai, there’s bound to be a group or league for your sport or exercise.
An increasing interest in health and fitness in Shanghai, combined with rising incomes and international influences, have led to new upscale health clubs popping up throughout the city. All offer fitness facilities such as cardio machines and free weights and fitness classes including aerobics, yoga and body pump. More elaborate facilities also provide access to swimming pools, tennis courts and spas. As with many luxuries in Shanghai, they might not be cheap, but you still pay considerably less than you would for comparable facilities back home. Local clubs that target Chinese patrons are much cheaper, but also much less well-equipped, perhaps offering table tennis and badminton rather than swimming and squash. Most new apartment buildings and villas have modern, spacious facilities for residents. The key to maintaining an exercise routine over time is not finding the best fitness club, but finding a suitable facility conveniently near your place of work or home. Therefore, start your search there.
Shanghai’s official language is Mandarin Chinese. A notoriously difficult language to learn, it has no set alphabet and instead uses characters, which number approximately 50,000. Fortunately for Mandarin learners, not all are in everyday use and mastery of about 3,000 is enough to read a newspaper.
Learning spoken Mandarin is made easier through the use of pinyin, a phonetic transliteration system that uses the Roman alphabet to represent pronunciation. Nonetheless, Mandarin is still tricky to learn because it is a tonal language. Each character is assigned one of four tones in spoken form: first tone (high and level), second tone (rising from medium to high), third tone (starting low, dipping lower and then rising again), fourth tone (sharply falling from high to low). Depending on which tone is employed, one pinyin word will have numerous meanings. For example, the word ma can mean ‘mother’, ‘hemp’, ‘horse’ or ‘to swear or reprimand’. This, of course, can cause embarrassing misunderstandings.
Shanghainese, or Shanghaihua, is derived from the Northern Wu dialect. It exists only as an everyday spoken lingo, with no written form. For a beginning Mandarin learner, it can be frustrating to wholeheartedly attempt a new language only to be confused on the streets and in the shops by hearing another foreign language. However, Mandarin is the official language of Shanghai and most people speak it well. The Chinese are generally much more patient and forgiving with Westerners struggling through Mandarin than vice versa. Locals greatly appreciate any effort to learn mandarin in private schools and universities, and speaking a few phrases is seen as a sign of respect and will help you interact and integrate with the locals. It is advisable to learn some words and phrases right away. Pick up a phrase book and watch or listen to a tutorial a few times before you go. All of these resources are easy to find at bookstores or online.
English is becoming more widely spoken in Shanghai in most central neighborhoods, particularly in establishments frequented by Westerners. Hotels, cafés, restaurants, bars, banks, museums, fitness clubs and boutiques will normally have at least one English-speaker on hand. However, do not expect to find English spoken by the average passer-by on the street, in taxis or buses, in local restaurants and markets or generally in neighborhoods outside the city center that are not near expat villas. Many signs, notices and publications in Shanghai are written in what is often called ‘Chinglish’. This new, developing form of communication is derived from poor translations carried out by Chinese English-speakers. Chinglish is usually decipherable with a bit of patience and a keen eye for humor.
Getting to know a new culture is one of the most exciting aspects of travelling. A city as vibrant and diverse as Shanghai presents endless wonderment to Western visitors. The city is composed of migrants from all over China and the world. Shanghai’s history of business and technological innovation and as the crossroads of East and West in China creates a dynamic energy that lures many visitors in... and keeps them there.
Opium & Trading
Modern Shanghai has been shaped by its position as a port city on the Yangtze Delta and the Chinese-Western business coalitions first established in the 19th century. Originally a fishing and textile port on the Yangtze Delta, Shanghai (‘on the sea’ in Chinese) emerged as a popular export base for the British East Indian Company in the late 18th century as Chinese tea, silk and porcelain became more popular in Great Britain. However, neither the isolationist Qing Dynasty nor Chinese consumers desired any British products in return, creating for Britain an unsustainable trade imbalance. To redress this situation, the enterprising British capitalized on the Chinese fondness for opium by importing a superior product from India. In order to protect this dubious trade from Chinese resistance, the far more industrialized British overpowered the Chinese army in what came to be known as the First Opium War. In the resulting 1842 Treaty of Nanking, the Chinese ceded Hong Kong and extraterritorial concessions in five other Chinese cities, including Shanghai.
The British named their settlement along the Huangpu River the Bund, and later consolidated with the American community to form the International Concession. France also claimed a concession from a weakened Qing Court. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Shanghai grew rapidly, and the foreign residents built an impressive infrastructure. Shanghai boasted China’s best roads and hotels, its first gaslights, telephones, electric power, cars and trams. The city continued to prosper throughout the early part of the 20th century, welcoming more immigrants from Russia and Japan, each bringing with them their customs and culture. During the 1920s and 30s, the city became legendary for money, gangsters, drugs and brothels.
1949 - The Communists
The party ended soon after Shanghai was liberated by the Communists in 1949. The dance halls and villas were converted into ‘cultural palaces’ and stylish Parisian apparel was traded in for grey unisex tunics and caps. Shanghai was the headquarters of the ‘Gang of Four’, who made it their business to rid the city of the ‘Four Olds’: old culture, old customs, old habits and old ways of thinking. Of course, what was deemed ‘old’ was left to their discretion. By the time Richard Nixon visited Shanghai for his historic meeting with Zhou Enlai in 1976, the city was completely dark after nightfall. Even in 1988, ten years after Deng Xiaoping launched the economic reform era, the tallest building in town was the Park Hotel, built in 1934.
Modern Shanghai - 1990's to the Present
In the 1990s, the lights came back on, and in a big way. The government decreed that Shanghai was to become the country’s new economic powerhouse. The skyline, and the city, changed beyond recognition. Skyscrapers, roads, trains and bridges were built at breakneck speed. By the time Shanghai was awarded the hosting the 2010 World Expo in 2002, it was a modern megalopolis, with a population approaching 20 million, and once again a centre of global commerce and innovation. Not to be outdone by 2008 Olympics host and rival Beijing, the city spared no expense – or architectural relic of its past – to impress international visitors to the World Expo. However, strolls along the Bund, the Former French Concession and the Old City still allow visitors a glimpse of Shanghai’s rich and colorful history.
Shanghai is now regarded as mainland China’s center of finance and trade and the driving force behind China’s booming economy. Modern development began with the economic reforms in 1992 and economic growth remained in double digits for two decades before experiencing a slight slowdown in recent years. The city is undertaking massive public works projects at an unparalleled pace and scale. Besides being a major international manufacturing and financial services center, Shanghai is also one of the world’s busiest ports, surpassed only by Singapore.