Preparing for Shanghai 101, all your myths about Shanghai revealed (part one)

January 4, 2013 § 2 Comments


I had many preconceptions about Shanghai before I got there and I’m sure you will too, the purpose of this post is to attempt to comfort those who are overly nervous about visiting Shanghai and to prepare you for your adventure so that you can sit back, relax and get ready for the absolute chaos, epic adventure, fun. Right, let’s bust some myths (if I’ve missed anything out get over it then feel free to leave a comment).

  1. “Chinese food from China is disgusting, there’s no sweet and sour pork or egg fried rice.”
    True that there is no sweet and sour pork or egg fried rice or any other regulars you order from Mr Wok or whatever local Chinese takeaway you order from. However, disgusting it is not. You will find that there are certain things that you actually really like that you wouldn’t have expected. It is probably true that you won’t like the local delicacies (I personally can’t bring myself anywhere near any trotters or claws or faces so in that way I am a bit biased, so try all you want if you have the balls), but the Shanghai Xiaolongbao dumplings and something called the Four Seasons Beans are a foolproof way to survive local Chinese food at any restaurant.

  2. “China is cheap, everything is made there!”
    It may be true that everything is Made in China, but not everything is cheap. You will get a lot of great knock-offs which are great souvenirs for friends and family, but the living standard in Shanghai is very high. Be prepared to spend as much money as you would in major cities like London and New York if you want to eat non-local food (like pasta, pizza or sushi etc.). There are also many things that would be cheap at home but are very expensive so come prepared, Weetabix for example is £12 a box and a jar of Branston pickles is £8. So if you know you are super fussy and have certain home comforts which you can’t live without then you are sad then come armed with a suitcase full of teabags and Organic wholewheat brown bread (because they don’t have that for less than £10 either).

  3. “If I forget something it’s fine, I can buy it when I get there.”
    You are likely to find something you have forgotten but it will be a local brand like ‘Mr Wu’s Deo for your B.O’ and if you do manage to find it in the brand you want it will be extortionate. But there are two things which you absolutely will not find, and if you do manage to find it I will happily eat my many many words; bronzer and spray anti-persperant deoderant. They do have deodorant but it is either a roll-on which feels like warm custard that never ever dries or they have the liquid spray which makes you smell like a grandmother’s used thong.

  4. “Local Chinese people don’t speak English”
    Erm…correct. Absolutely 100% true. I had the biggest shock of my life, it wasn’t Chinatown in London, it was anything but that. The only time I heard a local Chinese person speaking English was the taxi driver that took me home at 4am once and he listed every single swear word you can use to describe the female genitals. Not only do they not speak English, they expect you to speak Chinese, no matter what you look like. They will keep talking at you and keep repeating the same sounds over and over again before calling you a stupid lao-wai which you will very quickly learn means foreigner. The good thing is, there are many guide books and the city is full of expats running restaurants, bars and clubs. So you will find a way, and I promise you that miscommunication will make for some epic disasters stories.



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§ 2 Responses to Preparing for Shanghai 101, all your myths about Shanghai revealed (part one)

  • wilmijntje says:

    Hi there. I’m glad I disagree with you on some points!
    First, true, dumplings are the best things here! But actually I like a lot of local food here, but it really depends on where you go. It pays off to try a different place every day 😉 (although I know a few good places near where I live at the moment thanks to my Chinese colleagues).
    I also agree with your second point. You have some adjusting to do or you will be poor very quickly ;). Try to find a good balance and you will get used to the Chinese versions, then sometimes ‘spoil’ yourself with some proper European items!
    Now the disagreeing start :). I was able to find a Rexona deo spray at the supermarket! There was just one kind, and not very cheap, but it was there! In the meantime I also found a supplier at which delivers for about half price, so then it’s no problem. Rexona wasn’t my brand, but it is familiar. Still don’t understand why most Chinese don’t wear deodorant… Curious how that will be in summer!
    Yes, I’ve only been here one month so far, but my experiences with the Chinese people here are a bit different than yours. Ok, at university (where I work) it is expected, since they all have to take the English course. They just have a hard time speaking, but they’re trying. Today I’ve went to the hospital by myself and within about 20-25 minutes I was talking to the doctor, people there were really helpful.
    Ok, I did have several encounters that they just spoke Chinese to me, but hey, then we try to find another solution. It is convenient though to have a smartphone app that can translate for you, it really helps a lot! For the rest, hands and feet :D.

    • Marina says:

      Hello! Thank you for your response, actually I am glad that you disagree with me about the local food-many of my expat friends have all sorts of weird and wonderful local treats for lunch and it pretty much is down to the fact that they are willing to try different things everyday. I think the thing that stops me is the question of what meat am I eating and as I suffer from a sensitive stomach I couldn’t hold down a lot of the random food from the local restaurants for my first four months here. Ah see I don’t think I’ve ever even picked up/seen a Rexona before in the UK I’m a major fan of Dove for deodorant! Definitely have to give Rexona a try though.
      I think the language barrier for me is the most frustrating in my work, I have meetings at least 2-3 times a week where I walk into a meeting with a General Manager or CEO of a major international company and his/her colleague and neither will speak English. In my line of work I see it far too much and luckily I have been having regular Mandarin lessons and being fluent in Cantonese helps a lot but I know many people in my industry who have definitely struggled with this, my advice for this for anyone working in Shanghai is don’t dither about it-just get lessons now, everyone is doing it and you have to start somewhere.
      Stay tuned for part 2 and thanks again for your comment!

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