Shanghai , with a population of more than 18 million (with over 5.8 million migrants), is the largest and most developed city in China. Shanghai was the largest and most prosperous city in the Far East already during the 1930’s, and has remained the most developed city in mainland China. In the past 20 years Shanghai has again become an attractive city for tourists from all over the world. The world will once again have its eyes on the city when it hosts the 2010 World’s Expo, where nearly 200 countries and 70 million visitors are expected.
Shanghai is a fascinating mix of East and West. It has historic shikumen houses that blend the styles of Chinese houses with European design flair, and it has one of the richest collections of Art Deco buildings in the world. As there were so many concessions (designated districts) to Western powers during the turn of the 20th century, at times the city has a cosmopolitan feel. From classic Parisian style, to Tudor style buildings that give an English flair, while the 1930s buildings put you in New York or Chicago.
Today, Shanghai’s goal is to develop into a world-class financial and economic center of China and Asia. In achieving this goal, Shanghai faces competition from Hong Kong, which has the advantage of a stronger legal system and greater banking and service expertise. Shanghai has stronger links to the Chinese interior and to the central government in addition to a stronger manufacturing and technology base. Since the return of Hong Kong to China, Shanghai has increased its role in finance, banking, and as a major destination for corporate headquarters, fueling demand for a highly educated and cosmopolitan workforce.
Shanghai’s climate is temperate, officially classified as a humid subtropical climate. Summer temperatures at noontime can hit 35-36°C with very high humidity, which means that you will pespire a lot and should prepare lots of spare change. Freak thunderstorms also occur relatively often during the summer, so an umbrella should be brought just in case. In contrast winter temperatures rarely rise above 10°C, and often fall below 0°C at midnight. Snowfall is rare, but transportation networks can sometimes be disrupted in the event of a freak snowstorm. Despite the fact that winter temperatures in Shanghai are not as low as the likes of Beijing or Seoul, the wind chill factor combined with the high humidity can actually make it feel more uncomfortable than some places which experience frequent snowfalls.
Shanghai is one of China’s main travel hubs and getting in from pretty much anywhere is easy. There are Plent of airlines offering Cheap flights to Shanghai from major UK airports. Shanghai has two main airports, with Pudong the main international gateway and Hongqiao serving mostly domestic flights, so be sure to check which one your flight is leaving from. Transfer between the two takes about 1 hour by taxi or nearly 2 hours by metro.
Pudong airport is one of several airports serving destinations to Taiwan. The city of Hangzhou, about a 90-min train ride from Shanghai, should also be considered if having a difficult time finding tickets to Pudong or Hongqiao.
Pudong International Airport
Pudong (IATA: PVG) is Shanghai’s main international airport, 40 km to the east of the city. Arrivals are on the first floor, departures on the third, and the airport has all the features you would expect of to find in the major hubs around the world. There are two gigantic terminals (T1 and T2). A free shuttle bus service connects the two in case walking a few minutes (or using the conveyor belts) are too cumbersome.
- Terminal 1 Air France, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Express, Gulf Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Japan Airlines, Juneyao Airlines, Korean Airlines, Mandarin Airlines, Royal Dutch Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Spring Airlines, Tianjin Airlines
- Terminal 2 Aeroflot Russian Airlines, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air Macau, All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Asiana Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Southern Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Dragonair, Emirates Airlines, Eva Air, Finnair, Garuda Indonesia, Hong Kong Express, Lufthansa, New Zealand Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Shandong Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Swiss International, Thai Airlines, TransAsia Airways, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic
Shanghai has a few major train stations including:
- Shanghai Railway Station. Shanghai’s largest and oldest, located in Zhabei district, on the intersection of Metro Lines 1, 3 and 4. Practically all trains used to terminate here, including trains to Hong Kong. However, southern services are being shifted out to the new South Station. This station is currently undergoing a major modernisation and construction and as a result many facilities are restricted at present, resulting in longer queues, more crowds and more delays (not to mention a less-than-stellar first view of Shanghai if arriving by train). Also the North Exit of the station (which leads directly to Lines 3 & 4 of the subway) is closed for the forseeable future – to reach Lines 3 and 4 instead enter the Shanghai Railway Station (South) metro station (Line 1) and walk though the long, crowded underpass which emerges next to the north square.
- Shanghai South Railway Station A new, greatly expanded terminal opened in July 2006 and and is set to take over all services towards the south. On Metro lines 1 and 3.
- Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station Located in the same building complex with Hongqiao Airport. High-speed trains to Kunshan, Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, Zhenjiang, Nanjing, Hefei, Wuhan and other smaller stations use this station.
- Shanghai West Railway Station / Nanxiang North Railway Station / Anting North Railway Station : Some high-speed train to Nanjing direction stop at these smaller stations.
Self-serve automated ticket booths are prevalent and would likely be the easiest mode of purchasing tickets and checking train schedules for those without an ability to utilize Chinese as the devices have an English mode. Tickets are also conveniently booked in advance at one of the many travel service agencies. There are queues with English speaking staff, although this is not likely outside of Shanghai so it’s best to buy a return ticket at the same time (not only because English won’t be as easy to find outside of the city, but also seats may be sold out if attempting to purchase at a later date). It is advisable to prepare a paper with your destination displayed in Chinese characters if needed or should an itinerary need adjustment. Not all tickets are sold using the automated or staffed methods. For example, for tickets to Hong Kong (Jiu Long) you would need to go to a similar ticket office near the main ticket office. To get there, exit the main ticket office and go left (towards one of the Metro exits and parallel to the train station), the ticket office is just across the road after the Metro exit. You have to pass through a security check to get to the ticket office.
- Beijing (北京)- There are a number of brand new night sleep bullet trains running daily from Shanghai to Beijing. These trains have D-prefix codes, take just over 10 hours from Shanghai to Beijing. Fare is around ¥730 for a soft sleeper lower berth or ¥655 for upper berth, very clean and the four-person cabins are quite comfortable. Two-person rooms are also available on some of these trains, the price is about ¥1470 for a lower berth or ¥1300 for a upper. Two-person rooms on D trains do not have private baths. In the same new train, normal second-class seat are available for around ¥327. For a regular normal sleeper in a standard train, which takes 13 hours from Shanghai to Beijing, expect to pay ¥306 to ¥327 for a hard sleeper or around ¥478 to ¥499 for a soft one. Two-person sleeper is available on one of the T-series trains, with private bath and a sofa, price is ¥881 for upper berth or ¥921 for a lower. But tickets for these cheaper normal sleepers are usually very tight.
- Hong Kong (香港)- The T99/T100 train to and from Hong Kong runs every other day (alternating between Shanghai->Hong Kong and Hong Kong->Shanghai) from Shanghai Railway Station (T99 leaves here at 5:15PM, T100 arrives here around noon), arriving at Hung Hom station in Kowloon(T99 arrives here around noon, T100 leaves here at 3:15PM). If traveling alone, expect to pay ¥800 each way for the soft sleeper, but discounts are given for group purchases (¥364 each way per person in a soft sleeper if purchased in a group of 4, for instance). Unless you are on a very tight budget, try to get the ‘Deluxe Soft Sleeper’ which facilitates compartments of 2 beds and a private mainland-style mains socket (but with the introduction of new train cars, the regular soft sleeper also has a private mains socket for each room as well as one in the corridor of each car). Spaces are limited, so book well in advance. Keep in mind that you will still have to go through Customs and thus need a new visa for reentry into mainland China (unless you have a multiple-entry visa). However, going through Customs at the train station is much quicker than Customs at the airport.
- Lhasa (拉萨) – Train to and from Lhasa, Tibet runs every day from Shanghai Railway Station. It takes just below 50 hours to arrive Lhasa. A hard seat costs ¥406 and a hard sleeper priced around ¥900, soft sleeper around ¥1300. Oxygen is available for each passenger in the Golmud–Lhasa section. A Tibet travel permit is required for non-Chinese citizens.
If you intend to stay in Shanghai for a longer time the Shanghai Jiaotong Card can come in handy. You can load the card with money and use it in buses, the metro and even taxis. You can get these cards at any metro/subway station, as well as some convenience stores like Alldays and KeDi Marts. These come in regular, mini, and “strap” size (the latter being made for hanging on mobile phones), with various limited editions available for each. Only regular-sized cards can be loaded at machines (with a few exceptions, mainly at line 6/8 stations which have a special type of recharge machine made to take all sizes of cards) and only in multiples of ¥50 or ¥100 (this applies to the big blue machines- certain smaller machines mostly located in line 8 stations will accept any bills the service counter will as well as most sizes of SPTC). Most likely you will need to go to the service counter to recharge if you have an irregularly-shaped card or you want to recharge in multiples of ¥10 or ¥20.
Also, this card allows you to transfer lines at Yishan Rd, Shanghai Train Station, and Hongkou Football Stadium stations, as well as discounts for bus<->bus and metro<->bus transfer (the fare is discounted ¥1 each time you transfer).
The fast-growing Shanghai Metro (website in Chinese) network has 12 lines with another 7 under construction (and expansions to existing lines), with nearly all lines operating underground (Line 3 operates above ground). The Metro is fast, cheap, air conditioned and fairly user-friendly with most signs and station arrival announcements in English, but the trains can get packed during rush hour. Fares range from ¥3-9 depending on distance. Automatic ticket vending machines take ¥1 or ¥0.5 coins and notes and have services in English. Most stations on lines 1-3 will also have staff selling tickets, but on the newly-completed lines 6, 8, and 9 ticket purchasing is all done by machine (in both Chinese and English) with staff there only to assist in adding credit to cards or if something goes wrong. You can now transfer between lines freely with a single ticket (except at Shanghai Railway Station, Hongkou Football Stadium, and Yishan Lu where a subway pass/Shanghai public transportation card is required for transfer). Metro rides can be paid for using use Shanghai’s public transportation card (non-contact). Be careful; certain stations exist on two different lines with the same name but are located in different places (Yishan Lu- Line 3/9 and line 4 are separate stations- transfer between these stations is only possible with a subway pass; Pudian Lu- line 4 and line 6; go to either Century Ave or Lancun Lu to transfer between these lines; Hongkou Football Stadium, Line 3 and 8- transfer is only possible with a Metro pass).
If there are seats available but more passengers boarding than seats, be prepared to see a mad dash (literally) as passengers wrestle for the available seats. This is the norm so move quickly if you want a seat. Be mindful of pickpockets who may use this rush to their advantage.
The bus system is much more extensive (and typically cheaper) than the Metro, and some routes even operate past the closing time of the Metro (route numbers beginning with 3 are the night buses that run past 11PM). Most buses do not require any conversation with a driver and/or conductor, while others depend on you knowing your destination and the conductor charging you accordingly. For the latter, pay the conductor directly and you’ll get a paper ticket (and change, if any). The former bus types do not have a conductor but instead a driver only; there is a fixed price for the route, usually ¥2 and the buses are air-conditioned (¥1.5 on some routes running on old buses without; the signpost at that stop will tell you). Prepare exact change beforehand and drop it into the container next to the driver. It’s best to have exact fare or go to a convenience store it needing change, otherwise you may depend on stating your situation to the driver or other passengers. If you change buses with an SPTC you will get a ¥1 discount on your second bus fare (and all subsequent transfers; there is a 90-minute window to do this on so if you’re not spending too much time at the destination your transfer discount will apply to the start of your return journey too).
Taxi is a good choice for transportation in the city, especially during off-peak hours. It is affordable (¥12 for the first 3km, ¥2.4/km up to 10km, and ¥3.5/km after; when wheels aren’t rolling, time is also tracked and billed but first 5 min. are free) and saves you time, but try to get your destination in Chinese characters or available on a map as communication can be an issue. As Shanghai is a huge city, try to get the nearest intersection to your destination as well since even addresses in Chinese are often useless. Most drivers do not speak English or any other foreign languages, so be sure to have the address of your destination written in Chinese to show the taxi driver but should you forget, there is a phone number displayed in the back of the taxi (you’ll need a mobile phone for this). Dial the number and tell the agent where you want to go (English is the only foreign language offered currently). The agent will then, on your behalf, explain where you wish to go. The agent will even find out the address of bars and other spots for you if applicable and this service has very good remarks. (If without a mobile phone, try to get a business card of your destination or of something nearby.)
Drivers, while generally honest, are sometimes genuinely clueless and occasionally out to take you for a ride. The drivers are very good about using the meter but in case they forget, remind them. It’s also the law to provide a receipt for the rider but if your fare seems out of line, be sure to obtain one as it’s necessary to receive any compensation. If you feel you have been cheated or mistreated by the driver, you (or a Chinese-speaking friend) can use the information on the printed receipt to raise a complaint to the taxi company about that particular driver. The driver will be required to pay 3x the fare if ordered by the taxi company so normally they’re very good about taking the appropriate route. The printed receipt is also useful to contact the driver in case you have forgotten something in the taxi and need to get it back.
Always try to avoid using ¥100-bills to pay for short rides. Taxi drivers are not keen on giving away their change, and it is not uncommon to get counterfeit smaller notes for change. Taxis are very hard to come by during peak hours and when it’s raining so be prepared to wait for a while or walk to a busy pick-up location. Foreign visitors might be surprised at the “lack” of courtesy or lines while waiting for a taxi, so don’t be afraid to “jump in” and get one–it’s first come, first serve. There are some taxi stops where attendants maintain a well-ordered line; this may be the fastest way to get a taxi in a busy part of town, but there are not very many of them, so expect to walk a ways to get to one.
By sightseeing bus
There are several different companies offering sightseeing buses with various routes and packages covering the main sights such as the Shanghai Zoo, Oriental Pearl Tower, and Baoyang Road Harbor. Most of the sightseeing buses leave from the Shanghai Stadium’s east bus station.
Shanghai is a good city for walking, especially in the older parts of the city, such as The Bund, but be aware this city is incredibly dynamic and pavements can be obstructed or unpleasant to walk through when near construction areas. Look for subway tunnels when needing to cross busy streets as these are usually open despite the roadwork.
A useful ferry runs between the Bund (from a ferry pier a few blocks south of Nanjing Road next to the KFC restaurant) and Lujiazui financial district in Pudong (the terminal is about 10 minutes south of the Pearl TV Tower and Lujiazui metro station) and is the cheapest way of crossing the river at ¥2 per person. The ferry is air-conditioned and allows foot-passengers only (bikes are not allowed except for folding models). Buy a token from the ticket kiosk and then insert it into the turnstile to enter the waiting room – the boats run every 10 minutes and take just over 5 minutes to cross the river. This is a great (and much cheaper) alternative to using the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. However, the ferry stations are not directly connected to the public transport so you need to walk a bit.
For locals, bicycles are slowly being eclipsed by electric scooters but they still remain an easy means of transportation for visitors who may be hesitant to communicate with drivers or board crowded mass transit–or simply to soak up some sunshine. Go to Baoshan Metro station and get a vintage bicycle for approx ¥300; they are also easily found for sale on the street around Suzhou Creek or in the residential part of the old town. Beware of the driving habits of locals: the biggest vehicles have the priority and a red light does not mean you are safe to cross the street. Note: a few streets are not allowed for bicyclists and signs will designate this.
Driving is definitely not recommended in Shanghai for a variety of reasons, even for those with driving experience in the country. Not only do you have to cope with seemingly perpetual traffic jams, but also Chinese driving habits and ongoing construction. Bicycles, scooters and pedestrians are also all over the place–a city with a real metropolitan feel. It is also not unheard of for cyclists, motorcyclists or pedestrians to suddenly dash in front of a car without any warning. In short, do not drive if you can help it and make use of Shanghai’s excellent public transportation network instead.
Whilst motorcycle rental is practically non-existant, for long-term visitors e-bikes and scooters are a cheap, fast, practical way of getting around. E-bikes don’t require a driving license and are cheaper, but only have a short battery range (about 50km) and a low top speed, and are a frequent target of thieves. A cheap e-bike can be picked up from any major supermarket (Auchan, Walmart, Carrefour, Tesco etc) – expect to pay around 1500-2500RMB for a new model. Small shops also sell converted e-bikes (motor scooters converted to run on electricity) which are more expensive but are faster, more comfortable and have longer battery ranges. 50cc motorcycles require registration but don’t require a drivers license, whilst anything bigger will require a driving license. Motorcycles can be bought from used-bike dealers mostly located in residential working class neighbourhoods – a used 50cc moped will be about 2000RMB whilst a 125cc will cost a lot more depending on condition and mileage. If you plan on riding a motorcycle, stick to automatic transmission soooters as they are much easier to ride in dense traffic than a manually-geared bike.
Motorcycles are expected to use the bicycle lane and cross intersections via pedestrian traffic lights, which is often quicker when car traffic reaches a standstill. Be careful, particularly at night, of people riding with their headlights off or riding on the wrong side of the road – remember that e-bikes don’t require any driving license and therefore drivers often flout traffic laws and take creative but dangerous paths through traffic. Parking is easy – most sidewalks serve as bike-parking, although in quiet streets you may risk getting your bike stolen so make sure you have a couple of good locks. At busy places there are attended bike parks that charge around 0.5-1RMB per day.
Vintage motorbikes with sidecars are used by a limited number locals, including artists, military personnel (for private usage),expats and may be of some use to tourists. Changjiang sidecars were used by the Chinese army until 1997. There are a few sidecar owners club in Shanghai (Black Bats, People’s Riders Club), shops (Yiqi, Cao, Fan, Jack, Jonson, Leo) and a tour operator (Shanghai Sideways) which are worth checking out.
By sightseeing tunnel
A bit of a misnomer, as the entire journey is underground and doesn’t reveal any real sights of the city. This is the fastest way of crossing between the Bund in Puxi and the Pearl TV Tower in Pudong but also the most expensive (¥40Y one way/¥50 return) and is essentially a tourist trap–but may also be a good bet for the directionally-challenged or those struggling to find a taxi during rush hour. Glass pods running on train tracks take a few minutes to run through a tunnel under the Huangpu River lined with a psychedelic light show and some bizarre commentary in English and Chinese. After arriving you’ll be dropped off in a hall full of tourist-trap shops, which should come as no surprise since the entrance is a few meters from the TV Tower and is by no means a practical mode of transportation for locals. Avoid if possible – it’s a very tacky experience and unless your prepared to some cash to look at some flashing lights instead of walking 5 min to the south and take the aforementioned ferry or walking 5 min west to Nanjing East Rd subway station and take the Metro.
The language of the streets is Shanghainese, part of the Wu group of Chinese languages, which is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin, Cantonese, Minnan (Taiwanese/Hokkien) or any other forms of Chinese. However, with Shanghai having been the commercial centre of China since the 1920’s, standard Mandarin is understood and spoken fluently by almost everybody, including most of the elderly.
While you are more likely to encounter an English speaker in Shanghai than in any other mainland Chinese city, they still not common so it would be wise to have your destinations and hotel address written in Chinese so that taxi drivers can take you to your intended destination. Younger people under 30 are much more likely to have studied English. Likewise, if planning to bargain at shops, a calculator would be useful.
Places to See
Where to go in Shanghai depends largely on your time period and interests.
- Yuyuan Gardens, (in Old City). For a feel of the China of yesteryear loaded with classical Chinese architecture (the countless vendors just outside the gardens may lead to some frustration, so don’t come here thinking ‘tranquility’). ¥40.
- Classic (Western) architecture. For a taste of 1920s Shanghai, head for the stately old buildings of the The Bund or the French Concession–too many to list here! Some of the best sections are along Hunan Rd (湖南路), Fuxing Rd (复兴路), Shaoxing Rd (绍兴路) and Hengshan Rd (衡山路). The area is fast becoming famous for boutique shopping along Xinle Rd, Changle Rd and Anfu Rd (安福路), all of which also have interesting restaurants
- Modern architecture. Some of the tallest and most inspiring structures in Asia and the world can be found along the Huangpu River bank in Pudong’s Lujiazui District. Two of considerable mention are Oriental Pearl Tower, one of the tallest structures in Asia, providing visitors with city views (different tours available) or light shows (at night) from below (free), Jin Mao Tower, which is staggering 88-story behemoth, and the Shanghai World Financial Center, the second largest building in Asia and the world, and world’s largest by roof height, containing the world’s highest observation deck, at 474 meters (1555 feet) .
- Shanghai Museum, S side of People’s Square. 9AM-5PM. The Ancient Bronze exhibit is particularly impressive. Audio guides available. Also, there are often volunteer guides providing free service. Some of them speak English. Free.
- Temples. Some of the more popular ones include the Jade Buddha Temple, Jing’an Temple and Longhua Temple.
Things to Do
- Drink at a tea house. Visit Shanghai’s many tea houses, including Tang Yun tea house (199 Hengshan Lu, Hengshan Road stop on Line 1, at Exit 4). Tang Yun serves many varieties of tea along with traditional Chinese delicacies. Many of the snacks at the common table are free. Serve yourself. Be careful not to order too much food.
- Shanghai Happy Valley, 888 Linhu Rd, Songjiang. Theme park. ¥160.
- Jinjiang Amusement Park, No. 201 Hongmei Rd (in Xuhui District, Line 1 to Jinjiang Park)
- Shanghai City Beach. Beautiful Jinshan City Beach is located on the north bank of Hangzhou Bay, at the southern end of Jinshan District. The area combines great scenery, pointes of interest and entertainment all in one strip, and is composed of 2 square kilometers of blue waters, 120,000 square meters of golden sands and a 1.7 kilometer silver walkway. Every spring, Jinshan beach hosts the national kit flying competition and the world beach volleyball tournament; in the summer thousands of visitors come for the Fengxia Music Festival. Sail boating, speed boating, bungee jumping and 4-wheeling activities makes this place a great spot for athletics as well.
- Jinshan Donglin temple. Jinshan Donglin temple (金山东林寺), located in Shanghai’s southern suburbs has over 700 years of history, the temple has been renovated, and is a magnificent sight to see. Donglin Temple has large-scale, high artistic value, and a three Guinness World Records: The Goddess of Mercy and the world’s tallest Buddha Cloisonné—Sudhana (height 5.4m ) the highest bronze door in the world-qian fo door (height 20.1m ), The world’s tallest indoor statue– the statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva with thousand hands and eyes(height 34.1m )
- Culinary Tours -by- Edible Adventures. “A window on China’s food culture and in turn, an exploration of culture through food.” Expert guides, tailored tours, and sensory delight!
- Shanghai Sideways. Tour on a vintage 1930’s sidecar motorbike. Flexible on the tours you want to do.
Foods in Shanghai
Shanghai’s cuisine, like its people and culture, is primarily a fusion of the forms of the surrounding Jiangnan region, with influences sprinkled in more recently from the farther reaches of China and elsewhere. Characterized by some as sweet and oily, the method of preparation used in Shanghai, it emphasizes freshness and balance, with particular attention to the richness that sweet and sour characteristics can often bring to dishes that are otherwise generally savoury.
The name “Shanghai” means “above the sea”, but paradoxically, the local preference for fish often tends toward the freshwater variety due to the city’s location at the mouth of China’s longest river. Seafood, nonetheless, retains great popularity and is often braised (fish), steamed (fish and shellfish), or stir-fried (shellfish). Watch out for any seafood that is fried, as these dishes rely far less on freshness and are often the remains of weeks’ old purchases.
Shanghai’s preference for meat is unquestionably pork. Pork is ubiquitous in the style of Chinese cooking, and in general if a mention refers to something as “meat” (肉) without any modifiers, the safe assumption is that it is pork. Ground pork is used for dumpling and bun fillings, whereas strips and slices of pork are promulgated in a variety of soups and stir-fries. The old standby of Shanghainese cooking is “red-cooked pork”, a traditional dish throughout Southern China with the added flair of anise and sweetness provided by the chefs of Shanghai.
Chicken takes the honorable mention in the meat category, and the only way to savor chicken in the Chinese way is to eat it whole (as opposed to smaller pieces in a stir-fry). Shanghai’s chickens were once organic and grass-fed, yielding smaller birds offering more tender and flavorful meat than its hormone-injected Western counterparts. Unfortunately, these hormones have found their way to China, and today most chickens are little different from what can be found elsewhere. Still, the unforgettable preparations (drunken, salt-water, plain-boiled with dipping sauce, etc.) of whole chickens chopped up and brought to the table will serve as a reminder that while the industrialization of agriculture has arrived from the West, the preservation of flavor is still an essential element of the local cooking.
Those looking for less cholesterol-laden options need not fret. Shanghai lies at the heart of a region of China that produces and consumes a disproportionately large amount of soy. Thinking tofu? There’s the stinky version that when deep-fried, permeates entire blocks with its earthy, often offensive aroma. Of course there are also tofu skins, soy milk (both sweet and savory), firm tofu, soft tofu, tofu custard (generally sweet and served from a road-side cart), dried tofu, oiled tofu, and every kind of tofu imaginable with the exception of tofurkey. There’s also vegetarian duck, vegetarian chicken, and vegetarian goose, each of which looks and tastes nothing like the fowl after which it is named but is rather just a soy-dish where the bean curd is expected to approximate the meat’s texture. Look out also for gluten-based foods at vegetarian restaurants, which unlike tofu, do not come with the phyto-estrogens that have recently made soy controversial within American vegetarian circles. If you are vegetarian, do be conscious that tofu in China is often regarded not as a substitute for meat (except by the vegetarian Buddhist monks) but rather as an accompaniment to it. As such, take extra care to ensure that your dish isn’t served with peas and shrimp or stuffed with ground pork before you order it.
Shanghai is a fairly safe city and violent crime is rare. However, the ever-increasing divide between the haves and have-nots has created its fair share of problems. Petty crimes like pickpocketing exist, and sexual harassment has been reported on crowded public transport. Be mindful during the months and weeks preceding the Chinese New Year (in Jan or Feb depending on lunar calendar) as thieves may be looking to make a little money before they have to buy a train ticket home. Also be careful during Chinese New Year as thieves prey shoppers seeking gifts for the upcoming holiday.
- Various tourist-oriented scams, long practiced in Beijing, are unfortunately spreading to Shanghai as well. Be cautious if you meet a group of overly friendly students, women or new “friends” who insist on dragging you along to an art gallery, tea shop or karaoke parlor – you’re unlikely to be physically harmed, but the bill may well be more than you bargained for. Police can help to recover some part of your money. Art scams can be found around People’s Square near the entrances/exits of the museums and art galleries.
- Foreign males may attract unsolicited attention from female sex workers at nightspots. Outside the main exit of better hotels, sex touts often aggressively approach white male tourists, sometimes (desperately) to the point that they talk to a guy of a visible couple. Prostitution is illegal throughout all of China.
- Be careful of people who approach and offer to polish your shoes, even if they are obviously a type which don’t need polishing. Often when you refuse they’ll squirt some hard-to-remove substance on them or the agreed upon price will change without warning.
- Hawkers are a nuisance, particularly in areas such as Old Town and Science Museum in Pudong where there are shops in the subway selling fake designer goods. The most effective way to deal with them is to ignore them. Shouting a rude bu yao (“I don’t want it”) may help.
- Be wary also of the “booths” at the Bund area (and the new waterfront development on Pudong side) offering photo services. They will offer to take your picture with the scenic background (and sometimes with costumes) for ¥50, but once you have contracted their services, several cohorts will arrive to “assist” the photographer. They may force you to buy all the snapshots and try to gather crowds to increase pressure.
- Don’t rush into or out of Shanghai metro trains in the last moment. Despite the safety barriers on the platform, the train doors sometimes close before all passengers have boarded; people squeezed between closing doors is a common sight. Apparently, the fail safe that is supposed to block trains from running with open doors, isn’t stone-proof: Only recently (July 2010), a woman died being smashed against the safety barriers as she was hanging half out of closed doors of a train of line 2 leaving Zhongshan Park Station.
- As for passports, it may be best to have your passport at-hand. Chinese law requires that foreigners have their passports with them, but this is rarely enforced. Hotels will often recommend you leave your passport in their safe, though foreigners may want to consider the hotel and how much they trust it to hold their most important documents. Always carry copies of your passport and visa in a separate place in case they are lost or stolen.
Drinking tap water is relatively safe when boiled, however tap water is also said to contain high amounts of heavy metals which are not removed by boiling. When buying bottled water, you will come across a whole range of mineral water brands. Cheaper brands cost ¥1-2.50 and are in all the convenience stores and street stands.
Individuals with asthma or respiratory issues should be prepared when visiting due to the air pollution that plays a role in Shanghai’s landscape, as would any city in the world with more than 20 million inhabitants and break-neck construction taking place.