An Expat in Shanghai: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

One of the many advantages of visiting a friend living abroad is that, after a short time, you can already get a grip of his or her daily life in this city. You’ll quickly understand which aspects they enjoy the most and which drive them mad.

After only 6 days in Shanghai, I already had built my thoughts over the city and the life I would live if I moved in for a few months time.

The Great

Shanghai's Skyline, from Bar Rouge

  • The Rooftops. I admit it – over the years, I’ve become a bar snob. Don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy drinks at the local pub. But give me leather sofas, a terrace, a breath-taking view, and an extensive cocktail menu… and I’m sold. I hardly ever step into these places in London (probably because the weather isn’t always good for outdoor lounges and because drinks are prohibitively expensive), but be assured that I would become a regular at Shanghai’s rooftops.

  • Beauty and Well-Being is affordable. During our 6 days in Shanghai, we managed to squeeze in a foot massage, a full body massage, a mani and a pedi. If I’d live there, I would probably make massages a weekly habit – who wouldn’t, for less than 20 USD?

The Good

  • Getting around. Shanghai, compared to Beijing, is fairly walkable. There are some beautiful parks and many leafy streets that allow pedestrians to walk in the shadow on those hot summer days. Being the largest city by population in China, with over 23m people, it cannot be compared to the walkability of Stockholm, of course. You can’t expect to go without public transport! However, public transport works well and is also very affordable.

  • Restaurant diversity. As a tourist, restaurant diversity isn’t something you particularly appreciate in a city – after all, tasting local food is part of the experience. And let me tell you – the Chinese have some really tasty dishes, but they also have quite exotic menus. So, when you’re expecting to stay for a longer period of time, having other cuisines at your disposal (maybe even your home food!) will make it easier to adapt.

  • The culture. China’s culture is very different from anything I had lived before, it’s fascinating. There are so many things to learn from it! If I lived in Shanghai, I know I would sign up for a dumplings master class, I would pick up Kung Fu and do Tai Chi in the park.

The Bad

Funny Chinese Signs

  • The Language barrier. Imagine you’re on your way to a stylish restaurant, and suddenly come across this sign. What do you expect? A toilet? A restaurant? A restaurant serving delicious food in a toilet? Chinese is hard to learn, and not all Chinese people will speak perfectly english. This makes daily life much more challenging!

  • Giving up your personal space. The first thing I noticed as soon as I stepped into Shanghai’s Airport was the amount of people – it was very crowded. I soon learned that this was not particular to the airports – but anywhere you’ll go. People grew up with little space and therefore, their concept of personal space is different from mine. They are more comfortable with up-close and personal interaction, so it’s common to notice people staring and pointing at you, pushing you in a line or looking over your shoulder to see what you’re doing. Having trouble not freaking out in Oxford Circus during lunch time… I doubt I could do this for too long in Shanghai.

  • The Goodbyes. This is something common to all big cities that have a wide expat community – expats often don’t stay more than a year (specially in developing countries), so even though it’s fun to constantly meet new faces… It is also tough and daunting to say goodbye to the friends you’ve made. I’ve been living away from home for 10 years now, and goodbyes haven’t become any easier…

The Ugly

Shanghai Skyline

  • Traffic, pollution and fearing for your life. Traffic is a big issue in Shanghai – there a re just far too many cars! Traffic jam is a common problem at any time of the day. As a pedestrian, you should never assume that green light actually gives you the right-of-way. I learned that, specially bus and taxi drivers, hardly ever obey traffic lights… which makes every road cross a scary adventure.

  • The ultimate culture shock. Before traveling to China, many people warned me about some of the customs that are different from the western World – the concept of private space just being one of them. The constant spitting is probably something I wouldn’t necessarily get used to over time, together with having children pee or poo in the streets or tube stations!

Have you been to China? What other things would you add to this list?

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10 Responses to “An Expat in Shanghai: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

  1. ZhuSeptember 24, 2012 at 1:53 AM #

    I’ve been to China five time (studied there, worked there) and I agree with you. Massages… yep, I got addicted to them when I was there! Best part of Asia I think. I’m with you on the personal space issue, even as a European (N. Americans need even more personal space!) I find it hard to deal with the crowd all the time. I didn’t have the language barrier but I do get a small culture shock each time I go there though.

  2. MeriSeptember 24, 2012 at 3:05 AM #

    I’ve never been to China but I have always really, really wanted to go. I am so curious about that toilet sign- what is it for?

  3. ArianwenSeptember 24, 2012 at 10:59 PM #

    That sign is brilliant. Did you ever find out what it was pointing to?!

    • KatherinaSeptember 25, 2012 at 8:48 AM #

      oh yes… it’s a restaurant that serves you food that looks like poo… while you’re sitting on a toilet. No joke!

  4. MargyleSeptember 26, 2012 at 9:04 PM #

    I would love to go to China one day… and I can really see how you’d get addicted to those roof top bars by the sounds of it. More Than Toilet sounds like the place to be lol

  5. LiyunNovember 8, 2012 at 3:25 AM #

    Hi Kat, the toilet sign means the restaurant is in the toilent “theme”, and i guess the food as well…disgusting…but I heard about that “Unique” restaurant before, as it was learned from Japan…

  6. owenNovember 16, 2012 at 7:19 AM #

    I was there in last summer .The bad thing is foods in china restaurant.

  7. john leeNovember 22, 2012 at 12:36 PM #

    this picture of the food makes me hungry and reminds me my tour of china.

  8. NeerajJanuary 27, 2013 at 4:27 AM #

    I’ve never been to China but I thought spitting was only an India thing… good to know I guess! haha
    Neeraj recently posted..Harishchandragad via Nali-chi-vaat (Part 2)

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