Traveling to China seem a little daunting? We hear you! With the city of Shanghai having the same size population as the WHOLE of Australia, an apparent cultural penchant for eating dog and the possibility of poisoning from air pollution it sounds a pretty fearsome place. But take a deep breath and relax. Shanghai is not as daunting as it sounds on paper. In fact, you will find it to be a clean city full of courteous residents and surprising amounts of greenery everywhere!
In 2015 the Shanghai government undertook the re-greening of 25 square miles of the city by lining the streets, freeways, parks and more with trees, shrubs and flower planters! And this is a part of an ongoing plan to further green the city to combat air pollution. In 2017 for our first week here we have definitely noticed the greenery everywhere we go! And no air pollution days in the danger zone yet! Read on for 10 real things to know before traveling to Shanghai.
10 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELLING TO SHANGHAI
1. TAP WATER SAFETY IN SHANGHAI
Technically tap water in Shanghai is safe to drink, ie. it isn’t swimming with bacteria that will give you a good ol’ case of the squirts. It does, however, contain a high heavy metal content which can have very serious effects on health over a long-term period. Some people suggest boiling the water makes it safe, but if you’re concerned about heavy metals to make sure you stick to filtered water options.
2. THE TAXI COLOUR SPECTRUM
Ever hear that in color psychology red denotes danger? Well, this is somewhat true of taxi colors in Shanghai too! It is advised to not take the dark taxis those being dark blue, black or red, whereas white, yellow and varying shades of aqua/light green and light blue are said to be ok. That said we have taken both a dark blue and a red taxi without major incident. The suggested danger is that these color taxis tend to be more likely the unlicensed/uninsured drivers who may take you a longer route to demand a higher fare.
3. IF YOU LEARN ONE WORD IN CHINESE LET IT BE: BING!
Bing means cold in Chinese. This is a very important word to know, especially in summer, but any time of year really as if you go to the more local haunts you will very likely be treated to a local delicacy: hot water and warm beer… Yes if you don’t specify that you would like your water or beer cold (bing) then the beer will likely be brought out at room temperature and the water even boiling! Same goes for soft drinks too. And if you are planning on having a few beers don’t plan to have many more than about four of them in the one local restaurant: after about four beers, local restaurants have usually exhausted their supply of cold beer available. So here are two short phrases to memorize now: Bīng píjiǔ (sounds like bing pijjio) meaning cold beer; and: Bīng shuǐ (sounds like being way) meaning cold water. You’re welcome!
4. SPEAKING OF SUMMER: THE WEATHER AND TRAVELLING TO SHANGHAI
It’s a good idea to plan your trip to Shanghai around the seasons. Shanghai is known as the New York of Asia. This is of course due to its having so much cosmopolitan awesomeness to explore! But perhaps also due to the similar shared annual weather patterns. Shanghai like New York gets very cold (with occasional snow!) in winter and then very stinking hot in summer. Except that it gets even more stinking hot here than even New York does. In the summer months of July and August, the temperature in Shanghai gets above 30C every day and there is nearly 100% humidity. This is a killer combo! And on a blue sky day, you could very easily get sunstroke if you walk around in this heat for too long. In the winter months of December and January the pollution can also be at its worst here, so you can be in for some very cold, grey glum days. The best seasons to visit in are Spring (May and June) and Autumn (September and October).
5. SHANGHAI TIME
All cities have their own rhythm when it comes to opening hours and eating times and so on, Shanghai is no exception. In Shanghai, shops don’t usually open until around 10 am! Fortunately, though they are usually open every day of the week and until at least 7 pm if not 9-10pm every night. As to nightlife, the typical Chinese dinner time is reasonably early: around 6 pm and restaurant hours can reflect this. Be aware if you are wanting to catch at a train home at night that most lines close at around 10 pm and don’t have trains running again until 5.30am the following day. That said there are still plenty of bars that stay open late (til around 2 am) and a few restaurants that will take orders until around 11 pm. Stay near to the Bund if you’re a night owl!
Even with a VPN (Virtual Private Network), Google maps won’t work! Instead, if you have an iPhone use Apple maps. There are also several very good apps for navigating the Shanghai Metro available for download for both Apple and Android. To check out more about Metro use and VPNs in Shanghai see our post “7 Must-Have Apps When Visiting Shanghai”. If you’re going to travel to China without a VPN don’t worry, instead of Google, you can use the Bing search engine… For more on whether you need a VPN when visiting Shanghai see our post on What to Know Before Travelling to China.
7. HOW MUCH ENGLISH IS SPOKEN IN SHANGHAI
Yes, a lot of people speak English here… especially those under 30! But don’t totally change it, always have your address written down (at least in Pīnyīn – the romanized phonetic spelling of Chinese language, but preferably in Mandarin characters also) to show taxi drivers. As to restaurants and shops/general interactions, an “Nǐ hǎo” (hello – sounds like nee-how) and “Xièxiè” (thank you – sounds like sheer-sheer said fast!) goes a long way.
8. TEA SCAMS IN SHANGHAI
If a kindly local approaches you with fantastic English and after some pleasant small talk invites you to continue the conversation over tea so they may practice their English with you, be wary. It may be a tea scam! Tea scams are a common swindle played out on unsuspecting Western tourists in China. The swindler/s will take you to a tea house, insist on ordering the tea even if you have chosen another beverage and when the bill comes you will find it costs a surprising amount – anywhere between 400-2000 RMB! To put this in perspective a beer here in even the most foreign-centric craft-beer serving overpriced pubs is not likely to cost more than 80RMB.
9. RESTAURANT CLEANLINESS IN SHANGHAI
Dodgy restaurants are not denoted by the cleanliness of the floor/kitchen etc here. You will know a dodgy restaurant by whether it is or isn’t popular with the local people. If it does not then stay away as they may be using recycled oil for cooking (including sourced from drains!) or passing off the chicken with added flavor/ coloring as lamb….
10. IS DOG EATEN IN SHANGHAI!?
But contrary to popular belief the dodgy restaurants won’t be selling your dog (or cat)! Yes, some people still eat dog in Shanghai, but it’s not a “poor” meat that you may end up being swindled into eating unsuspectingly at a suspect restaurant! It’s a delicacy and as such is more costly than more traditional meats. So if you want to eat dog you will have to go out looking for it/ask for it. And if you don’t, breathe a sigh of relief – it’s extremely unlikely to happen by accident!