Tuesday, 30 October 2012

What Not To Expect...

We're into our third week in Shanghai so thought it time to share some of the nuggets of information that we've gleamed from our time here so far.  

Here's a list of things not to expect when you arrive...

1. Green lights to be safe at a pedestrian crossing... It has all the indications that you're going to be fine - zebra stripes on the road, a green man which everyone waits patiently for and even an official to tell you when it's safe, but cars turning right are still allowed to go, and most think they have the right of way!

2. Western social norms to apply... Walking down the street it is not uncommon to see a whole variety of things we might consider slightly vulgar! Expect (noisy) public spitting, burping and kids weeing in the middle of the pavement forcing everyone else to walk in the road. 

3. Officials to be very 'official'... Sam has talked about this a bit already, but there is very little attention paid to people who look very official (sometimes even despite them holding a gun!). As you enter the tube, there's airport style baggage control complete with x-ray machines and attendants ordering you to put your bag onto the conveyor belt, but noone takes any notice and they end up sat there with nothing to do while people walk around them!

4. Things to continue as normal in the rain... Maybe the Shanghainese aren't as used to rain as we Brits, but life comes to a near standstill at the slightest hint of the wet stuff. You'll find it difficult to catch a cab (because they don't like driving in the rain), the streets become deserted, and those cyclists/motorcyclists that are around sport a very on trend blue or red poncho that covers not only their body, but also their entire arm and hand holding the handle bars..!

5. All street food to be bad... We'd heard all the horror stories, but are pleased to report that we have eaten a fair amount of delicious street food and lived to tell the tale. More to follow in the upcoming food post!

6. The insatiable appetite for designer brands to be an indication of money... An obvious one, perhaps. Still, we have heard that it's not uncommon for people to live in near poverty and put all their money towards saving for a Louis Vuitton handbag. Plus, there's so many (good) fake markets, that it would take an experienced eye to work out if all the ones you see in the street are real.

7. London tube etiquette to exist... Probably one of the most frustrating things here - there's no comprehension that people will be able to get ON the tube a lot easier if they let the people wanting to get OFF the tube go first. There's also no 'standing on right, walking on the left' system either!

8. People to stay awake during the day... One of the first things Sam noticed (with some amusement!) when working in the office was that it's very common for people to have a little snooze at their desk after lunch. A mixture of tiredness, combined with the fact that local people get paid for working afternoon post 6pm. I might try it - all in the name of fitting in, of course! 

9. English to be widely spoken... I was definitely surprised at the number of people who didn't have any level of English. You can work around it by restricting where you visit/how you get around, but to get a taxi or even order in some fairly Western-style restaurants you really need some to be able to read Pinyin/speak a little Mandarin (we're working on it!).

10. Karaoke to be saved for a special occasion/only popular in Japan... Everyone loves it! It's not uncommon for a couple to spend their Friday night going to a Karaoke bar instead of going out for dinner... just the two of them! Impromptu sessions in the park, boothes in the shopping centres or at many of the karaoke bars... they just can't get enough of it!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Getting the basics right

The inevitable run down of all the good (... and not so good..!) food that we've tried will follow shortly. In the meantime, we thought it quite appropriate that we stumbled across this helpful guide on Day 2 of wandering the city. If you're thinking of visiting... take note! 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

It's Official, China's Official

So, what are the first things that pop into your mind when you think of China? Big, well yes, it's pretty big. Lots of people, for sure, it's full of people. Then you might think it's officious, bordering on totalitarian. Well on this point, you may be right... I'll leave you to make up your own mind..!

It's worth noting here, before I go on, that Shanghai does benefit from a certain amount of 'freedom' compared to other cities like Beijing and Guangzhou that have far more government lead rules and restrictions and perhaps more importantly, larger, more serious, repercussions for breaking them. However, you only need to walk around for an hour or so to see the hundreds of official looking men and women keeping Shanghai on the straight and narrow or so you might think. Below, I have listed some of them for you...

Fountain Warrior

This guy is very serious looking, so your thinking perhaps he watches over a major celebrity or maybe a bank. Nope, this guys stands opposite our hotel, 12 hours a day, making sure no one jumps in the small fountain outside a Louis Vuitton shop.

Give us a smile!

This man was extremely serious. He told Michelle not to take any photos and those of you who know Michelle can guess what happened next... Yep, she took a photo. He had a gun! Anyway, he was guarding a residential block of apartments, pretty excessive if you ask me. Perhaps that is where the future Chinese leader was hiding!

'Hey, i'm walking here'

There are literally thousands of men and woman doing this job in Shanghai. Any of you that struggle to cross the road by yourselves, worry no further, these Shanghainese will help you get across. They exist at every major junction and crossing and will blow whistles in your ear when it is time to cross.

No hoodies!

Shop in safety with up to four security guards at the entrance to every shopping plaza. Admittedly we have only been here a week but I don't think they will see much action!

Pinky and Perky

And these two just take the biscuit, always standing around guarding the gardens outside the Gucci shop. It looks like they could do with a bit more exercise if you ask me!

So whilst these men and women appear very officious and serious, the fact is that they don't really do a lot and the locals, to a large degree, just ignore them. The police, however, are a different story and we have seen quite a few incidents where there appears to be a lot of respect, perhaps fear, of the police in Shanghai. There is, of course, quite a serious point to all this... there are over 23 million people in Shanghai and not that many jobs, so whilst the fountain warrior may well be bored out of his mind, he is likely to be very happy just having a job. The ironic thing in all this is that Shanghai feels like one of the safest cities I have travelled to.

A 'thank you' must go to Michelle for this blog as I didn't have the guts to take a lot of these photos. I certainly haven't learnt to ignore the officials yet and am much more comfortable following their rules!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

One Week Ago...

One week and one day ago, Sam and I upped sticks from our comfortable life in London, where we were surrounded by friends and family, acquainted with our local area and happy in our jobs... and jumped on a plane to Shanghai.

A pretty big step, most would agree. But, we were ready for a challenge...

We were lucky that Sam's company had done a lot of the hard work for us - our hotel accommodation was provided for the first month, our flights were booked, and we already had a list of people to get to know. Still, that didn't stop (a lot!) of tears, nerves and excited butterflies consuming us for most of the 11 hour flight (between a small amount of time spent sleeping and a large amount of time spent listening to the drunk couple in front of us discuss how they were going to use their business to take over the world!).

One week ago, we arrived in Shanghai. To the huge, bustling, intriguing city of Shanghai. Did I say it was huge? Everything is huge - the number of people, the number of buildings, the height of buildings... are all huge. On the way in from the airport, you feel like you've entered the city almost immediately. And you have - but you're still a good 45 minutes outside of the 'centre' because the city is that big. I guess with a population of 23 million this shouldn't come as a surprise - but it's hard to comprehend that figure before you see how it translates. Our hotel is no exception - casually placed on the 25th floor, we're no way near the top. And the view out the window is sky scraper after sky scraper. 

One of many Gucci's near our hotel -
we live somewhere in the top left hand corner!
There's also an incredible contrast between rich and poor. Again, something you generally come to expect in most cities, only this is to the extreme. There's block upon block of run down towers, with laundry airing from the balconies, and through lower level windows you can see small rooms stacked high with mattresses where presumably numerous members of the family sleep. Contrast that with the most number of luxury designer brands I have ever seen in one place (including The Village at Westfield!) and you see my point. There's Gucci shops 20 metres down the road from each other. Rolex, Cartier, Chanel, Prada, Miu Miu, Tom Ford - you name it and you will find it here. And not just one shop. You can be pretty sure that within a mile radius there's at least two other branches of the same brand. 

Break off from the main, heavily Westernised streets, and the other half of the city is apparent again. These side streets resemble much more of the Shanghai I had in my mind before we arrived. Street food stalls (which we've tried, and more importantly, survived!), clothes shops galore and many other weird and wonderful windows stocking all sorts of different things. Shopping is definitely not going to be a problem!

One week ago, we didn't have any idea about where we would live, own a local phone or computer, have any experience of the 'The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel' (which may have been for the best!) or speak a word of Mandarin. We've since achieved all these things and more... although the latter may still need just a tiny bit of work..! We've visited The Bund, People's Square, the French Concession, Pudong (and been up to the 91st floor of the 'bottle opener'), Jing'an, the Old Town and Yu Yuan Gardens, and lots of bits in between.

For those that are intrigued - this is a shot
from The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
A classic shot of the Pudong skyline - the bottle opener
is the tallest building on the right with a hole in it

There's definitely still plenty to do - it feels like we've only touched a tiny surface area of the city (which I'm sure is actually the case). We're hearing about new districts, new foods, new sights and attractions, new restaurants and clubs, new modes of transport... to try everyday. So that's exactly what we'll be doing. 

We'll keep you posted on how we get on!!

(Real pics to follow... we left our camera lead back in London!)