Odds & Ends
Before you go, it may be helpful to understand how Shanghai fits into the bigger picture of China’s national history, especially since its history differs so greatly from many of mainland China’s other large cities.
A wonderful, albeit dense, comprehensive guide to China’s long history is the Cambridge Illustrated History of China by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, available at most large bookstores and online at Amazon.com. While not exactly a “beach read,” this is a great introduction to the immense and oftentimes incredible history of China.
Before heading to Shanghai you might also want to take a look at the Lonely Planet Guide to Shanghai, Shanghai: A History in Photographs by Liu Heung Shing and Karen Smith, On China by Henry Kissinger, and Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng.
Haggling: Except at grocery stores and large malls, you can haggle with almost any vendor. At the famous street markets, haggling is might as well be mandatory. A safe price to start with is 10x less than the shopkeeper’s original offer. Decide how much you want to pay ahead of time, be firm, and if you don’t get your asking price walk away.
Wi-Fi: Lots of restaurants and shopping malls have free Wi-Fi. Ask the wait-staff for the password. Fast free Wi-Fi is also available at Starbucks. Internet Cafes are becoming far and few between, so if you are in a pinch and really need to use a computer it’s best to visit the business center of any large hotel chain or ask locals for the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot.
Cell Phones: The best option is to purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card. You can put your Chinese SIM card in your American phone but carrying an iPhone or an expensive smartphone around Shanghai can be hazardous. Petty thieves in the subway will look to snatch them out of your hands or pockets. You may be better off investing in an inexpensive Chinese phone. You can purchase a simple cell phone at any phone retailer (found every few blocks). SIM cards and SIM recharge cards are sold in many locations including at kiosks in most subway stations.
Gyms and Exercise: Very rarely will apartment complexes have gyms in their buildings but there are fitness centers throughout the city that have monthly and yearly plans. Two popular chains are Will’s Gym and California Fitness. Membership fees can vary - so try to negotiate prices and ask for student discounts.
Finding friends: Shanghai locals are very friendly and almost always interested in practicing their English! It is not uncommon for locals to approach Westerners and strike up a conversation in shaky English, handing over a business card and asking for your email so that they can keep in touch and practice their English. If you are looking to connect with other expats try smartshanghai.com; it’s a good place to look for events and happy hours at foreigner-friendly bars and restaurants.
Business Cards: The exchange of business cards is standard practice in China. So bring plenty or find a local print shop and have ones made listing your Chinese cellphone number.
Reading/News: There is a foreign language bookstore on Fuzhou Road that has a large stock of books and magazines in English and in other languages. The New York Times recently launched their Chinese website and is a good source for online news.
Health and Wellness: Local pharmacies and branches of Watson’s sell some medications. However, it is best to pack a good supply of medications you might need during your stay. For serious health issues there are a number of clinics throughout the city that cater to Westerners and English-speakers. Also register with your embassy ahead of time, in case of emergencies. International SOS is a helpful insurance policy that is provided to students by many University healthcare plans.
Shanghai began its life as a major port city and has remained so. Besides shipping, however, Shanghai’s increasingly diversified economy now includes industries like architecture, construction, real estate, retail, shipbuilding, agriculture, manufacturing, biotechnology, healthcare, financial services, transportation, information technology (IT).