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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shanghai First Impressions

What to say about Shanghai...
I could say it is a city of extremes. A city of very little that is original. A city surprising to me in its lack of foreign-ness. Yes the hotel offers some unusual breakfast foods but that is pretty minor. Yes the taxi drivers speak no English at all, but hotels and other local businesses are happy to write the address you are seeking in Chinese characters so you can direct your driver. Okay I guess that is a little unusual.

I do not feel inclined to live here. Today the newspaper reported that Shanghai is more expensive for ex-pats than New York, but less expensive than Zurich, Oslo and Geneva. And of course there are many living here who can barely pay their rent, or who will lose their homes to developers erecting the next skyscraper, expensive shopping mall, or condo building for the very wealthy.

Street food is plentiful in certain market streets with open kitchens, produce, live pigeons, live crabs, and anything else you could possibly imagine, alive and dead. Shanghai is also a wealth of gourmet restaurants,  and cocktail bars with beautiful expensive views. Even the expensive restaurants waste no body parts, as evidenced by the picture below from our Tuesday evening dining experience at South Beauty.

Lest I forget, and I hope I can one day put this out of my mind, the delicious pork belly dish also contained meatballs and testicles. Of course I did not know they were testicles. My colleague however put one in his mouth, looked for the closest place to spit it out, and declared "That is something no man should ever eat". I believe in this case I will vote for equality for both genders.

Fake market

In addition to the food markets, Shanghai has well known fake markets, where you can buy a copy of any brand name item you can think of.  Running shoes, jeans, iPad accessories, you name it and they either already have it for sale or will get it for you. Posted prices are typically reduced by 80 - 90% by savvy negotiators. Apparently I am not one.
Marriage market
And don't forget the marriage market, where classifieds of young men and women advertise their height, salary and best qualities to hasten their marriage prospects. The more enthusiastic parents are on site at the Marriage Market at Peoples Square to improve the odds. This is a good location, with an average of 3 million pedestrians passing by each day. After all it is the Year of the Dragon, a fortuitous time to give birth to a baby, providing the marriage, conception and birth can be arranged quickly enough.
Bathrooms, always of interest to travelers, are also represented at both ends of the spectrum. Coffee shops simply do not have a toilet, which seems at cross purposes to those of us who have to "go" when we drink coffee.  One restaurant on the other hand had such an elaborate toilet I was almost left behind as I tried all of the available options (close your eyes for this part if you blush easily: wash front, 2 versions of wash back, dry front, dry back, play sounds...) And at a client site the regular bathrooms are next door to the executive version. I guess executives do not want regular employees to hear them using the various options?

Kindness is evident. Everyone is gracious and warm, with staff at restaurants welcoming each guest and generally making you feel happy to be there. (Tipping is not standard practice by the way.) Do however come prepared to give up your personal space. In a city of 20 million people, metros and even elevators are always full. I stood single file in a queue for some time just to catch an elevator in an office building. And it is not always so orderly. If you are in the way you will be slammed into; boarding the metro, exiting the elevator, and passing on the sidewalk are all a contact sport at times!

Ex-pats are usually forbidden by their employers to drive in Shanghai. The driving rules are not so clear as you might wish, with the horn replacing any standard signals including left and right turns, and priority going always to the largest of the vehicles (yes the large truck or bus always has priority over cars and motorcycles). Near-misses are a common occurrence.

The many impressive buildings here include the TV tower complete with roller coaster and transparent floor, towers and hotels with cocktail bars on high terraces with a view of the city, and even restaurants above the clouds on the 97th floor of The Financial Center, soon to be reduced to only the second tallest tower in Shanghai.

All in all a modern beautiful commercial center with the headquarters of many multi-nationals, a warm welcome, and interesting food, to say the least!


  1. Culture shock! Wow, this is fascinating stuff- my daughter was just marveling over your photo.

  2. LOL...I need to travel there. Amazing! Body parts and toilets top the list of must do's!

  3. Ha! Marguerite it was rather an adventure!


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