I’ve just returned from a little trip to Shanghai where I mixed business, pleasure, and a little family, all in one. I took about a jillion pictures, some of which I’ll post to Flickr for your amusement.

Shanghai is an amazing city. I think when most of from the west think of Shanghai, we think in terms of commerce and trade, which is probably The Definition of Shanghai. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in China over the years, and Shanghai is nothing like Beijing, Xian, Tianjin, or anywhere else in China.

It feels like Singapore, but feels just a touch more ruthless, and a touch more “down to business”. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not an unsafe city – I felt comfortable walking around town at any hour of night or day, but if you’re buying something, be prepared to bargin, and bargin hard (I got a 10X reduction on the first price of an item in 10 minutes, and I’m not going to tell you how far down I got them in the end 🙂 ).

Here are a few little items to remember if you go:

  • Don’t try to use your iPhone or Android phone’s navigation. I’m not sure what it is, but again and again, attempts to use my iPhone to navigate got me hopelessly lost. I asked some tech-savvy people about it, and they informed me that their iPhones, Androids, and Nokia phones all did the same thing, and the best answer was to get a “local” GPS device. So, where you go.
  • In July, and August, it’s hot. I’m talking 3 shirts a day hot if you spend any time outside. If you’re a guy, and you sweat, wear light colored shirts, because anything else will look horrible once you start to sweat. Sorry if that was TMI.
  • If you’re not on business, the best plan is to get up early (read: sunrise), go out and do stuff till it gets too hot (around, oh, 9 or 10), and then find things to do inside until nighttime. Then stay out late.
  • The subway, or Shanghai Metro is amazing. If you can get a good route map, or have a friend with language skills, it’s faster than the taking cabs (which is really fast) in the morning and evening rush hours. Seriously, it’s air conditioned, only a little crowded, and if you’re a Guai Lo like me, people will make room for you.
  • Especially when bargaining it’s normal for Shanghais to yell at each other. Even if they’re friends, they’ll yell at each other, and insult their goods and service. It’s a bargaining technique
  • If you’re not in a westernized store (and, even if you are), it’s ok to bargin, in fact, it’s expected. Feel free to quote an absurdly low price. Also feel free to just walk away, if they want to go lower they’ll call you back. Feel free to tell them “My brother has told me of a shop near here where this is much cheaper. Can you tell me where it is?”.
  • If a vendor thanks you profusely, tells you to tell you friends about his shop, and invites you back, you’ve been had. Make a note of it. It’s too late now.
  • I found the websites on Shanghai Tourist attractions (just Google it) to be very helpful. The only problem is that if you mis-pronounce the name, even slightly, you can end up somewhere else. The best approach is to print out any descriptions or maps of the place you want to visit.
  • Oh, very important, if you’re using an iPhone, you MUST go to AT&T’s site and add the Global Data Plan. That gives you 200Mb of data upload/download, which I couldn’t use all of in a week (and I’m a heavy data user). If you don’t, you’ll be charged $5.12 a megabyte for your data use. You read that right. $5.12 a megabyte.
  • Some web sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, don’t work in China. They might work on your roaming phone, but then you’re burning up roaming data minutes, which you need to be aware of. You can get around this issue by getting a web proxy or VPN, but that’s up to you, since China, who you’re the guest of on your visit, doesn’t want you to do that.
  • The Shanghai Expo is an amazing thing. From what I saw of it. To give you an idea of the scale of it:
    • I passed a parking lot with 3 acres of busses parked in it, all of which had brought attendees.
    • Demand for tickets to the China Pavilion is so intense that people start queueing up at 3 AM for the few free tickets given out each day.
    • To get everyone through the pavilions inside the expo, they stop queueing people at 7:30 PM so everyone will be out of the pavilions by midnight
    • There is a “Green Line” for infirm, elderly, and pregnant people to get ahead in line, but it’s evidently been closed due to cheating. Nice job, folks.
  • Remember, getting tickets to the expo, and into it, is only half the battle. Then you have to get into the Pavilions, which will take hours. Take a book, an umbrella, and lots of water.
  • I went at night, to avoid the heat and crowds, and, coincidentally, got in to the Expo for 1/2 price. But, I didn’t make it into the pavilions, since no one told me about the queues closing at 19:30, or the fact there were 5+ hour lines to some of them. But I got to see the outside of them 🙂

I’m sure I’ll think of some more later and will update this post.

That’s my $.02 on Shanghai :-).

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