Shanghai, China Report of what it's like to live there - 12/26/10

Personal Experiences from Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China 12/26/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Seoul, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Jeddah, Beijing.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, DC.14-15 hours depending on route through San Francisco or Chicago.

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3. How long have you lived here?

July 2007-July 2010

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government Work

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Shanghai has an oversupply of appointed western housing, and endless supply of unique, and suitable, Shanghai housing in apartment blocks, old houses, old apartments, and odd spaces. As for the commute time, always best to live close to your place of employment.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

There are plenty of local markets, and a growing number of markets that sell international foods too. All sorts of options at various prices are available. Restaurants are quite inexpensive, so you'll probably eat out more than you expect.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

None.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

All of 'em are there, and new ones opening all the time. However, one major thing missing in Shanghai is a Taco Bell. A few years ago, there was a concept Taco Bell tester restaurant on Nanjibeingng Road, but it closed down in late 2006.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Food safety is an issue to be aware of. For the vital items, sticking to highest quality brands is worth it, since sometimes, quality/safety is lost in the rush to put out cheaper products. Fake cigarettes/alcohol (and many other things) are constantly an issue.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None of which I am aware.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

For local mail, China Post is reliable.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Inexpensive, but it depends on what you want. Put a weight on referrals from others... and get someone familiar with your building.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Everywhere, with many international chains present in Shanghai too. In addition, there are multiple local options available in every neighborhood.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards accepted at the usual places, and in China, it is customary that they add 2-3% of the cost to cover the transaction. ATMs that accept international cards are everywhere too.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, for most denominations there are services available.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, and depending on your housing, cable may be included. In many of the western-style housing areas, international cable channels are available.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You can get by in certain parts of Shanghai on basic English alone, but some knowledge of standard Mandarin would be helpful. Good pointer:Be patient when speaking to locals speaking English, as they understand more than they let on, but to communicate better, use simple words.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

As far as Chinese cities go for accessibility for the disabled, Shanghai is probably the most forward, alas, it still has a very long way to go. Let's just say that, unfortunately, accessibility is not in the conscience of the masses yet, but it is growing. Since Beijing hosted the Paralympics in September 2008, they probably have some specialized facilities, but Shanghai is building so much these days, that it is becoming more and more accessible (but still at a dismal low).

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, Yes. See "Confucian Road Rules" above in regards to busses and taxis. The trains are fine, but by all means, BUY YOUR TICKET FROM AN AUTHORIZED VENDOR in your neighborhood, and not at the train station. Hordes of people there, Hordes.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

All are fine, but generally, the smaller the better (some garages are quite low).I believe the government mandates expat imported cars must be less than 4-5 years old. Services are available for most types, including Japanese, Korean, and European cars.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, good enough, but not exactly super speedy. Cost can range from 25-100$ USD a month, depending on your needs. You WILL need a "VPN" service to access some normal sites (strongvpn was what I used, and it worked perfectly).

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Phones are available and cheap everywhere. Find a flagship store of the vendor to get English-speaking service staff to assist you.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Unknown. It really depends, or so I've heard.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Growing. There are pet stores everywhere (mostly for the growing penchant of dogs).

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Yes, but you should be able to speak Chinese for the best opportunities.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Shanghai is an international business center, and appropriate dress is always recommended."Shanghai Appropriate" also includes an acceptance of business casual in many settings.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Outside of the normal precautions any urban dweller needs to be aware of, it is relatively safe. Safety concerns though, especially when driving... It is probably best to have knowledge of "Confucian Road Theory" as a bus trumps all, bigger/expensive cars trump others, small cars trump bikes, and bikes trump pedestrians. However, each member of that list thinks and acts like they are the only moving thing, and appear to be oblivious to the movements of others.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Excellent. Many western clinics with international staff. Several good (but expensive) hospitals available too, and clinics/services have relationships with highly regarded local hospitals that are among the best in China.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Not the best, but certainly not the worst. Due to the close location by the sea, Shanghai seems to have a pleasant winds that keep the dirty out. However, important to note that Shanghai is now/becoming a "service economy" for the rest of China, and consequently, does not have the detritus of aged industrial facilities close to the residential/corporate core of the city... The pollution is there, but it is MUCH better than Beijing and many other cities. If the 20 Million plus people (I think?) in Shanghai metro can live very well there, you can too. Food safety is a different issue, though.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Four seasons, with more on the heat side... It rarely snows in Shanghai, but the winds can make it seem cold. I equate the weather to something akin to Richmond, VA.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I have heard that some international schools can have hypercompetitive students, but I have no personal experience with the schools.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Most people I know had live-in and/or daily help in their homes. The preschool fad is growing, FAST, among the local population though.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

In the tens of thousands. Many overseas Chinese also call Shanghai home.

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2. Morale among expats:

Excellent, but living and working in China can be a grinding experience for some.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Excellent. Best in China.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Absolutely, without a doubt. You can have a fabulous life here... true, it is certainly not like "home" (wherever that is), however, there exists an equivalent, if not more, of that in Shanghai.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

The best in China!There is a very large and growing GLBT population in Shanghai, and it is well-known as the "center" for a social life, great jobs, and a good life for GLBT individuals and couples. There are at least 10 bars that openly cater to a gay clientele, and many others exist if you want to explore deeper. Several bars are very much oriented towards international crowds, and like-minded locals. GLBT Expats from all over the planet call Shanghai home base. The scene for gay men is much more developed than lesbians, or so I have heard, but there is a scene for all in Shanghai.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

None that I am aware of.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The inexplicable pace of change that occurred over my three years in Shanghai. Words can't describe the speed at which the city changes... and if any changes will last more than a few years is a question we'd all like to know a reply. Seriously, the highlights are the adaptability of the Chinese people to unprecedented change, and I must admit, the relative comforts of Shanghai as a well stocked city with plenty of things to do, great food to eat, and new things happening every day, hour, minute, second, etc...

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Just live it up!Let's face it, you'll cover the few tourist sights of Shanghai within 2-3 days. After that, just take it all in, it is a great city to live and work in, and that is what it does very well.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Anything you can imagine.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It's China, and Shanghai is leading the way to a bright prosperous future for 1.3 Billion (despite what the Beijing'ers say/think/wish).Easy transportation to ANYWHERE in China (or region), with a domestic AND international airport, and a hub for China's fastest trains, and China's most highly developed urban transportation system.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, but if you are trying to save money, you'll probably run into food quality issues at some point.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

thoughts of what you think is China... abandon any thought older than 2 years... if you are expecting that, you'll be immediately disappointed. It is constantly changing, growing, and evolving.

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3. But don't forget your:

Q-tips. Oddly, this was the only thing hard to find in Shanghai, as the type of ear q-tips sold everywhere in China are pretty flimsy.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Any book about Shanghai is outdated before it goes to print.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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