Welcome to Richard’s guide on surviving the most foreign of places, the most daunting of tasks, and the squirmiest of situations!
This week, I’ll give you a little guide on how to survive visiting or living in Shanghai, China. I’m here for six weeks on a language learning scholarship sponsored by the State Department called NSLI-Y.
So I’m on Bus 816, and I get to Dongchuan Metro Station. I step off the bus and I hear something that reminds me faintly of a nine year-old child whining about not having her iPhone 5 on time. I turn to my right, and maybe 10 feet from me is a middle-aged man on a motorcycle (without a helmet, of course) coming straight at me at about 35 miles an hour. The only thing I remember thinking are some unholy words and, “Welp. This is going to hurt.” Luckily, my body acted faster than my brain and I jumped on to the sidewalk, avoiding getting hit by less than half a second.
The moral of the story here is that in Shanghai (and most of China), the most important thing to remember is that vehicles do not yield to pedestrians. If anything, pedestrians must yield to traffic. Don’t cross the street just because it’s green, or just because you think the cars are going to stop for you to cross. The cars will, without a doubt, run over you.
Here are some other things to keep in mind while traveling in Shanghai:
- Be strong. Trains and buses can get really crowded, especially during rush hour. More often than you would expect, people will be shoved into trains by those behind them, and when the doors close, you will not need to hold on to anything because you’re squeezed between people so tight you cannot fall over. So what I’m saying is, don’t get trampled. Move with the crowd, and even if people invade your personal bubble like the Mongols invaded Kievan Rus’, it’s okay. The trains usually empty out in a few stops.
- In such crowded places as above, you can be the target of a pickpocketing scheme! So keep your belongings safely in front pockets, and try to wear your backpacks so that you have a visual on them! My friends and I wear backpacks in the front and call them pregnant bellies.
- Don’t get into a taxi unless it is driven by a licensed taxi driver, and please don’t share a taxi with a stranger. We all know what happened to Kim, and Liam Neeson can only save so many daughters (moment of silence for Amanda).
- Don’t follow strangers, especially those who seem extra friendly, even if they have Chinese candy.
A Special Note on The Heat Factor
It is also very hot here during the summer. To give you an example, I live in Atlanta. It’s pretty hot, but it’s bearable. Sometimes, I park my car in the sun and when I get in a few hours later, it’s so hot I can barely breathe. It’s like a steam room. Well, that’s how hot it is here everywhere all day long. So don’t get dehydrated and use plenty of antiperspirant!
The Whole “Buying Stuff” Thing
If you’re buying things on the streets or anywhere that doesn’t have air conditioning, bargain! The sellers will get their goods wholesale for a ridiculously low price, and they will try to charge people, especially foreigners, an amount that is approximately ten times higher than what they would settle for.
For example, I found a wallet I liked and asked for its price. She told me it’s usually 500 Yuan, but for me, she’ll bring it down to 250. Now in US Dollars, that’s about $40. You might think, “Oh that’s not bad.” But in these street markets in China, anything above 40 Yuan is pretty much too much to pay. I immediately dropped the price to my “final price” of 25 Yuan. After about five minutes, we settled on 35 Yuan, which is $6 or so. Not bad, right? But beware, many of these goods are really cheaply made and will tear or become otherwise dysfunctional in a very short time. But I promise, this is like the ultimate retail therapy.
And, if you’re interested in more stories and stuff of me and my friends trolling around in China, follow a couple of my friends’ blogs!
Please be advised that I am not an expert on China or Shanghai and that this is not a comprehensive list of safety guidelines. If you want the full detailed, and official US Government advice and such on China, click here.