“China Business Lifestyles” is a CBR department in which foreign business professionals write about their daily experiences living in specific Chinese cities. For information about possible submissions, e-mail [email protected].
Often considered the most exciting and cosmopolitan city in China, Shanghai is big, fast-paced, and complex. The bright lights, tall buildings, and sheer scale of this city of 23 million people can dazzle and disorient the newcomer. But because Shanghai offers almost infinite choices, everyone can build a lifestyle that fits their tastes and find friends that share their passions.
Where to live in Shanghai
Perhaps the most important choice a newcomer must make when moving to Shanghai is where to live. In today’s housing market, consumers face a wide variety of choices and prices. Some expatriates choose to live in areas with high concentrations of foreigners, but others go out of their way to find homes in neighborhoods with few foreigners. Some expats prefer a suburban “gated community” with single-family homes or a gleaming apartment with a river view, while others prefer a cozy walk-up apartment tucked away in a traditional Shanghai-style lane neighborhood.
The newcomer’s budget and commuting preferences will largely determine the choice of location. To live in a suburban high-end “compound” (gated community), a car is imperative, as some commutes can be lengthy. Downtown dwellers, who face a range of residential choices—from bohemian to opulent, get around quickly and efficiently with a mixture of taxis, subways, buses, and bicycles. It all comes down to personal preference. My wife and I love historic architecture and prefer public transportation, so the choice to live in the former French Concession was easy for us.
Our neighborhood has a wonderful sense of community. During a walk to the local wet market—where the fish, meat, and vegetables are much fresher than those found in any supermarket—we often stop to chat with neighbors, pet dogs out for a stroll with their owners, or study the architectural details of the 1930s-era houses that abound in the area. Shanghai people have a reputation within China as being arrogant and aloof, but we have found them to be extremely friendly, welcoming, and trustworthy.
The members of my family feel comfortable in our neighborhood in part because we speak Chinese, but the language can make even the most mundane errand a real challenge for many new arrivals.
Holing up in an expatriate compound, where English-speaking staff make life easier, is a choice that many transplants make. But if newcomers are outgoing, adaptable, and patient, living in a mostly-Chinese neighborhood can make their Shanghai experience more memorable and meaningful.
Shanghai experience more memorable and meaningful. For those with children, schooling will also factor into housing decisions. Fortunately, the number of international schools in Shanghai has increased rapidly over the past 10 years. But international schools can be expensive, so a family’s school choice may be determined by their budget and whether their employer will pick up some or all of the bill.
China’s most affluent city boasts an enormous number of restaurants of all kinds. Diners can choose from many kinds of Chinese food, or opt for Western and Asian restaurants from inexpensive to exorbitant. Shanghai cuisine is not known as one of China’s best, but it includes a number of standout dishes, including kaofu (wheat gluten braised in sweetened soy sauce), tipang (slow-cooked pork rump), and mixian (stir-fried amaranth).
Generally, we choose to cook for ourselves, which is healthier and cheaper than eating in restaurants. But many busy people find themselves ordering food to be delivered to their doorsteps.
To work off all that good food, diners will need to exercise. Aside from some excellent gyms and swimming pools, Shanghai offers many sports options, from tennis, squash, and rock climbing to soccer, rugby, and cricket leagues. The city hosts a chapter of the Hash House Harriers (“the drinking club with a running problem”), and several cycling groups for bikes and bikers of all kinds. For those who prefer to watch sports, Shanghai boasts a professional soccer team (Shanghai Shenhua) and a professional basketball franchise (the Shanghai Sharks, owned by former National Basketball Association phenomenon Yao Ming). The Tennis Professional Association Masters Tennis Cup and the Shanghai Grand Prix are annual fixtures, and big-screen televised sports can be enjoyed at several sports bars.
The availability of quality international entertainment in Shanghai has also greatly expanded in recent years. The Shanghai International Film Festival takes place at various venues every June and attracts big-name stars to the city. The Shanghai International Literary Festival takes place over three weekends in March, when more than 60 well-known and emerging authors from around the world converge to share their insights with rapt audiences at M on the Bund and the Glamour Bar. Throughout the year, many art galleries host exhibitions and the Shanghai Grand Theatre, Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, and Shanghai Center Theatre hold performances. Performances of local versions of Chinese opera, storytelling, comedy acts, and contemporary theater play throughout the year.
Shanghai’s club scene is the most vibrant in China. The JZ Club is considered China’s best jazz spot, while the nearby Cotton Club is renowned for its blues performances.
The House of Blues and Jazz covers both genres, depending on the night. Mao Live House is a dedicated and well-equipped rock venue. The young clubbing set can also choose from many venues in which to enjoy DJs spinning subgenres of nightclub electronic dance music.
Shanghai boasts a few interesting Chinese temples, including the Jade Buddha Temple and the City God Temple. The city, however, has no monuments from the imperial era. Instead, Shanghai has historical sites related to 19th century China trade, the late Qing reform period, the Republican era (1911-49), and the birth, growth, and victory of the Chinese Communist Party, which was founded in Shanghai in 1921.
Shanghai has a lot going for it, but before relocating, potential residents should consider the city’s weather. Though the thermometer seldom drops below freezing, the year-round humidity makes Shanghai’s winters clammy and uncomfortable and the summers almost intolerable. On the bright side: Shanghai does not suffer from the earthquakes that strike northern and western China, and it is only mildly affected by the typhoons that ravage southern China.
In Shanghai, residents learn to savor the lovely spring and autumn weather. And during the rest of the year, we remind ourselves how lucky we are to live in one of the most stimulating and livable cities in the world.
570 Yongjia Road, Unit 111
(at the front of Surpass Court)
This cosy neighborhood place serves beautifully crafted drinks and creative modern dishes.
89 Fumin Road
This restaurant offers authentic Hunan cuisine and a lively atmosphere.
99 Xikang Road (around the corner from Shanghai Centre, Nanjing West Road)
Lynn serves mostly Shanghai cuisine and offers a wine list, good service, and a beautiful room.
18 Dongping Road, 3/F (near Wulumuqi Road)
Chef Austin Hu is at the forefront of modern Chinese-Western fusion. Creative and tasty.
M on the Bund
5 The Bund, 7/F (corner of Guangdong Road)
This is the restaurant that started the Bund renaissance a dozen years ago.
47 Yongfu Road, 2/F
This lounge takes drinks very seriously. It’s best to arrive early, before it gets smoky.
5 The Bund, 6/F (at Guangdong Road)
A bar for grown-ups, it offers great service and killer views. The bar also hosts literary, musical, and arts programs.
House of Blues and jazz
60 Fuzhou Road (near the Bund)
A proper boite just off the Bund, it features top-notch imported bands on three-month contracts.
46 Fuxing West Road
The New York-style jazz club features new acts all the time.
1500 Central Huaihai Road
Featuring a modern workout space that overlooks a beautiful 1920s mansion, the club offers indoor and outdoor pools and a spa.
New World Department Store
939 Huaihai Middle Road
The store offers a pretty good selection of imported meats, cheeses, wine, dry goods, canned goods, and baguettes.
Wulumuqi Road Wet Market
Between Fuxing Road and Anfu Road A proper Chinese fresh fish, meat, and produce market, of the kind that is getting scarce in downtown Shanghai.
The junction of Fuxing Middle Road and Chongqing South Road (South Gate) The former “French Park” is one of the most active parks in the city and has the best morning tai chi scene in town.
2 Guangyuan Road (at Hengshan Road) Watch the older park goers practice ballroom dancing across from the newer, much larger Xujiahui Park.
Baker & Spice
195 Anfu Road, 1/F
More than a neighborhood bakery, it is also where moms, singles, and entrepreneurs mix and mingle.
House of Flour
1376 Nanjing West Road, 1/F; or
30-1 Sinan Road at Huaihai Road
House of Flour is serious about cakes, breads, and other baked goods.
Big Bamboo, Jing An Branch
132 Nanyang Road (behind Shanghai Centre)
Big Bamboo offers limitless beverages and countless flat-screen TVs for broadcasts of your favorite sports.
The Camel Sports Bar
1 Yueyang Road
Best bet for sports fans whose tastes include rugby, soccer, and Aussie Rules.
Shanghai Municipal History Museum
2 Lujiazui East Road (at the base of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower)
See the government’s official interpretation of Shanghai history in this well laid-out museum.
Shanghai Natural History Museum
260 Yan’an East Road
Rush to see this old-fashioned museum before it is replaced by a high-tech version. It is a real time capsule.
300 Renmin Avenue
A real Shanghai art deco treasure, the theater was built at the height of the golden age of cinema.
Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF)
Though it’s not quite the Cannes International Film Festival, SIFF provides a month of global cinema in Shanghai.
UME Theatre, Xintiandi
5/F South Block Xintiandi Plaza
No. 6, Lane 123, Xingye Road
T: 86-21-6373-3333, x807
This is the Shanghai theater most likely to show first-run imported movies with English subtitles.
Not to Be Missed
Historic Shanghai French Concession Tour
Every third Sunday, 10:00 am-12:00 pm
Corner of Gao’an Road and Kangping Road
Learn the stories of the French Concession’s historic homes and buildings and the fascinating mélange of people who lived in them.
Shanghai International Literary Festival
M on the Bund, 5 The Bund, at Guangdong Road
Each year, dozens of the world’s best writers and Shanghai’s coolest bookworms congregate during the first three weekends in March. It’s quite a scene.
—Wm. Patrick Cranley[/box]
Wm. Patrick Cranley is director of Development and Alumni Relations for the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies. He is based in Shanghai.