Top Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Shanghai

By: Alexis Goubran

1.    What may be cringe-worthy behavior at home is standard practice here. Like a pitcher winding up his throw, locals loudly clear their throats, amassing enough mucus to successfully hawk up a giant loogie that always seems to land right next to you, just a little too close for comfort. Oh and burping loudly, picking one's nose, and wearing one's pajamas in public are no big deals either. Although you may not pick up these practices yourself, you somehow become immune to them.

2.    Toilets come in various shapes and sizes. Be thankful when coming across an actual, stand-up toilet because the next restroom could only house squatters – lovely porcelain holes in the ground (why even bother with the porcelain, I’ve often asked myself?). And an actual toilet with toilet paper? You must be in some swanky (or foreigner-friendly) establishment.

3.    The pollution is as bad as they say. Walking outside on some days is like taking a stroll through the smoking section of a crowded restaurant. I never anticipated how much I’d miss breathing in fresh air and looking up at blue skies.

4.    Honking is a constant, but isn’t always an expression of aggression. It could just indicate, “hey, I’m coming through,” or “FYI, I’m approaching this intersection.”

5.    That said, there is serious road hierarchy: public buses reign supreme; below them, taxis; personal vehicles come next; mopeds and bicycles (electric and traditional) follow but are no less sympathetic toward the lowest on the totem pole – pedestrians. Crosswalks make terrible shelters; direct eye contact and dirty looks help get you across the street in one piece.

6.    But, somehow it works and traffic flows rather smoothly (albeit at a snail’s pace during rush hour). And come to find out, bike riding in this city is arguably safer than in most others. With car registrations costing upwards of USD10K, bikes outnumber vehicles and morning commutes become Shanghai’s version of “critical mass” when four wheels have no choice but to yield to two.

7.    Sure, the local grocer sells chicken feet and pig stomach, but Shanghai is also home to some of the best restaurants in the world, attracting renowned chefs and offering culinary delights from all over the world.   
8.    You can find anything here. It may cost a pretty penny (a box of Cheerios will set you back almost USD12), or it may be fake (beyond the Rolex watches and the Channel bags, there are counterfeit Rosetta Stone language CDs and Nikon camera parts), but it’s here; you just have to seek it out.

9.    Shanghai is the new frontier where young people from various parts of the economically unstable world come flocking. It’s where dreams of starting your own business, opening your own shop and, sometimes, taking on a new persona, can come true.

10.    Time flies in general, but it bolts when you’re an expat. Just when you’ve settled into your new life abroad – a life so very different from the one you left behind – time’s up.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAlexis Goubran is an American expat living in China. Blog description: A recently-wed American gal living in Shanghai, China, transplanted from the beautiful city of San Francisco, Calif. I share stories of daily life in Shanghai and travels throughout Asia.
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Contest Comments » There are 3 comments

Shiminator wrote 5 years ago:

As an expat in Shanghai, I can definitely attest to these. You hear about the pollution and driving, but numbers 1 and 8 can be challenging. 9 and 10 are very true though and part of what makes living here so exciting.

Ann wrote 5 years ago:

I spent a short time in China a few years ago and my husband and I go back and forth on if we want this to be our next expat assignment. It seems like it would almost be the polar opposite of where we live now, but as Shiminator said, that would make it exciting.

Nancy S Goubran wrote 5 years ago:

I spent a month in Shanghai last year and love what I've read about China. The commentary is both funny and true, as well as something to shake your head at! Short, to the point entries, gives one pause to think, and a desire to explore more. Nancy

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