In the blink of an eye, it has been 20+ years since my last trip to China (Beijing). In my memory, back then, Beijing’s roads (which formed my impression of China) were full of bicycles, as bicycles were the people’s main form of transport. After that Beijing trip as a child, I was very sure that I would not be interested to visit China again for a long time. (If I were to disregard day trips to Shenzhen or Macau in 2014/2015).
Quick Facts About Shanghai:
- Shanghai is the largest city in the world– about 8 times that of New York City
- Shanghai is also the most populated city in China – an estimated 27 million inhabitants in 2020
- The two international airports in Shanghai – Pudong Airport & Hongqiao Airport – serve an estimated 110 million passengers annually
In 2019 September, before the world experienced the Covid-19 pandemic and we could still travel so freely, I flew to Shanghai for one week, to attend an intensive course related to Chinese culture. Visiting Shanghai for the first time was rather eye-opening.
Unfortunately, due to lack of time, I could only slightly explore Shanghai in the evenings, and a few short hours before my flight on the 8th day.
First time in Shanghai –
How Visiting Shanghai Was Like
Shanghai in technology is very modern and advanced!
Still counting cash notes in your wallet?
Going cashless is already the Shanghainese’ common way of life.
On my entire trip, I never saw our Shanghainese friends use cash. We see them scanning QR codes to make payments, and paying is always a very fast affair.
Be it paying at restaurants or small food stalls along the street, Shanghai people will whip out their mobile phones to pay.
The speed at how fast Shanghai people make payments is, unfortunately, a huge contrast to our NotSoSmart-Nation.. where consumers always take a long time to load PayNow, with silly endless login details to enter, and have to worry strangers standing next to us can see how much money in the bank we have. Digital payment processes in Singapore can be slower than using cash/NETS/credit cards. Seriously, I wish the payment app designers in Singapore do better in their UI and UX experience.
But because WeChat or other of China’s payment apps don’t allow digital payment for foreigners, the rest of us still had to use cash. It felt like we were really behind in technology compared to them.
Drivers use effective GPS systems to navigate their way around.
Traffic can get congested in this populated metropolitan city. Via the GPS, we could hear the AI voice pre-warn about police stops ahead on the highway.
Need a ride? Or food? All these are available as apps.
Our Shanghainese friend easily ordered Starbucks to be delivered to our hotel. Or Korean fried chicken wings to the Starbucks outlet we were having evening drinks at. When we needed a ride or two, calling for transport didn’t take much time on their mobile phones.
Speaking of Starbucks..
This flagship Starbucks is the biggest Starbucks in China.
The Starbucks Roastery at West Nanjing Road makes a cool place to discover. At level 1, there’s an actual roastery, which provided a sense of excitement when you step into the store. The food choices here were a lot more than the usual Starbucks! You can also shop for plenty of Starbucks merchandise here.
At level 2, their focus is more on tea (Starbucks Teavana).
Shanghai is a lovely mix of the old and new.
You could enter an unassuming-looking (old) building, where the lift can barely fit 6 people comfortably. When the lift door opens, get blown away by how exquisite some of the shops are, or how much valuable (read: Expensiveeee) stuff there can be.
I tried to estimate how much worth of the scent products(香道) (agarwood 沉香) my Chinese culture teacher and collector was showing us, and concluded: his fortune is beyond calculation. No kidding.
When I was in Dubai few years back, the lights on Burj Khalifa were probably the most impressive I’ve ever seen on a building. And that was just one building. In Shanghai, one evening while taking a walk along The Bund, I was blown away by the lights on the many buildings’ facade across the water. They were as vivid as movie screens! You can view them on my Instagram Shanghai highlights.
Shanghai people are educated, cultured, and generous.
It was so good to spend time with a group of Shanghainese peers who are highly educated, successful in their careers, and yet stayed extremely humble. Beyond being generous to host us Singaporeans, they took time to bring us around and barely let us have free time 😂
On the contrary, it also made me see how stingy we Singaporeans are with our time. When overseas friends come to visit, how many of us are willing to take time off work and personal time, to host them around for days?
Shanghai is not a city that you can expect to visit cheaply.
It now ranks #7 in the most expensive cities in the world.
Shanghai is in no way cheap. Especially their food. But actually, I only read this part about the food on the Internet, because we were fully hosted by our Shanghai friends, who took us out for meals and ensure we’re well-fed and kept in the dark about the prices 🥺🥰
There’re SO MANY food options in Shanghai.
Shanghai is already pro-recycling.
Sorting waste is already a big deal in Shanghai.
In Shanghai, even if you’re a tourist, you’re expected to sort your trash. They’re usually separated into “Wet waste” or “Dry waste”. Now, how does one differentiate them two? An easy rule is, whatever a pig cannot eat, it’s considered dry trash.
Now imagine needing to discuss an unfinished cup of pearl bubble milk tea. You’ll need to discard the tea and pearl bubbles as wet waste, and the plastic cup as dry waste. This is the amount of effort that Shanghai people put into managing their waste.
Hotel standards in Shanghai
We stayed at the charming Fairfield Marriott Hotel. Room was clean, modern, fuss-free. The bathroom is open-concept. Breakfast buffet options were plentiful.
More Tips About Travelling to Shanghai
Don’t get too hopeful about social media.
Instagram loads like a tortoise. WeChat will be your preferred social media platform as it loads fast and like normal.
This post is written over a year after I visited 😂 And now I can’t remember if Facebook or Youtube could load normally back then – likely not.
Refrain from calling customer service ladies as “小姐” (Xiao Jie).
.. As that term is more commonly used to reference social hostesses in Shanghai. Instead, you may call them 姑娘 or simply greet them with 你好 (Ni Hao). Waiters at restaurants can be referred to as 服务员 (Fu Wu Yuan).
Where to stay in Shanghai
Find hotels to stay in your preferred district in Shanghai!
Shanghai is a city that I hope to visit again.
My itinerary had been tightly packed as it was a trip to take an intensive course in Shanghai. When the chance presents itself that we can travel more freely again once international travel opens up in a Covid world, I would love to spend more time in Shanghai exploring it properly, and also to head to nearby ancient water towns!