This article is to answer questions from my friends who are planning to relocate to Shanghai from Beijing. Most of the tips only apply to people born and grow up in China, especially north China.
My Own Story to Relocate to Shanghai
Shanghai is an amazing city for local resident, for foreigners who comes from U.S or Europe, but it is definitely a strange and awful city for people from north China. I strongly believe so.
In the first two years I came here (1995 and 1996), I was so frustrated to live in the city. It is not easy to get used to it.
1) The irregular road. In most cities in north China, like Beijing, Xi’an and my home town Luoyang, streets are either N-S or E-W and the street intersections is always 90 degrees, like a chess board. It is totally different here in Shanghai – streets winding through the city and seldom can I find a complete strait road. Later, I found even the newly designed roads in either Pudong Area or in the Jiaotong University Min Hang Campus, were not straight. The design drew two big cycles on the blank area and constructed the campus based on the circles. This was completely unacceptable for me, who came from traditional Chinese cities. Actually, how the road was designed had nothing to do with my daily life, but this kind of unfamiliarity definitely made my home sickness worse.
2) The Smallest Big City. As one drives into Reno, Nevada there is a sign saying, “Reno, the biggest small city in the world”. Shanghai give me the feeling that it is the smallest big city in China. Shanghai was definitely the biggest city in terms of population (Chong Qing is now the biggest in figure), it still seemed so small when I just came here. They call building square, while my concept of square was something like Tian An Men square – the largest square in the world. Roads were narrow, dishes were small on the table, and people were so sensitive to very minor price change. Everything seemed smaller in size compared to cities I lived in.
3) The weather. Shanghai is near the sea and it is hot and dry in summer, cold and rainy in winter. This is completely different. In north China cities, like Luoyang, it is rainy and hot in summer. I didn’t expect rain in winter which made it colder. I never experienced colder winter than Shanghai it may be the north most large city without warming facilities. We kept the windows open for fresh air at night in cold winter since there is no difference when closing the windows. Everything was cold. Keeping the windows closed didn’t help to warm up the wet air inside the room.
4) The people. People in Shanghai were so business oriented and process driven, so I felt cold and hard to fit into the city at the very beginning. I don’t want to talk about it more to keep away from the flaming discussion – it happens everywhere on almost any BBS if someone posts anything about the Shanghainese…
So the famous scenes Huahai road, the Bund and the city were meaningless to me – I felt myself as a tourist, not part of the city at that time. In the deep part of my heart, I was so eager to escape from the city – as soon as possible.
I Get used to Shanghai in One and Half Year
I talked with many friends just came to Shanghai, and I never found anyone love Shanghai in his/her first year. However, after one and half year, I hopelessly fall in love with the city. This happened to many of my friends who original hated the city too.
After several years, I am so used to the city. Whenever I leave the city, I felt very uncomfortable. Here are some examples.
1) The 7×24 Stores. When I was in Chengdu or Beijing, I missed the 7×24 convenient store like LAWSON, Lianghua so much. I wandered on the streets after 11:00 PM and found it was not easy to buy some drink. The city went dark.
2) The bus and taxi. The public service like taxi, bus, gas, electricity… are very good in Shanghai. I believe many people were either impressed by the clean and unified Shanghai taxi or impressed by the dirty and small taxi in many cities. With the effort to prompt public transportation, the air conditioned buses looked very nice and comfortable in Shanghai. This changed a lot during the last eight years. When I just came here, so many people are pushing each other to get on board a crowded bus – it was true but recently, buses are no long crowded with the operation of the metro and light railways.
3) The over-careful people. This was the reason I didn’t like Shanghai – People in Shanghai was so sensitive to the small money. When I used the whole year to get used to this style, I found them easier to deal with. If you take taxi in Shanghai, and the meter shows 141 RMB, you need to pay exactly 141 RMB – including the 1 RMB, or you give them 200 RMB and they give you 59 RMB as change. In Beijing, taxi driver typically will ignore the 1 RMB and only ask for 140 RMB. I am comparing the styles only to point out the difference, without judgment. In fact, the accurate, cold and professional behavior in Shanghai made life easier. Taking the taxi example, the clear agreement between the passenger and driver will cause no argue, while if the price is not accurate, people will be uncomfortable if some driver charges 141 RMB – in which situation, people will say “the drive looks like a Shanghainese…”
Besides these tiny differences, the culture, the buildings, the people and everything are so wonderful, not to mention the bars, the saloons, the theaters and the museums… In conclusion, it will cost you at least one and half year to get used to the city and take longer for you to fall in love with it, if you come from north China.
If you are foreigners new to China, Shanghai will be the city that you can easily get used to, since Shanghai originated from western culture and are more similar with western cities than any other part of China. If you first visit Beijing, the culture shock will be huge. Do you agree?
Suggestions for Relocation
If you change your job and relocate to Shanghai, here are my suggestions:
First, Check my article The Living Cost in Shanghai
In addition, the transportation cost should be about 4 to 6 RMB. Most buses cost 2 RMB (air conditioned) or 1-1.5 RMB. Metro cost 3 RMB (for most trips). Double the price and you get 4 – 6 RMB, which will be 180 RMB per month. If you take taxi, average taxi fee should be 20 RMB (about 6 km).
For apartment, 1000 RMB to 1500 RMB should get a nice apartment for two persons in downtown Shanghai.
For food, Shanghai may be more expensive on food since it is not easy to find cheap food like Beijing – 10 RMB per meal is the bottom line. Typically it costs 15 RMB per meal.
Regarding working time, it is common practice to work from 8:30 to 17:30 or 9:00 to 18:00, including one hour break time. Typically, it is not possible to go back home during the break.
If you concern about Shanghainese – the language, don’t worry. I live here for 8 years without be able to speak Shanghainese and I still feel good and respected. My personal judgment is, people older than 40 with salary less than 1500 RMB tend to speak Shanghainese and hate people from outside Shanghai. For young generation, people with university education or with high income, they are very nice to people from outside Shanghai.
So good luck in Shanghai!