Shanghai is an exciting place to visit and live – it’s essentially the New York City of China, where East meets West. It boasts not only one of the most vibrant economic centers, but also an exciting nightlife, shopping, delicious eats and plenty of culture.
Although all college-educated Chinese speak English, the language barrier is significant if you don’t speak a word of Chinese. You can expect that taxi drivers, shopkeepers and waiters will be unable to understand you. However, if you spend your time mostly in touristy areas, you should have no problem.
The food is scrumptious; you’ll never want to eat Chinese food in the United States again. Xiao long bao and niu rou la mein are must-haves within Shanghai. Xiao long bao is a type of soup dumpling with crab or pork filling. Careful, though – the soup is hot, and if you simply bite into the dumpling, you’ll have soup all over your shirt! Niu rou la mein means spicy beef noodle soup. It’s the perfect compliment to the chilly and often rainy fall Shanghai days. Of course, Shanghai means “on the sea,” so tasting the seafood here is necessary.
The nightlife in Shanghai is affordable by American standards, flashy, and lasts until the wee hours in the morning. Clubs are often ornately decorated, and like most of Asia, there are exclusively expatriate clubs as well as local clubs. I recommend No. 88: the regulars are mostly Chinese, but the 18th century décor is unbelievable and the club blasts American hits all night long.
The French Concession is one of my favorite areas in Shanghai for shopping. Many of the buildings within the area are architecturally influenced by the French, which translates today into a trendy neighborhood known for shopping, clubbing and restaurants. You can also visit one of Shanghai’s fabric markets for a tailored suit or coat at a reasonable price. Beware of poor quality, though, and set aside at least a week for this process in order to ensure your clothes will fit properly. (Also, bargain hard.)
If you’re craving a fake designer purse, or counterfeit DVDs and clothing, check out the market at the Science and Technology Museum metro station. Once again, you have to bargain for everything.
One of my favorite areas in Shanghai is Old Town, which is evocative of old Shanghai with its imperial architecture. Although the area is very touristy, I enjoy the lush gardens and Buddhist temples. However, if you look like a tourist, expect to be constantly haggled by shopkeepers selling cheap souvenirs.
Finally, the centerpieces of Shanghai are the World Financial Center and the Pearl Tower. The Pearl Tower can be seen throughout Shanghai, and is quite bizarre-looking to the average American (see picture). There’s a bar at the top of the World Financial Center; I recommend ending your adventure here with a glass of champagne overlooking the entire city.