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I have never regretted my decision to live in Shanghai during my year abroad. I fell in love with China and I think each city has a lot to offer. But, personally, I can’t imagine living anywhere else but Shanghai. Here are the main points that I believe characterise Shanghai!
1. It’s crowded, but not everywhere
Shanghai is the largest city in China. With 23 million people, it’s one of the most crowded places on earth. However, it is also one of the most spectacular and awesome places I have ever seen. It took me a while to get used to the hordes of people around me and find some tranquil spots around the city to relax. But I found them and it was not that hard!
2. You will see lots of skyscrapers
I was astounded by the staggering number of skyscrapers when I first landed in Shanghai. Walking around them makes you feel like you are in the coolest place on earth. Shanghai Tower is the second tallest building in the world and has 127 floors. Some of the other tall ones include: Shanghai Financial Centre, Oriental Pearl Tower, and Jin Mao Tower (but there are many, many more!).
3. But there are also a lot of temples and parks
And they are beautiful. I love People’s Park and Fuxing Park and I sometimes go there for a nice Sunday walk. Apart from parks, there are a number of temples. I have 3 favourite ones: Jing’an Temple – one of the most frequently visited by tourists since it is conveniently located close to the city centre; Longhua Temple – my number one as the interior is just magnificent and it is also the largest ancient temple complex in Shanghai; and Jade Buddha Temple – famous for its two notable jade Buddha statues.
4. Museums, art galleries, entertainment
If you want to experience the cultural side of the city, there are loads of places where you can do that. If you are into history, Shanghai Museum traces the history of China and has a lot of impressive exhibitions. Apart from that, you can also visit Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, the Science Technology Museum, and Shanghai Ocean Aquarium. Not to mention many cinemas and theatres. You definitely won’t be bored!
5. There is a Disneyland in Shanghai!
Yes, Shanghai has its very own Disneyland! I haven’t visited it yet but I’m planning to!
6. People don’t speak English
Someone once told me that choosing Shanghai for my year abroad would not help me to improve my Chinese since a lot of people would speak English. Well, to be honest, the fact that you can get by on English in Shanghai is probably the biggest misconception. Not many people speak English – unless you go to a Western restaurant/pub, a posh financial district where some foreigners work, or a place with lots of foreigners (like Nanjing Road), you will not hear English at all. Lecturers at my university don’t speak English. If you go to the bank/shop/post office/gym, it is highly unlikely that people will speak English. Living here really forced me to use Chinese on a daily basis and I had never imagined how much I would improve here.
7. Shanghai has EVERYTHING
Well, almost everything! You have easy access to Western-style places as there are numerous Western-style pubs, bars, and cafes. There are a lot of events for foreigners going on as well. However, it’s very easy to start living in a “Western bubble”, i.e. eating only Western food, meeting only with your foreign friends and watching movies with English subtitles. I didn’t really want to do that so, while I still enjoy the Western side of the city, I try to limit my use of English and my visits to places that cater for foreigners (unless I’m particularly homesick or tired of Chinese food!).
8. Location is just PERFECT
You can go to Hangzhou – one of the most beautiful places in China, Nanjing – the ancient Chinese capital or Suzhou – described as the “Chinese Venice” within 1-2 hours by train. If you fancy going outside of China, a flight to South Korea or Japan should take no more than 1-3h. The transportation is fast, reliable and convenient- with two airports and four big railway stations, you can easily travel to literally any place in/outside of China from Shanghai.
9. Food is tasty
Shanghai has a huge variety of food and there are lots of restaurants where you can try cuisines from other regions. However, Shanghai is probably most famous for xiaolongbao “小笼包”- steamed buns filled with soup and meat/seafood/vegetables. The buns are usually served in a bamboo bowl. A definite must-try when you are in Shanghai!
10. Dialect does not mean you cannot use Mandarin
China has a lot of different dialects, depending on the region. In Shanghai, there’s so called “Shanghai hua” ( 上海话). It is totally different and unintelligible compared to standard Mandarin. However, Mandarin is spoken everywhere in Shanghai and I don’t really hear Shanghai dialect very often .
11. The Bund
By far my favourite place, The Bund is a waterfront promenade along the Huangpu River offering superb views of the towering skyscrapers. I go there for a walk quite often and the majority of my photos from Shanghai are from The Bund:).