Living Large in Shanghai

If you’re just visiting Shanghai for a few days, see my page “Visiting Shanghai” for tips on finding a place to stay. The information below is mainly aimed at those coming here for the long term.Moving to Shanghai
Most people coming here for more than a few weeks will need to rent an apartment. Rent is expensive in Shanghai, where a 100 square meter apartment in a typical relatively new complex might cost from 6000 RMB ($1000) to 15,000 RMB ($2500) per month, depending on location and amenities.We’ve had good results using real estate agents that specialize in finding apartments. Some of these can be found online. Sometimes very good ones can be found by going to the area you are interested in and looking for prominent real estate offices along major roads and often near popular housing areas. They usually won’t speak much English, though, but some of the services that advertise online will have good English skills.

Landlords usually want at least a one-year contract and will require two months rent as deposit, in addition to your first month of rent paid up front. If you use a real estate agent, you may be responsible for the commission as well–find out how that works for the agency in question.

If you are coming here with children, being close to an international school may be a prime consideration. Unfortunately, there are only a couple areas in town with international schools and they tend to be well outside of the really fun and convenient downtown area, so expat families tend to congregate in those regions, namely, Hongqiao and adjacent Gubei, and Jinqiao on the PuDong Side. If you don’t have to worry about an international school, consider living in the heart of town as we do in HuangPu District in the very convenient and surprisingly affordable region known as LaoXiMen.

Many people live in PuDong but find that it is too spread out and leaves them feeling isolated. The subway system is improving there, but it has a much different feel than the crowded and bustling and extremely convenient neighborhoods of PuXi such as LaoXiMen, XinTianDi, XuJiaHui, JingAn, etc.

Before you select a place, consider what your commute will be like. Be sure to travel to and from work during rush hour so you can understand what you’ll be facing each day, whether it’s on jammed roads or the moving chiropractic clinics known as subway trains, where the pressure of fellow passengers cramming into you can realign those vertebra quite effectively and at no additional charge. Lines 1 and 2 are famous for being crowded, but now lines 6 and 8 can be quite fearsome also during rush hour. Experience it for yourself. Routes along line 10, on the other hand, can be much more manageable, as we’ve experienced.

Stay on good terms with your landlord, who probably won’t speak English. Take good care of the place and make sure any problems are communicated promptly and politely. Do you part to keep relations happy. That will help increase the odds of getting your deposit back when you leave. Some don’t succeed. We had no problem with our first place, and think we will do OK with this new one as well.
Coping with Climate

In Shanghai and much of southern China, it’s surprisingly cold in the winter, partly because many buildings aren’t heated, or if heat is available, the insulation is so poor that it doesn’t do a lot of good. As a result, it pays to dress warmly. Even expensive apartments often have poor heating systems. The heating is just a heat pump that is essentially the air conditioner run in reverse. It seems surprisingly inefficient, not to mention noisy. What many people do is give up on the built-in heating systems and just use small portable electric heaters where needed. And again, dress warmly.

For heat, southern China is usually well equipped with air conditioners and they work well, though they are noisy and expensive. Your utility bill can be shocking if you use airconditioning all the time. Use a fan as much as you can. If you are coming from the States or travel there frequently, one import you might wish to bring are the heat-shrinking 3M window films that can be used to seal leaky windows in winter. This can help keep some rooms a lot warmer, but it also means you won’t be able to open the windows. It’s a bit of work to get them installed, and there’s a risk of damaging some surfaces with this treatment, so be careful.

During the summer, it can be really hot for a few days, with very high humidity. If you are not used to that, you could face heat stroke or just a lot of discomfort. Stay out of the heat and drink plenty of fluids.

Mosquitos exist in many parts of China. In Shanghai they are far less severe than I expected, coming from the mosquito paradise of Wisconsin. The best way to avoid mosquitos is to live high above the ground, say floor 10 or higher in an apartment building. At levels 1-4 it is easy for mosquitos to find you. We are currently at level 23 and we still get an occasional mosquito that probably gets a ride in an elevator, but we don’t think any fly in through our open windows.
Food
The Beginning: Food Safety

Food is one of the crowning glories of Chinese culture. Thousands of years of culture and the preservation of many great secrets and techniques over the ages culminates in some of the most delicious food on earth, all around you in China. On the other hand, corrupted supply chains, human greed and criminal elements combine to bring some disgusting food hazards like “ditch oil,” which is possibly contaminated oil scooped out of the sewage system near restaurants and recycled by criminal gangs to be sold back to many restaurants at a fraction of the cost of fresh vegetable oil–disgusting! Perhaps 30% of China’s restaurants use ditch oil, according to government sources. If the oil smells bad or tastes funny, don’t eat it, but chances are you won’t know what oil your favorite place uses. Nicer, more expensive places are unlikely to be using ditch oil, and the cheapest places on the street are much more likely to take shortcuts.

For best results, stick to higher-end restaurants, places you know and trust, or food that you cook yourself.

One strategy that many people pursue is to avoid eating too much from any one place or any one food. This is the “mix your poisons” strategy, based on general distrust of food establishments. If you eat the same food all the time, you’ll be getting high doses of whatever toxins they specialize in. So spread things around and keep the level of exposure to any one contaminant low. I think that is a good strategy. Don’t eat the same food all the time. For example, don’t eat rice at every meal, and don’t eat rice from the same place every day. About 30% of China’s rice has heavy metal contamination, and the water they cook it in is probably straight out of the tap with the pesticides and other chemicals that might be in tap water. Mix things up and try some other staples besides rice, when possible.
Shopping for Food

For fresh vegetables, produce, and fish, you’ll get the best prices and usually good quality at local markets on the street such as wet markets. You can buy meat that way, but I think the risk is higher than in a reputable grocery store.

In grocery stores, always check the expiration date. See my related post on returning defective products.

For imported goods, there are just a handful of places around town. City Shop is popular. Lotus, Carrefour, and E-Mart carry some imported items. The Lotus Bazaar at Xintiandi Style (connected to the metro station) and the nearby GL shop are a couple of our favorites for imported goods.

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