Thursday, 20 December 2012

It's Christmas!

Despite it not being a national holiday in China, we thought we should still do the obligatory Christmas post. This year, is certainly going to be a different experience…

We did consider going back home to England to celebrate, like every other year, with our family and friends, but having only been here for two and a half months thought it might be a bit too soon. There’s already a trip back planned in 2013, and having so recently moved to this new place that we now call ‘home’, we thought it might stir up some serious homesick feelings, which so far we’ve managed to keep (nearly) at bay!

It’s definitely a decision that we’ve questioned over the last few weeks… From the 1st December, when our entire Facebook feeds were filled with pictures of friends' completed Christmas trees, through to the last week of customary post Christmas party hangover statuses, we’ve felt like we’ve been missing out. There’s been the odd heavily branded Christmas tree go up outside some of the most luxurious plazas here (complete with ‘Mini’ decorations (see pic) and Moet branding) but even these are few and far between – and feel more like a token acknowledgement/brand advertisement rather than anything more festive. It’s only really started to feel a small bit Christmass-y over the last week, when we’ve seen Christmas trees go up in the western restaurants, our apartment building and in the office. Oh, and the small flurry of ‘snow’ (read: melted ice) on Wednesday helped too.

Happy Mini Christmas

Some festive cheer...
There’s still a distinct lack of Christmas drinks, songs and chocolate (a box of Lindt balls was on sale in the supermarket for £10!), so rather than feeling the cold of Christmas without any of the additional benefits, we’ve decided to book a beach hut on an island off Malaysia. It will be the first time that either of us has spent Christmas away, but at least we will be amongst other people who will also be celebrating!

Plus, we have a complete Christmas in a box that my sister Nicola sent us this week. Inside, there was a santa hat, tinsel, hanging decorations, fake snow, handmade paper snowflakes, a Miracle on 34th St DVD (the best Christmas film, ever!), a Christmas CD, chocolate coins and… some Lindt balls! It caused a great deal of excitement and will be packed into our suitcases so we can decorate our room while we’re away.

Holding as many of the Christmas treats as possible...

We’re back in Shanghai to see in the New Year, having originally been told that there were no public holidays over the whole festive period. However, in true Chinese style, the Government released three days of official holidays last week. Since then, there’s been an endless amount of confusion, speculation and deciphering to work out what they were saying – eventually found to be that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd are holidays, on the proviso that you work the 5th/6th weekend. It was quite a funny few days while everyone tried to work this out, and the upshot is that everyone is ignoring the Government anyway, because they don’t want to work the weekend!

We’ll write our next post from the beach, but in the meantime – Happy Christmas!!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Sport in China - Part I

Now, as many of you know, I like to both play and watch sport at home.  In fact, I would say my ‘like’ for it was bordering on an obsession. For the last 21 years, give or take, my weekends have been organised around sport. In the summer it’s cricket and in the winter it’s football. So, leaving for China I was anxious to find out my options…

When I first started work, I thought what better way to get to know people than ask if they were in to sport? First stop was my predecessor – a Greek American who told me, “I do like to watch soccer on the big screen occasionally.” Two things wrong with that… ‘soccer’ and ‘occasionally’. I moved on to other topics of interest.

Second stop was my boss. Being Australian, he had to be a shoo-in. I had noticed him wearing an Australian Rugby jacket, so with the recent autumn internationals taking place, I asked if he fancied watching the upcoming England Vs. Australia match. He replied, “I hate rugby mate, I moved back to China to get away from it”.

Two expats down, I reckoned I would ask a couple of my local team members what they liked doing on the weekend. The first, one of the more jovial members, actually got out of his chair to demonstrate his response. After a few added sound effects, I worked out it was boxing. Not a great spectator sport and not something at the age of 27, a beer belly and glasses, I wanted to participate in.

The second, a ‘cool’ looking member of the team, looked promising. Indeed he was – a huge basketball fan (like most of China) and also into football. Jackpot. After a few exchanges on basketball (apparently Scottie Pippen retired years ago), we got onto football. Excited to find someone to chat to about sport, I asked him with huge anticipation who he supports. “I support David Beckham” was his response. Such promise. He did invite me to play with his friends though, to which I accepted out of hand, until I found out he lives two hours outside central Shanghai.

Finally, I found success! Having met a few Europeans at a Halloween party a few months back (Clark Kent, a Vicar and a Gorilla to be exact), I arranged to meet them to watch a game one weekend. Now, there’s a regular group of us who watch sport most Saturdays. Unable to find anything to participate in yet (apart from beating Michelle at table tennis), I have been spectating a lot. The Shanghainese have certainly nailed the concept of a sports bar – dedicated table service, every premier league match on a different TV, great food, happy hour (for three hours)… even the back of the urinal is a huge widescreen TV!

Next step is to find some way of participating, update to follow soon…

Saturday, 1 December 2012

LJ's Guest Post

Here's a new take on Shanghai from our first visitor. Over to you, LJ...

This is a tale of two firsts, my first time in China and my first time writing a blog entry. When Michelle told me that she and Sam were off to Shanghai, I'm pretty sure my response was something along the lines of 'OMG, I am like so totally coming to see you, xoxo'. Having lived away from home in London for almost 8 years, I'm used to hearing friends say such a thing, but it's not always carried through. But with a two week break from work fast approaching and nothing planned, it didn't take me long to book my flights to Shanghai Pudong International airport. I'm back in London now and have spent the last couple of days thinking about how I should document my trip, sum up the city that Michelle and Sam now call home and give future visitors a taste of what to expect. Based on the vast amounts that I saw, experienced and learned, I thought the simplest way to do this would be to share 10 things that will forever remind me of my trip to Shanghai. 

Look forward to hearing what you think when you make it there.. LJx

  1. A Whole New World: Upon arrival, I discovered that my BlackBerry had completely  drained (worryingly, I may have left it on through the flight… oopsie!!) but thanks to Michelle's amazing step by step directions, I sailed through the airport and straight into a taxi. After showing the driver where I needed to go (Chinese address, of course), I sat back and relaxed to the sweets sounds of Chinese radio. The driver however, being so very polite, changed to a slightly more Western station for me and 'A Whole New World' kicked in. Quite fitting really. I was a long way from home and in a very new world.
  2. Hospitality: On my first evening I experienced this in its extreme! Michelle and Sam brought me to a traditional Chinese fondue style restaurant. I'm calling it fondue as it involved dipping raw foods into boiling different flavoured soups (actually called a Hot Pot in China)… Anyway, here hospitality was KING. Upon arrival we were given drinks and nibbles, whilst we waited for a table to become free (Wagamamas take note). There was also the opportunity for ladies to have a manicure and gents to have their shoes shined whilst waiting, plus a few more hospitality highlights to keep us entertained throughout the meal, like silk pillow case like covers being placed over our jackets hanging on the back of our chairs. Nice touch!
  3. Back To The Future: I've been to some pretty impressive cities in my past, but the Pudong district in Shanghai was the first place where I felt like I'd stepped onto a sci-fi movie set or another planet. The buildings were super tall, super slick and super futuristic. We chose to hit the 91st floor of the Grand Hyatt for Apple and Lychee Martinis around 4.30pm, the perfect time to watch the sun set and wait for the lights to come on around Pudong and across the river… Breathtaking!
  4. Train Ride With A Twist: There's a number of ways to get to Pudong, by car, by boat OR by fantasy train!! I highly recommend the latter of the three. It's one of those things that you just have to see to believe. The under river tunnel takes you on a journey through time with projections, light displays and some random puppets. The best bit has to be the English voice over that at one point tells passengers that they are about to enter 'Paradise… and HELL' accompanied by some devilish cackling. It's simply a Shanghai must.
  5. Better Out Than In: Despite a travel guide telling me not to believe what I'd heard about spitting and burping in Shanghai, this went out the window on my first day! Burping, hacking, spitting, coughing, sneezing etc are all very common and loud. My top tip is to keep an eye on the pavement for anything slimey and slippy.
  6. Cheap As Chips: It's clear that there are plenty of places to delight us Westerners when it comes to eating out. One can pretty much dine and feel like they're home from home. Being a veggie, Chinese traditional eating was always going to be challenging, so when I saw signs for Baker and Spice, Wagas and Element Fresh I was pretty smug. But it would have been easy to have gotten bored with their offerings, even in my one week there. Michelle and Sam have definitely adopted the right approach when it comes to eating out. A little bit of Western with a little bit of Chinese mixed in. What I couldn't believe was how cheap food in Chinese restaurants was. We'd been out in Xintiandi one night and spent what you'd expect to on an average dinner and drinks in London. The next night we headed for dumplings. We feasted like kings, leaving at least enough food for a fourth person (Alan, you so should have come!) and the total bill came to the equivalent of £6.20. Unbelievable! Taxis and the underground are equally as cheap and cheerful. When it came to riding the tube, I was shocked but how easy it was. Everything was written in Chinese and English, so you can't go wrong really… Chinese visiting London definitely get a rough deal when it comes to signposting and the price of a single fare!
  7. Mind If I Hang This Up: On pretty much every street I walked down, busy or quiet, main or side, I couldn't help but notice people's washing hanging out to dry from pretty much anything and everything. Washing lines ran between trees, hangers hung from balconies… What made me giggle was the fact that there's also road sweepers everywhere and on more than one occasion I saw a couple of unfortunate socks being swept along!
  8. If You Were A Boy: I learnt that 'winging it' is a good approach to a lot of things in Shanghai. As I was staying with 'friends' and not in a hotel, I needed to register within 24 hours at the local police station. Being Michelle and Sam's first visitor, I went along relatively unprepared as they weren't really sure what registration would require. After the police lady looking through every possible document I happened to have in my travel folder, she sighed and said 'If you were a boy, I wouldn't be doing this'. Slightly sexist, but hey presto I got the stamp I needed and headed off! Future visitors take note that you need proof of Michelle and Sam's address and your passport/visa. 
  9. So Similar But So Different: The contrast between West and East is right there for you to see in Shanghai, every day and every where you look. While there are massive shopping malls, departments stores, designers houses, McDonald's, M&S, GAP, Zara, Uniqlo etc everywhere, what I found most interesting was the juxtaposition of the most traditional Chinese things and ways of life, existing and taking place right alongside these pockets of the West. It's easily what gives the city its uniqueness. On a slightly side note, it's fair to say that bikes are king in Shanghai. On the pavement, on the road, they're everywhere and even though they mightn't legally have the right to, they rule the roads. 
  10. Speed City: When my week of Shanghai highs came to an end, I chose the fastest way to get out of the city, literally speaking! The Maglev train takes you from Longyang Road station to Pudong airport, in about 5 minutes, reaching 425k at it's top speed. You're hardly on it and your off, but it's worth it to see the outskirts of Pudong whizz by (plus it helps speed things up when you you've lost the Chinese translation for Longyang Road, have been abandoned by Michelle and are running very late for your flight).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Certified Progress...

A little status report to explain our silence over the last few weeks! Things are progressing on a number of fronts, all leading to ensure we’ll soon be ‘official’ citizens of PRC…

Red Tape

Taken in the most literal sense, we will soon both be ‘official’ holders of a ‘Resident’s Permit’ which allows us to not only reside, but also work in the country. Seems simple enough when you say it like that, but there has been a lot of red tape and it’s taken a huge amount of time to complete all the various tasks to reach this point.            

To summarise our situation then and now (and hopefully help anyone else looking to make a similar move as we found little on the internet to inform us before we came)… Sam arrived on a ‘Z’ visa (a work visa issued to someone before they arrive in China, once they have been offered a job).  This is valid for 1 month, so needs converting to a Temporary Residence Permit as quickly as possible once you’ve arrived in the country. In order to convert, forms need completing and a health check carried out (more on this later!).

As we’re not married, I came to China on a one month Tourist Visa. In order to live here on Sam’s Temporary Residence Permit, I needed to visit the British Embassy with lots of documentation to show that our relationship was ‘as married’. Then, once Sam’s Temporary Residence Permit was processed and issued, I could apply to live here on that – on what’s called a Dependent Temporary Residence Permit (though this doesn’t entitle you to work).  I also had to go through all the form filling, health check and numerous trips to the Exit and Entry Visa Office!

In the meantime, my Tourist Visa was expiring and I therefore needed to get an extension from the Chinese Embassy. Once I found a job, I needed to convert my visa again, from a Dependent Temporary Residence Permit to my own Temporary Residence Permit. Usually, when converting from a Tourist Visa to a Temporary Residence Permit, you need to leave the country and re-enter, but luckily I avoided a trip to Hong Kong by taking the extra step in between!

If you would like more information about this please get in touch – I feel like quite the expert now!


No longer living out of a suitcase in a hotel, we’ve made a real home for ourselves in a 2 bed apartment (including a customary waving cat..!). It’s on the 21st floor of a large compound in central Jing’an and comes with access to lots of facilities including a gigantic pool, gym, bowling alley, snooker table, table tennis table, squash courts and… karaoke rooms! Plenty of room for everyone to come and stay too!    

We’ve also had a couple of weeks now to familiarise ourselves with the nearby supermarkets, fresh fruit and veg stalls and the local police station (don’t be alarmed – all visitors not residing in a hotel need to go and ‘register’ there within 24 hours of moving in!). Plus, we can also now totally get a taxi back to our flat without having the Chinese name written down... A real step to becoming Shanghainese!  


            Sam’s work is progressing well, although the hours are long! And I have also found a job – splitting my time between an Events agency and PR agency, which are both part of the same group. Two weeks in, there’s a lot to learn – as much about cultural ways of working than being in a new office environment, but it’s challenging and exciting. Plus, it comes with free trips back to London!!

            And the thing that most makes us feel like ‘official’ residents of Shanghai? Having guests come to stay and showing them around! LJ (a friend from Freuds) arrived after just six weeks of us being here and spent a whole week being entertained by the craziness of Shanghai life. And, next week we’ll have another visitor too! Iona is coming from Canada, using Shanghai as a stopover on her way back from travelling to Manila for work.

More to come soon!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

What Not To Expect...

We're into our third week in Shanghai so thought it time to share some of the nuggets of information that we've gleamed from our time here so far.  

Here's a list of things not to expect when you arrive...

1. Green lights to be safe at a pedestrian crossing... It has all the indications that you're going to be fine - zebra stripes on the road, a green man which everyone waits patiently for and even an official to tell you when it's safe, but cars turning right are still allowed to go, and most think they have the right of way!

2. Western social norms to apply... Walking down the street it is not uncommon to see a whole variety of things we might consider slightly vulgar! Expect (noisy) public spitting, burping and kids weeing in the middle of the pavement forcing everyone else to walk in the road. 

3. Officials to be very 'official'... Sam has talked about this a bit already, but there is very little attention paid to people who look very official (sometimes even despite them holding a gun!). As you enter the tube, there's airport style baggage control complete with x-ray machines and attendants ordering you to put your bag onto the conveyor belt, but noone takes any notice and they end up sat there with nothing to do while people walk around them!

4. Things to continue as normal in the rain... Maybe the Shanghainese aren't as used to rain as we Brits, but life comes to a near standstill at the slightest hint of the wet stuff. You'll find it difficult to catch a cab (because they don't like driving in the rain), the streets become deserted, and those cyclists/motorcyclists that are around sport a very on trend blue or red poncho that covers not only their body, but also their entire arm and hand holding the handle bars..!

5. All street food to be bad... We'd heard all the horror stories, but are pleased to report that we have eaten a fair amount of delicious street food and lived to tell the tale. More to follow in the upcoming food post!

6. The insatiable appetite for designer brands to be an indication of money... An obvious one, perhaps. Still, we have heard that it's not uncommon for people to live in near poverty and put all their money towards saving for a Louis Vuitton handbag. Plus, there's so many (good) fake markets, that it would take an experienced eye to work out if all the ones you see in the street are real.

7. London tube etiquette to exist... Probably one of the most frustrating things here - there's no comprehension that people will be able to get ON the tube a lot easier if they let the people wanting to get OFF the tube go first. There's also no 'standing on right, walking on the left' system either!

8. People to stay awake during the day... One of the first things Sam noticed (with some amusement!) when working in the office was that it's very common for people to have a little snooze at their desk after lunch. A mixture of tiredness, combined with the fact that local people get paid for working afternoon post 6pm. I might try it - all in the name of fitting in, of course! 

9. English to be widely spoken... I was definitely surprised at the number of people who didn't have any level of English. You can work around it by restricting where you visit/how you get around, but to get a taxi or even order in some fairly Western-style restaurants you really need some to be able to read Pinyin/speak a little Mandarin (we're working on it!).

10. Karaoke to be saved for a special occasion/only popular in Japan... Everyone loves it! It's not uncommon for a couple to spend their Friday night going to a Karaoke bar instead of going out for dinner... just the two of them! Impromptu sessions in the park, boothes in the shopping centres or at many of the karaoke bars... they just can't get enough of it!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Getting the basics right

The inevitable run down of all the good (... and not so good..!) food that we've tried will follow shortly. In the meantime, we thought it quite appropriate that we stumbled across this helpful guide on Day 2 of wandering the city. If you're thinking of visiting... take note! 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

It's Official, China's Official

So, what are the first things that pop into your mind when you think of China? Big, well yes, it's pretty big. Lots of people, for sure, it's full of people. Then you might think it's officious, bordering on totalitarian. Well on this point, you may be right... I'll leave you to make up your own mind..!

It's worth noting here, before I go on, that Shanghai does benefit from a certain amount of 'freedom' compared to other cities like Beijing and Guangzhou that have far more government lead rules and restrictions and perhaps more importantly, larger, more serious, repercussions for breaking them. However, you only need to walk around for an hour or so to see the hundreds of official looking men and women keeping Shanghai on the straight and narrow or so you might think. Below, I have listed some of them for you...

Fountain Warrior

This guy is very serious looking, so your thinking perhaps he watches over a major celebrity or maybe a bank. Nope, this guys stands opposite our hotel, 12 hours a day, making sure no one jumps in the small fountain outside a Louis Vuitton shop.

Give us a smile!

This man was extremely serious. He told Michelle not to take any photos and those of you who know Michelle can guess what happened next... Yep, she took a photo. He had a gun! Anyway, he was guarding a residential block of apartments, pretty excessive if you ask me. Perhaps that is where the future Chinese leader was hiding!

'Hey, i'm walking here'

There are literally thousands of men and woman doing this job in Shanghai. Any of you that struggle to cross the road by yourselves, worry no further, these Shanghainese will help you get across. They exist at every major junction and crossing and will blow whistles in your ear when it is time to cross.

No hoodies!

Shop in safety with up to four security guards at the entrance to every shopping plaza. Admittedly we have only been here a week but I don't think they will see much action!

Pinky and Perky

And these two just take the biscuit, always standing around guarding the gardens outside the Gucci shop. It looks like they could do with a bit more exercise if you ask me!

So whilst these men and women appear very officious and serious, the fact is that they don't really do a lot and the locals, to a large degree, just ignore them. The police, however, are a different story and we have seen quite a few incidents where there appears to be a lot of respect, perhaps fear, of the police in Shanghai. There is, of course, quite a serious point to all this... there are over 23 million people in Shanghai and not that many jobs, so whilst the fountain warrior may well be bored out of his mind, he is likely to be very happy just having a job. The ironic thing in all this is that Shanghai feels like one of the safest cities I have travelled to.

A 'thank you' must go to Michelle for this blog as I didn't have the guts to take a lot of these photos. I certainly haven't learnt to ignore the officials yet and am much more comfortable following their rules!