By Edward Lim
Librarian Edward Lim moved to Shanghai from his native Singapore in August 2017.
I grew up in Singapore and until recently had lived there all my life. I spent two weeks on work experience in Shanghai a few years ago and I felt it was a liveable city, similar to Singapore. Last year, I came across an excellent job opportunity with New York University Shanghai, so I decided to get out of my comfort zone and give it a try.
I live in Huangpu district, a largely residential neighbourhood on the fringe of the former French Concession area, so you’ll see people walking their dogs in the morning and evenings, as well as schoolchildren at different times of the day. I have been living in one of those old, walk-up lane houses that feature in tourist photographs, and I find it rather amusing to see tourists, both local and overseas, in my neighbourhood at weekends. Soon I will be moving to an apartment with a lift.
Cashless payment is ubiquitous in Shanghai. You will need a local mobile number and a bank account; I suggest asking a Chinese-speaking friend to help you set up them up, as instructions are in Chinese and there may not be fluent English-speaking staff on hand. Be patient too: even with a Chinese speaker each task can take 15-30 minutes, excluding waiting time.
Chinese speakers are also useful to walk you through the digital landscape of Chinese apps, including the many payment apps such as Alipay and WeChat, whether it is to order meals or buy a subway ticket (most have no English text).
The culture of drinking coffee is big in Shanghai, so you’ll find cafés or pop-ups selling good coffee wherever you are. I pass by Hefa Coffee on my way to my nearest subway station, Jiashan Road. It has many regulars like myself and the barristas remember your usual order.
My greatest concern before moving was the air pollution. However, there have been very few days with extremely bad air over the past six months. The easiest way to evaluate the air quality is to look out of your window: if I have trouble seeing the skyscrapers in the distance, I know it’s bad. My colleagues are more sensitive to changes in air quality than me and wear masks to travel to the office. When the air gets particularly bad, the street lamps look like something from a French noir film.
Shanghai does not feel as crowded as many other Asian metropolises. Its subway system, together with the availability of taxis, private hire cars (such as Didi) and rental bicycles, makes travel convenient and fast.
What I wish I’d known before moving to Shanghai
It can be misleading to judge the weather in Shanghai just by the temperature figure. The wind and humidity are brutal because many places do without proper heating or wall insulation. You feel warm or cold depending on what you’re wearing.
Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; Elena Olivo; Dreamstime; Alamy Stock Photo