My Trip to Shanghai

April 8, 2017

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I am just back to Taipei. I have spent 3 weeks visiting Shanghai, and it was one of the best trip I ever had.

The New York of the 21st century

7 years ago, I was studying for my master degree in Finance in France. In my class there was a Chinese student who came from Shanghai. She told me that everytime she came back to Shanghai to visit her family, most places had changed so much that she couldn’t recognize anything.

When you visit Shanghai you will understand why she said that. This is picture comparing Shanghai in 1980 and Shanghai in 2010:

Since Deng Xiaoping economic reforms in the eighties, the city has been booming, with a double-digit growth rate every year. 24 million people live in Shanghai, and more are coming everyday. Around Shanghai, the region extending west to Suzhou and south to Hangzhou has one of the fastest growing economies in China.

A lot of people who come to Shanghai are filled with dreams. They come with the hope of making it big. But before reaching the top, one has to start small. The business mindset of Shanghainese in palpable everywhere in the city. Outside of clubs, there are people waiting outside who offer drunk customers to drive them home, in the customer car. These drivers also carry small foldable scooters for themselves. Outside some popular bakeries, there are people who offer a special kind of service: they buy in advance some sought-after cakes and resell them at a small premium to customers who don’t want to line up. This is very energizing to see so many people hustling around.

All isn’t rosy though. Prices, from housing to food, increased a lot the past few years. Real estate prices and rents more than doubled. The real estate price surge is obviously a giant bubble waiting to explode, but it doesn’t seem to stop Chinese buyers. The Chinese mentality is to build first, then wait for the area to develop itself. You will realize this when you visit the suburbs. Even if you go to suburbs far from the city, you will still see tons of huge clusters of apartment highrises and office towers.

A Rich History

Before the current wave of economic development, Shanghai went through another booming period, at the beginning of the 20th century. It occurred in the context of the Opium Wars. At that time, Japan, England, Germany, France, and other countries had built settlements inside Shanghai. They were pretty large, and a lot of European houses were built.

After World War II and up to the eighties, the development of Shanghai stalled. Instead, Hong Kong took the place of Shanghai and boomed. Fortunately, the heritage of the foreign settlements in Shanghai was preserved.

The French Concession

One of the most well-preserved heritage of the first economic boom of Shanghai is the French concession. This used to be one of the foreign settlements. It is not widely known, but this area is one of the world’s most well-preserved examples of the art-deco architecture of the 30’s, outside the US. At that time Europe was already very built-up, so there was no chance to build a lot of new buildings. Inside the French concession, the pace of the city slows down. You will see long streets lined-up with trees, and beautiful European-style houses:

This has become the most expensive area in China. Some of these big houses can easily reach 10 million USD. It is also one of the favorite area for hipsters, with tons of coffee shops.

Walking in the French concession under the mild sun of April is a fantastic experience.

Getting Around In Shanghai

To get around in Shanghai you can rely on a very extensive subway system. At the time of my trip in April 2017, the system had 14 lines. Many of these subway lines were built the last few years, and a couple are still being built. They go very far in the suburbs, and inside the city the network is very dense.

And it’s dirt cheap. The most I paid was 7rmb (~0.9 USD) from the airport to the city, and in most cases I paid 4rmb (0.6rmb).

From the airport, to go to the city center there are main 2 options: the Maglev or the subway. The Maglev is a special train that runs above the track, thanks to electromagnetism. It reaches a top speed of 431kph (267mph). I was about to ride this train but I was afraid of not seeing much of Shanghai at that speed. So I simply took the subway. But since it is mostly underground and it takes 1 hour, it was a bad decision.

If you want to go to neighboring cities, like Hangzhou, Suzhou, there are a couple of train stations accessible with the subway network. More on that in the trip to hangzhou.

Trip to Hangzhou

Greg, One of my friend who lives in Shanghai took me to Hangzhou by high-speed train. Hangzhou is a large city of 10 millions of inhabitants 169km (105 miles) southwest of Shanghai. It is famous for its lake and for being the home of Alibaba, one of the most successful internet companies in China. To get there, we first went to the Hongqiao train station west of Shanghai by subway. The train station itself is very impressive. The hall is so huge that it looks like more like an exhibition hall than a train station.

My super nice Airbnb accomodation

Thanks to my friend Greg, I was connected to Nita, a Shanghainese who runs a very successful Airbnb business in Shanghai. Judging by how awesome my accommodation was, it was easy to understand why she was so successful. She remodeled herself the interior decoration, and it felt great to be inside:

Located in the French concession and very close from the Jiaotong University subway, this was a great deal. If you want to find a great accommodation in the French concession, look no further that Nita’s apartment.

Nita was very helpful and very nice during my whole trip. I wish every Airbnb host could be this awesome.

I hope this article gave you a good insight of Shanghai. Big thanks to my friend Greg for showing me around in Shanghai and for being such a good friend!

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