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Tips and Tricks for the First Few Weeks in China

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Shanghai, the metropolis of China, is a huge city with lots to offer. The Bund, a waterfront area with sky-high buildings and flashing lights, is located in the heart of the Shanghai, while the remainder of different neighborhoods across Shanghai each have their own unique feel. As China’s largest city, there are tons of different attractions—museums, amusement parks, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping malls, gardens, and more– all of which can be daunting at times. Below, I’ve listed a few basics to help you get accustomed to the hustle-bustle of Shanghai.

WeChat: The Superpower of All Apps

Use a bike share app while in China

Before I arrived to China, the most common piece of advice I received was to download WeChat. I thought it was merely a texting app, so I was confused about the hype, but boy was I wrong. After a few weeks in China, I am convinced that you can do basically anything on WeChat. WeChat serves as a social media platform, where you can chat with friends (either individually or in group chats) and post pictures to Facebook’s equivalent of a timeline, called “Moments”.
Additionally, after setting up a Chinese bank card, you can sync your WeChat account with your Chinese bank account, and pay for virtually anything by scanning merchants’ QR codes. WeChat pay, along with Alipay (another transaction app), are wildly popular in major Chinese cities, with most people rarely paying with cash. Every time you pay for something, you receive a notification of the amount you were charged, along with your current bank account balance, which helps keep the financial surprises to a minimum.

Ofo: A Way to Minimize Time and Maximize Gains

The second essential is Ofo, my personal choice of bike share. Ofo bikes are located on virtually every corner of the city and are extremely easy to use. You pick a bike, open Ofo from your (surprise!) WeChat app, scan the bike’s QR code, and then are given a unique code that will unlock your bike. After that, the city is your oyster and you can ride the bike for as long as you like. When you are finished, you can lock the bike and leave it on any street corner with vacant sidewalk space. Ofo is much more convenient than bike shares in America, as you are not given a 30 minute window in which you need to return the bike, and you also don’t need to scramble to find a rack with a bike opening. Ofo is also much cheaper than America bike shares- I am still on my 30-day free trial, but most rides are around 20 cents.
Riding in Shanghai traffic can initially be daunting, as bikes and motorcycles have a small lane to the right of the road which cars aren’t technically supposed to enter, though some drivers in Shanghai honor traffic laws as mere suggestions. In the beginning, I was terrified of riding in the streets, looking back every 5 seconds to make sure a car, bus, or motorcycle wouldn’t crash into me. After the first few rides, however, I got used to the Shanghai traffic and somehow, I built up the false notion that I am invincible.

Bargaining: When They Go High, You Go Low

When shopping in Chinese markets, all prices are subject to change. In fact, when merchants see foreigners, they often hike the price up multiple-fold because they think foreigners are rich. Although difficult in the beginning (as bargaining is fairly uncommon in the U.S.), it is normal to bargain in China, and while you may feel bad about getting a lower price, it is important to remember that no one will sell you a product if they aren’t making a sufficient profit. When they start high, you go low, and you will hopefully end up with a good price in the middle. Obviously, you can’t bargain at established stores with marked prices, but in markets, bargaining is a good way to get a lower price and practice your language skills. I’ve noticed that a good way to get a lower price is to establish a relationship with the seller, maybe even crack a few jokes, to loosen up the mood.
With these essential tips, you will have the basic tools to navigate your time in Shanghai, which will surely fly by. WeChat will ensure that you can communicate with your friends in Shanghai and pay for things without having to pull out any cash, Ofo will help you quickly and conveniently navigate the city, and your new bargaining skills will guarantee that you don’t get ripped off too often.
Bridget Duru is a student at Brown University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler on the International Business in China program. She served as an international correspondent through the Work-to-Study Program.