Category Archives: How-to

Places to eat: Xi Bei

Now that I’m leaving Shanghai in a few days it’s time to spill the beans on places we recommend to eat. First cab off the rank is Xi Bei (West North) – some of the freshest cuisine from the north-west area of China you’ll ever have.

Delicious, fresh, and cheap are the three things you only need to know about Xi Bei. With a menu as thick as a bible there’s enough dishes to keep even the less adventurous eaters happy at this place. Filled with locals who line up in busy times to get into this place (this should be a good indicator for any restaurant) it’s not often visited by white folks – or ginger folks for that matter.

One of the unique things about this restaurant is that the kitchen and preparation area is out in the open. Customers are encouraged to see how the food is being made. In the case of the photo below, dumplings made with oat.

On our visit we tasted the oat-flavoured dumplings, lamb off the bone, tofu covered in toffee (tastes better than it sounds – pictured), and a mix of vegetable dishes. Instead of raving more about the food I took some food porn pictures and video which may better give an idea of why you need to eat there.

Now I can’t find the address in English anywhere but I did get their card to print out if you don’t read Chinese.

Continue reading

Where to buy glasses in Shanghai

Need new peepers? If you have your script handy there are plenty of places around town to get a stylish pair of glasses at a fraction of the cost you’d pay back home.

When I was a wee new expat I was scratching my head at some of the asking prices of glasses around the centre of town in Shanghai – it seemed like prices were almost a 3rd more expensive than back home. Considering the amount of people in Shanghai who wear glasses and relative income of locals this just didn’t make a whole lot of sense – were people spending almost half a month’s salary on a new pair of glasses?

“Of course not!”, I was soon told by my Shanghai friend more than a year ago now – and that week I was introduced to the world of cheap, cheap glasses in China.

While I’m only slightly short-sighted, keeping up appearances that I’m a nerd smart guy is important, which is probably why I’ve puchased almost 4 pairs already – all of them still in good working order.

For better or worse, here are my recommendations on where to buy glasses and some extra tips you may want to consider before forking out your hard earned RMB.

- Glasses shops which offer cheap glasses are all through the city. I visit my local shop in Jing’an where I get a good price for helping the shopkeepers son practice his English while I wait for my lenses to be put in the frames. Like most things in Shanghai, the better you know the shop keeper, the better the price.

- There are whole glasses markets around town. For foreigners the easiest one is the markets just near Shanghai Railway Station on Meiyuan Lu – it’s called 3yes Optical and located on level 5F – there are two levels of camera equipment below it which is also worth checking out. It’s full of fashionable glasses made to order but you need to bargain to get a decent price. Most shopkeepers understand English and foreigner’s poor Chinese. If you’re more adventurous there are more markets located north of town – prices are actually about the same but no English.

- It does cost more for better lenses. An 80RMB or 100RMB pair of glasses will probably include cheap lenses.

- The frames are most probably fake. Personally, I hate having brands on my glasses but I’m guessing that the D&G branded glasses and the like are probably imitations. If you have a moral objection to it then it might be worth avoiding these shops and paying 3000RMB+ for a pair of original frames.

- Get your eyes tested by a professional. I’ve never had my eyes tested here but when a friend was in town recently they did their testing and it was off slightly. It might be best to get your eyes tested by a doctor back at home or someone who is professionally qualified in China. I’m guessing the people at the markets may not be university qualified (but I’ve been wrong before).

- Don’t spend too much. Unless you’ve got some seriously complex eyes I wouldn’t be paying over 500RMB for a pair of glasses at the markets.

Feel free to add in further tips in the comments section below.

Where to buy musical instruments in Shanghai

One of the great joys of being a consumer in Shanghai are the areas dedicated to certain goods. There are tech malls, bathroom fittings malls, camera malls, fabric malls, fake stuff malls, and so on. For the musically minded Shanghai doesn’t disappoint either. There are a few music streets and areas but one of the largest can be found on Jinling Rd (Jinling Xi Lu). Whether it is rock and roll, electronic, classical, or even traditional Chinese instruments this street pretty much has it all.

From observations the prices were pretty good, especially for acoustic guitars – I saw one for 250RMB. Being a really bad drummer at home I found a lot of the kits did look and sound a bit plastic though. However, I’m not sure having a full kit is really something the neighbours in Shanghai would appreciate (or maybe it would be a welcome relief from all the construction going on for the Expo). There are electronic kits from all the major brands though.

For guitarists, bassists, and even cow bellers there’s enough stuff here to arm your band. What you might miss compared to many shops in the west is the ‘vintage’ area. It seems this market isn’t catered for too well here (that I can see).

It’s also a treasure to find some traditional Chinese instruments. Personally, I like the Sanxian(三弦) but there is just about every instrument to buy there.

What: A whole street full of music shops
Where: East Jinling Road (it goes for blocks) – see picture for address in Chinese

The best Indian curry in Shanghai?

Last weekend we headed over to what is being hyped as the next cool area of Shanghai: Cool Docks. Located at the southern end of the bund at 479 Zhongshan Nan Road, near Fuxing Road, one could easily drive past and not really notice the new area – its right next to a whole heap of construction next to the Expo site.

While the area itself seems to be still under development it had a rather empty feel to it when we went late on Sunday afternoon. Hardly anybody was around, the restaurants had nobody in them, and none of the shops were anything to write home about. Maybe this is a night spot? I guess what really ticked me off was the fake graffiti wall with an Avril “Hey, hey, you, you I can be your girlfriend” Lavigne logo on it.(see picture below)

Anyway, given that we were hungry and it didn’t seem like much else was around so we stepped into the Indian restaurant, Kebabs on the Grille, which had a 140RMB buffet special. We didn’t go out searching for Indian, because we’ve been sorely disappointed by anything resembling butter chicken in Shanghai so far, but this was by far the best we’ve had in town.

While the place could do with a once over the food was great. They offer northern Indian fare with curries, salads, and desert all part of the buffet menu. It also included a glass of wine and bottomless drinks. The staff were super friendly and had a family-run restaurant feel to it, which is always a good sign.

During our stay I noticed a driver from Mealbay picked up a delivery so it seems like they offer home delivery through that service. I’m not sure if we’ll be trekking back to Cool Docks anytime soon – it kinda sucked – but if we get the taste for Indian again we’ll definitely be back.

What: Kebabs on the Grille
Where: The Cool Docks,
479 Zhongshan Nan Lu,
near Fuxing Dong Lu
中山南路479号,
近复兴东路
Phone: 6152 6567

Avril Lavigne graffiti logo at Cool Docks, Shanghai

Avril Lavigne graffiti logo at Cool Docks, Shanghai

Taser tennis, anyone?

For one reason or another it seems like this summer we’ve had quite a few bugs visit our apartment. For a couple of Australians this isn’t such a big deal – back home you grab a bottle of mozzie spray and poison yourself and others around you so the bastards don’t eat you alive at night.

I was about to follow this tradition in Shanghai until I found the type of fly squatters the locals use and sell in China. A fly squatter probably isn’t as accurate as saying ‘Bug-killing-tennis-taser-funstick’.

And all this for 20RMB…

Alternatives to satellite TV in Shanghai

Chances are, if you had a western satellite TV provider then lately you may have noticed that just about all the channels have been blocked. Before forking out between 3000-5000RMB for an ‘authentic’ system – these won’t come with any guarantees by the way – maybe think about divvying up your budget with these alternatives.

TV Shows

Local Chinese Websites – cost=$0
Youku.com and Tudou.com (and there are others) – These Youtube-like sites have full episodes of the latest western tv shows (and movies). The quality is about the same as the satellite TV providers. If you don’t want to watch tv in front of the computer learn to hook it up to your TV or use the browser on a Sony PS3 or Nintendo Wii. Seek out your nerdy friends and pay them in attention if you’re not quite sure how to do this.

Pros: Fast streaming, costs nothing, legal (I think)
Cons:Quality not HD, have to connect to the Internet before use

Western Websites – cost=$0
Hulu TV.com (mostly US) BBC iPlayer(UK) and ABC iView(Australia) and others – These online players offer the latest TV shows for free over the Web. The catch is you may have to be on a US, UK, or Australian IP address to view the shows properly. If you just read that last sentence and thought: “What’s an IP address?”, then you may want to pay another visit to your resident nerd friend.

Pros: Free, usually offered in good quality, it’s legal (I think)
Cons: Sometimes slow streaming or downloading and may need a native country IP address to work.

Bittorrent – cost=$0
There is a lot written about bittorrent on the Web so no need to repeat it here. It’s also a legally gray area that I’m not sure about in China. Do some Googling and visit Mininova.org and I’m sure you’ll catch on quick.

Pros: Usually high quality video than streaming, can download and burn to dvd/use on multiple machines.
Cons: Probably illegal, can be slow to download programs if they aren’t popular – those old episodes of CHIPS may take a while…

Legal downloads – Cost: few dollars an episode
If you feel strongly about people getting paid to do what they do then there’s no need to be a pirate. You can actually purchase legal versions of TV shows at the iTunes music store and places online.

Pros: The feel good feeling that at least some of the people who created the content are getting paid, guaranteed content, usually high quality.
Cons: You have to pay for it, Digital Rights Management on some TV shows means you can only watch it a certain amount of times or copy it to a certain amount of devices before it doesn’t work anymore. (The industry is moving away from this crap way of thinking, though)

DVD Shops – Cost: 5-12RMB per disc
If you’re not blind you may notice quite a lot of DVD shops around town. Inside they offer whole seasons of TV shows, including shows I’d almost forgotten about – Airwolf, anyone? For TV past and present its probably the best way to watch television series in Shanghai if you’re not up to the savvy stuff of downloading or can’t be bothered with it.

Pros: Usually good quality, cheap, huge range of shows, convenience, much less nerdy than messing around with computers.
Cons: Its probably piracy (I actually don’t know for sure), occasional dodgy discs, have to wait for a whole TV season to finish before its in the DVD shop

Use your Satellite to tune into free channels
If you have the equipment the know-how you may be able to set up your satellite to tune to free channels which broadcast in the area. For example, the Australia Network broadcasts for free. Whether you are allowed to do this is I’m not sure (personally I haven’t been bothered to try).

Pros: Free
Cons: A hassle to set up, might have the local police tearing down your satellite dish.

Sport

The Pub – Cost: 20-80RMB a drink
Sport is a tricky one. You don’t really want to watch the replay so unless there are Websites with live streaming then the best place to go is your favourite pub which will show your team.

Pros: It’s sociable, most venues have big screens and there’s plenty of places with good pub grub
Cons: You have to wear pants (go outside) to watch your favourite game on TV, Booze costs and subsequent hangover after your team wins the championship.

Movies

To grab the latest movies you have a few choices. As to prevent repeating myself, you can use some of the methods above to watch movies, including; bittorrent, DVD shops, local Chinese Website streaming, international Website streaming. The methods are pretty much the same. However, you can also:

Go to the movies – cost: 20-100RMB a ticket
Just like at home there are plenty of places in Shanghai to watch the latest blockbusters and even independent films. You may have to do some research on the Internet before heading out to the movies on where to go and what to see as it changes weekly.

News and Current Affairs

If you’re not into watching news from CCTV9 or ICS on the local channels (I don’t think they are too bad) then it’s all internet. Depending on what you want to know its best to source the latest video from the TV network’s channel directly. If you’re more into reading the news then no doubt you have your favourite news sources already bookmarked and don’t need the help.

Go outside, get a hobby, do something different

Let’s face it, you’re in China and you want to watch ‘Lost’ or something similar? TV isn’t everything, so let go of the laowai TV and get involved in Shanghai and China – chances are you probably won’t be here forever so pick up the TV shows you missed at the DVD store on the way out.

Even more crazy ways to keep cool in Shanghai’s summer

Sweating your arse off? Me too. Being a ginger I get all beetroot- faced at just the thought of the dial hitting 30 degrees. This week it’s been clocked at over 40 – well over ginger exploding point.

To help the stupid foreigners our apartment complex recently distributed a magazine in English with a helpful article titled “How to keep cool in summer”. The article included such tips as; eat duck, drink hot tea, drink vinegar, swim, and eat duck.

Yes, they said eat duck twice – and I thought it was a typo the first time.

Call me crazy but however much I love the fatty bird, its not the first thing I reach for when my back starts to sweat in the shade. Nor is fresh cup of hot tea the first drink I think of to replace the liquids seeping out of every pore. And drinking vinegar? Well just a dash in the gin and tonic, Jeeves.

So, to turn the tide of recent neglect of this blog I thought it was time to pass some other, clearly useful ways, to keep cool this summer.

Have a dip in the Huangpu
Sure, there might be 150 years of industrial waste and 7 different kinds of poo but we’ve heard its good for the skin.

Just add hotpants
Girls seem to be quite comfortable wearing these around town so why not the guys?

Oh wait. I know why:

hotpants3vg

Drink beer in the local All Days
Purchase your favourite long neck bottle of beer, go the counter and purchase that thirst quencher, then stand in front of the shop’s icy cold air conditioner and polish it off. Repeat as required.

Dress like a monk not a Taoist
I’m not really religious nor want to poke fun but the Buddhists seem to have the right idea when it comes to keeping cool.

Go skiing! (65RMB 2 hours)
Yes, the Yinqixing Indoor Skiing Site is open. Get that all body ice cream headache feeling and practice your turns for next winter at the same time.

1835 Qixin Road near Gudai Rd in Xinzhuang; 021-64788666

Have more? Feel free to put them in below and I’ll update the post.

From the mailbox…

Every week I get literally thousands of emails from fans. Almost all of them giving insightful tips on how to be bigger, thicker, larger, and last longer. Oh, and the ladies! Boy, some of them aren’t backward about coming forward…

In between all of this I received two emails which struck me during the last week. One from a friend, another from a fellow Shanghai ginger (yeah, I know the universe may explode if we meet on the street).

First, my good friend:

“It seems the more wrong your site gets the more followers it has….”

Second, from ginger:

“Hey I like your blog. I’m an intern just starting out writing. Any journalism tips?”

Both are paraphrased…but both had me thinking about the recent direction of the blog. Yes, I’ve been writing more jokes and random “white dude in China” stuff. I’m comfortable with that because I’m certainly no fake China expert (please, can’t somebody quarantine them at the airport?) and I like to have a laugh. And besides, its my blog and I’ll write whatever self-loving content I feel like. That’s the nature of blogs, right?

Even though I’m technically not a journalist anymore (I prefer to help people build media sites at the moment) I’d like to think my experience as an editor and journalist can be passed on – even if my expertise lay in the nerdy world of technology.

Well here’s the first tip: Don’t write some of the dribble drabble prattle I put together here – I enjoy writing this, but its far from groundbreaking, world-changing stuff. For serious, interesting content for your readers, here would be my tips after observing much of what is written here locally and abroad about Shanghai and China:

  • Learn the language – How can you report on what is being said if you can’t understand?
  • Understand the people – China is not some big collective conscious of 1.3 billion people. There are individuals with stories, values, and experiences that are vastly different in all corners of the country – even in Shanghai there is enormous difference of opinion on many matters. Understand that and you can better write about China.
  • Don’t be a parrot – The internet has enough people copying each other and not checking their facts. Don’t contribute to the echo chamber.
  • Find a niche – What do you know and what can you write about at your swimming level? Find that and write about it well.
  • Learn to use technology – breaking news can travel extremely fast. To break news you’re going to have to be hardwired to technology.
  • Look for local sources – stop interviewing the same expat with their same opinions on a matter. Even if you don’t speak Chinese, many locals do speak English. Find them and earn their trust and you’ll get a lot more interesting points of view for stories.
  • Forget what you know – you’re in China, not Kansas anymore. Don’t take for granted people having the same background or values. This goes back to the understanding the people point.
  • Be careful – this should go without saying. Know the rules, boundaries, and the possible consequences.

Eat the yangmei, eat the yangmei, eat the yangmei

Well, it’s yangmei season once again in Shanghai. Known as the Chinese Strawberry, yangmei can be found in the fruit stalls and street vendors all over town this time of year. The furry-looking fruit looks similar to a lychee at first glace but is dark red in colour. Tasting somewhere between a strawberry and a raspberry the yangmei is sweet with a touch of tang. Saying I think they’re hao chi (delicious) is an understatement – my local dealer’s face lights up everytime he sees me…

yangmei

What: Yangmei (Chinese: 杨梅; pinyin: yángméi) Also known as waxberry, Chinese Bayberry, Japanese Bayberry, Red Bayberry, Chinese Strawberry
Where: Fruit stores, grocery stores, street vendors
How much: I’ve been paying around 10RMB for 1 Jin (almost half a kilo I think)

Update: Thanks to Dingle Speaks for his notable warnings about the yangmei I speak highly of. Used to speak highly of….

While the berry could easily be substituted for a raspberry or strawberry in recipes I’m keen to find out if the yangmei would work in cocktails:

Yangmei Mojito
- Fresh Yangmei (instead of Lime)
- Mint
- White Rum
- Sugar
- Soda Water
Mixed with Ice and served

Shanghai Manhattan
- Yangmei flavoured Baijiu
- Whiskey
- Bitters
- Garnished with a Yangmei
All shaken and strained

Yangmei Martini
- Yangmei juice or yangmei flavored Baijiu (depending on personal taste)
- Cointreau
- Vodka
Shaken and strained

Shanghai Sea Breeze
- Vodka
- Fresh yanmei juice
- Cranberry juice
- Dash of lime cordial (if wanted)
- Lime
Mixed with ice

5 tips for renting in Shanghai

After being here almost a year we’ve been going through the process of evaluating our living arrangements. With the current economic climate (ugh, yeah I just wrote that) rental prices have dropped quite a bit. Luckily our landlord agreed and we’re staying put for a bit less cash.

Anywho, as a backup we looked around at some apartments and almost forgot what a ‘fun’ exercise the whole process is. And when I say fun, I mean tedious. If it helps any Shanghai newbies or people looking to move here are some simple tips:

house

Continue reading