Postcard from… Shanghai

When I started my training contract with Eversheds in September 2007 I was excited to learn that the firm offered a Shanghai secondment. 

Having previously lived and worked in China, I had fallen in love with the country, its tradition, people and food. The chance to go back there to live for six months was one that I was determined not to miss and earlier this year I flew out to Shanghai.

As the largest city in China, and one of the largest in the world (over three times the size of London), Shanghai is a true 24-hour city.  The city has expanded at a terrific rate since the tax allowances made for foreign business in the early 1990s and continues to grow despite the economic downturn (China is still forecasting an 8 per cent growth in GDP this year). The differences in the city this time compared to when I was here three years ago are striking and new buildings continue to pop up all over the city at the most alarming of rates, partly thanks to EXPO 2010.

It is, however, the old parts of Shanghai that help give the city its unique charm and beauty. The original 1930s buildings found on the Bund help to make it one of the most striking and memorable skylines in the world.

Shanghai is split into two parts by the Huang river; Puxi on the West and Pudong on the East. I live about five minutes away from the office which is based on the Puxi side of the river, away from the tall shining skyscrapers and carefully sculptured streets of Pudong, and it feels more like real China.  Our offices are in the heart of Shanghai, on the edge of the French concession and a stone’s throw away from People’s Park and the famous HuaiHai Road.

Having lived in China previously I knew the bare basics of Mandarin necessary to survive in a city where no one spoke any English. But a part time course and language lessons while I’ve been out here have been a great help at work as many of the documents I work with are in Mandarin. However, while Mandarin is still very useful for getting about, the vast majority of locals speak Shanghainese and because of their fierce pride in being from Shanghai they often refuse to speak in much else. This has meant that I’ve had to pick up basic Shanghainese as well (which is often completely different to the Mandarin versions of the words).

The food is one of the things I love most about China. Some of the dishes you can buy do resemble the dishes that are available at home – such as gong bao ji ding (Kung-Po Chicken) and Tang Cu Xiao Pao (Sweet and Sour Pork) – but most of the time the food is unrecognisable and its best not to ask what it is! When eating with my Chinese friends I’ve been presented with turtle (including shell), bull frog, donkey and dog. However, the food is exceedingly good and extremely cheap. Shanghai is famous for xiao long bao – small steamed dumplings containing soup – and you can buy these for very little all over the city. You can also buy any type of cuisine you hunger for, so if I am ever in need of some western food this is never a problem.

One of my main pastimes at home is football. Thankfully, it’s not something I have had to give up in Shanghai and within a few days of moving here I joined a Chinese team that I play for most weekends. The team is made up of people mainly from Shanghai and playing with them each week has been a great way of improving my spoken Mandarin and Shanghainese.  Shanghai also has a professional football team, Shanghai Shenhua, and it has helped satisfy my cravings for live football. While the football on offer isn’t premiership standard, the atmosphere is superb!

One of the best things about living in China is the exposure to things that would only ever happen here. Things like impromptu bouts of salsa dancing and karaoke sessions happening in public places, or even cricket fighting! This is what makes China such a great place to live – if I’m ever without any plans for an evening then it really is enough to just take a walk.

 Charlie Markillie is a trainee in Eversheds’ Shanghai office