Monthly Archives: November 2013

Visting Shanghai – Survival Tips

We have some friends coming to visit soon (yay!), so I started thinking about the basic things one should know before visiting Shanghai. Things I wish I had known instead of finding out little by little. Here is my mini survival guide to help you navigate Shanghai.

There’s not a whole lot of English in Shanghai. Try to learn how to say, “I don’t speak Chinese” in Mandarin. I learned it from a podcast…after 200 tries. It’s very useful because locals will speak to you in Chinese and continue talking even if you give them a confused look and say, “I can’t speak Chinese” in English.

ZERO cab drivers speak English – you need to know where you’re going with the address in Chinese when you get in.

Cabs are super cheap.  A 35-minute ride from the airport to downtown will cost around 70 RMB ($12 CAD)

To hail a taxi you have to put your arm out and wave your hand up and down or they won’t stop. It’s kind of like an elementary school kid trying hard to get the teacher’s attention.

Make sure the taxi driver flips on the meter. They usually always do, but one time the driver didn’t and I pointed and said “meter” and he said “mayo” which means no, so I got out.
This looks like a photo from the 80s, but all the cabs really do look like this…
Pedestrians are at the bottom of the food chain. Always be aware of your surroundings because cars, buses, motorbikes, and bikes come out of nowhere and they don’t obey traffic lights.

You probably don’t want to walk around with headphones on.

Watch out for the motorbikes. They drive the opposite way of traffic, as if they don’t count as a motorized vehicle…they even drive on sidewalks.

Tip: if you’re unsure or hesitant about crossing an intersection, walk close to a local. I do this a lot and I always wonder if they realize I’m using them as my bodyguard.

You can’t drink the water. So don’t drink the water.

Street food is awesome (greasy yes, but delicious). If you want to try it but you’re a bit weary, just say “mayo row” – that’s not the right spelling but that’s how to say “no meat.”

Tipping anywhere is not common or expected.  Not at food stands, restaurants or even taxis.

Know how much street food should cost before getting in line. In some cases, street vendors will weigh your food and you can see the price on the scale, but more often they will tell you the price in Chinese with no scale, so you’re SOL if you don’t know how much to hand over. If you’re buying a few dumplings or pork buns, or street noodles, it shouldn’t cost you more than 5-8 RMB (86 cents – $1.37 CAD).

You’ll see black eggs everywhere, on street corners, vendor carts, and in every convenience store. I couldn’t even look at them until I learned that it’s just a hard-boiled egg cooked in tea and soy sauce. Nothing to be scared of.

Here is a great link to Shanghai’s best street foods.

This is a soup filled dumpling – a must try

Shanghai has a lot of ‘markets’ but they don’t look like the kind of markets you’re used to. They’re mainly indoors and in giant warehouses, spawning over several floors. We went to an eye wear market where you can buy glasses and sunglasses at great prices. After the fourth floor, we were exhausted, but we did find some great gems.

There’s also a fabric market, electronics market, bedding market, fashion and gifts market, antique market, cricket market, and even a marriage market! Elders set-up shop in People’s Square Park every Sunday in an attempt to play matchmaker.

There’s no point shopping at stores like Zara and H&M because there’s a 30% tax so everything is more expensive than back home.

There are a lot of great boutiques in the French Concession, where you can find some unique pieces, however they’re overpriced.

Bartering is definitely expected at markets and street vendors selling goods, (but you don’t barter in stores). Keep in mind that vendors often charge foreigners double the price, so hold your ground and barter low.
shanghai-fake market
It doesn’t exist in situations like the metro or if you’re waiting in line for something. People will swoop in and cozy up right in front of you like it’s perfectly normal.

People smoke everywhere…inside restaurants and even inside office buildings. This is a negative for me, but I suppose this is a dream come true if you’re a smoker.
A lot of websites are blocked, so you can’t get on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and others. The Internet in general is crazy slow. I can access those sites because I have a VPN but you won’t be able to get on normally.

You can wear whatever you want in Shanghai – some people are stylish, but not entirely, especially now that it’s getting colder. Locals often walk around in head to toe PJ sets. True story.

If you’ve always had a burning desire to dress in a matching outfit with your boyfriend/girlfriend – this is your chance, as it’s quite common to see couples wearing matching jackets, hats, t-shirts, and shoes.

You should really dress for the weather and layer up.
I highly recommend getting some kind of package to be able to use your phone…if you have an iPhone it will make things a lot easier. A few key apps to get:
XE (currency converter)
Google maps (it’s my savior)
Shanghai metro (for subway directions)
Shanghai Taxi (click on the ‘streets’ tab and enter the main street and cross street to create a taxi card to show to the driver). Addresses in Shanghai are all listed by cross streets
City Weekend is a great too

Ladies be prepared for a lot of squat toilets in public places. It’s good to have travel size tissue in your purse.
Guys, it’s widely accepted to pee anywhere in public so have fun with that.

There you have it. My take on how to survive a visit to Shanghai. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line @julieduva or on



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Overnight in Suzhou

After working out the train kinks (see lessons learned from Hangzhou post), we packed up our passports and headed out to Suzhou, a canal town 30 minutes on the fast train from Shanghai. There’s not a ton of stuff to do in Suzhou, but we lucked out with beautiful spring-like weather, so that makes everything good.  We toured around the old town, checked out the gardens, went to traditional tea houses along the canal, and climbed Tiger Hill. I loved the zen vibe of the gardens and appreciated the break from beeping car horns. A few shots….
Amazingly bright fresh-cut flowers

IMG_4496Peeking into one of the many gardensIMG_4578Overloading on teaIMG_4586Climbing up Tiger HillIMG_4662Loved the mini treesIMG_4663Picture perfect ChinaIMG_4656Leaning tower of China…except it looked straightIMG_4661Don’t go chasing waterfallsIMG_4655


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Events In The City

Moving to a new city where the only person you know is your bf is kind of strange. How do you even begin to integrate into the industry and social circles you’re used to? I didn’t know anything about Shanghai before we decided to move here. I didn’t know anyone who lived here or even visited.

But a funny thing happened as we told people about the move – the six degrees of separation theory really worked in our favour. There were a handful of friends who knew someone, who knew someone living in Shanghai.
I started by meeting up with those people and it was a chain reaction from there.

By the third week I met a stylist, a fashion designer, a few publicists and editors…which led to attending some great events in the city. I attended the Lane Crawford launch party (Hong Kong’s most popular multi-brand retailer opened up a huge flagship store here), the Vera Wang fashion show (which was part of Shanghai fashion week), the Autumn Fair fashion and art market, and I took part in a Gatsby-themed shoot for a new speakeasy in town, The Boulevard.

It’s interesting to see how events roll out on the other side of the world…not a whole lot different from Toronto with the exception of a few quirky details, and a lot more people. Here’s a glimpse..

Lane Crawford launch party

Outfit: silk top (Zara), boyfriend jeans (GAP), leather moto jacket (H&M), heels (Vince), vintage purse

IMG_4401The Bumby’s were a hit…masked artists who judge your appearance leaving you with a typed note of their appraisal IMG_4403With one of Shanghai’s top emerging fashion designers, Nicole ZhangIMG_4420Vera Wang runway show  IMG_4437Dreamy flowing gowns + fierce Asian modelsIMG_4871Autumn Fair artist and fashion marketIMG_4293Behind the scenes shoot for The Boulevard speakeasy

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Donate to Typhoon Haiyan

My heart goes out to the people who have been affected by the mega typhoon that hit The Philippines. It’s crazy to think we were there on holiday a few weeks ago. I wrote my previous post a day before the deadly storm hit and I cannot believe the horrible disaster and  number of lost lives. Help out by donating to the Canadian Red Cross here.



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It’s More Fun in the Philippines

A great thing about China is the amount of public holidays they have. Within two weeks of being in Shanghai, offices shut down for a whole week to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. I’ll take it.

We decided to go somewhere hot and landed on The Philippines! I never had it on my travel wish list, so I didn’t know what to expect. I did extensive research and learned there are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, and not to expect amazing food….among other things. Thanks to Lonely Planet I weaved a simple itinerary together taking the advice to stay in one area if you have limited time because it’s a big country and so spread out.

We flew into Manila, which was only a two-hour flight from Shanghai, then hopped on a connecting flight to Cebu City. We spent a day in Cebu, then headed south on a ferry to the island of Bohol….more specifically Alona Beach on Panglao Island. The cultural aspect wasn’t exhilarating. Everyone spoke English, there wasn’t amazing street food like you would find in Thailand or China, and I found the streets looked exactly the same. BUT the Philippines blew me away with their gorgeous beaches. When the sun hit the beach, the water turned into the brightest aqua marine blue and the whitest of white sand was a spectacular compliment. It felt like walking through a postcard or one of those beach calendars that make you hate winter.






To be fair about the food, we had excellent fresh fish BBQ along the beach, which was awesome.
October is a risky time to go because it’s the end of monsoon season, so the weather was a bit hit or miss. One minute we were raving about our postcard beach, the next minute a dark cloud rolled in and we found ourselves in a tiny one-man security booth trying to stay dry. That’s another thing – the people are very friendly. The security guard saw us scrambling for shelter in the rain and called us over to his hut. We were there for so long and ended talking about Bon Jovi and Metallica. No joke.

On the flip side to going in October, you’ll get good deals on hotels. We stayed in three great places – The Henry Hotel (in Cebu), Amorita Resort and Hennan Resort in Alona Beach.

Cute hotel room at The Henry…I LOVED the green wall
One of the highlights was taking a day trip to Balicasag Island for snorkeling and Virgin Island for lounging, AND one of the craziest things I didn’t think I would ever do — we went swimming with whale sharks. I was the last one to get off the boat, but I eventually hopped in the water and trusted that these creatures really are the gentle giants they’re marketed as. They were massive, measuring nine meters in length! I just kept if you went to an aquarium, they wouldn’t let you get inside, but here we were chilling with the whale sharks. It was wild.

IMG_4057PS – I’ve become an expert packer – we took this small suitcase (above) for the two of us for seven days. Craze.

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Weekend Trip To Hangzhou

Within a few days of being in Shanghai, we decided to be spontaneous and take a train ride to Hangzhou – a garden city also known as West Lake, just outside of Shanghai.  Although I love being spontaneous, I learned that we should have done a bit more research before venturing out…especially to a place where English is hardly used.

We got to the train station, waited in line forever to buy our tickets, only to discover that we needed our passports! We were travelling an hour away and not leaving the country, so we didn’t think it was necessary.

Back home for the passports.

Got back to the train station, expecting to get on the next train (they leave hourly), only to discover trains actually sell-out here, so we had to wait another two hours for the next available train.

Finally on the train!

So we got to Hangzhou and thought we were going to hop in a taxi to go to our hotel, but every taxi we showed the address to refused us. We were about eight denials in before we decided to start walking. We walked. And walked. And walked. Big shout out to Google maps for leading the way. We eventually got a taxi to take us to our hotel. It was the most adorable little villa in the hills — in the most confusing, tiny, and winding roads. No wonder taxis didn’t want to take us!


Luckily the hotel was a gem and the staff were SO helpful and accommodating. It was a small villa with only 10 rooms, but the staff treated it as a high end as a Ritz Carlton, which was impressive and so nice.

We encountered a monsoon and so many little mess-ups over the two days, due to lack of research and translation issues, but we just had to laugh about it. We checked out the giant gardens and parks, rented a two seater bike, toured West Lake, tried crab on a stick, and ate at a great restaurant called The Grandmas.

Waiting for the monsoon to pass

IMG_3672Crab on a stick….it was delicious
IMG_3679Chic white chandelier at The Grandmas restaurant

West LakeIMG_3671
It was a great little getaway and a good first trip to realize we need to be better planners when visiting vastly different places. Toto: we’re not in Canada anymore.

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Life In Shanghai

Well hello there. I’ve been in Shanghai for just over a month now and I can tell you that time is flying. It took a couple of weeks to ease into the culture shock, and day by day I’ve been adjusting and discovering new things. 

I absolutely love our neighbourhood. The French Concession is an amazing part of town with so many cool places to discover. I can keep myself busy just within a four block radius.

The city is always and forever buzzing, literally. Cars honk their horns non-stop from 6:30 am till about 9 pm, and even through the night you hear the odd beep. I can’t count to three without hearing a beeeeeeeep. They really lay it on with their beeps.

Something I didn’t know and have had a hard time adjusting to – the internet is junk. Hence my delay in posting. There are a lot of blocked sites, delays, and technical issues. I have to say it’s my number one frustration, because how can you function without fast internet in 2013? Patience is the name of the game.

Before my screen freezes, here are a few pics to share:

View from our apartment on a sunny day

ImageMy New Bike
ImageOld vs. New

ImageGreen space does exist!

ImageA little bit of home on my head before hitting the streets


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