Money & costs
Shànghǎi is one of China’s most expensive cities and you can quickly wind up paying much the same as in the West, if not more.
Accommodation will be your greatest expense, with prices ranging from around Y50 for a dorm bed to over Y2000 a night in the best five-star hotels (although discounting in midrange and top-end hotels is standard so always ask for the discounted rate).
Local Chinese restaurants offer fantastic value if you can decipher a Chinese menu. The city’s set-lunch specials or department-store food courts also offer excellent value, where one person can dine for around Y25. Meals at more expensive restaurants will cost anywhere from Y50 to Y400; aim for set meals rather than dining à la carte. Check the bill carefully; there’s no need to leave a tip if service is included.
Cafés and bars are expensive so expect to pay up to Y40 for a coffee or Y30 for the smallest of beers.
Travelling by metro and bus can keep transport costs down, while taxis are plentiful and inexpensive for short hops.
Be alert to scams, or your holiday costs could start soaring.
As one of the first Chinese cities to open to Western trade, the river and sea port of Shànghǎi enjoy a unique geographical location and historical significance that long ago shunted the city into a different league from rival ports such as Níngbō, Xiàmén or Qīngdǎo. Its superlative location on the Huangpu River, just south of the mouth of China’s longest river, the Yangtze River (; Cháng Jiāng), and plonked on China’s coastline at a point between Hong Kong and Běijīng furnished Shànghǎi with compelling advantages. Chinese like to compare the Yangtze River to a dragon, with its head at Shànghǎi and its body coiling through half of China, lashing together a potential market of over 400 million people.
Combined with the provinces of Zhèjiāng and Jiāngsū, the Shànghǎi region accounts for almost a third of China’s exports. The regional GDP totals a staggering US$450 billion. With its economy expanding at a rate of 12%, Shànghǎi is the economic and trading heart of the world’s fastest-growing economy, and its burgeoning wealth, leadership and intrinsic self-confidence have put it miles ahead of other Chinese cities.
Neither Běijīng nor Guǎngzhōu can match Shànghǎi’s superficial, gilt-edged feel of modernity. Doing business and making money runs in the blood of the Shanghainese. Běijīng folk may be generous, erudite and hospitable, but it’s the Shanghainese – with their stinginess and obsession with status – who focus their energies on creating wealth.
With gambling illegal in mainland China, China’s addiction to making a legal bet – Macau’s casino revenues have outstripped Las Vegas, largely thanks to the hordes of mainland high-rollers sweeping into town – helps fuel stock-market speculation. The latest hot stocks and tips are text messaged about town like there’s no tomorrow as everyone chǎogǔ (literally ‘fries stocks’), playing the stock market.
Left out from China’s first round of economic reforms in the 1980s, Shànghǎi’s economic renaissance dates from 1990, when it became an autonomous municipality and Pǔdōng was established as a special economic zone. In 1992 Deng Xiaoping gave the seal of approval to Shànghǎi’s redevelopment during his ‘southern tour’. Until then 80% of the city’s revenue went straight into Běijīng’s pockets. Economic reforms and restructuring massively boosted Shànghǎi’s GDP, and a flood of foreign investment poured into the city. With average per capita incomes of US$7000, its residents now enjoy China’s highest salaries.
The city also enjoys a unique position at the meeting point of both interior and coastal economic-development areas. As China’s economic spotlight swings increasingly westward, Shànghǎi is seen as the key to unlocking the nation’s stumbling hinterland. Economic boosters imagine waves of economic energy shooting up the Huangpu into the Yangtze River delta economic zone and from there to the huge cities of Wǔhàn and Chóngqìng. Shànghǎi has also become one of East Asia’s principle financial centres, attracting legions of foreign banks.
Shànghǎi’s traditional rivalry with Hong Kong continues unabated, and the gap in living standards continues to close rapidly. Shànghǎi is targeting 2010 – World Expo year – to fully emerge as a top-flight world city. If it was a mere construction contest, Shànghǎi’s sheer ability to stack cement and reinforced concrete would win it the cup, but Hong Kong’s particular advantages – take its first-rate transport infrastructure, well-nurtured international status, dependable rule of law, established business culture, flair with the English language and even its more diverse topography and breezy island getaways – keep it in the lead.
Stung by accusations of creative sterility, Shànghǎi has flung open a host of cultural centres and art museums to cock a snook at Hong Kong. Perhaps Shànghǎi’s strongest plus point is its youth and enthusiasm. Compared to its rival – where a growing staleness is perhaps taking hold – a palpable buzz is in the air. Shànghǎi’s energy and zest could carry it across the line, but this would depend on political and social stability. Hong Kong’s myriad freedoms, uncensored media, firm line on corruption and protection of intellectual-property rights could also give it the stamina for the long haul.
As the curtains fall on the 2008 Olympics in Běijīng, all eyes will quickly focus on Shànghǎi’s preparations for World Expo 2010. Due to be held from 1 May to 31 October 2010, the fair will take place in the area in between Lupu Bridge and Nanpu Bridge. Set for completion by 2010 and in time for the World Expo, the Shànghǎi–Hángzhōu MagLev will shorten trips between the two cities to a mere 27 minutes (about as long as it takes to queue for a ticket at Shànghǎi train station).
The Chinese currency is known as Renminbi (RMB), or ‘people’s money’. Officially, the basic unit of RMB is the yuán (Y), which is divided into 10 jiǎo, which again is divided into 10 fēn. In spoken Chinese the yuán is referred to as kuài and jiǎo as máo. The fēn has so little value these days that it is rarely used.
The Bank of China issues RMB bills in denominations of one, two, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 yuán. Coins come in denominations of one yuán, five and one jiǎo, and one, two and five fēn (the last are rare). There are still paper versions of the coins floating around, but these will gradually disappear.
ATMs that take foreign cards are plentiful, but it’s generally safest to use Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and HSBC ATMs, many of which are 24-hour. Many of the top-end hotels also have ATMs, as do shopping malls and department stores.
A useful 24-hour Citibank ATM is next door to the Peace Hotel on the Bund. The Shanghai Centre has Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), Bank of China, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) ATMs. Useful 24-hour HSBC ATMs can also be found on the Bund (15a East Zhongshan No 1 Rd 15), at Hong Kong Plaza (282 Central Huaihai Rd 282) and next to the Regal International East Asia Hotel (Hengshan Rd).
Credit cards are more readily accepted in Shànghǎi than in other parts of China. Most tourist hotels will accept major credit cards (with a 4% processing charge) such as Visa, Amex, MasterCard, Diners and JCB, as will banks, upper-end restaurants and tourist-related shops. Credit hasn’t caught on among most Chinese, and most local credit cards are in fact debit cards.
The following are emergency contact numbers in case you lose your card.
American Express (6279 8082; 9am-noon & 1-5.30pm) Out of business hours call the 24-hour refund line in Hong Kong (852-2811 6122).
MasterCard (108-00-110 7309)
Visa (108-00-110 2911)
All four- and five-star hotels and some top-end restaurants add a tax or ‘service charge’ of 10% or 15%, which extends to the room and food; all other consumer taxes are included in the price tag.
You can change foreign currency and travellers cheques at money-changing counters at almost every hotel and at many shops, department stores and large banks such as the Bank of China and HSBC, as long as you have your passport. Some top-end hotels will change money only for their guests. Exchange rates in China are uniform wherever you change money, so there’s little need to shop around. The Bank of China charges a 0.75% commission to change cash and travellers cheques.
Whenever you change foreign currency into Chinese currency you will be given a money-exchange voucher recording the transaction. You need to show this to change your yuán back into any foreign currency. Changing Chinese currency outside China is a problem, though it’s quite easily done in Hong Kong.
There’s a branch of American Express (6279 8082; Room 455, Shanghai Centre, 1376 West Nanjing Rd; 1376455; 9am-noon & 1-5.30pm Mon-Fri), but Amex cardholders can also cash personal cheques with their card at branches of the Bank of China, China International Trust & Investment Corporation (Citic), the Bank of Communications or ICBC.
Besides the advantage of security, travellers cheques are useful in Shànghǎi as the exchange rate is actually more favourable than what you get for cash. You can even cash US-dollars travellers cheques into US-dollars cash for the standard 0.75% commission. Stick to the major companies such as Thomas Cook, American Express and Citibank.