If you want to feel alive, go to Shanghai. So says Denis L’Heureux, Export Development Canada’s (EDC) chief representative for greater China. What he likes best about the city is its kinetic pace.
Shanghai has grown quickly in recent years, into one of the most important economic centres in the country, but it wasn’t always so. For that reason, it has many modern buildings and few ancient Chinese landmarks. Its name combines to mean “up” or “above” and “sea” but its nicknames are probably more descriptive. They include: “Paris of the East,” “Queen of the Orient” and “Pearl of the Orient.”
For some, such as L’Heureux, the exciting pace is exactly why one would go to Shanghai. For others, it’s one reason to avoid it. Either way, China is a hot destination for exporters, and to that end, we’ve put together this survival guide for your trip to the country’s largest metropolis.
Advice for the business traveller
Shelly He, EDC’s administrator for greater China, suggests learning the local language to impress your hosts. Even a few words of Mandarin — the language most commonly spoken in Shanghai — will go a long way. She also suggests business travellers remember to bargain with merchants while shopping and she notes that there’s no tipping at all in China.
When travelling to Shanghai on business, remember to take a small gift from Canada for your business associates. Maybe it will be the product you’re trying to export (assuming it’s something worth gifting, such as a bottle of wine, and not an airplane part) or maybe it will be some other token. When EDC travels to Shanghai on business, its people take coins, something the Chinese treasure. Want to be more personal? You can never go wrong with Canadian ice wine.
When exchanging business cards, the Chinese hold them with two hands, with the name toward the recipient. Once you receive it, take a moment to absorb its contents with interest. And over the course of the meeting, resist writing on any card you’ve been presented. It will be seen as a sign of disrespect.
Here’s a tip that might surprise Canadians: Don’t use red ink. L’Heureux isn’t sure why, but he insists the use of red ink will not be appreciated by your hosts.
If you’re in town for a few days, you can expect to be invited for food and drinks with your hosts in the evening. If they invite you, they will pay. It may not happen, but he suggests being prepared to consume a lot of alcohol, which happens even more commonly if you’re trying to sell something.
You should also be prepared to encounter many people at a meeting. The Chinese tend to bring a lot of junior people, even to high-level meetings. Usually, they are there to learn and it’s the only most senior person who interacts in this highly hierarchical culture. “The boss is always right and employees rarely disagree,” L’Heureux says. “There’s limited room for diverging views.”
He also recommends being patient and not expecting results from the first meeting. “Be persistent,” he says. “Visit more than once and pay attention to the Chinese holidays because they’re different than ours and they’re long in length.”
His colleague, Shelly He, advises Canadians not to kiss or hug their business associate hosts unless they know them very well.
Best neighbourhood to visit?
Shelly He recommends the water villages, which she says are quite “Chinese,” such as Zhou Zhuang, one of the most famous water townships in China and known as the Venice of the East, and Wu Zhen, another historic water town, which is part of Tongxiang in the northern Zhejiang province.
Where to stay?
There are two Canadian hotel brands in Shanghai, Fairmont and Four Seasons. He says if your budget allows, the famous Bund promenade is great for first time visitors. All three get 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor.
- Fairmont Peace Hotel: 20 Nanjing Rd. E., Shanghai, China, 200002. Located in the desirable neighbourhood of Bund, this hotel is described on TripAdvisor as “luxury in the heart of Bund.”
- The Four Seasons Shanghai: 500 Wei Hai Rd., Jing An District, Shanghai,
200041. Located in the heart of the city, this hotel is minutes from business sites and many other attractions.
- The Four Seasons Pudong: 210 Century Ave., Pudong District, Shanghai, 200120. Pudong is the financial hub of the city.
Where to eat?
Says Shelly He: “You will find tonnes of restaurants in Shanghai, visit the Yu Garden Area for tradition local foods; Xintiandi for international cuisine, and for a night on the town in Shanghai, places such as Tianzifang, the Bund area and Hengshan Road are the happening spots.”
L’Heureux recommends Cafe Montmartre, a French restaurant that’s a bit of an institution in town. It serves crepes, salads and pastas and the prices are reasonable for the fare.
Where to eat a business meal?
For business customers, He says you’ll want to host your dinner in the Nanjing Road or Huai Hai Road areas. The French Concession would also be a great choice. Shanghai has several Michelin-starred chefs manning its restaurants, if your budget allows.
L’Heureux recommends Lost Heaven, which serves Yunnan cuisine at reasonable prices in a great part of town. It’s known as a place to impress guests or a date. It often appears on Top 10 lists of restaurants in Shanghai.
What tours to do?
Shelly He highly recommends the night cruise on Huangpu river. There are several companies that offer these tours and prices start at US$79.
What is the one thing a business traveller should see or do if they have some time to spare?
Be sure to try the Shanghai dumplings, a type of steamed dumpling famous in Shanghai. Also, check out the fabric market and the Yu Garden, an extensive Chinese garden — also called The Forbidden City — located beside the City God Temple in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai. Finally, you won’t regret a stroll around Bund historical district’s waterfront.