Hello and welcome to China! … unless you’ve been here a while and you’ve already gone through this checklist of China-living trinkets. By trinkets we mean those handy little things we can’t imagine life without in China. You know the ones. The things you realized (probably too late) that you’d need in China, will use only in China and will probably leave behind in China for the next generation of fresh meat.
So here’re 11 things you’ll only need in Shanghai (probably). A list of the useless or extremely useful, it all depends on how you use them.
1. Bicycle or E-bike
Okay, so not exactly little or a trinket, but they’re cheap, convenient, and eco-friendly. It’s a perfect vehicle to get around the city, you can whizz in and out of traffic and you’re free from the shackles of subway working hours. Just make sure you follow the rules. Chargers are placed on every corner of Shanghai, and most can be charged just by plugging it into a wall socket. Having a bicycle is even easier. Make sure you’ve got a reliable lock, and for God’s sake, get a helmet.
Where to buy: EnjoyShanghai Classifieds, small street shops, Taobao.com (look for 摩托车 mótuōchē or 自行车zìxíngchē)
How much: Around 1000 RMB for a second-hand e-bike or 200 RMB for second-hand bicycle.
2. The Thermos
China is a hot water/tea culture. Got a headache? Drink some hot water. Pimples? Stress? Myopia? Deadly alien parasite? Hot water. So considering the magical effects of hot water, you need to get yourself a thermos so you can carry it with you. Hot water machines are spread all around Shanghai and they’re usually free.
Even if you’re not into the hot water thing, tea or coffee are valuable guards against the heartless pace of the city! And during the summer, it can double as a bed-warmer…
Where to buy: Carrefour, Walmart, Tesco, Taobao.com (杯子 bēizi)
How much: 10 RMB – 70 RMB
3. Filter mask
One of the biggest issues people have with living in China is air quality. The actual effectiveness of the mask is questionable, but at least your paranoia is pacified, and you’ll just have to worry about the horrific carcinogens in your food, water, housing insulation…
Just don’t get the surgical masks, they do nothing. Get a properly sealed one.
Where to buy: Watsons, Family Mart, Carrefour, drugstore, taobao.com (口罩 kǒuzhào)
How much: from 20 RMB
4. Portable Charger
Uber to get a car, Instagram to post a morning selfie, Baidu/Google map to find the place, WeChat to check the moments, PokemonGo just for fun. It’s 11 AM in the morning and you’re phone only has about 20% power left. And unlike back home, you don’t know how to ask the convenience store ladies to let you get a little top-up. Sound familiar? Then you definitely need to get one of the portable chargers. Just don’t forget to charge the portable charger, too!
Where to buy: Any tech store, small mobile phones shops on the street, Carrefour, taobao.com (充电宝 chōngdiànbǎo)
How much: 30 RMB – 400 RMB
5. Jiaotong Card
A very simple thing, but we’ve found a surprising number of people don’t know about it. Apart from avoiding the whole ordeal of buying a ticket when you’re in a rush, the biggest advantage of the card is that it’s useable in all kinds of vehicles: subway, bus, taxi, ferry. Only within Shanghai, though!
Where to buy: any subway station at the counter desk (交通卡)
How much: 20 RMB
6. Pack of tissues
Before coming to China, we never really understood the real value of paper tissues. They were for other people, people who couldn’t control their bodily functions. But then you get to China, where restrooms don’t have toilet paper, and you’ve started developing a nasty cough (don’t think about it). But once you start carrying around that pack of tissues, you suddenly can’t imagine your life without those robust little white squares of civilization. It’s almost like once you start using them, you increasingly find yourself in the middle of situations when you absolutely need them.
Where to buy: Watsons, Carrefour, Family Mart, convenient store, taobao.com （纸巾 zhǐjīn）
How much: 10 RMB for 3 packs
7. Water Dispenser
You’ve probably seen them in your office back home. But in China, where you don’t want to drink the tap water unless it’s been put through a very, very thick filter, you might find yourself needing one for your apartment. Oh, and Chinese ones often have a hot water option which makes them extra special.
Where to buy: Carrefour, taobao.com (台式饮水机 táishìyǐnshuǐjī)
How much: 35 RMB – 1000 RMB
8. Electric blanket
This invention truly deserves a special award. If it’s your first time here, here’s a universal truth: the winters in Shanghai suck. The absence of central heating and generally poor insulation makes your room as cold as hell. But get yourself an electric blanket and it’ll feel like you’re laying on the warm beaches of Phuket. It definitely makes it harder to get out of bed in the morning, but they can be fairly cheap, so you can make a heated carpet-path from your bed to the bathroom.
Where to buy: Carrefour, taobao.com (电热毯 diànrètǎn)
How much: 200 RMB – 1000 RMB (Don’t go under 200 RMB. The thing’s likely to just catch fire)
9. Hair Drying Towel
Girls will understand (and some of you hippier guys). This handy device will dry your hair in 10 minutes without split ends.
Where to buy: Carrefour, taobao.com (干发帽 － gānfàmào)
How much: 3,50 RMB – 200 RMB
10. Sun Umbrella
An OG China invention, dating from 21 AD, the umbrella was a privilege of rich people, meant to help the ladies keep their milky white skin. Nowadays, it’s affordable for everyone and considering how Shanghai’s sun can be absolutely merciless, it might be the thing for you. Although we’ve never seen a foreigner with an umbrella against sun, we won’t judge, and we guess it’d still work against rain.
Where to buy: Carrefour, hawkers at the metro entrances, nearly any convenience store, taobao.com (阳伞 yángsǎn)
How much: 30 RMB – 300 RMB
11. Rain Shoe Covers
Another Chinese genius invention (probably). In Shanghai’s painfully unpredictable rainy seasons, the streets can suddenly flood before you even have time to find cover. But with a pair of these with you, you simply slip them over your shoes on a rainy day and keep your shoes dry and clean! You can walk into work looking like you just stepped off the catwalk.
Where to buy: Small street shops selling plastic stuff, Carrefour, taobao.com (雨鞋套 yǔxié tào)
How much: 15 RMB – 70 RMB
So that’s that! 11 things you’ll need in Shanghai and probably nowhere else. Did we miss any? Do you think you might actually take some of these back homes with you? Are you a convert to the school of the Hot Water Thermos? Let us know in the comments!
by Jane Polubotko