Life in Shanghai As an Australian Exchange Student

Shanghai, China is a fast paced international city which offers new experience and opportunities every day. When I first arrived in China, I was naive to think that the majority of Chinese cities are unique as Shanghai is utterly unique, not only by way of global connections but also due to its fascinating culture.

Perceptions and Assumptions

When I first arrived in this country I took certain assumptions such as the weather would probably be similar, all meat sold in restaurants would be edible. These were all utterly incorrect. When I first arrived, it was 5 Celcius and it snowed continuously for the first two days. I never expected to come to China and see snow in my wildest dreams. I was constantly told that China had a vaguely similar weather to winter in Sydney however this was truly not the case! To warm up in the cold weather I would constantly go to restaurants where I could not read the Chinese menu. I would frequently point at some item in the menu and hope I got lucky. On my first day I ordered pig stomach and on the 2nd day, some sort of animal blood in a cup. After that I quickly made some Chinese friends.

The Fake Market

The fake market is Shanghai is a market which could never be replicated in Sydney. Everything and anything that is made commercially can be found at the fake market: shoes, bags, clothes, cosmetics, toys, electronics, touristy items, Mao memorabilia, watch etc can all be found here for exceptionally low prices. When I first went to this market, I was intimidated by the frequent calling of ‘hey lady, you want bag, watch? Come come!’ or ‘You are my best friend so I will give you best price’. The fake markets in Shanghai have many famous brands such as Prada, Louis Vutton etc and of course to foreigners they give extremely expensive prices that mirror the prices of genuine products. However with some serious haggling/bargain you can walk away with a beautiful bag for 10-20 percent of the original quoted price.


The differences in transport between Sydney and Shanghai is amazing. In Shanghai I can catch a bus for 2 rmb (40 cents) and a train for 3 rmb (60 cents). However the biggest shock was the taxis. In Shanghai it is extraordinarily cheap to take a taxi ride. The basic fare starts at 14 RMB (about three dollars) and increases gradually by 1RMB (20 cents)  In Sydney I would never be able to think about catching a taxi so easily.

Ethnic Minorities

While I studied in Australia I frequently encountered Chinese people who predominantly identified as Chinese and also as Buddhist and I believed that the high majority of Chinese would identify as Buddhist, to the exclusion of other religions. However since walking on the streets on Shanghai, I have met so many Chinese people who do not identify as Chinese or Buddhist even though they grew up in China. I quickly realised that there is not one simple definition of being Chinese. I have seen tibetans, a mongolian, and many many muslims (with their extremely delicious lamb skewers) who all do not identify as Chinese even though they have spent their entire lives in this country.


Shanghainese cuisine is so unique and can never be truly replicated. In Sydney I frequently ate at what I would have previously called ‘Shanghainese’ resturants. This could not have been more wrong. After coming here I came to the conclusion that as Shanghai is such an international city there is no true thing that is from Shanghai like the xiao long bao, a type of soup dumpling, filled with pork that explodes with soup as you bite into it. The xiao long boa is representative of all the experiences that I have have had the opportunity to undertake here. I have been to Asian countries before so I was expecting Shanghai to be fairly tame however my mind always implodes at what this beautiful city has to offer.