Shanghai Street Life

I’ve recently been playing a game almost every other day now for about a month. I sit on the second floor of a coffee shop, look out the window and can people watch from above. The game is “count as many people you can see glued to their phones”. Within less than 5 minutes you’ll easily be able to reach 50. 75% of people have their heads down almost yearning to be inside their phones. These are today’s real zombies. That Cell Phone Lane for Texting Pedestrians Is in a Chinese Theme Park. This has been a huge growing problem and it’s a pain in the ass for people who have to get to places around Shanghai and big cities in China, in general. There is also no concept of personal space or your own bubble. People push and shove and if you’re claustrophobic then it’ll be your worst nightmare to catch a metro here.

I remember one day I was walking down the street to a hole-in-the-wall beef noodle restaurant but before I entered the place, the entrance was blocked by a baby popping a squat and shitting on the sidewalk through a cut out in its onesie, purposely made. The father didn’t even have the courtesy of putting down a newspaper and they just went along their way once finished. Appetite ruined. Now, this isn’t a common occurrence and I’ve been told most people from the countryside who come into the larger cities aren’t fully caught up on etiquette, i.e. spitting and hawking loogies. Why Kids Keep Crapping in Public in China

“Shanghai would be the worst place for a zombie apocalypse outbreak…or the best place for a zombie.” 

Even though the city has a population larger than most countries the cleanliness of the streets is surprising. There are street sweepers everywhere and they have road washing machines with spinning bristle wheels that scrub the streets after a layer of water is sprayed just out in front of the vehicle. Cars and motorbikes (or eBikes) don’t have limits as to where they can be driven too. One time I was walking to a metro station nearby with my headphones in listening to music when I was startled by a loud honking (aka the language of the vehicle). I looked behind me and there was a car riding my ass, on the sidewalk, with a guy inside cursing at me to move out of the way! You have to be on guard when walking in highly congested areas as well, motorbikes, eBikes, bicycles, and one wheeled Segway-like hoverboards will weave in and out of pedestrians, too.

The pure spectacle and randomness of it all, the constant head scratching and the “did I just see a blind guy on the corner holding a stick with a turtle dangling from it!?” – wtf moments never get old.

“The city needs a car like a fish needs a bicycle.”


But all in all, the best way to get around the city is by electric scooter. For around a couple hundred USD you can buy one, second hand. You just plug it in overnight to charge. The best times are riding around late at night with friends and getting shao kao 烧烤 or street BBQ (if you look at the Chinese characters they look like people standing behind a barbeque grilling). A lot of good memories sitting out on the corner down the street and people watching. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see the people riding bicycles with stacks of styrofoam or cardboard boxes that are 4 to 5+ times larger than the bike. The boxes reach the sky and defy physics.

Joseph Pallante
Joseph Pallante
An avid traveller, Joe enjoys spending time exploring the New Zealand countryside. In his spare time, he travels around in his campervan, writes about nature and how to live a frugal and sustainable lifestyle.

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