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For Guys

Guide to doing business in Shanghai


Simon Davis (38)
VP Sales at Sales Force

1. How often do you travel to Shanghai and who do you fly with?
I travel to Shanghai every four to six weeks and stay there for two to four nights. I usually fly with Singapore Airlines as they have five daily flights that are fairly convenient. Sometimes I go to Beijing on the same trip as well and, for domestic flights, I fly China Airlines.

2. One thing everyone ought to know about Shanghai:
Shanghai is a first-world city. The city’s infrastructure, dining and entertainment options are all first-class and very modern. This is usually not what comes to mind when people think of China so it can be surprising when you first visit.

3. The shortest time to get a visa?
My APEC business travel card conveniently covers China so I don’t require a visa. With the exception of Singapore, Japan and Brunei, all passport holders need to apply for a visa online or in person. Approval can take anything from four days to two weeks so you’ve got to apply early.

4. Fastest way to get into the city?
You can get the Maglev train from the airport for 50RMB but it terminates at Pudong, so if you’re going to Puxi, you will still need to grab a taxi from the station. I usually just take a taxi straight from the airport to my hotel; they are pretty cheap and convenient to get around in. It’s about a 50- to 90-minute ride, depending on traffic, and costs about 250RMB (S$50)

I find that most taxi drivers don’t speak a lot of English but if you have the address you’re going to written down and your hotel name card, it should solve the problem. I don’t have a preferred taxi company, as taxis are generally very safe and metered. If you’re visiting clients a little out of central Shanghai, it’s worth getting the taxi for the whole day.

5. When are the good and bad times to visit Shanghai?
The ideal seasons to go there are spring and autumn. I prefer going from March to May, as the city is clear of its usual pollution. Summer in July and August are the hottest months – possibly hotter than Singapore – and it is wet too, as the rainy season kicks in. Winter is quite cold and requires a jacket but it rarely snows.

Don’t go during their bi-annual Golden Week. The first is the Chinese New Year in either January or February and the second is National Day in the first week of October. Lots of people will be travelling around the country and available taxis are pretty hard to find.

6. Any good hotels to recommend?
The main two commercial areas in Shanghai are Pudong and Puxi. Pudong is on the eastern side of the Bund and it’s very modern with lots of fantastic hotels and iconic buildings. Puxi, on the other hand, still retains an old Shanghai feel. It’s where you’ll find the museums and cultural centres. It’s not too far to commute between the two; it takes roughly 20 minutes.

When I’m in Pudong, I always stay at Pudong Shangri-La (+8621 6882 8888). When I’m in Puxi, it’s JW Marriott at Tomorrow Square (+8621 5359 4969). I choose them for convenience. There are plenty of other hotels there to pick from.

7. What’s the dress code for meetings?
It really depends on the industry you’re working in. I usually wear a suit and tie for important meetings but generally, what you usually wear for meetings in Singapore works.

8. Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
Punctuality, respecting hierarchy and formality will go a long way, especially when you’re dealing with Chinese businessmen. Don’t just talk business over a meal; I find that the Chinese are often very inquisitive and like to ask questions, particularly about your family. While families make a good conversation topic, don’t ever bring up politics!

9. You are taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
For a more formal setting to talk business, go to M on the Bund (+8621 6350 9988). It’s a sophisticated dining venue with a great menu and view of the famous Bund. When I’m with my colleagues, we like to go to Bund Garden Hotel Shanghai (+8621 6329 8800), which is a small hotel set in converted historical buildings. The hotel restaurant serves excellent Chinese food. When we first found this place, we used to show up without reservations and found it practically impossible to get seats without a reservation, so definitely make a booking if you’re going. 

10. Casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
My colleagues and I like a bar called The Loft (+8621 6247 2400) near Nanjing Road. It has a rooftop garden area but it is really only three storeys high so don’t expect much of a view. However, they serve good Thai-style food and great drinks.

Because of the large number of expats in Nanjing Road and Xintiandi, there are plenty of funky bars in and around the area. If you look hard enough, there might be bars where you will get hassled.

11. Any unsafe areas to avoid?
I don’t think there is any particular unsafe area in Shanghai. In touristy areas, pickpockets are common so be wary. I think navigating traffic is the biggest danger; crossing the street can be a challenge at times. On the streets, you may be approached by students who will ask to chat with you to improve their English. They will then convince you to go for food and drinks. A friend of mine once agreed and ended up stuck with a ridiculously expensive bill!

12. You’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?
If you’ve only got limited time like I do, spend time in the Bund area. The Bund has great architectural buildings that meld the new and old. I believe some of the buildings have been left untouched since they were built between the 1930s and 1950s so it’s pretty cool. Another cultural place to go is the French Concession, a quaint colonial-style area. Pudong, on the other hand, has lots of city lights not unlike Singapore.

Also, I once went to the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre that’s run out of a guy’s basement. It is open to the public but it might take some time to locate. As the name suggest, the museum holds a great number of propaganda posters from the past.

13. Gifts to take home for family and friends?
Because of time limitations, I don’t really shop much. My Chinese friends recommend taking a walk down Taikang Road. The unique old Shanghai-style road is a cluster of art galleries, fashion boutiques and trendy cafés. You can get lots of things at different price points.

Editor’s Tip
Shopping malls are aplenty in Shanghai. For street shopping, try Nanjing Road for fashion items, Dongtai Road for antiques and Fuzhou Road for traditional paper, inks and Chinese crafts. While prices in the malls are generally fixed, you should bargain in markets and street shops, especially when you’re buying antiques.

14. How long before your flight do you really need to be at Pudong or Hongqiao International Airports?
Shanghai has two airports; Pudong International Airport where most, if not all, international airlines such as Singapore Airlines terminate at, and Hongqiao International Airport for domestic flights. You can get by with arriving 60 to 90 minutes before your flight.

Both airports are reasonably OK. There are the usual duty-free shops but I try not to spend too much time there. I like the roast pork noodles from the noodle bar in the Singapore Airlines lounge and it’s free.