The most common response I hear after talking about Shanghai is ‘you’ve been to CHINA?’ Hells yea I’ve been to China. Well one small part of one large city in one large country! Since I was little, I remember being fascinated by the Great Wall of China and was obsessed with Disney’s Mulan. So en route to my year abroad in London, I was lucky enough to spend three crazy days in one of the biggest cities in the world SHANGHAI!
I was so pleasantly surprised with Shanghai. The people, culture, the food and the diversity. It’s where tradition meets the future and it’s such a surreal concept to experience.
Whether it was getting my shoes shined on the street, visiting a sacred Jade Buddah Temple, catching a ferry across the river, trying to decipher Chinese street signs, eat street food, getting lost in markets, going up the tallest tower… there was always something to see and do.
One of the highlights of this spectacular city was actually getting off the beaten path and visiting a traditional and rural Chinese village on the outside of the Shanghai district, and if Shanghai city is the Paris of Asia, then this little village was the mini version of Venice. I booked the tour through Viator and we had a guide who was born and raised in Shanghai and spoke excellent English. He told us everything about his life in China and Shanghai, his family, the government, the media and it was so insightful and beautiful to hear. We drove past tiny ‘houses’ where pigs were hung out on lines to dry out, and ‘towns’ where they were just connected to electricity only a few years ago. In the village we took a ‘gondola’ ride around the many canals, walked through the narrow streets and stared at all the pork knuckles in the windows of food shops. I felt like I actually got a real tast of China, like the traditional dish, sweet and sour pork, it just leaves you wanting more.
Some things to note.
Maybe I was a little too naive in assuming that English was widely spoken. Whilst people generally spoke English where it mattered (in banks and hotels) however people on the street generally had very limited English. Whilst my Chinese is literally non existant, it was quite difficult to get around.
I also didn’t feel incredibly safe at night. I’m not sure whether that was because it was the first place I’d been and was more aware of my safety, I just felt a little unsettled walking around at night time.
We were also approached on every street and every corner by people selling products. Due to having red hair and pale skin, I kind of stood out like a sore thumb and was therefore quite an easy target. Without trying to be rude, I just politely smiled and kept walking.
Shanghai was an incredible experience and I definitely recommend it to any of you contemplating going to China or even elsewhere in the world! I hope I get a chance to go back again soon.
I’ve been asked quite a lot recently about the nitty gritty facts about having my GAP year living and working in London. So, here’s the sacred ‘how-to’ guide for those thinking about having a GAP year in the UK, or just looking for a break.
How About Booking Tickets? – I was completing my HSC when I was planning my trip, therefore I didn’t have a lot of time to commit to my planning. Therefore, a travel agent was perfect for me. I used Student Flights because of their cheap flights and outstanding customer service. My travel agent was very friendly and easy to contact via email. I ended up booking a one-way flight to London (via Shanghai). My first piece of advice is to book an open ended ticket. Whilst it might be more expensive, it’s not nearly as expensive as paying 900pounds coming from London back to Sydney (yes that’s what I did and there were tears from my bank account).
What About Those Stopovers? – Take advantage of them! I got to explore Shanghai, an amazing city which I’d never considered visiting (yet would love to revisit). My travel agent hooked me up with a really good deal for a great hotel in central Shanghai and also a taxi service to and from the hotel. So definitely ask if there’s any deals going at the place of your stopover. 3 nights is more than enough to get a taste of a new city and culture (also helps with the jet-lag and acclimatisation).
Don’t you need a Visa? – Yes you do need a visa. For most people on their GAP year, you’ll be applying for a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa. They last for 2 years and allow you to live and work in the UK. There are a few travel restrictions like, you can’t spend more than 90/180 days out of the UK etc but it’s best looking up the details to be sure you’re not detained for violating your visa requirements. I never had a problem because I was too busy working and saving money though I have heard some interesting stories.
How do I live and work in the UK/London?- One company – The Working Holiday Club. This great company was a life saver when it came to reassurance that I would have a job and somewhere to live when I made the move to London. I paid about $900 for the Jumpstart Premium which included them organising your Visa (awesome when you have no time during your HSC), 3 nights stay at a hostel whilst you get over the jet-lag, access to a job, access to cheap accommodation, support and also social meet ups. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to pay that much money for this, however, I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
The Job – With TWHC, you work for an agency called Elements where you do temporary hotel work. You do a few days of training, you need to buy your own uniform, and it pretty much works off of your availability. A hotel will host an event, they’ll contact Elements saying they need 20 staff members, Elements sends out a text/email asking who’s available and first in best dressed. You work at 5 star hotels in central London and jobs range from waitressing, cloak room, room service, concierge, setting up, packing down – pretty much whatever the manager asks you to do. Whilst the job itself is tedious, it does offer one of the better rates for hospitality (around 6.94 pounds p/hr) and also allows you to meet other Australians with TWHC. I became really great friends with a lot of the people I worked with and it’s a great way to meet other people in London.
If hospitality isn’t your cup of tea (I got pretty sick of it after about 4 months), then you can get a job the old fashioned way. Go to a million shops/cafes/restaurants/hotels/offices/ANYWHERE and hand out a million resumes! I went to a big Westfield that I lived near and handed out about 50 resumes. I scored a job in a lovely clothing store and ended up working full time (on better rates and better clothes!). If you move to London around October then many stores will be hiring Christmas temps and usually keep them on throughout the year if you do a good job.
The House – TWHC has access to a company who owns properties across London, Egoli. I ended up living in a shared house in Leytonstone (East London, Zone 3) with 9 other people (mostly Australians, and our lovely Brazilian, Canadian and Kiwi). You might think ‘10 people in one house! What?’ But actually it was a big house with a nice back yard, big kitchen, big loungeroom and 6 bedrooms (it’s common to share a room in London, however I needed my own space and got a single room). My room was a very decent size, complete with a double bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers, a heater and glow in the dark stars on the roof (what a nice surprise). I paid 90pounds a week for rent (including all bills and unlimited internet – pretty good deal!). The people I lived with became my family and we had a great time exploring London and also Europe together.
What About the little things?- Ok, I know there’s more to living in London than a job and a house. For example, the Tube. I swear I could write a short novel about my adventures on the tube but I swear, it becomes your life. Public transport in London is quite expensive (accept it now). When I was working for Elements (and working 5+ days a week) I bought a weekly Oyster Card pass which is 35pounds from zone 1-3. However, once I found a job which was closer to home, I was spending about 25pounds a week on transport.
Groceries?- When I was on a tight budget, I could manage with about 20-25pounds a week spent on food but I couldn’t imagine needing more than 40pounds a week. This included home brand everything, and eating left overs from dinner for lunch. Then when you get a big pay check you can splurge a bit, but I generally kept my grocery spendings down so I could save money for travelling.
How much Traveling Will I do?- Depends on how hard you can save. I was lucky that I had my parents to help me out when the bank balance was looking a bit sad and depressing, however I did get a fair bit of travel done! I went to Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Iceland. Though I had friends who barely traveled at all and also had friends who were always galavanting somewhere new so I guess it depends what you’re in London for. To travel around Europe or live in London. I think I did both quite well.
Will I make friends?- You’ll not only meet some of the most incredible people you’ll meet in your life, but also make friendships that you’ll have for life. I know I’ve only been back for 10 months, but the friends that are still in London or somewhere else in the world, I know will be friends for a long time to come.
Any Last Words of Advice? – Yes. DO IT! There’s no better time than right now! Pack your life into a suitcase, book a ticket, put your walking shoes on and explore the world!
If you’ve got any other questions or comments please let me know!