Life in Shanghai isn't always easy but it should always be convenient. Over the course of many years, I've come to rely on my own personal and random list of services to make life more comfortable, more convenient, cheaper, cleaner and/or prettier. I've fixed my neck and my tech, deep-cleaned my house and my shoes, figured out how to light a fire under the property management's ass, sorted out my sloppy bill-paying, found a cheap online source for groceries and cat food in bulk, consulted the professionals on who to use for printing and framing photos and then went out and found an English-speaking locksmith and a couple other options for when you lose your keys.
There's no other theme to this list other than that IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER. If you let it. Hopefully at least one will make your life in Shanghai easier. Happy problem-solving!
Fix Your Neck: Medical Neck Massage
Jing Yi Wei (颈医卫) is a chain of health-care clinics that focus only on neck, shoulder and spine health. They are not chiropractors. The clinics themselves are bright and clean, and after an initial consultation with a doctor — or at least a young guy in a white jacket — the medical massages themselves are devastatingly accurate. The couple of times I've been, the masseuse (same one each time) had more than 15 years of experience in hospitals and it showed. Not a single thumb press or finger rub was wasted. After 45 minutes of vertebral adjustment, the tightness in my neck had relaxed and range of motion returned. This is not a pleasant experience but it's a lifesaver for those times when you sleep wrong and your neck locks up.
Get Your Tech Fixed the Easy Way
Tek Shanghai will do tech repair in English at their store and come to your home to fix basic internet problems. Both helpful services. But if you can communicate in Chinese, the next-level of tech repair services becomes available: outcall. There are a few companies that will send repairmen to your house to fix (mostly) phones. We tried Hoho Fast back in fall 2018. See how that went, and a few other companies that offer similar service.
Call in the Ayi Special Forces
There are a million companies online these days that will send an ayi or two to your house to do a thorough cleanup on demand – no monthly contract needed. Had a big dinner party? Tired of walking on cat litter? Haven't done the dishes since you moved here? Call ‘em in.
But if you want to upgrade and have an ayi sweep squad show up to deep-clean the place, really get into the corners and fiddly bits, then you call Jia You Guan Jia. For 598rmb (this deal on Dianping), they send the team, with their own equipment and cleaning products. (The inexpensive ones will want to use yours, which, um, maybe you don't have.) That covers a 60 sqm meter apartment. (Larger apartments billed at 12rmb/sqm above 60 sqm.) I did it last weekend.
The two unassuming-looking ayis showed up in street clothes (undercover) carrying a red bucket of cleaning supplies and a janky vacuum cleaner, and then proceeded to turn my apartment out. Lifting couches to get at the wall, moving all the crap stored under the bed to dust, emptying every cabinet to clean the insides — these women were dust assassins. On top of that, they dissembled and reassembled the kitchen, polished the bathroom and scared the shit out of my cats. By the time they left, after three hours of non-stop cleaning, I was a convert. Will repeat.
Shop on a Site That's Cheaper Than Taobao
Cut out the middleman. 1688.com is where a lot of Taobao sellers go to buy their products. You won't find the huge range on this site but for the things you can find, it's often cheaper to shop here than going to Taobao. You will need Chinese skills or a translation app to navigate. A few examples. Anhui flower tea, Fujianese snacks, Hebei red dates, Yunnan TCM ingredients. American sodas like Cherry Coke and Dr Pepper for 6rmb. Lemons the size of your heart, three kilos (two boxes) for 20rmb, shipped. Cases of this tea I drink too much of for 30rmb less than buying from the wholesaler on Eleme. Like I said, it's not a replacement for Taobao but consider it for Advanced Shoppers who have graduated from Taobao alone. Also, it's owned by Alibaba (like Taobao) so you don't need a separate login.
Have the Grocery Store Come to You
There are a lot of ways to get ingredients to your door. Sherpa's will deliver from a couple grocery stores, including their own. SmartShanghai now has a fledgling Marketplace. Meituan covers most of the city, and, crucially, delivers from Swiss Butchery. But for my money, it's Eleme. The range of shops is better for my little 3km radius in this city, encompassing many of the little stores on Huaihai and up Wulumuqi, as well as neighborhood wet markets for getting things like shelled peas, bamboo shoots and broad beans.
There are a few downsides to ordering online, like not being able to pick exactly which avocado or sweet potato or whatever you want but in my book, the convenience is unbeatable. No longer do I have to do go to five different stores to chase down specific ingredients; instead I can pinpoint who has what and have it delivered.
This is not good for the environment. I rationalize it by saying at least I am not polluting the city with my foul mood after spending three hours trying to find almond extract and canned chipotle peppers on an empty stomach. Online grocery shopping — the cheapest therapy out there.
Automate Your Bill Payments
No judgement if you still like to take your paper summons to the FamilyMart and pay for that sweet, sweet electric power with cash. Grandpa. But if you learn a little Alipay — on the app, click "Utilities", setup your accounts — you'll have more time for posting videos of your home workout on WeChat Moments. It's not that hard.
Get a copy of your paper bill for the utility you want to add. Figure out the icon. Choose the correct branch of the utility company. Add your account number. Check the box for automatic payment. Never make the embarrassing trek to the electric company's office to get your lights turned back on again. Most important ones to pay here are the electric (电费), water (水费), gas (燃气费) and internet (宽带) bills.
Extra credit: put your phone on automatic recharge (if you don't have a fixed plan). To do that, go back to the Alipay home page, click Top-up Center and then the three characters for automatic recharge (自动充). Add your number, pick what day of the month you want the charge to happen, pick the amount and then confirm it by clicking the blue bar (确认).
Get Your Property Management to Fix Problems ASAP
Ever tried to get your apartment compound's property management company to do something? If you're lucky, they'll show up within the day and set things straight. But it's far more efficient to call 962121, a hotline the government set up in 2007 to supervise property management companies and make sure they get their work done, and fast.
It's easy to use and works like this: You call the hotline and tell them what needs doing (the sewage pipes outside my house are clogged), they call your district's Urgent Housing Maintenance Center and the center sends the order to your property management company.
Why is this centralized system better? Because it means someone is watching to make sure your ticket is taken care of. I've personally used this twice in the past couple of months and it's worked a charm — a repairman has come in just an hour or two and fixed the problem. You pay the repairman. Prices are fixed in theory but negotiable in reality and, the times I've used it, been under 50rmb each call.
Print and Frame Pictures How the Professionals Do
You want to print a picture. Simple, right? Depending on how picky you are, yes. If it's just an everyday thing, there is Weima (used to be around the back of the Shanghai Hotel, now moved) that has been operating forever and was, for a long time, a haunt of some of the city's photographers. Or you can go straight to the top and use Aaron Chan, who was described to me by photography gallery M97 as "probably the best fine art digital photo printer in Shanghai." If you know and care about piezography, platinum printing and analog B&W, then look up Chan's studio, Harris Photo. If you just want to blow up your Angkor Wat temple photo to hang on your fridge, maybe overkill.
But for my money, it's Artscape Shanghai, which is mid-range professional printing, mounting and framing. Long-time photographer Charlie Xia of Spektrumasia uses and recommends them, for example, as a one-stop shop with a lot of choices for paper.
They are especially good at un-creasing and mounting calligraphy done on super-thin paper but also do a very nice job at enlarging, printing and offering frames in nice wood tones that you won't get at your neighborhood frame shop.
The first time, you probably need to go down to their shop on Caobao Lu to explain exactly what it is you want, and what level of quality you'll pay for; after that, you can do it all remotely and in English and then have your finished framed photos delivered to your door.
Send Your Sneakers to the Spa
When we did this article, there was a rumored sneaker cleaner meant to go along with the story. A sneaker spa, if you will, that could restore your fancy athletic shoes to new? almost-new? a little less-old? Well, I finally nailed down the address and the name, and paid a visit to Xixie Sneaker Spa the other day for a little TLC on some white Adidas. The process was quick — follow their WeChat so they can tell you when the shoes are ready, buy a first-timer coupon on Dianping for 59rmb, have your sneakers inspected and photographed in a light-box and you're off. Even easier, you can kuaidi or Shansong your shoes to the store and then have them sent back when they're ready, about five days later. Results? Sparkling.
Xixie Sneaker Spa is near IAPM but if it's that not great for you, there is also Circle Clean, a futuristic sneaker spa near Zhongshan Park that a colleague visited a few months back. Not tried it, can't vouch, but if the cleaning is half as good as the store design...
Unlock Your House, in English
This is going to happen to you. You step out of your house to pick up the delivery groceries (see above) and suddenly — FUCK! — your keys are inside. Hopefully you brought your phone at least, so you can call a locksmith. If you did, but your Chinese is hopeless, Shanghai Jing'an Locksmith has English-service. Expect to pay for it, as the basic service fee is 200-300rmb. It's the price of expat convenience. Alternatively, Jiangbang Locksmith has staff that speak simple English but can communicate via WeChat in English (god bless the translate feature). Or for straight WeChat translate biz and no service fees, there is Locksmith World (锁匠世家).