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Health and hygiene

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While many elements of health and hygiene may seem basic (or occasionally even backwards) in Shanghai compared with many cities of similar size in other countries, it should always be remembered that China is a developing country. The general quality of facilities and availability of certain health and hygiene products in Shanghai is excellent compared with the vast majority of China, but it is by no means perfect.

Generally speaking, basic hygiene standards amongst the Chinese population in Shanghai are not as high as you might expect from many western countries: for example, people regularly cough or sneeze without covering their mouth/nose. Similarly, restaurants and bars do not have strict health and safety codes: dropped chopsticks are sometimes returned to the table unwashed, some market stalls sell unrefrigerated meat even in summer (which is handled with bare hands), and so on.

The advice here in general is to be careful: it's not surprising that many people visiting China complain of upset stomachs and bad diarrhoea. Restaurants and bars catering to expats will generally have much higher standards of hygiene than local places, but are usually many times more expensive.

A common tip for avoiding upset stomachs when eating locally is by making a beeline for the crowded places. While it is tempting to eat at empty places and avoid the crowds and queues, there is generally a good reason why these places have no customers while the eatery next door is packed: if it's OK for the locals, it's probably fine for you, too.

Drinking water

Main article: Water and air pollution

Do not drink the tap water in Shanghai. The source of the city's tap water is the Huangpu river, the same place where most of the city's sewage is dumped. Tap water is heavily chlorinated but still not safe to drink. Purchase or arrange delivery of bottled water for drinking water.

Public toilets

While Shanghai is light years ahead of many cities and towns in China in terms of lavatorial technology, the humble squat toilet is still in relatively common use, especially at cheaper bars and Chinese restaurants. If you need some tips on how to navigate these glorified holes in the ground, check out this guide on wikihow.com.

Squat-toilet-trough

Happily, while common in more rural areas of China, communal trough-style squat toilets are extremely rare in Shanghai.

Even though you may not have to deal with a squat toilet most of the time, it's always a good idea - especially for females - to carry tissues with you at all times in China, as many public toilets do not have toilet paper - there are few things worse than finishing your business and only then realising there's no paper. Avoid these issues, carry some tissues!

A great tip if you need the toilet whilst out and about is to find the nearest hotel and use theirs - generally speaking, hotel staff would not dare prevent a foreigner from using their facilities; and toilets in hotels are more likely to be clean, western-style flush toilets than the many public toilets around the city.

Spitting

Although they are slowly trying to stamp out this disgusting habit due to health reasons (as well as to improve China's image), it is an extremely common sight in Shanghai - especially in winter - to see people hawking and spitting in the street. Often it's so violent you can hear them from down the road.

Taxi drivers will regularly hawk and spit out of the window or door, and people living above the ground floor will even spit out of the window onto the street below.

To Chinese people this isn't rude or disgusting, as they believe that it is always better to expel impurities from the body. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to get used to hearing the sound of hawking, and be wary of phlegm in the street, as it is not something that is going to disappear overnight.

Likewise, for many Chinese people, blowing your nose does not require a tissue: they simply pinch their nose between thumb and forefinger and launch the projectile from their nose.

Sadly, some foreigners living in China have decided to follow the "when in Rome" approach, and get into the habit of doing the same thing themselves. You should also be prepared to see people spitting in other areas: public toilets, local restaurants, and on public transport - wherever they are, the adage of "better out than in" usually applies.

Condoms

Watsons

Watsons is a popular and generally reliable chain for purchasing health and hygiene products

Although most popular brands of condoms (including Durex) are widely available from shops like Watsons and Manning's (as well as most convenience stores like Family Mart, Kedi, Lawson's, etc.), it should be noted that condoms sold in China are generally smaller than in most western countries (52-54mm circumference as opposed to 54-56mm).

Sadly, finding larger sizes seems to be very difficult in Shanghai, so if you find the condoms in China to be too small, you should either stock up on condoms before arriving, or order them online while you're here (britishcondoms.co.uk have a wide range and international shipping costs to China is only £2.99 - around 30 RMB).

For more information on condoms, take a look at this thread on /r/shanghai on sex-related issues.

Deodorants and anti-perspirants

Although spray deodorants and anti-perspirants are becoming more common in China, compared with many western countries they can be hard to find. Personally I can recommend Watsons' "Man Code" line of spray anti-perspirants, though Lynx/Axe and Adidas products have also recently become much more widespread.

Hospitals, pharmacies and counselling

Chinese have a long history of medicine and a lot of drugs can be purchased over the counter in 24-hour pharmacies. Prevention is also the best cure, and there is a lot to be said for the ability of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) remedies in warding off colds and disease.

There are no general practitioners or private doctor clinics in China, and if you need to see a doctor you will need to visit a hospital. Foreigners generally have to make the choice between an extremely expensive international clinic (like Parkway Health) or a more affordable but "very local" local hospital. It's recommended that you get health insurance in China, especially one that covers the cost of expensive international clinics if you're unable to communicate in Chinese or need that extra peace of mind.

Major local hospitals like Huashan or Ruijin will have a 'VIP' or foreigner-dedicated clinic that guarantees a certain level of English-language service.

A good website that often chimes in on /r/shanghai with their own account is HealthAndSafetyInShanghai.com.

To read more detailed /r/shanghai community discussions about hospitals in China, follow this link.

For a community discussion on the logistics of having an abortion in China, take a look at this thread.

For info on where to seek English-language psychiatric help or counselling in Shanghai, click here.


Laowai Lingo

  • 挂号 (guàhào… ): "To register" as an outpatient at a hospital. The first step in your healing process
  • 我……不舒服 (wǒ……bù shūfú): "My ... hurts/has discomfort。"

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