2017 summed up in a few key phrases: the year shared facilities boomed and flopped, more bans because why not, the only social media we're allowed to use is WeChat, and of course, Farine.
Shared bikes continue to be the double-edge sword to Shanghai living—on one hand, the convenience; on the other, they're taking up precious sidewalk space and spilling dangerously out onto roads. Multiple attempts have been (and are still being) made to help heighten user safety, ease congestion, and regulate their presence.
Along the same vein is the new regulations on e-bikes. Since March 1, 2017, all e-bikes on the road must meet a set of stringent requirements before they're deemed legal. Scooters parked at the side of the road that do not meet said regulations were systematically carted off, while drivers caught driving one will be fined RMB200.
Staffless everything is in right now. First, there was Moby Mart, a self-driving, autonomous mobile convenience store. Then BingoBox, a staffless, mobile-powered, 24/7 convenience store appeared. From there, a slew of self-service / robot facilities—staffless capsule gyms ParkBox, JD.com's robot couriers, Ele.me's robot delivery solution—started popping up one after the other.
Fall saw the Great Cheese Ban of 2017. China put a temporary halt on soft cheese imports back in September. When we dug deeper, we found that, oddly enough, canned soup and baking powder were also included in the government's list of banned food products. The reason was unauthorized cultures and yeast limits. Cries of despair and horror echoed through the cyberworld. A scant few weeks later, online cheese retailer Cheese Republic announced the restriction was lifted.
On the other hand, the smoking ban was met with more enthusiasm and support. A new smoking regulation was approved by the Shanghai People's Congress Standing Committee back in November last year, rendering hotels, restaurants, offices, airports, railway stations and entertainment venues be smoke-free. The new rule officially went into effect on March 1, 2017. We can only hope that in the future, this will extend to include all public areas outside of designated smoking spaces.
2017 is the year that AB-InBev took over Shanghai. News broke in early spring that homegrown craft brewery Boxing Cat and Belgian beer bar Kaiba were both acquired by the beer behemoth. This follows the opening of their very own Goose Island brew pub on Maoming Lu.
On a similar vein, expat-friendly takeout service Sherpa's was acquired by fast food chain operator Yum China Holdings Inc. (also the license holders of KFC and Pizza Hut in China).
And, as is typical of Shanghai, the year wouldn't be complete without something getting axed. A few years ago, we witnessed the unceremonious clearing of Yongkang Lu and Danshui Lu. Last year, it was Wuyuan Lu. This year, it looks like Laowai Jie, Dongping Lu, and the Fuxing Lu / Yongfu Lu area are getting cleaned up.
As usual, we went through a few cycles of VPNs being banned and VPNs not being banned after all. What is true, unfortunately, is that following behind the footsteps of Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, WhatsApp has gone offline in the Middle Kingdom, while Skype has been removed from the App Store.
This past November 3rd, many exapts woke up to the confusing and abrupt news of Shanghaiist being taken offline. The site redirected to a letter from US-based CEO Joe Ricketts informing of his decision to shutter DNAinfo and Gothamist. Later in the day, the team at Shanghaiist released their own statement clarifying that they were an indepent entity and was not involved in the union vote that led to the two newsrooms being shut down. They managed to regain visibility a day later, and has since annouced plans of starting a crowdfunding campaign to ensure nothing similar would happen again.
The Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced in April a series of reforms to the foreigner's permanent residence identity card. Similar to the ID cards of Chinese citizens, these cards will have identity information embedded in machine-readble chips, which will then be shared by railways, airlines, insurance agencies, hotels and banks. The aim is to help solve difficulties foreigners face in identity authentication, and to improve efficiency of expat living.
This follows news that China is relaxing its Z visa policy. Previously, expats were required to have at least two years work experience to qualify for a Z visa, but starting this year, as long as you have graduated with a master's degree from a Chinese university, or a "well-known" international institution, and are applying within a year of graduation, you will be eligible.
Both great news. Less great (though not terrible) is that beginning next year March, anyone looking to renew their work permit will have to start the renewal process 30 days before the permit is set to expire. Failure to do so will mean your application being rejected, in which case you will have to start a new application for a new work permit (translation: more hassle, more time, more money).
Shanghai is on a serious quest to make its mark on the world's architectural map. The world's biggest (and supposedly most beautiful) Starbucks officially opened early December. The city is also in the midst of building the world's largest planetarium, while the Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in China and second tallest in the world, has been officially opened to the public in summer.
And of course, possibly the biggest news to break this year is Farine's expired flour and Franck Pecol's consequent escape to France scandal. What resulted was the shuttering of all of Pecol's restaurants and cafes (though Franck Bistrot has reopened under new management), while Production Director Laurent Fortin and three other Chinese nationals formally arrested. An online petition was started by Fortin's brother calling for his release. As far as we know, Fortin is still currently in jail.
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