The main way that I get to know a new place is to walk. I walk in a spiral pattern, which helps me to not lose track of where I am staying and get a feel for what the surrounding area is like.
As I walk in the spiral pattern I make a point of photographing the names of streets. This is exceptionally useful if you might need to give a taxi directions. You can show the driver the photos of the street signs, which can be helpful. In the are near my son’s last school there was wei xian lu (pronounced way-shian-lu) and huixian lu (pronounced h-way-shian-lu).
It is surprising how well you can get a handle on what an area has to offer with two spiral walks: one starting out to the left and the other to the right. You learn where you can buy basics like water and fruits and what restaurants are available.