Happy Holidays from Shanghai, People’s Republic of China!
This year was different. In June, we packed up the Chicago apartment and moved about 7,056 miles to live in Shanghai. Dean accepted an exciting opportunity to help grow the insurance consulting business of his company, BearingPoint, where he has worked since 1995. Linda left a job she loved to join him for the adventure. It is never a good time for such an abrupt move, but we both agreed that we would regret not taking advantage of such a unique opportunity. We are getting older and don’t want to be boring. So far so good – the last 6 months went by very quickly – we’ve been to Beijing, Xiamen, and Qingdao, walked on the Great Wall and in Tiananmen Square, shopped in Hong Kong, taken a public water taxi in Bangkok, and collectively lost about 15 kilos (mostly Dean) – more rice and fewer french fries. Linda looks good – just in time for trips to Singapore and a couple of beaches in Thailand the first 6 weeks of 2005. We always miss our friends and family – but this year we miss you a little more than usual. To live a little vicariously, check out http://www.deanandlinda.com.
- Where do you live?
We live at 99 Wulumuqi Lu, Building #2, Unit 302, Shanghai, China 200031. It is a new complex built by a Hong Kong developer – there are three high-rises each about 35 stories, along with a group of mid-rise buildings. Our apartment is bigger than Chicago – about 165 square meters with 3 bedrooms, wood floors and 2 balconies – most of the comforts of home for the same price. The gym and pool are very nice.
- What do you miss?
We miss the dryer – most Chinese line dry, and our washing machine is of European design – one unit both washes – in very, very small loads – and dries – so very, very slowly. Big baked potatoes – there is not a lot of baking at home (no ovens). Dean misses NFL football and good American Bourbon – probably one reason he has lost weight.
- What do you like in China?
Dumplings – lots and lots of dumplings. Fresh vegetables – China tends to have lots of whatever is fresh – best bok choy and broccoli (local version) in the world. The fabric market and the flower market. Trustworthy cab drivers in Shanghai (not true in Beijing). Friendly people – Chinese are very open to foreign visitors and it would be considered rude to not be friendly and helpful to a foreigner.
- What do you not like in China?
Bones – the concept of fillet or boneless is not well entrenched in Chinese culture yet. Smokers – an incredible number of Chinese smoke and there is no such thing as a no-smoking section.
- What have you gotten used to in China?
People staring at us – Chinese are curious and we look funny to them. We have had lots of people get their picture taken with Linda – the foreigner with the yellow hair. Rice – we eat lots of plain, steamed, white rice – it?’s good. Chopsticks. Tea instead of water. No ice. No dark beer ?- lots of beer for 1.2 billion thirsty people, but Chinese don’t like heavy beer. People spitting on the street. Lots of trash (17 million people live in Shanghai). TV – 71 television channels and only 5 of them in English. Pushing and shoving as opposed to a queue – it helps to be big, although some old people are surprisingly quick. Public urination. People laughing at Dean’s hairy arms and legs – Chinese don’t have much body hair so Dean looks like a monkey to them.
- How has Linda adjusted to not working?
Linda thinks not having a job is hard work. Dean thinks she is doing great – significantly better than his forecast, with only one significant breakdown way back in August – in addition to email, he encourages friends and family to call her in China – she misses more personal interaction with friends.
- Is the move what you expected?
Yes, China is what we expected. At work, Dean feels less useful in China than he felt in Chicago – the culture is new and sometimes different, and Dean’s company is less mature in China than in the US and Europe (one of the reasons he is here). There are times in China where it is clear he is being useful – he just wishes he felt more useful more often. Personally, China is exciting and we are glad to be here – exactly the life adventure we planned – and we are trying to take full advantage of living in Asia. Every day in China is an adventure and many of the adventures are new, unexpected and massively frustrating – quite entertaining.
- Do you have friends in China?
Linda does:) We have a number of expatriate friends, mostly from the US. Even at work, Dean’s closer associates tend to be American even if ethnically Chinese. Linda joined a pair of women’s groups – one group of American’s and one group of international women. Dean calls them organized shopping clubs, but they do have interesting classes – cooking, feng shui, antiques, ceramic pottery, etc. Linda has met lots of interesting people in similar situations.
- Do you speak the language?
Essentially, no, despite 5 hours of lessons each week since August. We don’t study enough, but progress is steady if not fast. We speak what local foreigners call ‘taxi Chinese’ – we can get around and won’t die of hunger or thirst. Our goal was to order dumplings in a local restaurant or from a street vendor prior to Christmas – we can (usually) do that and think we avoid rat, dog, or horsemeat stuffing. Even if we don’t, it tastes like pork. By June, Dean wants to be able to introduce himself in detail (question / answer) to Chinese clients at work.
- Can you tell China is a communist country?
No. Walking the street in Shanghai, you could easily be in New York if you ignore all the Asian people. Capitalism is not misunderstood – everyone in China is an entrepreneur and there are lots of small businesses. The press / news is noticeably biased – we didn’t hear about the riots following the Asia World Cup match in Beijing until about a month later (China vs Japan soccer final). We do get other news items, such as SARS updates and the US presidential election (if the world could vote, Kerry would have won by a landslide). There is also a valid, alternate view on many topics that you don’t hear in the US.
- Is China cheaper than the US?
Yes and no. It is definitely cheaper if you speak Chinese, cheaper still if you read Chinese characters. Since we can do neither, some things are less expensive but many things cost the same. Foods with an English label cost more – we happily pay to avoid surprises. Luxury imported goods are all more expensive than the US. Air travel costs more since airlines are still regulated. Labor-intensive items are cheap – our cleaning person costs US$2/hour, a 2-hour massage is US$10-15, orchids cost US$1, and Linda gets pants custom made for US$8 pair.
- Can we visit you in China?
Yes! We would love for you to stay with us and have already had a few visitors. We have a 2nd bedroom plus another futon in the study. You will need a valid, Chinese visa in your passport. e can help plan your itinerary and serve as tour guides, and in return for a donation of 2 bottles of good American bourbon (legal import limit), we will help make sure you don’t accidentally eat dog-meat tofu. No donation = eat on your own. 2005 bookings are heavy, so contact us early to lock in your preferred travel dates. You’ll regret it if you don’t.