It was already evening and surprisingly dark by the time we arrived in our service apartment in the central Xuhui district of the great metropolis Shanghai (or “Hu,” its local nickname). Our efficience in unpacking and stowing away our belongings in the rooms of our temporary lodging did nothing to help the cold and barren feeling of the place. The sounds outside were too loud, the bed too hard, the kitchen too empty (btw, a service apartment is an apartment serviced like a hotel. Guests stay short period of time – a few weeks up to a few months – so everything is to be provided including all kitchen utensils and appliances). There was nothing to do about the noise or the bed, but we did ask for the kitchenwear, an iron/ironing board, hair dryer, and water for our water cooler (standard here in every apartment as the water from the faucet is concentrated chlorine). These items came in daily installments for the next week until we had everything necessary to bridge the time till we move into a permanent residence (bear in mind, we have boiled down- no pun intended – our concept of “necessary” to 2 plates, 2 forks/knives/spoons, 2 bowls, cutting board/butcher knife, a pot and a wok).
On Day 2, the driver picked us up to take us to Taicang, an oversized industrial village 50km northeast of Shanghai, where Patrick will be spending his days making sure Schäffler retains a considerable profit in the production of bearings – large size and otherwise. We spent this day between the relatively new facility in Taicang (3000 employees) and the even newer R&D office in Anting (closer to Shanghai), as Patrick had some appointments with his supervisors/HR department and I with the HR director regarding a potential job (which turned out to be NON-potential just as a side note).
The car/driver situation is as follows: Patrick has to wait at least a month for all his paperwork to get cleared (translations of driver’s license, registration, etc) before he can apply for a Chinese driver’s license. Until that time and perhaps even after depending on the new expat policy the company is drawing up, we have to use a driver. Having witnessed 20 almost-accidents a day in this city, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Patrick, however, is experiencing some communication frustration with his new found friend, Yao. The morning of that first outing to Taicang, he did a beautiful job of asking Yao to turn on the air conditioning using very clear, basic English. Yao did not understand. So Patrick did the next logical thing: used hand gestures. Unfortunately the flapping of his suit jacket and waving of his arm to get air did not indicate heat to Yao. The next thing we knew, we were taking a detour through the city only to end up at the front step of our hotel, at which point Patrick only said “no” and gestured for Yao to drive on which he promptly did. We, of course, acted like nothing happened in order to save face. “Guanxi,” as it is know in China, is of great cultural importance.
Despite these mishaps (some are of course expected, and we experienced unexpectedly few the first week), we managed to settle in to our new habitat fairly quickly. We have tried several new restaurants, met a few new people, and orient ourselves especially in our district. Patrick is in the process of adjusting to his new work environment and I to my home environment, at least till I get my bearings. Patrick and I go through the daily routine of asking whether this feels like home yet or still like vacation. We are yet “vacationers,” but Shanghai beware, we are here to stay.