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Expat Life in China? I’ll take it.

March 31, 2011

Alan Paul’s new release Big in China details much more than life as an expat in Beijing. In 2005, Alan, his three children, and wife Rebecca packed their bags to move over 10,000 miles from their home in NJ when Rebecca accepted a job as Wall Street Journal’s China Bureau Chief. In Beijing, Alan, a former senior writer at Guitar World Magazine, had a chance encounter with Chinese musician Woodie Wu. With a common love for blues music, they formed the band Woodie Alan. The band was a hit to say the least- they toured all over China and won Best Band in Beijing. Alan became a celebrity in China, and that was just the beginning.

Alan’s optimistic attitude and audacious spirit are extremely refreshing. It reaffirms my belief that anything is possible with the right mindset.  He challenges readers to take a deeper look inward to see ourselves as global citizens. Moving abroad, even for a short period, can be more than just life changing, it can be enlightening. Nothing has changed and shaped me more than my travels, which is why his experiences abroad resonate so deeply with my own passions and dreams.

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to intern for Publicis Consultants in Shanghai during the 2010 World Expo. During my time in China, I wrote this post on expat life for the Shanghai Expo Insights blog:

An American Girl Takes on Shanghai

If I wrote this a month ago when I arrived, I might be telling a slightly different story. In the past few weeks I have quickly adapted to the Chinese culture. I had no other choice; I learned Shanghai doesn’t slow down for anyone. Originally a New Jersey native currently residing in Los Angeles, California, I am spending the summer interning at Publicis Consultants in Shanghai through my Masters Program at the University of Southern California. Even as a self proclaimed city girl with extensive travel experience in Europe and Asia, Shanghai, especially during the 2010 World Expo, is in a league of its own.

Shanghai is massive, the expression Shanghai is Manhattan on steroids proves true, with an efficient 12 line metro system, endless nightlife options and enough restaurants to challenge even the most sophisticated palate. It is a Mecca for shopaholics, with everything from eccentric antique, fabric and tea markets (where I have perfected my bargaining skills) to malls with 6 floors full of the world’s most famous designers and, not to mention, Nanjing Road- one of the world’s longest and busiest shopping streets, spanning 3.4 miles long. All this aside, it’s important, and sometimes easy to forget, to embrace every aspect of this city and keep an open mind, as this place is extraordinary on so many levels. I spent one evening on Taikang Road in the French Concession, a beautiful and quaint art district with cafés, restaurants, art and photography galleries and boutiques, it was divine. The residents I’ve encountered, have for the most part, been genuine, kind and helpful and I have been photographed enough times to understand why celebrities are annoyed by paparazzi (this is an exaggeration of course, but it is entertaining nonetheless).

I cannot go without saying how lucky I am. I am here with 7 of my Chinese classmates and my professor, originally from Shanghai, who are all helping me along on this 2 month adventure. It has been difficult, however, to do the things I take for granted in the United States. Food shopping, locating a bank or post office, choosing a hair salon and even hailing a taxi all require planning and preparation. Whenever I venture out I make sure I have where I need to go written in Mandarin so the cab driver knows my exact destination (saying where I need to be in English doesn’t work and I am not yet ready to attempt  speaking Mandarin, I can only take so much embarrassment). The lack of personal space and apologies when some bumps you (sometimes really hard) and yielding to every moving vehicle even when the green man across the street lets me know it is safe to walk, have all been an adjustment. Also, the fact that I am a vegetarian has led to the loss of that last 5 pounds I have been trying to rid myself of the past 10 years, which I’m ecstatic about. Still, with every day that passes I discover and rediscover that indescribable feeling and energy about living in Shanghai. It’s a feeling that makes leaving in one short month almost tragic, as I keep uncovering new places and meeting new people who make me fall more and more in love with this city.


If China (or Europe or South Africa- anywhere) calls you with a job offer,  don’t think twice- go!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    March 31, 2011 10:01 am

    I love your statement: “It reaffirms my belief that anything is possible with the right mindset. He challenges readers to take a deeper look inward to see ourselves as global citizens.” As the world becomes more interconnected through media technologies and our concept of space evolves alongside digital landscapes, the social, ethical and cultural importance of being a “global citizen” is paramount. Thanks for reminding me to step outside my localized consciousness, and to embrace the national and global community.

  2. March 31, 2011 9:43 am

    Sounds like an eye-opening experience. I’ve always wanted a big culture shock like that at least once in my life. I lived in China for 11 years, so even though I now hold a foreign passport, I still consider myself a retournee instead of an ex-pat whenever I go to China. Perhaps I’ll find my expat experience elsewhere, and when I do find it, I hope it’s as thrilling as yours was!

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