Nihao Zhongguo (Hello China)

We made it! We arrived at our apartment yesterday morning after an epic plane journey via Dubai, a 7 hour stay in a hotel, and something like 14 pieces of luggage.

Someone had kindly put a notice on the door which our estate agent told us meant ‘Lucky Marriage’.

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“Lucky Marriage!”

“A bit presumptuous”, we thought, “but a nice gesture nonetheless”

After a few minutes of ringing the door bell and our agent calling the landlord, it became apparent our actual apartment was 8 floors above us. Hopefully we didn’t ruin their lucky marriage celebrations.

 

Our apartment is in a complex called Ambassy Court, within the Former French Concession (FFC). I’ll write more about some of Shanghai’s history in future, but this area is one of many in Shanghai with a strong western legacy. The French Concession was previously governed and occupied by French colonists as a trade port during the Concession Era, and so the architecture and culture has a European influence (there are lots of bakeries, artisanal coffee shops with the word ‘Maison’ in the name, wine shops and French people). It’s one of the most desirable places to live in Shanghai due to it’s leafy tree-lined streets and ‘hipster’ Soho-like lifestyle. Ambassy Court is so called as it was built in the 80s as dwellings for Amassadors (the FFC is the where a lot of the foreign embassies are located).

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A typical European ambassador spoiling a guest with some traditional European delicacies during the late 1980s.

 

 

The apartment itself has been recently refurbished and is owned by an investment company.While we might have to put a hold on our cat-swinging hobby while we’re here, we are living in seriously nice pad. They’ve kitted it out really smartly, and we have a clubhouse on the site with a Gym, shop, coffee shop, creche and a couple of pools.

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Our pimped crib [minus pimp, plus Matt]
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The Former French Concession, from our balcony

If you were to try and buy this place, (a 2 bed flat with 2 bathrooms and a small balcony) it would set you back something like £1.5m – which reflects the cool address and luxury accommodation in one of the world’s richest cities. We were chatting to one of our neighbours who mentioned that most Chinese living nearby didn’t have showers or toilets in their flats, they’d typically share those kind of facilities which put in stark contrast the comfort we are enjoying.

Our first day we spent getting some of the real hygiene factors sorted.

Firstly, the internet (getting hold of a VPN so I can google ferrero rocher ads)

Secondly, a kettle so we can begin our mission to drink all the tea in China

Thirdly, water. You’re not allowed to drink the tap water here without boiling it, so our flat comes with a water dispenser. Sourcing the bottles for the dispenser was interesting;

Standard work instruction for getting bottled water in Ambassy Court

  1. Go down into the basement car park to find a smoky little management office
  2. Pay a deposit for bottles, depending on how many you need
  3. Keep the receipt- because when you check out (in 3 years) you’ll need it to get your deposit back.
  4. Go to some other reception desk on the compound
  5. Buy some water tokens. Buy as many as you want but you can only get two delivered at a time (because you only have paid a deposit for two)
  6. Go back to your apartment and wait for water man
  7. Give tokens to water man.
  8. Receive water.

From an efficiency point of view, it would give an industrial engineer post-traumatic stress. However, as soon as we got back to our apartment (about a minute later) there was a guy waiting for us with two big bottles – which was actually pretty amazing.

Finally, having drunk all that water and tea, it became pretty obvious we needed toilet paper. That proved hardest to find of all (especially with the pressure on) so our next challenge is to work out where to buy some of the living essentials…..

 

Prologue

For years I’ve had had a tick against ‘Would be interested in International Assignments’ on my internal profile at work. It didn’t seem to be that difficult to check a box, and when I first was asked to complete the form I pretty much went through and ticked every box there was to tick. “Yes. Tick. I’d be interested in an international secondment to Uganda” – even though a: I was far too junior to be considered for an assignment to Uganda; and b: Jaguar Land Rover doesn’t have any business operations in Uganda. What the hell. Let’s see what comes of it.

Incredibly, nothing came of it. So over the subsequent few years I went about putting down some roots. I bought a house. Met a beautiful woman. Bought a house with her. Started buying all the essentials you need to feel fully accomplished in a place like the UK. Like fitted wardrobes, a subscription to at least two Wine plans and display cabinets for my collection of commemorative plates. I knew the name of our postman, I knew which parts of my garden were too shady for lavender and even volunteered to be a school governor.  Everything was falling into place.

Having just spent a bunch of money putting down some lovely new burnt oak vinyl flooring in our conservatory, I was talking to my boss at work in our last meeting before I broke up for the christmas holidays.

“How are you Matt?”

“Fine actually. Just spent a bunch of money putting down some lovely new burnt oak vinyl flooring in our conservatory.”

“Sounds good.”

“Yeah, but I feel like a need a new challenge”

“Professionally or personally?”

“Both”

“Do you want to go and work in China?”

“-”

“….”

“-”

“Well? It is on your internal profile”

I had a job that I really enjoyed, but had been in it long enough to start to think about what I might do next. But I hadn’t quite expected that to be it and there were loads of decisions we’d need to make to make it work; Would Emma be up for it? Could we integrate into a new culture with a new language? And how would Jerry* take the news? *Jerry was the postman whose name I had learnt. So to cut a long story short (which I need to do because I’ve wasted so much space detailing that conversation about wooden flooring), we sorted out all those problems and decided to go.

Emma and I thought it would be good for us to chronicle our thoughts and experiences as we go through this process. We don’t know what will be bloggable, and some of it may not interest everyone; but we’ll do our best to share with you as much as possible.