Tomas in Shanghai: "I knew it was gonna be crazy and different here"

Expat interviews
  • Tomas in Shanghai
Published on 2013-07-11 at 02:00 by team
Tomas has been living in Shanghai since February 2012. He works as a PR officer for a Swedish sourcing firm during the week and teaches English on weekends. During his experience in China, he tries to get accustomed to its new environment...

Why did you decide to move to Shanghai?

I always nourished a great longing for moving out of Sweden and discovering the world. This was, in part, fueled by my parents who kept taking me abroad on many holidays already from a young age. I cannot actually recall why I picked China, other than that I wanted something radically different from the stale Swedish environment.

How was the moving process?

The moving process was rather short, I called a number on the first job ad I could find on Craigslist Shanghai, had a phone interview with an Australian guy with a small school, and not long after that I had a job and an apartment. The visa application did of course require a lot of paperwork and some research. When I arrived in Shanghai, I started working merely hours after getting off the plane. It turned out that the apartment my boss provided me with was a bit of a dump (and very cold), so I moved to a 2-bedroom flat in Zhongshan Park pretty soon after arriving in China, with the help of friends who had lived here for a while.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

I don't think I've violated any big cultural taboos here in China. I do have a girlfriend from Shanghai and sometimes spend time with her friends; they are all very Westernized so I don't really think about the cultural differences. Regarding the language I sometimes think it's a bit of a shame I cannot converse with people here, (especially the nice shop assistants in my local Family Mart and the occasional chatty cab drivers), in those situations I wish I knew more Chinese.

You have 2 jobs in Shanghai: how was the job search? Any advice to share with the other members looking for a job there?

Regarding jobs, there are many ways to get jobs in Shanghai. For teaching, it's a no brainer; websites like Craigslist post many new job ads every day and it's basically just to show up in a fairly presentable manner to get the job. I've never not gotten the job when being on a job interview for teaching/tutoring jobs. I'm also a PR Officer for a Swedish sourcing firm during the weekdays and I got that job through approaching the boss of that company at a Swedish Chamber of Commerce introduction event for Swedish expats. We talked briefly: I got an interview the next day and have been working there now for 9 months.
I've been to many social events, like the chamber of commerce events and expat mixers. What really changed my life here in Shanghai was when I started going to the Swedish chamber of Commerce events here in Shanghai. Most nations have chambers of commerce: that's my best recommendation for making friends and possibly finding jobs - it immensely improved my Shanghai experience.

What surprised you the most in Shanghai?

I had adopted a kind of "ready for anything" attitude before arriving in China, I knew it was gonna be crazy and different here and really braced myself for the cultural impact. Still, there are a great number of things that I still find remarkable about China, they are so many I have to show them in bullet points:

- The lack of personal space, (I've been rammed at Tesco by old crazy women with shopping carts more times than I can count)

- How Chinese people get aboard any moving vehicle. There's always a nervous energy in a group of Chinese people when getting aboard, say a train or a boat or the subway, even if they have tickets with seats. In Hangzhou I saw an old Chinese man almost slip on the railing of a boat and fall into West Lake to get a seat on the boat even though it was virtually empty.

- Subway manners. This is connected with the point above, many Chinese people do not let people get off the subway before they start running straight into the people trying to get out.

- Old Chinese women. I'm terrified of any Chinese woman over the age of 50. It might be the effects of the cultural revolution, Confucianism went out the door, and, to put it politely, new manners and ways of acting and interacting was adopted. You have to see a group of Chinese women in action to really know what I'm talking about here, I won't describe this further. Experience it at your own risk !

- The noise level in China. Endless construction sites, power drills, excavators; it's never quiet here. When I wake up there's 2-3 construction sites, or apartment restorations around me, they start drilling in concrete 7 in the morning. When I come to the office, there are possible 4 different sites with construction scattered around the area - the power drill noise follows me wherever I go. Of all the places I've been to in the world, China is by far the most nosy and this what bugs me the most about living here.

- How Chinese people are absorbed by their cellphones. I think it's safe to say that the cellphone use has spiralled out of control in Shanghai. I understand that the subway is a gloomy place and reading or playing games with your phone during train rides kills time - but many people cannot walk from a to b without staring into their phone, and this behavior continues during lunch and dinner and whatever. I think all genuine quality of life, interacting, staying present, witnessing people and situations, are completely lost when you are so absorbed by a little screen.

What do you miss the most from Sweden, your home country?

- How Chinese people spit. Not the fact that they spit, just how they clear their throat before spitting.

- The Great Firewall of China. All the work with VPNs and whatnot does get a little tedious, internet works very poorly in China. Except of course if you use Chinese websites like Baidu and Youku. Problem is, they are all in Chinese. Not so user friendly to foreigners.

- Chinese people's relationship towards nature. Chinese people seem to dread nature. They treat it as something to take a photo of (while under a big umbrella, even though the sun is out), and/or throw garbage in. I never felt that Chinese tourists ever felt any amazement about the beauty of nature, even in very scenic places like Guilin and Huangshan mountain, which is kind of sad.

- The love of speaker voices. This is connected to the noise issue, Chinese people love speaker voices for some reason. Even in "civilized" supermarkets (read: the ones not filled with crazy "ramming-you-with-shopping cart-people") like Carrefour there's some crazy speaker voices screaming about whatever you scream about at a supermarket. I personally don't know why you'd ever have to scream anything, ever, but apparently that view is not shared by anyone here.
The list can be made much longer, but this is what comes to mind out the top of my head.

What I miss most from Sweden is the silence there. Ironically, this was one of the reasons why I left, Sweden was too silent. But when you lack silence for a sustained period of time, you really start missing it. I also miss the fact that in Sweden in almost any city, you could ride your bike for half an hour in any direction and there would be nature. And lakes, and blue skies.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time I try new restaurants with my girlfriends or go out partying with my colleagues.

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