Saturday, November 25, 2006

Talking Shanghai Blues

Two newcomers to Shanghai share their views on making friends with Chinese people and finding loneliness in the busiest city on earth.

Panthea Lee, a 23-year-old freelance journalist, arrived in Shanghai from Canada last week. Mette Elisabeth Overgaard,32, who has a degree in Asian studies, arrived three weeks ago with her husband to take Mandarin classes and make art.

Panthea Lee

Have you found it easy to make friends with Chinese people?

A little. So far my social circle is comprised almost exclusively by other expats, because of my working and living arrangements. It can be difficult to befriend the locals because, aside from the obvious communication barrier, a letting down of guards is required on both sides. Some expats seem a little circumspect because they think they are being viewed as just walking, talking dollar signs.

But I think it is important that expats make the effort to befriend Chinese people and understand their culture. I know that some view their job in China as simply another rung on the corporate ladder and don't take the time to explore the country,which is a real shame.

Does Shanghai make you feel lonely?

Shanghai does make me feel lonely because, at times, I feel like I am surrounded by people with very different priorities than my own. Granted, many are here as a career move and so are very businessminded.Having said that, the city itself is constantly plotting how to make the next big buck. That's just the vibe here and I understand that. But the attitude I sometimes see among expats really gets me down.

As strange as this may sound, it's not being a foreigner among the Chinese that makes me feel lonely, it's being among expats. That makes me feel so isolated at times. I'm still having a great time, but the attitudes I've encountered so far have been quite alarming.

Mette Elisabeth Overgaard

Have you found it easy to make friends with Chinese people?

I am still very new to Shanghai,so my experience of the Chinese might change over time, but so far I have not made any friends, since I haven't had a real opportunity to meet the locals.

I think that expats need to network and make friends with each other first, since the Chinese already have their relatives,their jobs, and their friends. They may even be too busy themselves to make friends with an expat, or simply do not need any new friends. I have found that expats new to the city are often very active and outgoing because they have to be. This has nothing to do with being a Chinese person or a Western person, only whether you are in your home country or not.

Does Shanghai make you feel lonely?

Some might think that with money comes happiness, but it doesn't. Even for expats on large salaries, you have to remember that even the thickest wallet will not get you everything you wish for, since the language barrier is always there. So you will need communication skills, not just money, if you don't want to feel lonely in Shanghai. And even if your company pays for your taxi, you can't always get one!

Tags: shanghai, china, expat, expatriat, life,

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