jing an temple-> the bund (10.05.08 through 10.17.08)
i showed up to work the first day of work at 8:00 a.m., only to find out the business day didn’t actually start until 8:30 a.m. so i sat in the lobby and looking out the window, saw the developments of the past ten years before my eyes.
my office building is right across from pudong, once the ugly duckling of shanghai. it was now transforming into a beautiful swan, home to many of the world’s largest financial institutions and has started to develop a culture quite its own. like the little community many of my relatives had decided to move to, it would have been unthinkable a few decades ago for many shanghai-nese to live in pudong. and now, it was to be the darling of the 2010 shanghai expo.
while i work in a large office in san francisco too, the team here was so much bigger than the 10-person team we had back in sf. as one of the partners showed me around, i was amazed at how many people there were in the shanghai version of my group — 50+.
the first few days were spent adjusting to the routine there. my morning commute was as chinese as it could get, although i was fortunate enough to not have to be subjected to overly crowded buses on my short route to the office. making the ten minute walk from the bus stop to work, however, was a completely different story. streets filled with bikes, the sound of tinkering nails and hammers at work, the dusty air, spit left and right on the floor, a block with new buildings being constructed, another with the old bamboo laundry lines hanging out, and of course, the street vendors selling their dumplings, jian bing, and the like — yes, china and change. getting all the administrative tasks taken care of at work was a bit of a hassle; first, there was entering the building everyday and having to show them my passport. since the access key to the building is separate from the one to different floors, i couldn’t get to my work area for awhile unless someone just happened to be there. getting an access key took a lot of persuasion and assurance that i wouldn’t just run off and the lady at the help desk grudgingly agreed as i handed over my security badge in sf in exchange.
that was one difference i noticed between the large corporations and the home-grown chinese companies — while both are largely bureaucratic (overly in many instances in my opinion), foreign companies are more hesitant to change than their chinese counterparts. for example, chinese companies would be more receptive to trying out new IT security systems, for better or worse. on the other hand, foreign companies would undertake longer and more rigorous testing and analysis before choosing to do so. i think what partly contributes to this is that chinese companies, while they are terrified of losing face in the long run, are more bold and apt to take risks in the short term.
at work, i was lucky enough to have three great cubemates. i really liked the layout where there were no cubicles and high walls, just desks you shared which made it really easy to talk. reminded me of school again. life in the office was fast-paced, although i wonder if it’s really that much more work, or a different mentality. everyone was always running and seemingly on the go. despite this, i was able to make a few new friends. not the type of friends that you leave and will soon become mere acquaintances, but the type that you may meet many years down the road and there will feel like there was no gap, and conversation will just … flow.
there were two a-yis (kind of like hospitality staff) who took care of our floor — soo nice and always made sure the bathroom was clean, every light was on and working, etc. very much appreciated that!
the two weeks went by in a blink of an eye, and before i knew it, i was already saying my good-byes. while i don’t know when/if i will ever go back to the shanghai office, i know for certain that i would love to work there at some point in my life. even our office reflected what shanghai represented and the type of people the city attracted — globally minded, diverse, inquisitive, well-traveled, and insightful individuals from all over the world. from new zealand to milwaukee, london and paris, the stories that everyone brought with them were so unique and different. and while everyone’s experiences in china varied, there was always that love-hate relationship, and the attraction to the change, uncertainty and excitement that the country represented. as one senior manager commented:
“if you want to build a company and be part of the change, come to china. come to shanghai.“