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Shanghai – Week 02

I`ll start this week`s letter from where I left off last Sunday,

Part 4. Job


The first day I was supposed to get to work at 10:00 for the orientation. At 9:20 I got out of the subway station and I was on to work. I had the address written down on a piece of paper, in Chinese and I had full trust invested in the Google Maps solution to my problem. So with those two in hand … what could go wrong?
Well … for starters … EVERYTHING.

So I get to where I taught the place should be, and there was no sight of a nice fancy architecture building in sight. So I start asking around. For 25 minutes I was sent back an forth in between two major streets by people that had no idea where my address was.

Eventually I cracked down and phoned the number on my paper, next to the address. In my head I was calling the contact at the immigration company. In reality I called my soon to be boss. He was the contact number written on the paper.

Told him where I was (not far from the actual place) so in 10min he was there to pick me up. I was still under the impression he`s the guy who handled our papers for China, so the conversation that followed was pretty awkward for him, as he had no freaking idea about was I was rambling about … and (of course) I taught that he knows all about it.

We finally get to the office, and he puts his phone on his desk. That`s the moment I figure he`s not leaving very soon, so he must be working there. The puzzle was complete.

I was assigned to a 2 people team project the first day. Nothing hard, some pavilions with the concept already set. (the Tangram) The thing that scared me was the deadline. At first they said it has to be done in 12 days. But after 2 days the deadline moved to the end of the week (less than 3 days) … so I freaked out a bit. Thursday afternoon (the day before the deadline) we got a memo that said “meeting cancelled, deadline next week”. So I got a good night sleep on that evening.

UA China is a big architecture company that`s focused on residential architecture. It`s their moneymaker. It covers more than 70% of the business. The rest of ~30% is public buildings. That`s where I step in. The company is split into 8 divisions. Seven of them have 40 employees each and they just do residential. We are the underdogs. Our division had 5 people the first day I got here, and now we are 8. And I`m the only westerner here. It`s pretty cool because I get to learn Chinese faster than other people. It`s not that cool because they only speak Chinese. They all understand English at least at a basic level, but it doesn`t come natural to them to speak it. My boss is at the same time a co-worker in this division so everything is really nice so far. As long as my English is at a slow pace, everyone is happy. 🙂

Fortunately for me the company offers lunch and dinner on the house. Not the best Chinese food in the world but some days is really good so I forget about the bad ones. Also in-between meals we get fruits, every day different fruit and then repeat… We had some fruits that I had no idea how to eat, and made a fool of myself but that`s ok. 🙂 It was bound to happen. I was bound to be the group`s entertainer.

The offices are always kept clean and we have almost everything we need … except internet access.
Coming from 10+ years of daily internet access, I found this thing to be a little disturbing, and I must say I found it hard to get used to. Searching for Sketch-Up models is out of the question now, and I have to get around by using the offline library. Music now has to come from my iPhone, and I can`t access MixCloud anymore. And the worst part: if I want to research something online I have to move my ass to the only internet enabled computer in the office. It has only Internet Explorer … IN CHINESE ! Then i have to figure out how to get the information down using only google.com.hk and then send it to my computer via the intranet messaging system. (and it doesn`t work all the time). It`s not very productive and it will take some time to adjust to.

Part 5. More about the food


By now we have learned to figure out what dishes are vegetable based and which have meat. We also figured out where to eat when hungry and poor, and how to stay away from spicy food.

At work I get two meals every day but overall they have room for improvement. Rarely we get something that` s drop dead tasteful and usually it ends in a heartbeat. We eat a lot of vegetables (known and never seen before) and there`s rice every meal.

The soup is not that great either. We could easily convert every Chinese to our style of making the soups.
Most of the time the noodles come in a lot of “water” with some meat in them, but the probability of that meat being bone-less is so small, that I rarely order them. So fried noodles it is then!

Shanghainese food is supposed to be sweet and sour but I hardly ever tasted it so far. I`ll have to keep an eye out for it.

Part 6. The Fake-Market

Last weekend Irina needed to buy a large suitcase to travel with abroad so we headed to one of the fake markets.
It`s no different than our regular market except people are desperate to sell something. They throw themselves at you in hope you`ll actually buy something. They even carry children in their arms just to soften you up.

A lot of foreigners visit the fake market and we stand out like elephants at the zoo; so it`s because of this most of the sellers know a few words in English. How else are they going to scam the people looking for a bargain? 🙂

Rules at fake-markets

Rule #1: Go when you don`t need anything at all. It will make you a better negotiator.
Rule #2: Always have small bills. This way you don`t have to wait for change.
Rule #3: Ask the price of the item and offer 10-15% of what you hear. You`ll make them drop their price to half of what they first asked.
Rule #4: Don`t buy the item just yet. Start walking away slowly like you don`t care. They will come after you with a lower and lower price. When satisfied with the price, buy it.
Rule #5: Never pay more than 25% of the original asking price. There`s always someone with the same item that will sell for less.

Top Tip: Never buy electronics that cost more than 20Y. Not worth the trouble.

In the next letter:

Part 7. Getting by with just the iPad
Part 8. Photography with whatever I have on me
Part 9. Why we miss Romanian (European) food … and what to do about it.

Until the next time, you can check the Picasa Album of the trip. If the weather is good I will update it 3-4 times / week, and it will build up to have more pictures than what I post on the blog.

See you soon! 🙂

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