How does a six-month stint in Shanghai suddenly become a 10-year post? Marriage, money, career, the fast-paced lifestyle, as well as opportunities, are the key reasons more and more Australians are calling Shanghai home, writes Karen Tye, from China.
My affair with Shanghai was only meant to last five years, tops. But as every expat knows, an overseas escapade more often lasts longer than originally intended and I’m no different. Come the height of summer, I’ll be negotiating that period so commonly known as the seven-year itch.
Every time someone asks me how much longer I’ll stay in Shanghai, or when I’m moving back to Melbourne, the list of pros and cons automatically reels off in my head.
How much longer can I live without old friends and family, fresh air that hints of eucalyptus every time the wind blows and Medicare? On the other hand, I would miss Shanghai’s vibrancy and fast pace. And could I really survive without an ayi and cope without KFC being delivered to my doorstep?
Despite the well-held belief that Shanghai is a transient city, many Aussies have made the city their home away from home, staying much longer than originally planned.
According to Morry Morgan, founder of ClarkMorgan Corporate Training and author of Selling Big to China, the expat community in Shanghai has stabilized over the years.
“It’s not unusual for me to meet expats at events who I haven’t seen over the last three to five years, yet who have still remained in China. It’s at these catch-ups that I most feel that Shanghai is my ‘home’,” Morgan says.
Initially, Shanghai was meant to be a short-term venture for him, arriving in April 2001, with the intention of staying for just six months.
“I stayed because of a woman and I married her after a lengthy stretch of dating, proving that perseverance is important to success,” he says.
*Pictured right: Morry Morgan and Rio Li with son Dylan in Shanghai.
China has also brought about many successes for Michael Pross, vice president of human resources in Greater China for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
He recalls how it all began: “I was working in Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas, which was, at that time the biggest upscale luxury resort in Australia, and I mentioned to my boss that I wanted a new challenge. A week later, he called me up and said ‘I hope you’re still serious about wanting a challenge as I want you to move to Wuxi – we are opening up a new hotel there!’ I immediately said ‘yes’ despite the fact that I knew nothing about China.”
In the 15 years Pross has lived in China, 12 of which have been in Shanghai, Starwood’s presence in China has grown from four hotels to 102 operating properties, and he has been involved in each of their openings. In addition, there are another 97 hotels in the pipeline that Pross is a part of.
“I can’t see myself leaving Shanghai in the near future as, for me, all the opportunities are here,” he says. “Aside from that, Shanghai has grown into one of the most dynamic and livable cities in the world and I love the diversity of being able to walk through the backstreets with my camera to capture a few shots of the local lifestyle then turn the corner to only be confronted by one of the tallest buildings in the world. It still amazes me that such different environments are within walking distance of each other.”
Kellie Grimsley, talent management director for the DDB Greater China Group agrees that Shanghai is a gem among cities. “I love the energy of the city and the feeling that anything is possible. Shanghai has become very international and modern and there is such diversity in terms of cultures. There are so many things to do, see and experience here,” she says.
Grimsley, who has lived in Shanghai for 11 years and hails from Melbourne, studied Mandarin as part of her university degree and traveled to China at the end of second year university to participate in an intensive language program.
“I always wanted to find an opportunity that would bring me back to China and I got such a chance when I was sent on what was supposed to be a six-month career development assignment. I just had to stay, so I quit the job and found something permanent here,” she says.
Like many old China hands, she doesn’t have a fixed exit plan. “I am happy here and I still have some opportunities that I want to explore before moving on to my next adventure. Moreover, I have made some amazing friends here who have become my ‘Shanghai family’ – Shanghai is my second home.”
Similarly, Morgan still calls Australia home. “My ‘laojia’ (老家), or hometown, is still Melbourne, but since my son was born in Shanghai, and my wife is from Chengdu, and I’ve lived here for almost a third of my life, I think Shanghai makes a good surrogate home,” Morgan says.
As for Pross, he says: “I do go back to visit family in Australia, but the majority of my friends are in Shanghai and I have now spent more of my working career in China than any other country including Australia – Shanghai is my home.” ■