Where Does the Time Go? 5 years in China!!!

Thursday, January 18, 2007 8:51
Posted in category The Big Picture

“Shanghai = Living in a Bubble”

3 years ago, this was a the text message I received from my friend at the opening of a new bar in Shanghai. Tequila was flowing, but more than that, the euphoria of Shanghai was at an all time high. For those of us in town, we knew we were about to experience the ride of our lives, and we were right.

I write the above as today is the 5th anniversary of the day that I landed in Beijing to begin my one month language training.

The beauty of this place, and probably the most difficult part of living in China, is that 5 years in China often feels a lot like a week… while at other times, it also feels like an eternity. Either way, my plan to be here one month went by the wayside, and I am still here after 5 years.

5 years! or as my father said… HOLY SH&T!

I often tell people that we are living dog years here…. That for every one year spent in China, you live 7 years worth of life anywhere else in the world.

Shanghai is the center of the universe, the center of the fun, and like the days of Silicon Valley everyone is migrating here to be apart of it. In the words of one hedge funder I met (He had been in country 2 months)

“You gotta be here… cause if you are not.. you are not in the know!!”

Of course, that guy packed up 3 months later and went back to the States, but that statement really says it all for those who just hit town, and when I first started in Shanghai I felt like that as well.

With time comes maturity and wisdom right? Wrong!!

This is still the greatest place in the world for me right now. The constant change, the learning, the 24 hours of running, and the feeling that I am apart of something that I cannot put into words is something that keeps me up at night dreaming of things to do. There is something big going on here, and I know it … it has been the most difficult 5 years of my life… the most exciting… I have never learned so much… nor wanted to learn so much….. there are so many things to do….and I have never got so much done… unlike my life as a prairie dog in a cub farm, I feel like what I am doing is actually making a difference in someway….

While in the States I would be expected to sit in one seat, in China, I can spread out and take it all in. I can work on developing real estate investments, establish Meals on Wheels, map out a long haul logistics plan, or discuss the evolution of NGOs in China. Being in Shanghai provides access to executives, intellectuals, government officials, and hundreds of other people that would normally be out of reach. My ability and desire to accomplish things here is only restricted by the fact there are only 24 hours in a day and only 7 days in a week.

Sometimes I feel like a sadistic masochist as I endure pain that I created for myself, but truth be told, I have loved every minute of it, with no regrets, and there were not much I would change (well.. September 2006 is a time I would rather not relive)…

The hardest part of this whole game (yes.. I recognize that this is just a game) has been finding a balance, and it is a constant struggle. My parents, friends, accountant, and masseuse will all tell you that I have no balance.. I am all about work and (according to them) that is not healthy… the problem with there advice is that I find balance through my various activities and events (profit and non-profit)

Another friend’s text message summed it up nicely while holding my seat at the Elite Model party (we had a front table)… “your priorities are out of whack!”. . I was 30 minutes late already, not dressed in suitable attire (jeans and Samba’s are apparently frowned upon), and I was still on a call with U.S…. the thought of 6’2″ shangahinese models running around a room was still not enough to draw me away from my laptop.

In finance, it’s known that where there are risks there are rewards. It is one of the fundamental tenants of basic finance, and in China, that holds true as well. Everyone is running for the gold, and while some have hit 777, others have hit rock bottom. Unlike other areas of the world though, those that hit rock bottom stay here, and get on the ride again claiming that the next round would be their time… like they are buying a lottery ticket or something. For those that hit 777… it is beach in Thailand for a couple weeks and then back in the game.

Nearly everyday I reach a new high.. and a new low.. and maintaining any balance is impossible as I manage the various projects, deadlines, events, websites, and relationships that have created and hold valuable….For some it is too much, and so they leave…. For others they stick it out for 2 years before returning to graduate school … For me, I only intended to be here a month, and now after 5 years of running a marathon of hurdles, my exit is still as unclear to me now as it was 5 years ago when I landed….

With a father who started his firm around the age of 30 (Shameless plug for dad here) and my mom was equally entrepreneurial, I was wired for this. Both instilled in me the hardworking Midwest ethic, and as I watched them manage their businesses I saw that while starting a business was difficult, in time the business would offer a measure of maintenance.

In China though, there is no maintaining, the hills only get bigger, and as we have pointed out on a number of posts, this game has so much more left in it…. and that is scary, not in the imminent death scary, but in the inability to fathom how it can possibly go faster scary. It is like driving down the freeway at 120 and knowing that with a decent hill you can reach 150…

It is like that first hill on the roller coaster, you can see the 8 loops that are half way down the hill from a 3G bank, but you knew that ahead of time.. and you picked the front car on purpose. It is an addiction (or maybe an affliction) to the ride that has driven me for the last few years, it is my curious nature and the lure of seeing the “what’s next” that is going to keep me here for the next 5.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will try to put down some more thoughts as to what 5 years really means to me, and I will try to throw in some lessons learned. Don’t be surprised if I get writers block as my brain bottlenecks over 5 years worth of China …

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3 Responses to “Where Does the Time Go? 5 years in China!!!”

  1. China » Blog Archive » Where Does the Time Go? 5 years in China!!! says:

    January 19th, 2007 at 2:11 am

    […] , is that 5 years in China often feels a lot like a week while at other times, it also feels like an eternity. Either way, my plan to be here one month … – more – […]

  2. Mr. Zhong Nan Hai says:

    January 25th, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Great post bro. China is weird, coming back to this world is weirder.
    Not sure which I prefer. Right about now I am considering both
    buying a plane ticket and a pack of the locall equivalent of Zhong
    Nan Hai. On a side note, cigarettes might be the only thing to make
    a flight with a plane load of Chinese bearable.

    The last time I spoke Chinese was in a convinience store, and the last
    time I had a smoke was weeks ago. I yearn for both. You are terribly
    right that life here is slow as all hell, especially when you are
    stuck in an endless class discussing freedom of expression and
    publication bans.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that as much as I miss it, I\’m not sure
    I\’ll be back. I think of it much like smoking. I love it, but it is
    not healthy in the long term. I guess I have Quit china, ha ha..
    though I still hope to have some hope of temporary visits (social smoking?).
    The firm I work for landed some big exclusive North America
    deals with some Chinese clients, so I might be able to sneak in a visit
    in the coming years. Who knows?? If this whole domestic thing goes
    sour I might also just up and take off. I\’ll keep you posted on that.

    Anyway, I\’ll stop rambling. Always good to hear from you.

    Your bro,

  3. Sydney says:

    January 26th, 2007 at 12:26 am

    Read this piece several times over, looking for loops and gaps that would better explain my personal love-hate relationship with China and with Shanghai in particular, thinking as to how I can clearly put down my own thoughts and feelings in order to capture this time in my life, which one day I hope to look back and remember, maybe even just for a tiny specific moment of being in Shanghai without all the distraction of chaotic clutters that’s warranted by living in this place at this time….and yet still someone else’s voice sometimes just reflects more clearly as to how I personally feel…..

    Looking back at the 4 years I spent in Shanghai, so much of my old self were lost in this crazy city, yet so much more were re-gained everyday, often surprised by new discoveries of my own capabilities simply by muddling through the daily chaos of being here….but what holds true is that I know don’t and I won’t regret my decision of coming here and staying on for as long as I have…..for I am very grateful just to be able to count myself as a part of such existing time….and simply because I just can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be at this very moment…..so thanks Rich, for sparkling my thoughts and for putting down words that many of us feel but cannot put down……. =)

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