The Halfpat Life: Amena

Friday, March 23, 2007 0:14
Posted in category The Halfpat Life
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With 15 years of China under her belt (Beijing, Shanghai, and HK, Amena’s history in China is one many halfpats are not fortunate enough to claim as theirs.

Originally posted here as a “dip kid”, she took the plunge and is working as a project manager in a creative marketing and branding firm as they build from startup into SME status. Her plans to be here are “indefinate”.

What brought her back to China this time??

Studied Asian Studies/Econ with the intent of coming back here to answer the question “What do Chinese women want and explore that (initially) through cosmetics and branding.”

Otherwise, it was for personal reasons: getting back in touch with China after living here as a child, learning Mandarin, getting acquainted with holistic medicine and healing, and understanding the ultimate Expat city as a good practice ground for starting a business (insular market).

To help folks get ready for the game, she recommends: New Shanghai, Billions, Mr. China, Shanghai Living, The Expat Mags (Shanghaist, Smart Shanghai,, and All Roads Lead to China

Language Background:

On a scale from 1 to 10, what level is your Mandarin? 8
How often do you use Mandarin in general? Daily
How often do you use Chinese language skills at work? 10-25%

Even with 12 years as a dip kid, she still studied the language, culture, or business climate prior to her return… and it was’t enough (Really puts that in perspective for those who think a travel guide and a couple travel tapes are enough)

Living in Shanghai:

Top 5 things about living in Shanghai
1) lifestyle
2) familiarity
3) witnessing the changes
4) newness
5) excitement of breaking ground in something

Bottom 5 things about living in Shanghai
1) Pollution
2) Inefficiency
3) Taxes and rules that make no sense
4) Transiency
5) Hotshot foreigners

Living in an “Old shabby apartment”, Amena’s contract offer insurance..

Amena’s recent China day:

Biking through the city and exploring an older part of the city. Finding derelict building sites that have been sitting around for 10 years b/c of bad planning and no funds to finish. Hanging out in a park with the old guys and doing exercises with them. Drinking bubble tea and eating street snacks while roaming around. Biking back home and stopping off at the wet market to pick up some fresh food and going back home to cook.

Career path:

Like most halfpats, Amena is concerned about what career opportunities exist for her if and when, but her current employer does offer a career path for her in China and elsewhere.

Do you have a business plan on the shelves? duh!
Have you ever carried 2 cards? yes.

In her current role, and through her time here, she has picked up skills to help her Start up a business…learning about how to pitch investors, building a small team, PR/Marketing

Hindsight being 20/20 … Amena would do it again if given the choice, but when asked if she would recommend someone else to make that decision, she says

Absolutely NOT…unless they got off on the masochism of it all

What keeps her in China?

The people and maybe one day, being able to understand them fully, not as an outsider.

The perks: being able to live quite comfortably here on a salary that no one at home would look twice at. The influx of the world’s best and brightest: learning from every soul that comes through to try something new.

Working with this city as a blank slate, enjoying the rawness even though it drives you crazy. Still being able to taste authenticity as the rest of the world turns into one huge shopping mall

Anything else to add?

I think we are entering a new phase for the expat/halfpat/foreigner in China where before, we were guests, enjoying brief periods of exposure to what China had to offer. Even as diplomats in 78 just being allowed back by Deng Xiao Ping; parts of the city were sanctioned for us…influence was insular.

Then there are the pioneers and scholars who are here for a longer time who have a vested interest in learning about China;
The businessman, the commercial agent, the longterm adventurer is the new commercial colonial that is not just experiencing China but CREATING it…we are adding so much influence (for better or for worse) that our perspective should no longer be that of observation and experience but proactivity.
You can see just in the past 3 years what this group has brought (perhaps more significantly the Southeast Asians, Hongkers, Taiwanese and HaiGui/HaiDai with more cultural kinship) with changing the climate here.

As someone in branding and knowing the Chinese consumer, its been hell trying to pinpoint aspirations, preferences, “lifestyles” because the shelflife of them is so damn short; product and platform sale cycles are truncated and almost not worth sending to market. EVERYTHING here is innovative…or has to be in order to create momentum in the market.

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