American as apple pie

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/14 18:08:39

New book spotlights stories of success about Shanghai expats from the US

People profiled in the book and special guests at the book launch Photo: Qi Xijia/GT

There is a group of Americans here. They came to Shanghai decades ago driven by curiosity to explore this new land of opportunity. They came with no clear idea how long they would stay but ended up rooting down in the city, creating successful careers, starting families and hustling on the bustling streets of Shanghai every day, just like locals. Their stories are included in the newly published third volume of Americans in Shanghai, a book series issued since 2013 that captures interesting stories about Americans residing and living in Shanghai, their contributions to the city's development and their role in strengthening people-to-people exchanges between China and the US.

The 10 individuals featured in the third edition of Americans in Shanghai, published by Shanghai Institute of American Studies, included successful business professionals from multinational companies and renowned figures in education, culture, sports and the arts. What are the stories behind their successful careers here? How do they view the changes that they have witnessed in Shanghai over the years? What advice do they have for newcomers? The Global Times sat down with some of the people profiled in this book to hear their stories firsthand.

What is most common about these individuals is that they are not restricted to their comfort zones; they are willing to explore the city, discover its potential and participate more in the local culture, either within or beyond their professional field.

For American musician Alec Haavik, who arrived at the city in 2005, his most unforgettable experience was having his childhood suit remade in Dongjiadu, the original location for the city's fabric market. With no idea what Dongjiadu was like, he was amazed by what he saw around him.

"I was cold because there's no ceiling and there were all these wonderful fabrics everywhere and people that are just ready to make anything, any kind of clothing that I came up with. The first thing I did was make a suit which was modeled after the first suit I ever owned," he said.

His parents gave him the red-plaid suit when he was 5 years old. He always treasured the clothing's symbolism and dreamed of having it remade.

"That was a big moment for me. It was like a dream come true. And from then on I started a long standing interest in having clothes tailor-made, both because they fit better and also because to enjoy all these wonderful fabrics and patterns," he said.

Jonathan Woetzel, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, arrived in the city in the mid-1990s to take a leading role in the company's newly established Shanghai office. Decades spent developing strategy and structures for companies and government entities left him with many unforgettable experiences witnessing Shanghai's rapid rise to modernity.

Among them, the time he spent with students at a migrant school in Minhang district on Saturday mornings is something that he will always remember. He would select Chinese folk stories for them to read out loud, teach them the meaning behind Chinese traditions and ask them to draw a picture of themselves at the age of 20, something they were never before asked to do.

"I worked with children aged six to 10 to understand how they experience Shanghai, how they learn about the city and how to help them become Shanghainese, to become part of the city. For me, that's something I'll always remember," he said.

Alec Haavik Photo: Courtesy of Shanghai Institute of American Studies and Guo Yucheng

All that jazz

For others, the most unforgettable experience has been to start a family here. James Scott arrived in Shanghai in 2009, leaving his job as assistant strength and conditioning coach of Houston Rockets to help guide one of Shanghai's best loved sports team, CBA's Shanghai Sharks owned by Yao Ming, as its performance director.

The eight years he has spent in the city not only forged his career but also resulted in the birth of his son. "That was an unforgettable time for us. We were a little bit unsure, we were the first extension of our family that had a baby outside of the United States.

"In about three or four weeks my second son will also be born in Shanghai. Our circle of friends and family in China is as strong as it is in the States so, by far, that's the most unforgettable experience that I've had in Shanghai," Scott added.

Since relocating to Shanghai 12 years ago, Haavik has committed himself to the revival of Shanghai's jazz community. Haavik said that, in the past, he found there was a very limited frame of reference for young saxophonists in Shanghai. When he asked them what kind of music they liked, the answer he got was always "Kenny G."

"Now here we are 10 years later and the interest and the knowledge about the jazz tradition, jazz culture and the great influential jazz musicians is tremendous. So, now young guys are into a lot of the same stuff that I was into when I was their age and a lot of the new great artists who have come since then," he said.

This sentiment was echoed by Barbara Edelstein, a sculptor, multimedia artist and arts professor at New York University Shanghai, who has seen much development and growth in the local art community as well as an influx of the international art community.

Edelstein is referred to in the book as "the daughter-in-law of Shanghai" because she married into a Shanghainese family. She first set foot in Shanghai in 1997, coming with her husband to visit his family. She recalled that when she first came to the city, there were only 15 galleries in the town; now the figure has exceeded 200.

"Of course, the Shanghai art community was always very sophisticated, very developed and very interesting. Shanghai has a very long history of artists, but now, to bring in the international to the point where the international art crowd wants to come here to see artwork is very interesting. From the Shanghai Biennale and all the different art fairs to all the galleries, there's been a huge development," she said.

Barbara Edelstein Photo: Courtesy of Shanghai Institute of American Studies and Guo Yucheng

Cultural immersion

From his office Woetzel has had a front row seat to Pudong New Area's skyscraper boom. Witnessing this growth, he is most impressed by Shanghai's ability to handle a large influx of millions of people.

"I just think that the ability of the city to grow, to increase its population from 10 million to 24 million while maintaining social stability and a high standard of living is the most impressive thing," he said.

The number of Americans in Shanghai has been growing as well. The sixth national population census of China recorded 593,832 foreign nationals residing for at least three months in China; 71,493 of them were from the United States, making it the second largest source-country of foreign nationals, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics.

Asked what advice they would offer newcomers to the city, these veteran expats suggested that cultural immersion and enjoying one's self are the best ways to get to know Shanghai.

"Be a part of the city. Learn about the city. Have new relationships. Go biking in the city. Teach. Enjoy. Have fun. Just get to know the city, don't stay by yourself. The city works when you are a part of the city," said Woetzel.

"My advice would be the same as if you go to any place that's outside your country, if you go to a new country you always try to observe how things work there and try to adapt yourself to the environment," Haavik added.

James Scott Photo: Courtesy of Shanghai Institute of American Studies and Guo Yucheng


Jonathan Woetzel Photo: Courtesy of Shanghai Institute of American Studies and Guo Yucheng



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