Monday, March 26, 2007
The Times They Are A-Changin'
First off, I have to thank everyone for turning up their international APBs after my blogging sort of disappeared these past several weeks. No, I have not fallen off the face of the planet, and I assure you I am safe and (at least relatively) well. There have been some major alterations in the cloth of my China adventure and they have kept me running around like a chicken with my head cut off (not much unlike those in the bucket at the Laiwu market). The situation goes something like this:

I decided, after three months of working at IMD, the Chinese consulting firm, that the experience was not quite challenging enough and wasn't teaching me enough about the fields of business that I am interested in. I sat down with my boss and negotiated a deal that would have me staying here through the end of the month to finish out my current projects, after which time I would be released out into the Beijing jungle to seek new work as I pleased. However, leaving the consulting firm was not quite as easy as it sounds. Several hurdles had to be cleared first:
1) Leaving my current apartment, which is leased in the company's name and would thus have to be vacated upon moving to my new position.

2) Dodging the heaping dose of Chinese guilt thrown my way (and let me tell you they're almost as good at it as we are). I was leaving three months into a six month commitment and, while not contractually obligated to stay on a piece of paper, we had an "understanding." Plus, I generally prefer to leave my bridges intact, as opposed to dousing them with lighter fluid and setting them aflame, never looking back, for fear of turning into a pillar of MSG (salt is just not that common here).

3) Finding a new job may not be so difficult, but when you have to deal with visas and work permits, it gets a bit more sticky.
Now, to get into the specifics (that was the short version, so if you're just checking in to make sure I'm still alive, you are officially dismissed).

First, the apartment issue. I've learned some very interesting things about myself and this wonderful city I temporarily call "home" these past couple weeks. The first is that if you're Chinese, everything is cheaper. If you're a foreigner, it's more expensive. And if you're a foreigner who speaks Chinese, you might be able to bridge the gap, provided you yell loudly enough.

When I started looking for apartments, I was browsing around That' and and even CraigslistBeijing. But somehow, every apartment I looked at was twice as expensive as the one I was living in now, with less space, and no improvement in location.

Most of the apartments that would've been in the district where I am working (Beijing's northwestern district, Haidian) were all up by Beijing and Tsinghua Universities. To give you an idea, Beijing consists of four concentric rings. (The innermost ring is actually known as the second ring rather than the first. There is no first ring anymore - it existed where the old Emperor's palace walls used to be. To give you some perspective, the second ring is now the number two line of the subway.) The apartments on the aforementioned sites were all out by the fifth ring (and still quite expensive) and I was working at the third ring - a good thirty to forty minute commute in normal traffic.

Rather than live far away in the middle of nowheresville, I decided it would be fun to live closer to the international community in Beijing (if I was going to have to commute to work anyway). As for how expensive it was, I figured there had to be some catch. Then, I received an email from a friend with some advertisements she found for apartments. They, unlike the websites named above, were in Chinese and were listed on a site called Just like with everything else, the Chinese had literally "knocked off" Craigslist. Megapixel by megapixel.

But I noticed the prices first. On the other sites, a one-bedroom apartment could be as expensive as 3500RMB per month. Here, they had two-bedroom apartments for 2500. I found several in the area I was looking to live in and went to explore, figuring that if the apartments were going to come that cheaply, they had to be in horrible condition or the size of a closet. But when I arrived, I found nice, spacious apartments in what were obviously Chinese buildings (owned by Chinese landlords and not designed in Western fashion). But they were still fairly well-kept and their locations were fantastic.

Tip: When looking for an apartment in a foreign city in which the main language is not English, look through advertisements in the native language. In a city of a billion people, only a handful of whom speak English, your odds are just plain better. Seems obvious, no? But you'd be surprised. And I can see why it would be intimidating. This past week I had to jump through the daunting hoops of signing a lease and figuring out the rent, fees, and permits for the apartment - all in Chinese! Talk about language boot camp - try yelling at a landlord about charging too much for management and service fees!

Very long story short (I know - too late, right?), I found a cute little apartment on the fourteenth floor of a building directly facing the Canadian embassy (Hey neighbors! Can I borrow a cup of sugar, eh?). It's a one bedroom just off one of the main drags, near all the international centers, two bus stations, and the subway line. I'll be officially moved in by this weekend.

Now onto numero dos. The Chinese guilt. Growing up, I always thought my own people did it best. Especially Jewish mothers. And grandmothers. But when I told my company I wanted to move on, it was like I was playing tug-of-war with their heartstrings and they were not about to let me win. Bear in mind that the challenge of my work had been declining daily for the past month or so. And yet somehow, my leaving was like America kicking off the Brits for taxing their tea. And I say, NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION FOR ME! I'm a Yank for life! I must roam free! (I sound like Dr. Seuss...Oh, the places I will go...)

I stood my ground firmly in the conversations with both my supervisor and boss. Though my supervisor was supportive, my boss ran the gamut - he was everything from grateful for my bringing up my issues with him to angry and refusing to give me any sort of future recommendation and all the emotions in between. It was as though he was going through the stages of grief. Except nobody died. And they've only known me since January. To put it bluntly, they were beating a lost cause and clinging to the dead horse's corpse (that one's kind of a jumble). But as much as I love me my lattes, no amount of Starbucks caffeine-laden meetings could buy my ambition away from me and after four days of "negotiations," they finally had to concede defeat. Because I always win. ALWAYS.

Now the third thing. Looking for a new job (which had actually begun before I announced my intention to leave) was quite a fun process because I could choose to pursue anything, preferably something completely new and international in scope. I could move to another city or try something totally wild. But there was one hitch (as there always is): my work visa.

My visa was changed to an F (business) visa when living in Laiwu and would expire on the 27th of March. Yes, like tomorrow. Now here was the very sticky reasoning behind why this was going to be tough: with the aforementioned emotional volatility of my boss, I could not entrust my visa status to their organization. I could use the new company to apply, but first I had to find a new job. And once I did that, I had to very quickly find a new place to live because in order to apply for a visa or extension, one must have a residence permit (which I did not have before because my company owned the apartment). But the main thing was, I couldn't get either document until I had confirmed acceptance of a new job. Of course, I did not want to rush the process but I had to balance my desire for my dream job with the urgency of the situation.

On the very day that I announced to my boss that I would be leaving my current position, I received the following email message from Emily, who I had been working for part-time on the (earlier mentioned) Chinese Savvy web forum:

"I'm writing to thank you for organising our event for tonight, and to apologize that I am not going to join you. Actually, I've wanted to ask you about the possibility of working with us full time. I can see clearly how much you could add to our team and our project. I hope it can be a meaningful experience for you as well. I admire your positive attitude and excellent communication skills. For that reason too, I hope you will be playing a more important role in our project. "

If ever there was such a thing as fate, this would have to be it. And upon receipt of the letter my gut was telling me it was good. So there it was. I will be starting April 2nd working for Chinese Savvy, a company that - going beyond the scope of my earlier website work - is expanding into the communications and multimedia markets (you can check out our current site at Though, once again, I will be the only foreigner working at the company, it is a young, vibrant group of smart and energetic Chinese. I can already see so many great things up ahead and will have the amazing opportunity to start on the ground floor and help build a company from its inception, forward.

The above chaos, the last of which has just today been finally ironed out, is why I have not posted on the blog in quite some time. I hope you will forgive this oversight and continue to drop by occasionally. I appreciate everyone's support and will be posting all the new exploits to come.
posted by Rachel @ 2:20 PM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
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