After living in Shanghai for 6 weeks alone aged 18 whilst interning at a global multimedia firm, I can conclude that I have never felt more alienated and famous in my entire life. It was a terrifying character building experience, however, looking back I have now cracked how to achieve the “Chinese confidence.”
When stepping off the plane for the first time on June 6th 2012 into a melting pot of people at Shanghai International, I immediately panicked, as I remembered I did not speak any Chinese and I had zero friends in China. Why had I come here? When eventually finding a placard with “M Armor” written in child like handwriting and surviving the 5 lane motorway back to my apartment block, I still felt no better. It was chicken noodles for one that night and certainly no Chinese confidence for me.
My daily commute involved 4 tube stops from Century Avenue in Pudong, to Linping Road over the river, as well as 300 strangers simultaneously staring at me. Occasionally a mother would pass me her new born baby to take a photo with, and sometimes if I was lucky, people touched my hair. The shock horror that my hair was not black, and in fact very white, had jaws to the floor. It was very clear that the tube to work did not install the Chinese confidence in me.
When sitting at my desk on my first day of work and being instructed to create a CRM report, I realised, I had no idea what a CRM report was, how to do it, or who it was for. I was unable to differentiate between the managers, my colleagues and the other interns, being completely lost in a sea of Chinese employees. Lunch was 15 minutes long and it was a silent affair, in which we ate noodles dangerously fast. In the evenings everyone turned to chain smoking, in order to get outside and catch some air (not that you could see the sky). There were no set working hours, however I was instructed be in before your manager and leave after your manager. There were also some strange looking goji berries next to the tea pot in the kitchen, but I was not sure if I was to eat them or soak them. I was lost in there, and I knew then, that work was not going to provide me with the Chinese confidence.
It took until day 8, when I rallied up some Americans I had stalked in my apartment building to go to a nightclub that was 270 floors high, that I felt confident in Shanghai. This was because that 8th evening, I became Christina Aguilera. I pranced to the front of the que with my long blond hair, and I got in for free whilst people shouted “Christina, its you!” The staff offered me free whiskey and green tea as well as my own VIP table. Of course, I was shocked and disgusted at their combination of mixers, they had it all wrong, but I finally had the Chinese confidence I had been so desperately searching for. Chinese locals queued by my table to get selfies and bar tenders winked at me. Everything was free, I was happy, and I was confident Chinese Christina.
So for anyone else venturing to China to work, who does not speak Chinese or know any Chinese people, I can only recommend to find a dopple ganger. Become that dopple ganger. Dress like them, dance like them, and act like them, and you will be full of Chinese confidence.