Shanghai Newcomer

November 21, 2012

I have started my internship at swissnex China at the beginning of September and I keep discovering  new things every days during my Chinese experience.

In my first weeks, I have especially noticed things such as the massive size of the city (around 150 towers taller than Switzerland’s highest one…), the fact that you have to fight to get in or out of the metro (you really do), that my life expectancy when crossing the road is much lower than in Switzerland, that the food is cheap and good, etc.

WeChat, Chinese messaging application

WeChat, Chinese messaging application

When I got used to those changes (the most obvious ones), I have started to discover new smaller things. For example, when I was strolling around Shanghai’s streets, I started to see some people facing their phones and speaking to it or others shaking it compulsively… I started to wonder what were these people doing?!  I quickly got an answer to my questions: WeChat. This mobile application is the Chinese version of Whatsapp, which has some special features that the Western version doesn't have (yet?). First you have the voice messages, which allow the users to send direct vocal texts to their friends (which explained the people facing the phone), then you have the “look around” option which allows you to check other WeChat users using this option in a large perimeter around you (around 1km): Check their pictures and if you feel like it, entering into contact with them by sending a greeting. Last but not least, you have the “shake option” which will look for other people shaking their phone at the same time, for you to chat with them (which explains the compulsive shakes). With this application, nobody can complain anymore that it is hard to get in touch with locals when you know there are around 200 millions users worldwide!


During my first days here, I went, like many foreigners, to IKEA to buy my bed sheets, towels, pillows, etc. After realizing I forgot to buy most of the things I need and because I was not very up to go for a new trip to IKEA (you can count 1 hour of metro for the round trip), I asked my ABC (American Born Chinese) flatmate where I could buy things I need in the neighborhood. His answer: “Check on Taobao!”.  Taobao is the Chinese version of Amazon, which is widely used in China and where you can find approximately anything you need. To illustrate it, I recently thought about organizing a fondue with some Swiss and Chinese friends. Where to find the Cheese? Where to find the “caquelon”? Answer:  “Check Taobao!”. At my big surprise, I could indeed find all the cheese needed or great Swiss style caquelon on this website. (And I have to thank two friends from Switzerland who kindly brought me some Swiss white wine bottles when visting me).

Shanghai (and China) being so big and the culture being so different from Europe, I will for sure keep being surprised by new things on a regular basis!

Zai jian

Yìdàlìbǐsà in Shanghai!

I have been in Shanghai at swissnex China for one month now and I have been learning Mandarin for almost a year. Of course it is still a huge challenge, because of the difficulty of the written language. But out of my personal experience I can tell you, it’s not as hard as you might think in the beginning.

Every morning I can either dǎdi (打的 it's a verb) or ride a mótuōchē (摩托车). Usually I just take the bāshì (巴士), then I can pick up a cup of kāfēi (咖啡) on my way. Actually they also have great kǎpǔqínó (卡普琴哦),  happiness in the morning is guaranteed.

It is very crowded in the metro and people are really stressed in the morning. That is not typical Chinese, usually they love to joke around and have a great sense of yōumò (幽默). But at least there is always someone playing music in the train stations, just like in Switzerland. But they don’t use a western jítā (吉他), they are playing the Asian instruments.

People here have access to the Internet everywhere. Chinese are online all the time and just like us Westerners, they love to write their own bókè (博客). The first thing I did when I arrived at the airport – buying a SIM kǎ (SIM卡) for my phone. But with the Internet I always have to watch out with my passwords, because the Chinese are infamous for their hēikè (黑客), they can access every system.

So I am already tired when I arrive in office, but during lunch break I can refill my batteries. You can order hànbǎo (汉堡) from màidāngláo (麦当劳) or like back in Switzerland just a real Yìdàlìbǐsà (意大利比萨). The women in our office obviously don’t like these kind of food, too many kǎlùlǐ (卡路里) and not enough Wéitāmìng (维他命).

Nonetheless they obviously love Swiss qiǎokèlì (巧克力), kěkǒukělè (可口可乐) and shìduōpílí (士多啤梨) ice cream. But usually they go for the sàlā (萨拉) or a simple sānmíngzhì (三明治), it’s healthier. I love to order Paella, just like in xībānyá (西班牙) or a spicy Indian gālí (咖喱).

You can get everything here, the latest fashion trends all very módēng (摩登). It’s a women’s paradise, xuèpīn xuèpīn xuèpīn (血拼血拼血拼)! I don't really care, I just need to buy a T-xùshān (T-恤衫) from time to time.

Of course people also know módēng (摩登) Western art, everybody knows the famous painter Babóluō Bìjiāsuǒ (巴勃罗 毕加索). Also classical Western music is famous, just ask about Mòzhātè (莫扎特) or Bèiduōfēn (贝多芬),people know them.

In the evening when you go for a drink to a dísīkē (迪斯科) with loud music, you can order all kind of Russian fútèjiā (伏特加). But there is still some French influence here in Shanghai. You can go to a shālóng (沙龙 ) and sit on a shāfā (沙发). But sometimes I am just too tired and then I go home to watch a silly Luómàndìkè Hǎoláiwù (罗曼蒂克好莱坞) movie.

As you can see there are so many English loanwords in Mandarin. In the area of linguistics it is a very deep topic. There are many words, that were transferred from a European language to Mandarin. This very complex topic has one good aspect for a language learner: I have no problem to communicate about the most basic things in my everyday life!

Stay connected with us, next week Romain from the French speaking part of Switzerland will write about his experience here in Shanghai.

bābāyī (881)!