25 November, 2013

Shanghai Sagas – Of Couchsurfing and Co-Working

‘There’s something special about this place. We all come from different parts of the world, but we are all bound by a common thread. That we are all outliers, we are alone. And in being alone, we find our community.’

As Tatia said these words, we agreed that there was indeed something very special about this city. In all of Asia, this was one city with the most number of expats. Yet, with so many Chinese living in the same place, the foreigners were a very small fraction.

While most people will find a problem with this model, Shanghai finds opportunity. Everyday, dozens of events are organized where fellow expats come together with an open mind, following one common culture – the culture of the world. Be it the Serbian girl with the green hair, or the American-Iranian who wears shorts to an MBA class, or the young Croatian who fell in love with a Chinese guy and married him; you can find them all in such events who’d respond when you say a “hi”. Who would tell you what drew them to Shanghai and what they are looking for in life.

Not many are looking to stay. But everyone who comes with an open mind learns. Whether what you want is opinions for a Global start-up, or learning a new language, or friends to play monopoly with, or simply a good brunch. Look around and you’ll find people organizing such events (a lot many times free of cost) just to meet new people. You’d find the US-born-Chinese who has problems adapting into the Chinese culture now, you’d find the Austrian girl who just wants to talk about a particular TED talk she found interesting, you’d find the British girl who seems shy at first, but can pin you down if you’re being sexist.

I cannot help but mention C3 Café here, one of such establishments which routinely organizes events for expats like me who don’t prefer going to a bar every other night. Every night of the week, there’s a start-up pitch, a comedy night, a TED event, a brunch day, a board-game night, and a lot many innovative events where you can just walk in and most likely will find a person who’s willing to strike a conversation with a stranger. Of course everyone doesn’t like everyone and of course there will be some racist bastard who’s just there for the free air conditioning and wi-fi. But for the most part, the place is as open as any can be. It’s good to know that there’re always people who think they are traveling through the journey of life and every new experience is just another part of the great journey. When I leave Shanghai, C3 Café would be one of the places which will bring a smile to my lips.

And this is not the only such place here. Given that China, and particularly Shanhgai is the world’s biggest urban market, hordes of people come in with new ideas everyday looking for investors. Every day, there are hordes of start-up meets where you can walk in and present your idea. Mostly, you won’t find someone willing to invest. But you will always find valuable feedback. And you’ll realize that the world isn’t as bright as you’d expect it to be.

Once in Shanghai, expect to find all kinds of cultures coming together. Expect that most of them don’t care about your personal beliefs. Expect that you all are looking for the same thing in life. Expect that no matter how strange you might be, you’ll find people who share the same interests. And expect to touch the world, like you’ve never touched before. 

Welcome to Shanghai!