The next stop was Shanghai. Shanghai has held a special place in my heart since I first visited in 1995, when I was on winter break from Peking University. I loved my first exposure to Shanghai. My mother’s side of the family is from the Shanghai-Ningbo area, so the language was familiar to me, and the food was like home cooking.
When I was studying in China twenty years ago, I met one of my best friends, Jeff Hu, literally on the Great Wall. Jeff was also studying abroad at Peking University. Not only did Jeff and I study abroad together, we were the best man at each others’ weddings, Jeff worked with me on my first business, and he has twin girls that are only a couple months younger than Keira.
For three months, Keira’s main interaction had been with adults, so it delighted me to see her play with Jeff’s kids. Plus, I know Jeff’s lovely wife, Lina, whom he met and married in Shanghai. As a bonus, we stayed with them during our time there.
Jeff’s ayi helped with childcare and cooking. Ayi means “auntie” in Chinese, and most families call their hired caretakers by this term of endearment. Jeff and Lina lived in a nice gated high-rise with a children’s center and pool. We definitely felt we could get used to this level of comfort.
I also set up a good round of interviews and looked forward to further corroborating the pain points around managing people and creating culture that the other interviewees revealed to me. In addition to Jeff, I interviewed a handful of other ex-pats forging their way in the Chinese marketplace: a South African fruit importer, an Aussie restaurateur, and a Taiwanese video game chief. After my interviews in Korea, I also wanted to see how socially acceptable it is to start a business in China, even if it fails.
I got to run my fledgling business concept by Jeff. I highly respect his opinion because he worked at Aon Hewitt, which does a lot of HR consulting. Plus he runs his own staffing and recruiting firm. I was curious if my possible solution would also help him run his business more efficiently. I interviewed him and learned some great people management and HR ideas. I knew he wouldn’t sugarcoat his thoughts and wouldn’t be afraid to throw water on my idea.