Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Waiting and Wondering

It’s difficult to find the right words to describe how I feel right now. The waiting, the wondering and doubt swirl around in my mind. Emotions, many contrary to one another, take turns vying for my attention. This myriad of emotions has lain to waste any clear thoughts or ability to concentrate. The result of all of this is tension; immeasurable tension.

The “economic crisis” as so many have coined, is taking an entirely different toll on our community of expatriate workers and families. Our little community of 300,000 (keep in mind this is a city of 22 million) is being sent home in droves. What was once a small trickle of foreigners in and out of Shanghai, has by all appearances, become a mass exodus back to home countries.

Many people have returned to uncertainty in their home countries, while others have chosen the uncertainty of Shanghai. Those who remain here pare down and try to live a more “local” lifestyle.

Now allow me to be frank here. Most of us in this community of expatriates live lives of blissful excess. Many of us enjoy lifestyles far beyond those we lived in our home countries. We live it up, and we do so because we have been given the opportunity from a few different angles. One is from the desire to find comfort in an incredibly uncomfortable place. Pair that desire with many comforts found at a fraction of the cost and... voila! The other comes from the system we were moved into.

The system we were moved into was born, in part, out of necessity. Ten years ago, Shanghai was nowhere near the city it is today. There was an excellent reason, when moving foreigners here, that they would be surrounded by people who could help them communicate, as well as be provided with all of the creature comforts one could afford. The times have changed a bit though. And while newcomers still need much of the assistance translators and a point person for daily dealings can provide, those who have been here for a while could arguably make it on their own.

While jobs back home are being cut on a worrying scale, the expatriate community feels like a group of sitting ducks. Many are thinking of what they will do in a “worst case scenario”, and hopefully most of us are rethinking our lifestyles and the cost of all of this “expat living”.

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