Written by Chris Shigley
Hello SierraNewsOnline readers!
SHANGHAI, CHINA — I’ve been following SNO for a month or so now, and could be one of the furthest-flung fans, having lived in Shanghai, China for the past five years.
Some folks have wondered how someone with connections in the Sierra ended up living on the other side of the world. Short answer, it started by my winning a coin flip in 2001. But perhaps I should share my connection to the area first.I moved to the Oakhurst area in the summer of 1983 and finished high school at Yosemite High School, graduating in 1985. I lived in Sugar Pine, north of Oakhurst in those days, and that remains my favorite home ever — a quiet, rustic old cabin in a pocket of private land, nestled in the Sierra National Forest on a bend of Lewis Creek.
After high school I started and stopped college several times, and worked for a couple of local businesses – AmTech Drilling, (my father was a founder) and Andrew’s Electric. I lived in and around the Oakhurst/Coarsegold area through 1994 when I moved to Fresno, still working for Andrew’s at the time. I decided to finally finish college in 1999, and moved into the Internet Technology field, working for a small manufacturing business in Fresno called CMB Industries.
In 2001 CMB needed one of its IT staff to travel to China to set up IT systems at our office and vendor locations for communication back to Fresno. There were two of us in IT who had the skills to do the work. I had seniority, but didn’t want to use that, so we did it fair and square and flipped a coin. He called heads, it was tails, and so I went to China.
It was an astounding trip to say the least. The China team had acquired a crate of used equipment and I had to take that and set up several computers and build a network with it. On top of that, the PCs were loaded with the Chinese language version, so I was setting up my laptop next to the PC and working through steps screen by screen on my laptop then doing the same on the local PCs.
I was in China for 10 days, visiting Ningbo, Shanghai and Qingdao to do varied IT setup in each city. I returned to China three more times for CMB Industries, adding more IT capability to the systems with each visit.
In 2007 I received a call from my boss telling me, “I’m going in to a meeting now, just need to know if you would consider moving to China for a couple years.”
We hadn’t discussed it previously, but without hesitation I told him “yes.” It took some time to finalize, but I moved to Shanghai with my family in January 2008, and have spent the past five years managing the IT function for all SPX locations in Asia-Pacific, which has more than 50 locations in 10 countries.
One of the greatest things about being over here has been the ability to travel and see things I never dreamed I’d ever see. Each is so different. Here are a few notes about each –
China: So incredibly modern, the amount of construction that has happened since I first visited 11 years ago cannot be visualized without seeing it for yourself. There is more subway line in Shanghai now than in London, and all of it put in within the past 20 years. As far as the eye can see, 20-plus-story buildings. Air quality is bad but getting better. The modern nature is still reserved for the Tier 1 and some of the Tier 2 cities, but progress and modernization has been happening here on an unprecedented scale. Lines/queues are generally very disorderly, with lots of shoving and line-cutting, especially in front of westerners.
Japan: Extremely orderly and clean, with a deep reverence for history and ancestors. I’ve travelled to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto — Tokyo for the modern view, and Osaka/Kyoto for the historical view. When traveling on the train from my hotel to work one day I got to see how they handle the super crowded cars — they push people onto the train to maximize occupancy, and I literally could not move when I got in. One hand pinned up, one pinned down, I tried to get a picture with my phone but couldn’t get to it. All those people on the train, and still, you could have heard a pin drop, absolute silence on the train. But Japan is SO expensive!
Singapore: I’d always heard how clean Singapore is. It’s not completely spotless like some would have you think. It is clean, but Japan is much cleaner. It is a small country, and traffic is horrendous. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to register a vehicle, since the government is trying to get people to use public transportation. The Singapore Airport (Changi) is my favorite in all of Asia.
Thailand: The land of a million smiles. Thai people are the friendliest in Asia, and there are a lot of great beaches and recreational activities available. It is one of the favorite “ex-pat” travel destinations during the holiday seasons. Very reasonable costs in Thailand, as well.
Cambodia: Incredible temples at Angkor Wat and the area surrounding Siem Reap. Incredible poverty here, with the annual per-capita income around $500, which is about $1.37 per day.
Vietnam: We visited Vietnam this year and covered the country south to north. The people are very friendly, but infrastructure is lacking and the roads are a terror to ride on. Halong Bay in the north with limestone rising out of the water is an incredible experience.
Malaysia: A large, beautiful country with a large population of Chinese. The Petronas towers in Kuala-Lumpur are an amazing sight, as is the Lankawi resort farther north.
Australia: The bluest skies I’ve ever seen — or perhaps that was because I flew down from China where the skies are rarely blue. Sydney is my favorite city in all of Asia due to the beauty of the downtown area. One can walk around the entire downtown area in a half day, taking in the Sydney Harbour bridge, Opera House, Darling Harbour, botanical gardens and the great old architecture to be seen throughout the downtown area. There is also the Great Ocean Road southwest of Melbourne that is akin to the Pacific Coast Highway. And the “Twelve Apostles” formation along the Great Ocean Road is NOT to be missed.
India: India is such a wild, vivacious, colorful, spiritual, beautiful, crazy country. I’ve been there three times and would love to visit there again. There are so many diverse cultures there that you can find another different culture literally just down the road. Some areas are vegetarian, some both, some “dry,” some allow alcohol, it’s best to just go with the flow. Traffic in India is unparalleled in any country I have visited. If a car has mirrors that fold in, they are generally left that way to keep them from getting broken or snapped off. Most cars get scarred up like old whales that have battled squid for years, I couldn’t imagine keeping a nice car there. The roads are shared by cars, taxis, buses, scooters, motorcycles, camels, camel-drawn wagons, people-drawn wagons — you name it, you’ll see it on an Indian road. The food is outstanding and of a wide variety. One downside: due to attacks in the past few years, there is a security check at each hotel, with mirrors to look under the car, the driver must pop the hood and trunk, bags are checked, metal detectors, the whole works.
Phillipines: I only went to the Phillipines for work (twice) and that is the only country in Asia where I did not feel safe. You see people openly brandishing weapons in the street — a bit unsettling. They also have armed guards at the Western hotel entrances, and check cars and bags for explosives before allowing you close to the hotel.
At this point I’ve reached the conclusion of my Asia experience. My work here is now done, and my family and I are beginning our transition back to the U.S., most likely to the Houston area. I will really miss many things about living here, but am also glad to be returning to the U.S., especially during NFL season!