Unlike popular belief back in India in those days India was not that far behind China in infrastructure or development and prosperity. I had a sense of the difference between India and China and what to expect when I landed in that country for the first time. But nothing can prepare you for the full impact until you see it with your own eyes. Travelling from the airport to my residencethe experience was overwhelmingly world class. The question which puzzled me many times before haunted me again - why had we not been able to do this in India This time the urge for finding an answer was much higher.
I have now been residing in China for 4 years. During that time, I got married and became a father couple of years ago. My personal experience has been very nice living in this country. The small Indian community has a strong sense of bonding and we socialise frequently. Being a small community gives you a sense of closeness which you often miss in the United States or even in Hong Kong which now has second and third generation Indians living there and who have very little in common with other Indians.
The Indian community in the Chinese capital is called ICB or Indian community in Beijing and we try to meet almost every month over dinner or outings on weekends apart from regular celebrations during Diwali, Navaratri or Holi. Most of the Indians in Beijing work for multinationals. Few work for Indian companies. Most of the Indian IT companies set up their first shops in Shanghai. Surprisingly you will find many multinationals hiring Indians in expat positions and senior roles to run their China operations.
The lifestyle for a well-earning expat in any major city of China can be world class. The cost of living can be easily as high as living as New York or London, if not more. China has created a parallel universe for expats to feel at home. This universe includes best that is available in the realm of housing, schooling, healthcare, shopping, groceries, nightclubs and restaurants. The choice may not be as wide as back in India, but if you throw in unique advantages of being in developing world such as affordable house help or driver, it more than makes up for it.
Foreign investment has played a catalytic role in Chinas economic marvel. Every foreign investor or company tends to place someone senior from the headquarters to safeguard and monitor investment. That person and how comfortable his experience in China has been go a long way in determining the future and quantity of future investments.
China does a fantastic job of making this layer of corporate decision makers life more than comfortable. We still have to learn a lot from them. India attracts much of the foreign investment in the form of FII which is volatile and does not have any technology transfer element to it.
Working in China, when you are new, can be quite challenging. When you are not familiar with the culture and cannot speak any Chinese, you will find tons of volunteers, eagerly wanting to help you navigate through the local way of getting things done. You can find people -- or more often than not, people will find you, to help get your visa done, register your company, find a local partner and even propose a joint venture in the first meeting you have with them.
Once you have been about the block, picked up a bit of Chinese, you no longer qualify as a needy foreigner and find yourself alone to battle the local systems.
Mastering Chinese is not essential if you do not deal with local companies or the government, however, making an effort to learn a bit of it can have a marked improvement in quality of your personal life. You feel like a semi-local and the locals appreciate the effort put in by you to blend in their system. Suddenly, you find the options of restaurants, shopping centres and friends increase dramatically even if you are just able to converse enough to get around the city.
Taxi rides become enjoyable since the cabbies in Beijing love talking to strangers. You also do not end up dialing your secretary from a supermarket to get her to ask someone where they keep salt and sugar. Its a misconception that surviving in China is difficult if you are a vegetarian. Agreed that the concept of vegetarianism is not very popular here, but it is not that you cannot find vegetarian food, it is your inability to communicate that well in a restaurant in local language which makes it difficult. Once you speak a bit of local language, you can virtually walk into any restaurant, baring hotpots and specialty meat restaurant, and order veggies the way you like it and get it cooked exactly the way you want it. Chinese people are very hard working and disciplined. You do not see them arguing endlessly like we do in India.
My wife, Arpita is currently pursuing her MBA through correspondence along with taking care of our 2-year-old daughter, Ruhi.Ruhi is picking up Chinese faster than English or Gujaratimy mother tongue.
The author is business development manager and head, Beijing branch, Infosys