My last Month in Shanghai

Just 2 weeks ago, I celebrated my 2nd successful year in Shanghai.
Taking up this position in Shanghai was certainly a difficult one. I had to overcome many of my "taboos". For those who knew me, I have 3 "dislikes in life" that are taboos to me – (1) I hate to be accused of things I didn’t commit, (2) I hate people who smoke in my presence, (3) I have aerophobia – I am fearful of flying.

Life is an irony – I am now doing best of what I used to hate most. Over the last 2 years, I have taken more than 50 flights – over 200 hours. And I am working in the tobacco industry. Have I got rid of my fear of flying and dislike of smokers? Not at all, I still detest people smoking in my face and I am still nervous on every flight I take.

Many headhunters asked me how I ended up working for Ogilvy in Shanghai – It is always the same answer I gave them. A wedding dinner in Shanghai changed my life (and affected many others). Back in 2006 May, I had the most comfortable life – running my own studio with a group of very passionate friends. Those were the days of love and passions. No matter how late we worked every night, every day was an enjoyment. We were a small agency but we grew a sustainable business of 2.5 years. Month on month, our accounts were growing. We had steady growth and we were working great.

Why Shanghai? Looking back at my old blogs of March-May 2006 – I needed a "change" badly. I am no longer challenging myself and I am hungry for a new adventure. Coming to Francis-Echo’s wedding dinner was more like a holiday trip with my family and friends. I have never expected to extend my career in Shanghai.

A casual chat with Francis and Hovman at the old XiangYang market changed everything. March 2006 was my 3rd trip to Shanghai – it was also that trip that I fell in love with Shanghai. (not the night clubs – but the lifestyle and weather).

Francis was telling us about a potential opportunity and asked us if we are interested. None of us took his offer seriously. I just replied I love Shanghai and really love to stay here. I still remember the last departing conversation we had at Huai Hai Road, Francis told me "Give me 6-9 months. Prepare yourself. I get you an assignment here." I casually replied "Sure. I be here."

That was it. One week later, Francis arranged a meeting between my future boss and me. It was a quick 15-minute meeting at Regent Hotel Singapore. And I was offered to fly back to Shanghai the following week for another meeting. After more than 7 hours of meetings (in 2 days) – I was offered a position. And 5 weeks later, I was here.

I remembered my 1st month in Shanghai – it was very demoralising and uncomfortable. Many times, I asked myself "what the fuck I am doing here". It was this experience that taught me the reality of separations and the preciousness of family-ties. For more than 14 months, I lived without my family and wahbiang clan. It was painful not having Elkan by my side. I felt the emptiness – Gone were our usual Sat nights at Hotel 25 or supper at Eunos Kopitiam. I missed my old brothers – Meijie, Jimmy, Yifu, Duuk and Gareth. MSN, Skype and Spaces were my connections to them.

It is ironic. The job which emptied my personal life, filled those void with the most beautiful and priceless experience. My stay in Shanghai changed a lot of my perception about China. It also confirmed many life assumptions that I had before. Being with a big MNC isn’t as grand as I thought – in fact, I concluded that my own small agency in Singapore fared much much better. It was just a different set of games and turfs. The fundamentals are the same.

Most importantly, this journey fulfilled one of my school-day wishes – that is to work with the Great Ogilvy. I love Ogilvy like the way I love Caffeine. It is a name that I strongly believe in and a name I feel proud carrying. Like what my old intern, Steven, would said – "Ogilvy is a Legend." I couldn’t agree more.

Felicia knew about this – I missed a great working opportunity with Ogilvy
back in 1999 – and it was one of the big regrets in my career path.
By fate and pure chance, I was united with Ogilvy 8 years later. And I was
glad that I entered at a good level – a role that allows me to
perform and prove my worth.

Time passed fast, in a blink, 24 months have flew by. Just when I finally settled myself in Shanghai – I was "ordered and offered" to move to Hong Kong. It was a painful 6-month struggle. For many moments, I came very close to give up the HK offer. I kept swinging "yes and no" within myself – that frustrated the people around me. Finally, last Thursday (after 6 months), I ended my struggle and signed the letter. In less than 30 days, I will be moving – From 东方明珠 to 东方之珠.

Will I miss Shanghai? An astounding "yes"! If you look back at my life over the last 24 months, you will only see images of fun, excitement and love.  I met a group of people that I want to keep as long life friends – Rebecca, Alicia, Calvin, Nick, Franklin, Clare, Angela, Hong Ai, Johnny+wife and a bunch of "Malaysian kakis".  And I am blessed to have Francis, Echo and my cousin Yei who accompanied me throughout my lonely weekends. Not forgetting my frequent visitors – Joanne, Hovman, Scott, Desmond and Kalinda who filled my house with so much joys whenever they were here.

While it is too early to say goodbye, I just want to jot down my feelings tonight. Sigh, guess it is time to start packing. This time, my new adventure starts closer to home.

4 Responses to My last Month in Shanghai

  1. mok says:

    Hey joe,I must be damn free these few days to read most of your blogs. Anyway, this one touches me. Now looking back, the ans is obvious, you make the correct move. If you are still staying in your comfort zone, you wouldn’t have so much more beautiful memories and lovely friends who make these memories with you. And i’m so happy and envy you! You are one XXXX rich guy, with so many friends around you. (as the chinese sayings goes) – 不是你拥有多少的财富,最富有的莫过于你有多少个朋友。" I needed a "change" badly. I am no longer challenging myself and I am hungry for a new adventure. "True enough, we should be constantly remind ourselves, not to be too complacent. And that what i’m doing now. Hope everything is well for you … …and who knows, i might bump into you at the airport again :)mok ching

  2. Kenneth says:

    You know what?! My fengshui master said that I would prosper if I did any form of business. It’s an idea worth toying around….

  3. Big says:

    Hi Kenneth:Haaaa.. you can take Felicia back anytime.. :)Or how about this? Start Cicada in HK and Shanghai.. mmm.. I can be your agent.

  4. Kenneth says:

    Hi Joe,
    Man…you sure can keep a good blog. Always enjoyed your writings. All the best to you & your family in HK. Pity I didn’t have the chance to visit you guys while you’re in Shanghai.
    Now, when can I have the able and trusted Felicia back in my Cicada? Haha…

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