Well, I’m here. Sitting in the Hangzhou office, about to knock off for the day, and feeling… well… more than a little displaced, if you really want to know. Hangzhou looks a lot more Westernised than I had expected: smarter, cleaner, and with lashings of Christmas tat everywhere, amazingly enough. Including around my cubicle, which was festooned with multi-coloured tinsel within a couple of hours of my arrival. They know how to make a boy feel welcome.
However, appearances only go so far. In all other respects, I am a long, long way from anything familiar. Every detail of my life here feels new, and strange, and frequently bewildering.
I thought I was prepared for this. Having made something in the region of thirty business trips around Western Europe in 2003 and 2004, I have become acclimatised to the unfamiliar, and to that Mr. Bean type of existence which dictates that I will pull any door marked “Push”, order the wrong food in restaurants, and lose my keys five times a day. Nevertheless, this trip takes unfamiliarity to a whole new level… and with three weeks stretching ahead of me, the challenge feels all the greater.
Unlike my usual two day trips, I can’t just breeze in and out of the country in default airport-taxi-hotel-office Eurotrash Business Wonk mode. This time, I’ve got to engage fully with my surroundings. I need to establish a routine, but not get stuck in a rut. I need to find ways of enlivening tasks which might otherwise become repetitive. I need to feed myself, but not simply by nipping down to the nearest Pizza Hut night after night. I need to forge alliances, both in and out of the office.
In particular, I need to get a good social life going, and not just shrink into the background – spending night after night in my apartment, iPod tootling away, necking cans from the supermarket and smoking comfort fags to pass the time. The easy option, but also by far the hardest path.
It’s daunting, and I feel a lot more homesick at a much earlier stage than I would ever have expected. Residual jetlag and culture shock are of course playing a major part in this. But each day things move on, falling into place little by little. The people here are more than ready to offer help, advice and company. I’m getting a grip. I just need to keep reminding myself of this.
The pithy apercus and bon mots, and all the wry observational stuff which you’re waiting for, will commence very soon. Just let me find my bearings, and I’ll be right with you.