Chris, the man from America, and how he made friends without speaking a word

At first, Chris was sent here for job. But when his contract of three years was over, he chose to stay. Five years have passed since then, and he's still in Shanghai.

Holin’s words:

Chris didn’t tell me his age at first. “Guess,” he said while striding in a comparatively fast pace.

“Umm... maybe 40?” I guessed in a conservative way. We were walking together along Weihai Road. With a few little wrinkles on his face, the tall guy in a purple T-shirt looked fit and energetic.

About one minute later, he smiled: “I’m already over 50.” We kept walking at a brisk pace.

“Okay, see you later," said Chris, extending his right hand toward me as we came to a crossroad. We shook hands and then went our separate ways. We had made an appointment to meet for a formal interview.

We first met on the No. 71 bus when we were both on the way to work in the morning. Instead of staring at our cellphones like the other passengers, Chris looked around blankly. Then I approached him and asked if he could be my interviewee. He kindly agreed.

The next week, we met again right at the crossroad where we separated last time. Then he emotionally shared his old life in America and his new, fresh life – with a girl dog and a girlfriend – in Shanghai.

Chris, the man from America, and how he made friends without speaking a word
Holin Wang / SHINE

Chris on the No.71 bus in Shanghai.

Name: Chris Hertzler

Nationality: American

Job: Engineer

Years in Shanghai: 8

Holin: Can you share with me your most impressive moment in Shanghai?

Chris: I would have to say the day I first got here would have to be the most impressed, but I wouldn’t say impressive — it wasn’t impressive at all.

I came in on a Saturday and I was working Monday, so I had one day to rest. So I thought, ‘well that’s good, ‘cos it’s a long flight and I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ So I came in and the flight was on time, everything went well, but there was meant to be a driver waiting for me at the gate. He had a sign, my name was on it, so I went up and said, “Hey! How’s everything going?” And he couldn’t talk to me. I thought, “Oh, that’s okay.”

So, then we started driving from Pudong Airport, and he’s driving really fast, and it’s like ‘Oh My Gosh! this is a little bit dangerous.’ But everyone was driving this way. Then we get lost, so it takes a little bit of time. We get to the serviced apartment and I get checked in and they said, “No internet, no internet”. Okay, no problem. So, the driver, who actually turned out to be a really nice guy, became a really good friend later. But he didn’t say goodbye, or anything. He just was gone. It was very difficult to interact with anyone, so I decided to go out and walk down the street, not really hungry. The sun was out, it was April some time.

I went out, I was right across from Laowaijie (or Foreigners Street on Hongmei Road in Minhang District). I saw a little walking path, it didn’t look like much. So I thought I went the wrong way and there was nothing there, so I turned back and found a couple of convenience stores and people making food on the street. I thought, “Well I’m not gonna eat that, ‘cos I don’t know (if it’s safe).”

So I had no idea what I was doing yet. It was a little big nerve-wracking. So I went back and took a rest. Then I woke up and I was very hungry, but I was really, really nervous. I couldn’t find anything, didn’t see any restaurant I wanted to go. So I went back to that little store. Then as soon as I went outside I see lights are shining, all kinds of stuff and I thought, ‘that looks alright!’ So I walked down, fantastic! I saw a lot of places to eat, so I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, talked to some people. I walked back, played some pool. So, the next day, Sunday, I went right back down there. It’s just absolutely fantastic!

From that experience, I tell you, it was incredible. I met so many people, people that wanted to take me around Shanghai, take me to different places. The people are just great, not just foreigners, Chinese too. I met about three or four Chinese guys down there that were just great, good friends. The people, they’re just friendly. They didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Chinese, but mostly we just had a beer and were happy to be together. That was pretty special, pretty nice. So that was my first impression of Shanghai.

Holin: How do you usually spend your weekends in Shanghai?

Chris: I walk my dog, Mary, mostly. She's just little, she's not real small but I never expected her to... she can walk for five hours, no problem – a lot further than I can! It's good exercise! We just walk around, and it's really enjoyable. I stop at the store and get a beer and I walk and I talk to her, and I think about the week's problems and things I need to do next week for work. She's busy, listening to me. 

Holin: Wow, she can walk five hours with you! What an amazing dog. So you must have walked to many places here? Which place do you like best and why?

Chris: It would have to be Laowaijie. I’ve been to all the walking streets, pretty much. Tianzifang to Xintiandi, and Qibao, it’s a little smaller, there’s not much there actually.

I just like that whole atmosphere (in Laowaijie). It’s all restaurants and bars, that’s it.

Chris, the man from America, and how he made friends without speaking a word
Holin Wang / SHINE

Chris wore more formal clothes when we met the second time.

Holin: What do you love in Shanghai?

Chris: It’s gotta be the food! You can get any food you want in Shanghai. You can get some basic Chinese food; you can get very, very high end Chinese food; any of the Asian countries you can get food from… German, you can even get Polish food, American food. But, you know that’s what makes the world go round and it’s good, I really like that. 

Holin: Do you have something you hate in Shanghai? And do you have any suggestions to change it?

Chris: Well, just some of the dirty places that you have, they’re just not built up. They have a funny smell to them, I don’t know. On every street, that’s one of the funny things about Shanghai, is that you can walk three blocks and you would think you’re back in the same place again, if you’re not familiar with the place. Everything looks the same on certain streets and certain places, you know you can go and just walk down and, ‘Wasn’t I just here?’ There’re just some smells and things, it’s not a big deal! Every place probably has them. If you could change that, that would be good.

A lot of people complain about the taxis, but you know what? I think 80 or 90 percent of them are really good; it’s just 10 percent that aren’t, that might try and rip you off or, I’ve used my Metro card in the taxi and then it’s empty!

Holin: Compared to your country, are there any shortages in Shanghai? 

Chris: Not too many… small, piddly things. You know, one of the things I have about is the clothes that you buy. I buy shirts in Shanghai, since I’ve been here so long, and they seem to only last about two or three months, and they start to fade, the material gets really rough. And I probably pay more for them in Shanghai than I do in the US. But I can’t just throw them away, since I’ve just bought them. I don’t know why, it’s something in human nature. 

Holin: Any memory from your life that’s really impressed on you?

Chris: I’ve got a lot of memories, all good.

One day, we were living in Holland, in the Netherlands, and I was 9 or 10 years old, and it was one Thursday — I know this for sure — we got off the bus, and me and my sister were arguing on the way home, pushing and shoving each other. And every Thursday my mom and dad went to a meeting, or something — maybe it was bowling night, I don’t know — so they weren’t home and we had to take care of ourselves for a couple of hours before they came home.

So we got to the door and we got through the front door and we were arguing. All of a sudden she pushed me and I smashed though the glass, breaking the glass. That stopped the fight right there, no one got hurt but oh, we broke the glass — big trouble coming!

The following Thursday I got home from school and my sister went upstairs, and I decided I was going to kick the soccer ball. I was kicking it into the front door, and somehow, being a 9-year-old kid, I kicked it right through the window. Two Thursdays in a row, seven days apart, about the same time, broken!

The next Thursday came, my dad was really angry. So I wasn’t gonna be doing nothing around the apartment, so we had a little driveway where cars pass by, and I was on the other side of the apartment and I was kicking the soccer ball again. I kicked it up and it hit the curb, bounced across the street, rolled right up to our house, and there was a number 9 tin, it had stones in it. That soccer ball bounced and hit that can, and it went right into the window, and broke the window again. The third Thursday, another window broken. There Thursdays in a row.

So I always think numbers are very important. Things happen in threes, you know!

What does Chris want to say to his future self? Have a look! Chris is sending a message to his future self to watch ten years from now!

Filmed by Holin Wang and Joan Zheng. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Special thanks to Andy Boreham.

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