Cesar: The man who loves hot, black coffee in the summer heat
“We can sit at a café near my home,” Cesar answered on WeChat after I asked him where he preferred to do the interview. “I know one that's super nice.”
Then we met at the super nice café the handsome Mexican picked on Yongjia Road in the former French Concession area the following week. I saw Cesar coming on a scooter.
It was a scorching hot summer day in the middle of July. Cesar appeared with a shy smile, wearing a blue jean shirt with long sleeves and long grey trousers, while I wore a short skirt with short sleeves in an attempt to keep cool. I ordered an iced latte while Cesar chose a hot black coffee with no sugar.
“Hot?” I asked, a little surprised.
“Yes — it will be healthier. Actually, something hot will be more helpful and easier than something cold if you want to cool down in summer,” Cesar answered with a low voice but with a kind of confidence that could be felt.
After the video part was done in the small garden of the café, Cesar said goodbye to me and went back to his scooter, which he bought on Taobao. I chased him out of the café, asking him to pose for a picture with his cool set of wheels.
“Sure,” he said, nodding his head. He posed for the camera and showed his shy smile again.
Name: Cesar Velazquez
Job: Founder and Managing Director of Shanghai Expat Tutors
Years in Shanghai: 5
Holin: Hi Cesar, I know you have your own company in Shanghai. When and why did you start your company, and what is it?
Cesar: I opened my company three years ago.
I came to Shanghai travelling and fell in love with the city. I want to live here, I said. So I went back to Mexico, and then I found a master in finance here in Shanghai, and while I was doing my masters, I got to know some expats and they would say, “Oh my kid needs help with math”, and I thought, “Yeah, I can do it, it’s easy for me.” So, I started teaching them and they told me I was really good, and asked why I didn’t do it as a business. Because when I finished my masters, I was wanting to stay longer, so I thought, “Okay, what can I do?”
When I was about to finish I had two options: either look for a job, or start my own business. I did get a job offer, but you know I thought the time was right to start my own business.
Right now I’m quite popular with foreign clients. We have forty tutors who are foreigners as well as Chinese, and they all work part-time.
Holin: Wow, you stayed here for five years. You must have some impressive Shanghai stories, right?
Cesar: So many, but I think the one I like is that I know the organizer for the Shanghai Rolex Masters, the Tennis Tournament — I was actually teaching his kids. So, he always invites me to the matches. But one day, he told me, “Why don’t you come here and I’ll give you passes for the restaurant”. It’s a restaurant that the players eat at. I was sitting there, and maybe two meters away was Roger Federer, who is the best tennis player in history.
Holin: That’s so cool and amazing. Did you go and ask for a together photo?
Cesar: No. They’re on relaxing time, so I couldn’t approach him or get a photo.
Another good story, with the same guy, he called me one day and asked if I wanted to go to the final. He said, “Okay, just walk to one hotel, and I’ll put you in the car to get there”.
It was for free, just out of nothing. I love it!
Holin: Yes, these are unforgettable stories, especially for a tennis lover like you. How do you spend your leisure time in Shanghai, play tennis?
Cesar: Well, now one of the favorite things is to go to the pools, there are so many here. Some of them are quite cheap, so I just go there with my friends and enjoy the sun.
I like working out outside, too. So I go to Jiao Tong University, where they have an outdoor gym where you can work out.
I’m a person who likes the sun, so whenever there’s sun, I’m the kind of person who will either go to the pool or go outside to work out.
Holin: Which places in Shanghai do you like best, and why?
Cesar: I like a restaurant that’s called “Liquid Laundry.” You should go, especially for brunch. They have a DJ in the restaurant, so it’s different. The food is quite international, but I’d say mostly quite American. They have pizzas and international food. It’s really good for brunch.
I like Fuxing Park a lot, and Zhongshan Park. For someone who doesn’t know much about Chinese culture, for example going to Zhongshan Park in the night, to watch the old people dance, it’s so nice. There it’s different; it’s not like just women; there’re men and women dancing together too, and they ask the people to dance. There’s more interaction that usual street dancers. I used to go very often, but now… it’s so fun, I like it.
Fuxing Park is just so beautiful, you can just hang out and it’s so close to my home. I love it.
Another one of my favorite places would be M50. Every time I have visitors, I take them there, because it’s quite unique as well. I used to live near there, I’ve lived everywhere! I’ve lived in four different places in Shanghai.
I like the former French Concession best, because there are so many restaurants nearby, and I like these trees that cover everything. When riding a scooter, it’s so beautiful.
Holin: Have you found anywhere in Shanghai that’s a little like Mexico?
Cesar: Yeah, here (the former French Concession) it's similar to a very nice area we have in Mexico. To have so many restaurants and bars and coffee shops and you can walk, it would have to be here, that's most similar.
Holin: Which road do you like best?
Cesar: I like a lot, but Fuxing Road, Wuyi Road, and my road is also nice, I mean Hengshan Road. I like all the trees; I am such a big fan of the trees. You know, they cross from one side to the other. You can go to so many different places in the same area without moving a lot — I love that.
And another place that I really like a lot — and it’s not that popular — is the West Bund. I go every Tuesday night to work out there running, doing some exercises, and it’s so beautiful.
Holin: Which aspects of Shanghai do you like best?
Cesar: For me Shanghai is the best city because of the people you get to know.
Just moving to China requires a lot of effort, and you have to be brave. Even in Shanghai people speak a lot of languages, it’s different, like language and culture. So in Shanghai, especially the people that live here for many years, now my friends are all here. These people are very brave and intelligent, because if you manage to live here for long, it means that you have something special. So that’s what I like. Everyone I know is interesting and has a nice story, and you can admire something in them. You get to know some super high-profile people, like CEOs, because the community of expats is so small here, so we all support each other.
I really love Shanghai, otherwise I wouldn’t be living here.
I’ve been to a few big, big cities, like Mexico City, Paris, Bangkok, New York, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Tokyo is also very, very good, but Shanghai beats them because you can have two experiences — expats, and foreigners. For example, you can go to places where there are only foreigners, and you can go to places where there are only Chinese. And in other big cities, for example at a really nice restaurant, you can feel the pressure to spend, spend, spend... But in Shanghai, you can sit in a nice restaurant for, like, four hours, whereas other cities they want to kick you out after an hour.
Holin: You mentioned that expats in Shanghai often has some excellent qualities that enable them to live here a long time. So, what do you think yours are?
Cesar: I opened my own company, and I learned the language quite fast, I think. It took me a year and a half. I can speak Spanish, English and Chinese. I’m a person that’s very dedicated. I’m very healthy, so I take care of what I eat, and I exercise.
Holin: Good! You know yourself quite well, so maybe I should also ask you your shortcomings? Just kidding, but really an opposite question for you, what do you dislike about Shanghai?
Cesar: Well, recently I don’t like the… I like the shared bikes, but I don’t like that sometimes they put so many together. When I was in Chengdu, for example, I was like, “this doesn’t feel as nice as Shanghai”, because there were so many bikes and so many scooters…
And now, with the shared bikes, you go around the corner and you see forty more bikes on the street. I use it and I think it’s super useful and nice, but I don’t like that they put so many together. That’s the only thing that I don’t like.
Holin: Yeah, this is a new problem, and I’m pretty sure that the city watchdogs will spend some effort to fix it. Compared to your country, is there anything lacking in Shanghai?
Cesar: The only thing is a shortage of places to eat after 2am.
In my country, almost any time you can go to a restaurant to eat — the restaurants are 24 hours. Here, you can only have McDonald’s, and that’s it. So, that’s one thing that I would like to see more of in Shanghai. I don’t know why they don’t have it — it would be a good business for someone if they start that.
Holin: Any impressive memories from your life?
Cesar: This question is hard! I think I have plenty but… Probably last winter when I was with a lot of my university friends, we went to Bali together. We had new year there, and we were all Mexicans, and living in different countries, but we all came together to celebrate and spend time together in Asia. There were seven of us. It was very memorable, very nice.
What does Cesar want to say to his future self? Have a look! Cesar is sending a message to his future self to watch ten years from now!