Colin from Canada found his warmth through Shanghai's cold winters
Before I met Colin, I first met his Shanghainese wife, Nicole Li, who started naturally chatting with me about her naughty boy and girl. She arranged everything for the interview, including the time and place.
Then I saw Colin, a thin, tall Canadian man with a mustache in a co-working space, where their own real-estate company is located. After the thoughtful man intuitively made me a coffee, we went to a meeting room Nicole booked and started our interview.
Compared to his talkative wife, Colin seemed relatively shy. But sometimes he would surprise me, opening up more than I expected.
“Shall we go to your office to take some photos for you?” I asked after the interview.
“No, it’s too small,” Colin replied. “I will show you around the space, we can pick another spot that's more suitable.”
He found a beautiful corner and gave me a big smile — he knew it was just right.
Name: Colin Bogar
Job: CEO in Property Passbook
Years in Shanghai: 9
Holin: I know that you married a local girl, and have a sweet family here now. Do you still remember nine years ago, and why you picked Shanghai as a place to live?
Colin: I came to China in 2007 for the first time, almost ten years ago. That was to Beijing and Shenzhen and Hong Kong, and I wanted to learn Chinese so that ruled out Hong Kong, and Beijing still had winter and I wanted to avoid winter. So I thought that I looked at China like North America, and thought that Shanghai mustn’t have any winter. I was very surprised when November and December came, I had a problem in winter clothes.
Seriously I chose Shanghai because it’s the financial center, and it’s the business center. I was attracted to China because I thought, economically, China was an interesting place to be, so that’s why I chose Shanghai. It was the economy that excited me.
Holin: So when you first came to China, you came to learn Chinese, right?
Colin: No, I sought a job here after I finished my Master Degree. I was 25 or 26 when I came to Shanghai. I can speak Chinese at that time. So I basically study Chinese at night while work at day.
And I have been to China before which was before the financial crisis. I was concerned what was happening in North America’s economy, and I thought why not come to China?
I think I was probably a bit naive about how difficult the language was. I began to learn the language as an adult. I speak Chinese okay now, but it’s really a lesson in humility. It’s a challenging thing to do. But at that time, I thought I was smart. It’s almost like I wanted to prove I could do it, but the real interest in China was around the economy.
Holin: Yeah, you made me realize how lucky I am as a native Chinese speaker. Any interesting or impressive story about Shanghai?
Colin: Generally speaking, Shanghai is an interesting city in so many ways.
I think, to begin with, the age of the city is fascinating, compared with everywhere else in China. It kinda looks like a North American city, that’s kinda what the old North American cities look like.
I find it fascinating, probably nowadays, compared to Hong Kong and Singapore, is just how many smart young Chinese people are moving here, and what the dynamic is going to be after that.
I’m always very impressed by the transportation system, and most foreigners have nice things to say about the subway system. When you compare it to most other metro systems in most other cities, it’s very impressive. It’s an interesting and unique place, there’s no other place like it.
The reality is that Shanghai is the future and what you see in places like Hong Kong and Singapore is the past.
Over ten years, it’s been interesting to watch Shanghai develop. I work in the real estate industry, and when I came I had a very foreign perspective. Living here I changed my views on a lot of things, particularly real estate development. It’s actually very impressive how China and the Chinese system develop real estate, which is one of the biggest problems for other developing countries.
The way China has developed its cities and how they pay for that development is very unique, and there’s a lot that the Western world can learn from that.
Shanghai became a very developed, very organized place very quickly, especially for a place with so many people.
One of the things with Shanghai, compared with many other cities, is that Shanghai benefits a lot from the international aspects of the city. Because Shanghai has a lot of historical buildings and neighborhoods, the city still has a lot of flavor. That’s the problem when you go to second tier cities in China is that they don’t have a lot of flavor.
Holin: Wow, thank you for sharing so many personal views and feelings on Shanghai. I'll give you an easy question: How do you spend your weekends in Shanghai?
Colin: Well I’m married and I have two children, so my weekends are very family oriented. We live in Nanxiang, and we have some very nice parks, like Guyi Garden.
We really like the Natural History Museum which is a really world-class attraction, and the zoo, Disney, the other animal parks in Pudong.
I do live in the suburbs and I do like living in the suburbs, it’s very peaceful.
Before I was married, I was still living with my wife, or girlfriend at the time. Shanghai has really good restaurants, both Chinese and international food and so. We’d go for dinner on the weekend, try something new, and there’s always new things opening. You can usually find a deal somewhere! I wasn’t making a lot of money at that time, so back then I was always keen on deals. I think, aside from that, just normal stuff. Nothing too exciting!
Holin: Yes, people will always have different lives before and after kids. Then which place in Shanghai do you like best? And why?
Colin: Shanghai has a lot of really nice areas. Some of the areas that are less explored are very interesting, especially if you’re walking around on the weekend and you’re in the middle of this giant city, it’s really fantastic.
As far as restaurants, one I really like is Di Shui Dong, it’s a classic for foreigners, it’s Hunan food.
As far as Western food goes, it’s hard for Western restaurants here, they change very quickly. I think having lived here a long time, there’s so much more variety for Western food compared to ten years ago.
I don’t necessarily want to eat a lot of Western food, a lot of Western people like to eat more Chinese food, and they’re expecting the food to be closer to Chinese food in North America. But Chinese food available in North America is like a mix between Guangdong food and McDonald’s. Combined with the fact that a lot of restaurants don’t have menus in English and it’s complicated, sometimes they don’t want to experiment anymore.
I really like to eat Chinese, and there’s a lot of outstanding Chinese food. One of my friends runs a chain called Big Bamboo, so I like to support him. I like all the burger places that have arisen. In many ways I’ve started eating a lot of junk food since I’ve been in China, a lot more burgers and pizza.
Holin: Which road do you like best?
Colin: I like a lot of the roads in Huangpu that are not the Bund, like Beijing Road E., the older areas that are not developed yet.
I like all of Huangpu that isn’t the Bund. It’s interesting walking through there, you have some unbelievable architecture there and I really hope that the Huangpu government develops it in a way that allows everyone to enjoy it. That whole area could be really spectacular if they developed it nicely. I see the future, it’s gonna be really good one day.
Holin: What do you absolutely love in Shanghai?
Colin: The answer that I always give to that question is that, I think at this time period, Shanghai is the place to be in the world.
There are lots of nice places in the world, but I think that Shanghai, the trends and what is happening with consumers, I think you can kind of see the future by living here.
Part of it, I think, is that China is such a big and important country. It’s interesting being on the ground here and coming to your own conclusions — I really enjoy that. I like that everybody here is ambitious, I like the people. I like the people that are attracted to the city.
I think in 20 or 30 years, Shanghai will be the same as New York and London. The type of people that are attracted to Shanghai are generally the type of people that I like, both Chinese and foreign.
One of the things, being in the middle class, it’s very obvious to me that Shanghai is attracting a very high caliber of person, so I do like that as well. It challenges you.
Holin: Cool, it’s promising for our city’s future with you guys. The opposite question now: Do you have some complaints about Shanghai? Can you provide some suggestions to make it better?
Colin: One of the biggest complaints I’d have is that you still have a little bit of a foreign community and a Chinese community and a Hong Kong community and a Taiwan community, and there is some mixing but it’s a little bit more separate than I would like.
It’s not easy. One thing that, now that I have children, one of the things that does stand out to me here that China could learn from is the North American model where we have a culture of volunteering. I think, especially on the community level, you don’t really have community sports programs. Usually in cities it’s all run by volunteers, parents, everyone puts in effort. That’s completely non-existent here.
I don’t like the mosquitoes. The mosquitos in China are particularly fast! You’ve got very smart, clever mosquitoes in Shanghai.
Holin: Compared to your country, are there any shortages in Shanghai?
Colin: There’re shortages here but there’s obviously a lot of good things too, like the public transportation system is so much better here. That’s the biggest compliment I can give to China is that they’ve done a really good job with transportation, and making it affordable.
Holin: Any impressed memory during your life?
Colin: I can talk about China. I honestly think the most impressive part of China is the landscape of Guilin, and the Yangshuo. I suggest when foreigners come to Shanghai they should visit there. I think it's underestimated.
Part of China that people visit, I would say there are some other really interesting parts of China that are really impressive to me. I think Gulangyu in Xiamen is more interesting than Xuhui District in Shanghai, there are no cars there, it is very much historical.
I think the most interesting thing in Shanghai is living here for a little while. Lots of places have nice restaurants and buildings, it is when all those things come together; it is kind of making something impressive. But I have to say the most impressive thing in Shanghai is walking along the Bund at night — that’s really impressive.
Holin: Actually you have married a Shanghainese, do you enjoy the traditional Shanghainese way to live in Shanghai?
Colin: What is the traditional way?
Holin: I mean before you married, you already lived in Shanghai. Is there any difference between these two parts of your life?
Colin: The obvious part, you know Chinese parents, they are kind of like my grandparents. My dad was actually Czech, so he immigrated to Canada with his family. So my grandparents never speak English. And they were very old fashioned, and I found my wife's parents who are Shanghainese are also similar.
Holin: Similar with you grandparents?
Colin: Yes. They are a lot of similarities there. The positive is they are very family oriented, very willing to help us with taking care of the children which is greatly appreciated. That is really positive.
The food is always interesting. I mean sometimes I make western food for them, and they make Chinese food, and I think we both prefer our own food!
Holin: Do grandparents back in Canada play such an involved role?
Colin: It depends. Usually if the people are retired... If people are still working, it is very challenging. I think it used to be more common. My mother's family was Canadian, those grandparents were less likely to do so much childcare, but my dad's parents who were basely Czech, were very similar to parents in Shanghai. Having said that I think most people in the future were probably more like my Canadian grandparents, they were willing to help but not all the time. So we are very thankful and grateful.
What does Colin want to say to his future self? Have a look! Colin is sending a message to his future self to watch ten years from now!