News & Insights

Checking in on China

  • August-31-2017
Checking in on China


Matthew Cox has been in Shanghai since June – recruited by us to set up a new care home to international standards.

The home is due to open in just over a month’s time, and so far, he’s on track. He’s already recruited a deputy manager and six nurses and - if you happen to be an Englishman in China - two walking pieces of gold dust: his business assistant, Anderson, and his translator, Jinlan.

Matthew freely admits he would have been lost without Anderson. He’d have had enormous trouble finding his flat and negotiating his rent. He feels sure he’d be paying much more if he’d been left to his own devices. Shanghai, he was surprised to discover – with its metropolis of gleaming towers, bright lights and international business – might look like Singapore or Hong Kong, but it certainly doesn’t communicate like either of them. It’s hard to find English speakers, and the cab drivers he hails have a frustrating habit of driving away with a shrug, a shake of the head and an apologetic ‘no English!’

“That’s pretty stressful,” says Matthew, and is the main reason why he found himself thinking twice about going out in the evening.

After a couple of months of panicking about how to get home from the city centre on a fairly regular basis, Matthew’s now got a few tricks up his sleeve. He has his address, in Chinese, as the screensaver on his phone. And, in case that’s not enough - bearing in mind the housing development where he lives is confusingly enormous, with some ten thousand densely packed dwellings - he keeps in his pocket a written copy of the name of his local subway station, “so they can at least drop me off there’.

Despite the language barrier, he’s managed to find a bit of a social life. It comes mainly in the form of Chan, an equally new visitor from Malaysia, who lives opposite and joins him regularly for evening walks or dinner in their local restaurants. Chen is also fluent in Chinese and regularly orders food online for Matthew, who once tried to order a pizza – and ended up with two, along with a bag of fruit.

In addition, there’s a small group of North American ex-pats who gather for evening drinks outside the shop near his apartment, but, he points out, “they’re not ‘come round’ mates, they’re just people to walk over and chat to”. The shop, which Matthew shows us on Skype by pointing his phone out of his window, is brightly lit and looks like any convenience store. It’s well stocked – but, like all the grocery stores he’s visited so far (including a branch of Tesco!), there are two strange but notable omissions: painkillers and Viakal.

Language and social life aside, Matthew says he’s finding the experience positive. Daytimes at work are still a matter of creating brochures and putting policies and procedures in place in time for the opening, but food is plentiful and cheap – especially if, like him, you’d rather live like a local than have the expensive off-the-peg existence of an international business traveller.  He eats out every evening, and confesses to not having a single saucepan in his apartment.

“You don’t need to cook”, he laughs, “when a bowl of noodles and a beer cost you about three pounds in total.”

Even then, you don’t need any cash. Hardly anyone uses it. Whether you’re buying a drink at a bar, a basket of groceries, a serving of fried rice or a subway ticket, it’s all done via an app on your phone, which is linked to your card.

From a nursing point of view, Matthew’s observations are interesting. Not a single care home he’s visited has a locked door or entry system – and there’s very little in the way of care plans or documentation.

“On reflection”, he muses, “nurses here spend all their time with the residents, whereas we in Britain have become so paper-focused that some nurses don’t really nurse anymore”.

He’s also loving the weather. It’s 35 Celsius every day and people cycle around on the thousands of bikes provided, for free, by the local authorities. All you have to do is find a bike, unlock it (via, an app – of course) and hop on.

So, apart from not being able to clean the lime scale on his shower or grab a pack of paracetamol outside normal hours, what does he miss? He answers without a moment’s hesitation:

“British TV, Google, a mix of people - and free flowing conversation. And, of course, the boys, Nathan and Jack, and their babies”.

The language issue, he says, is much bigger than he expected, to the point that “you hear an English voice, and you find yourself latching onto that person just for the sake of having a normal conversation.”

Matthew is due home in St Neots for a short visit before the opening. Will he be tempted to stay, even for a second?

“Absolutely not. Friends at home keep sending me job opportunities they see on LinkedIn, but I’m nowhere near ready to move on yet”.

When pressed, he reveals there are one or two extra items which will find their way into his luggage when he returns to China: coffee – “it’s way too expensive over here, almost a tenner a packet”, body spray – “I just can’t seem to find it anywhere” and some CDs.

True to his saucepan-free lifestyle in either country, the first thing he wants to order when he arrives in England is steak and chips – and the next morning he’s going out for a bacon sandwich:

“I love noodles and rice, I really do. But when a friend sent me a picture of a big fat fry up the other day, I could have eaten my phone.”