IBAS Homepage
   
 

This article was originally published in Chinese in Shanghai Weekly. English translation courtesy of Nancy Pangestu.

When we were youngerCharles and his twin are from Indonesia and they come from a family which has its roots here in China. Despite of this, Charles and his brother did not pride themselves on their roots because they felt remote and unfamiliar towards China.

Charles's father spent some years in China for education purposes; therefore when it was time for his sons to go to university, he encouraged them aggressively to pursue degrees in Beijing. At that time, like any other teenager, Charles was very Western-influenced, often immersing in rock music, and was planning on going to America instead. He was eventually pressured and coerced into changing his plans and coming to China. Charles commented that when he first visited the Great Wall, he was so overwhelmed by its immensity that he was dumbstruck for a full five minutes. For the first time in his life, he was full of pride for his Chinese roots. He finally understand his father's painstaking efforts to ask him to come to China; if he hadn't come to China, Charles would never experience this enlightening and inspirational feeling.

Fated to come to Shanghai

Upon graduation, Charles was offered a job in a wireless IT company, developing platform and strategy for wireless technology. His expression was a humorous sight when asked to comment about his first day at work; his eyes stretching into two thin lines, accompanied by a chubby chin trembling with laughter. That day, in eager anticipation to meet his new colleagues, Charles was dressed to impress and looked pretty smart with his suit, tie and glossy, leather shoes. Unfortunately, the weather was not on his side, it rained cats and dogs that day and when he went downstairs to hail for a taxi, he found himself immersed in water up to his calves. Charles had no choice but to sigh and wait for a taxi in the rain.

One would expect Charles to detest the city after meeting with such mishap on his first day of work. Surprisingly enough, the opposite happened. He fell in love with the city instantly because on that day, he learned how smart Shanghainese are - no one, but he, was silly enough to wait in the rain. Some people used bags to cover their feet, others had taken off their shoes, and some girls placed themselves on the back seats of motorcycles, giving off the swishing sounds of water as they pass by. "At that instant, I realized that this city is full of energy and life. This lightning pace results in changes occurring every minute and every second." Finally, Charles followed suit and walked all the way to his new office. Every now and then, Charles jokes that he is fated to come to Shanghai, because he brought the city "water." In Chinese customs, water is a sign of luck.

"Happy Fruits"

Many people often tease Charles and his twin brother because of their identical faces. When they first moved into their apartment, their neighbors were unaware that there was a pair of twins living near them; in fact they thought Charles and his twin were the same person. They often felt strange that this neighbor changed his clothes so many times a day. When they finally realized that they were indeed two people, they quickly made friends with them and often made passing comments, "So, are you the older one or the younger one?"

Charles says that till today, their landlord and ayi are still unable to make the difference between the two of them. They are dubbed as the pair of "Happy Fruits," for their jovial and cheery personalities. When the editor accompanied Charles to his home, they ran into a little girl in the elevator who smiled and cooed at the sight of him. Their expressions were similar in many ways after all.

On the other side, the twin's identical features have also spelled trouble once in a while. Once at work, a female colleague gave Charles the cold shoulder. He later found out that she had mistaken his twin for him the previous night, and had received no acknowledgement when she waved at him. To prove his innocence, Charles had to show a picture of him and his twin. According to Charles, such incidents are common and they both have to carry pictures in their wallets all the time.

Acting As Translator for President Megawati during APEC

While attending university in Beijing, Charles had acted as President for the Indonesian Student Association, which comprised of a few hundred members. Since then, Charles had been working for the Indonesian embassy and acted as translator for two presidential visits. During the APEC event last year, the Indonesian embassy once again asked Charles to act as translator for President Megawati and her entourage.

Shanghai, November 21, 2002During the interview, Charles pointed towards the mounted photograph of the twins with President Megawati, in preparation for yet another interesting story behind the picture. During APEC, security was extremely tight. Therefore when the security personnel saw President Megawati walking towards and making friendly conversation with Charles, they were given the impression that he was her trusted accomplice. The next day, Charles had asked his brother to meet him in the president's meeting room. Surprisingly, it was a smooth journey all the way, not one security guard had tried to stop and search him. It wasn't until the twins emerged from the meeting room, walking side-by-side and chatting happily with President Megawati, did they realize what a grave mistake they had made. By then, it was too late to take any action. With that last comment, Charles cracked into laughter, once again expressing the cute, adorable side of him.

Additionally, Charles also acted as translator for the Indonesian Business Society during meetings with related Chinese enterprises. This was a great responsibility for the then 23-year old Charles; the Indonesian Business Society was unfamiliar towards the situation in China, and Charles was involved not only in translating, but in planning and organizing events as well. Eventually, his efforts paid off, and Charles received singing praises from both sides.

Santa Clause's Tears

Although Charles has spent barely a year in Shanghai, he has participated in various charity events. He feels that the most meaningful activity was when he played Santa and visited the Pudong Children's Hospital.
Last year, on December 21st, Charles dressed up as Santa Claus and distributed gifts donated by various American companies. That day also happened to be his birthday.

Charles was in charge of distributing gifts on the 3rd and 4th levels of the hospital, where the 3 to 5 year olds were staying. The children were thrilled to see "Santa," they shouted in excitement and skipped happily towards him without even putting their shoes on. Charles quickly walked towards their bedsides, for fear of them falling and hurting themselves. When a kid Charles was carrying tried to pull his fake beard, Charles hurriedly pushed it back into place for fear of blowing his disguise. The sight of "Santa" brought so much joy and laughter to the kids that despite their bandages and scars, they were beaming with contentment from the gifts.

Along with the joy came some sorrow as well. When Charles was about to enter the intensive care unit, a nurse burst through the doors carrying a gravely ill child. The child's parents watched as the nurse walked away, their eyes filled with grief and their shoulders slumped despondently. Charles walked towards them and gave them hugs, and a few words of encouragement to pick their spirits up. His gesture touched those around him and brought tears to everyone.

Shanghai's Bars - Not to be missed!

Charles is a social butterfly; those who've just met him are instantly attracted to his warm and vivacious personality. Therefore, it is not surprising that such a person would enjoy being in crowds and hunts for such scenes in the Shanghai bars. Compared to Beijing, Charles feels that the bars in Shanghai are more cosmopolitan and international. When he first arrived in Shanghai, he often visited the bars by himself, where he got to make friends with the waiters, managers and owners of these places. Now, Malone's is like a second home to him.

When the editor went to Malone's with Charles, they ran into the owner of the place, Shawn, who instantly gave them the warm welcome. Charles commented that Shawn is only 30, but he refuses to let his success get over his head; he treats his staff like they are his best friends. When Charles passed by the Filipino band that was performing that evening, Charles waved to them, giving the vibe that he had lived in Shanghai forever. Also worth mentioning was the big bear hug he received from someone out of nowhere, and by the time they sat down for drinks, they were already surrounded by 5 or 6 of Charles' buddies. It was no wonder why Charles referred to this place as his second home, he leaves trails everywhere, making it impossible to ignore his presence.

Charles is also an expert in badminton, despite his stubby figure. Once, he organized a meeting with someone he met thru Yahoo! Groups. The person was obviously unimpressed and astonished when he first laid eyes on Charles, but after a few rounds, he instantly knew not to judge a book by its cover. Since then, he has invited more and more people to challenge his badminton skills, attracting a larger group of friends to his circle.

Charles attributes his ability to socialize to his trusting nature. He claims that when he is around his friends, he does not feel the need to lock the door even when he is changing. He feels that many Shanghainese are too conservative and protective, making it difficult for him to make friends initially. However, through a period of interaction, they were willing to accept him as a good friend. Now, Charles is falling in love with the city more and more, and feels that he belongs here as well.

Charles' views towards Shanghai

"Shanghai is an expensive city"

Charles feels that Shanghai is an expensive city because of two reasons. Firstly, Shanghai is a business-oriented city, making it difficult not to spend money. For example, it is impossible to even find a place to sit without having to pay. Furthermore, Shanghai is generally more expensive than many other cities. In Shanghai, a moderately tasting cup of coffee costs roughly RMB 20, while in Indonesia, the same cup of coffee may cost only RMB 7 or 8.

"Shanghai may be the safest city on earth"

Charles has visited many countries, and has made friends from various places as well. According to Charles, in America and some other cities, it is very common to hear a gunshot or to see a helicopter chasing after an escaping criminal, but not here in Shanghai, especially during the APEC event. He feels that such security is not easy to maintain, and that Shanghai may be the safest city on earth.

"Shanghainese do not like speaking Mandarin"

To date, Charles has lived in China for over six years and he speaks fluent Mandarin. However, after moving to Shanghai for almost a year, he still has much difficulty grasping the Shanghainese dialect. Often times, taxi drivers respond to him in the Shanghainese dialect even after he speaks Mandarin to them. He feels that it is in their natural instincts to do so. Even though they do not mean to do so, he feels that it is somewhat abrasive to do so.

"The Shanghainese society is proud of its country"

During a recent soccer-watching event with a Shanghainese friend, Charles was impressed by his friend's eager support for the China soccer team. His friend was proud of the team's progress and ability to enter the World Cup championships. During another conversation with his colleagues regarding Taiwan and China's politics, he startled by their enthusiasm and faith towards their country in general. He feels that such passion comes from being in an economically well-developed society, and has the impression that people in Shanghai generally lead pretty happy and fulfilled lives.