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Natasha Wilson - Law in China

Volunteer group in Hangzhou

What an experience! When I signed up for the 2-Week Special law project in China with Projects Abroad, I had no idea what to expect. I was very nervous at the thought of only being 16 and flying out to a country thousands of miles away alone, where I couldn’t speak the language, knew very little about the culture and would be staying in an apartment where I would have to look after myself. Understandably it was a daunting prospect but I was so excited!

Stepping off the aeroplane I realised I was on my own; but not for long. I was met at the airport by a lovely, smiley man called Teddy who made me feel right at home, carrying my bags for me (which proved rather difficult as I have not yet mastered the art of ‘packing lightly’), taking me to my apartment, showing me the metro station followed by lunch at a local, traditional Chinese restaurant. The apartment was lovely, far better than my expectations and it was great that our apartment was located only a couple of floors above the apartment of the rest of the 2-weekers as this meant we could easily arrange going to work together, meeting up and going out.

Later that day my room mate and I were invited out by the other volunteers to Zhongshan Park where most of the volunteers staying in China (not just those of us who were there for 2 weeks) and some of the projects abroad staff had a picnic. It was good to meet all the others and hear about why they had chosen to do the various placements and their experiences in China so far.

The next morning, we were met at our local metro station by Kay, who showed us the route to work (a lot longer than we had anticipated but that may have been a misconception due to the humidity which, at times, was unbearable). We had a meeting with our supervisor and the manager of the law firm who gave us a packed itinerary of the next 2 weeks followed by a brief introduction to Chinese law along with a booklet to read. It was nice to have so many other volunteers at the firm - we almost outnumbered the Chinese lawyers! Settling in was so easy. The lawyers were all very keen to talk to us and practice their English as well as passing on their legal knowledge.

2 weekers in old Shanghai

We arrived back at the flat after our first day at work where we met our new flatmates. Despite it being their first night, we invited them out to join us at ‘Zapatas’- a nightclub on Hengshan Road, popular with expats and extremely busy on a Monday night (probably due to the free margaritas). The nightlife surprised us all; it was amazing! We had a brilliant night with a lot of the other volunteers as well as other expats. However, the prospect of getting up for work the next morning only 4/5 hours later was understandably not too appealing.

The next day at work we were given our first case study which we quickly began researching and with help from the experts we answered a few questions and prepared some points about the case and later that day we had a meeting with a lawyer who specialised in IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) law and we discussed the case in depth. At lunch we were offered the menu for a Chinese takeaway but I guess we were all suffering from Chinese food overdose so we managed to find a local café which sold American waffles (this soon became our regular lunch time spot).

We soon realised how little time we would be spending in Shanghai and decided we had to start being tourists right away. So, straight after work we headed off to the Oriental Pearl tower. Seeing the city from above was truly amazing- it was quite foggy but for Shanghai, it was a pretty clear sky. We then headed to the 9-storey shopping mall in Lujiazui. It is a shopper’s paradise! It also has a massive selection of restaurants from open barbeques and other Asian countries’ cuisine to western restaurants and coffee houses.

Tasha and work colleagues

The next day at work we were given a brief about FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and we were split into 2 groups and each group was to research FDI in a different country; the girls - Brazil, the guys - India. This presentation was to be completed by the end of the week and we would have a meeting with a professional to discuss the issues and laws surrounding FDI. In the evening, the girls from our apartment all went out to the pedestrian area of Nanjing Road- 6km of shops! After barely having any western food, we came across 3 pizza huts within the space of about 1km! The streets were still bustling at 11pm and flagging a taxi proved very difficult, we waited about an hour before we eventually flagged a vacant one.

Two of our colleagues at work offered to take us out the next evening and show us some more traditional areas of Shanghai. They took us to the old town and the markets there which really great to see although it was night time and we couldn’t actually see the temple or the gardens (we did end up going back at the weekend). We met up with the girls’ friends and we all had a meal together followed by shopping and a walk along the zig zag bridge. We also noticed some rather peculiar meals being advertised with interesting translations.

Jade Buddha temple

Shopping in Shanghai was amazing! You couldn’t go far without finding a shopping mall or market. The shopping malls were unbelievable, they all had at least 8 floors and had every shop you could ever think of. The markets are great fun to go to; negotiating prices with the market traders is a laugh right from suggesting a ridiculously low price to when they chase you down the road giving in to your offer and almost dragging you back to their shop and there is so much choice from designer replicas to traditional Chinese souvenirs.

At the weekend we went to Hangzhou with Kay, the Projects Abroad China Director and Elaine, the Assitant Manager. We had a 1 hour 30 minutes train journey from the railway station. It was weird to see that the train station looked more like an airport with bags being x-rayed and a waiting room larger than some of the airports we had been to! The city was so beautiful and the famous west lake was just as lovely as all the reviews had described. We got on a packed, non air-conditioned bus which was incredibly slow and looked like a huge wagon as it was all wooden. We went to a restaurant together and then headed down to the lake. When we got to the lake we hired 3 little boats which were rowed by some guys who ended up trying to race our boats and crashing them! We were rowed to a little island in the middle of the lake which had some beautiful gardens and traditional Chinese architecture. Once we had taken the boat back, we walked around part of the lake and went for a coffee.

Jin Mao Hotel looking down

As Sunday would be our last full day in Shanghai we decided we would try and get a lot done. We started off going to the Jade Buddha Temple which was a fantastic experience. The temple is amazing and there were practicing monks living there as well as locals who went to pray. The atmosphere was so relaxed and the aroma of incense could be smelt a mile away. We then walked along the French concession and then returned back to the old town and to see Yu Yuan gardens and visit the market again. The gardens were really pretty. After this we were intending to go to East Nanjing to do some shopping but after a 15 minute conversation (or at least an attempted conversation) with a bewildered taxi driver we decided to show him a business card of a trader at the Shanghai science and technology museum market as this was the only address we had written in Chinese - this resulted in a long phone call between the taxi driver and the market trader who was giving him directions… We made it, eventually. After spending most of our money at the market we returned home for a short while before heading out again to the Jin Mao tower where we had a meal at the Cloud 9 bar on the 87th floor. The views were spectacular.

On the Monday night we were invited out for a meal with the whole company and we all went to a traditional Chinese restaurant where there were no expenses spared! The boss ordered lots of wine and traditional Chinese beer and as with all Chinese meals; there was a huge amount of food. It was a good experience to socialise with our colleagues outside of the work environment and we had a very entertaining evening with a lot of laughing as we attempted our tiny amount of Chinese we had learnt.

The next week at work was really busy; we went to several meetings and lectures at other companies which were really useful. We visited the legal department of Bao Steel and learnt about how the legal procedures work within such a large company. We also visited another law firm in the city where we had a 2 hour lecture from an accountant/ lawyer/ business advisor which was really informative and we all learnt a lot about FDI in China and legal issues surrounding it. Despite all the meetings and lectures we did have one afternoon off to explore the city and so we set out for the Dongtai Road market which was an ‘antiques’ market, although ‘antiques’ is a debatable description - the items being sold were simply dusty, really dusty. Nevertheless, it was more of an authentic Chinese market compared to what we had been to previously. We then had a meal at TGI Fridays.

Oriental Pearl Tower at dusk

After seeing how amazing the Jin Mao hotel was when we ate there the previous week, one of the other volunteers I had met and I decided to spend our last two nights there to experience being in the highest hotel in the World. It was a fantastic way to end the trip of a lifetime.

The Projects Abroad staff in China were all amazing; Teddy, Kay and Elaine, they were all brilliant; whenever you had a problem or a query or just wanted advice on what to do that evening they were always there to help. Teddy met me at the airport and showed me around and checked in on us a few times at the apartment and was always smiling and making us feel right at home. Kay visited us at work, took us to meetings, took us out for meals, took us to Hangzhou at the weekend and was there whenever we needed her and always had a smile on her face. There was also a great network of volunteers; there was never a shortage of people to meet up with! What’s best though is that we all made friends which we’ll never forget.

I would recommend Projects Abroad to everyone, I can’t imagine a better company to go with and I’m already planning my next trip with them for summer 2009! Thank you Projects Abroad!

Natasha Wilson

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