Lured to Shang­hai by its en­ter­pris­ing spirit

Shanghai Daily - - FRONT PAGE - Joan Zheng Ex­pats of Shang­hai

With his tall and strong physique, Casper Tollerud from Den­mark fits our imag­i­na­tion of Nordic peo­ple. Hav­ing learned Chi­nese history in Den­mark, Tollerud en­rolled at An­hui Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity in Wuhu, An­hui Prov­ince, to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of China in 1999. He was joined by his wife Meeja Neer­gaard.

Now, the 44-year-old Tollerud speaks flu­ent Chi­nese and is the tourism am­bas­sador for Gansu and Chengdu tourism bu­reaus since 2015. He was also the guide for Dan­ish Prime Min­is­ter Helle Thorn­ing-Sch­midt when she vis­ited Shang­hai in 2012.

“If you re­ally want to im­merse your­self in a city or in a cul­ture, and if you want to get the best out of the place you live in, you will get more of it if you learn its lan­guage,” Tollerud says.

With China in the midst of re­forms and open­ing-up, Tollerud bet on the fu­ture and started a travel agency in 2008. To­day, his com­pany has of­fices in Shang­hai, Xi’an in Shaanxi Prov­ince and in Den­mark, and pro­vides in-depth knowl­edge of Nordic des­ti­na­tions to Chi­nese travel agents, and mar­ket statis­tics and anal­y­sis to for­eign tourism or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“There are a lot of un­known Nordic des­ti­na­tions for us to dis­cover. We want to help peo­ple to plan more unique travel routes,” he says.

Hav­ing lived in Shang­hai for 20 years, Tollerud says he likes the en­ter­pris­ing spirit of the city, but he hopes peo­ple here can con­cen­trate more on the things that have a real value.

“I think China is al­ready ex­tremely well de­vel­oped,” he says. “But I think the men­tal­ity of China in­clud­ing Shang­hai is still a lit­tle bit be­hind Europe in the sense that you see peo­ple fo­cus­ing on buy­ing big cars or other things.

“I would like peo­ple to fo­cus on things that have a real value, like pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment,” he says.

Q: How did you learn Chi­nese?

A: First of all, it was part of the stud­ies we did at the uni­ver­sity. Our main sub­ject was Chi­nese history, Chi­nese cul­ture and Chi­nese pol­i­tics. In Den­mark, we learned very lit­tle.

I am prob­a­bly one of the few for­eign­ers who think Chi­nese is not that hard. It’s quite easy to learn es­pe­cially be­cause the gram­mar is very sim­ple, com­pared to Eu­ro­pean lan­guages. You don’t have the past tense, the fu­ture tense and the grad­u­a­tion of the verbs.

The very first job I got in Shang­hai be­fore I be­came an en­tre­pre­neur was in a lo­cal Chi­nese com­pany. No­body spoke English. It was re­ally tough but I re­ally liked it, be­cause ev­ery day I could learn more.

That is ex­tremely help­ful for me now. We do some busi­ness with lo­cal gov­ern­ments around China and maybe they are not al­ways the best English speak­ers, to be hon­est.

I gain quite a lot of cred­its and re­spect from their side be­cause, you know when they treat me as “ତਃ(neigh­bors),” there’s no com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems or bar­ri­ers be­tween us. I think it’s quite im­por­tant to be able to speak Chi­nese. I learned a lit­tle bit in Den­mark, very lit­tle. I got to be in the en­vi­ron­ment here. If you are here ev­ery day and ev­ery­body is speak­ing Chi­nese to you all the time, then you learn lit­tle by lit­tle.

Nearly 180,000 ex­pats are now liv­ing in Shang­hai, mak­ing it the Chi­nese main­land’s No. 1 city for ex­pats. Many of them re­gard Shang­hai their se­cond home­town, and they too have made great con­tri­bu­tions to the city’s de­vel­op­ment.

How is it like liv­ing here? What do they think of their se­cond home­town? What are their fu­ture plans? In this se­ries, ex­pats share their sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences. To read more sto­ries, wisit­pats-of-Shang­hai/.

A: Many rea­sons. We used to live in Wuhu, so we came to Shang­hai a few times and got fa­mil­iar with the city. Shang­hai gave me a re­ally good im­pres­sion be­cause it felt like a good place for for­eign­ers to de­velop.

It was prob­a­bly slightly more open than some of the other Chi­nese cities at the time, so my clear goal was to es­tab­lish a com­pany, and it felt like it was eas­ier in Shang­hai than Guiyang or other places. I re­mem­ber very clearly that when we dis­cussed what the op­tions were. One was Shang­hai be­cause we knew it quite well.

Ob­vi­ously, Shang­hai has a very long history and ex­pe­ri­ence with for­eign­ers, since the Opium Wars and later the open­ing-up of China.

Shang­hai has al­ways been at the fore­front in China’s con­nec­tion with for­eign coun­tries, so it seems like quite a smart place to be­gin. Also, I think the lo­ca­tion is ex­cel­lent, close to the Yangtze River.

Q: How do you spend your week­ends?

A: It de­pends. Some­times, just re­lax and work out. Both my wife and I en­joy Thai box­ing, so we train for that. My wife’s fam­ily has also moved to Shang­hai, so her sis­ter, our nephew and the sis­ter’s hus­band also live here now. So we hang out with them or some­thing like that.

We also travel around China. I’ve been ev­ery­where and I’ve been to Gansu maybe 30 times. I haven’t been to a few places in the far north be­cause the na­ture of the far north of China looks very much like at home.

A city I like very much is Xi’an be­cause I used to study Chi­nese history. That’s a very his­tor­i­cal place. Guizhou and Gansu are also places I en­joy very much.

Shang­hai has al­ways been at the fore­front in China’s con­nec­tion with for­eign coun­tries, so it seems like quite a smart place to be­gin.

Casper Tollerud

Dan­ish busi­ness­man in Shang­hai

Q: What do you like about Shang­hai?

A: Ac­tu­ally what I like the most about Shang­hai is its en­ter­pris­ing spirit. If some­body I have never met be­fore speaks to me on the Metro, I will speak with them. Be it a street cleaner or any­one else, I speak with ev­ery­body be­cause I want to be a lit­tle po­lite, but also be­cause you never know in Shang­hai where your next op­por­tu­nity comes from.

Quite a lot of the busi­ness I’m do­ing now is not be­cause the govern­ment knew about me and called me, it’s be­cause I know this guy, he knows that guy, so I think the soul of the city is quite unique.

I think we are see­ing more places of China now, slowly open­ing up in this way, but Shang­hai was the fore­run­ner, and I think it is fantastic that we have that op­por­tu­nity to live in a place where you can find new things ev­ery day.

The ap­proach to busi­ness in Europe has be­come very guarded as they’re wor­ried about ev­ery­thing. So that’s one of the rea­sons why it’s so hard for us to bring them over to China. But in Shang­hai, we would just sit down and have a meal and dis­cuss. It feels like ev­ery day there is some­thing new you can do, and I think it is fantastic.

Q: Com­pared to your coun­try, are there any short­ages in Shang­hai?

A: I love my life in Shang­hai, but one thing I re­ally miss here is quiet­ness. It’s re­ally hard to find a very quiet place in Shang­hai.

I live on Tian­shan Road, even if I go out at 3am in the morn­ing, there are still a hun­dred peo­ple in the street. I come from a very lit­tle town in Den­mark with three or four thou­sand pop­u­la­tion. Some­times I just need a bit of quiet­ness and no cars.

I chose to come here and I chose to live here so I can’t com­plain, but it would be nice some­times to just have a quiet mo­ment for a minute.

Q: What’s your ad­vice for peo­ple who are think­ing of mov­ing to Shang­hai?

A: Leave your pre­con­cep­tion at home. China is not what you think, and what you read about. And I say the same to Chi­nese. I have some friends who want to go to Europe and open com­pa­nies, and I say the same.

Don’t think it is like what you think it is. There are a lot of for­eign­ers who come over here and open com­pa­nies but fail. One of the rea­sons, I think, is not that China is difficult but be­cause they come over here and see things dif­fer­ent from what they had in their minds.

Q: Tell us some in­ter­est­ing sto­ries re­lat­ing to Shang­hai?

A: I have had some very good ex­pe­ri­ence when the Dan­ish prime min­is­ter vis­ited Shang­hai in 2012. It’s kind of cool for me to be the guy ac­com­pa­ny­ing the prime min­is­ter of my own coun­try and the mayor of Shang­hai.

When we had the Bei­jing Olympics in 2008, Shang­hai was the home ground for a lot of foot­ball games. I worked for the Olympic Com­mit­tee as a VIP guide.

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