Jun 26, 2012
THE dragon boat competition on Jinji Lake is one of the summer highlights in Suzhou. People get together in the sunshine, cheering for the teams paddling furiously to win the traditional race.
This year a Frenchman mans the oars on the Lilly Suzhou Pharmaceutical Co's first dragon boat team - Frederic Rohmer, senior director of the company's plant.
Assigned to China in December 2010, 46-year-old Rohmer and his family have spent one and a half years in Suzhou. Rohmer previously worked in England and Germany.
To his surprise, life in China isn't so different from his life back in Europe in terms of life quality.
"I was amazed by all the buildings and the infrastructure in China. I didn't expect so much and was surprised, and the quality of air in Suzhou is also really good," says Rohmer, who is from Lyon.
"It's very international here. For example, my three kids go to the international school where the infrastructure is, again, very good and they learn exactly the same thing as in Europe. And the nightlife here is even much more developed than in Europe. They can go clubbing, go to the restaurants with their friends and do sports."
Before coming to China, Rohmer asked knowledgeable friends what kind of books should he read to prepare himself. He was advised to read masterpieces such as "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and "A Dream of Red Mansions," but he started with one he called "funny and controversial," "Water Margin," also known as "Outlaws of the Marsh" and "All Men Are Brothers." It's considered one of the four classics. Set in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it tells the story of 108 outlaws and their eventual surrender.
Through reading, he learned a lot about Chinese culture, including the value of friendship, as well as history. He plans to read more classic literature.
In addition to reading, Rohmer ingests culture by eating Chinese food, visiting famous gardens and museums in Suzhou and traveling around the country with his family.
He is also learning Chinese.
"My principle is that if you go and live in a country, you have to adapt. If you don't adapt, you leave," he says. And for him, adaptation is going well. Despite cultural differences, he tries to embrace the way business is done in China.
"For me the especially difficult part is that people always say 'yes' here, maybe because I'm the manager," Rohmer laughs. "But I gradually learned that their 'yes' sometimes doesn't mean they are okay with it. Now I know to pay more attention to understand what people really feel, instead of taking their answers for granted."
He said he plans to stay in China for at least five more years.
Recently Rohmer has picked up a new activity with colleagues - dragon boat rowing. He enjoys outdoor exercise, such as running and cycling, so when he heard about the annual dragon boat race held by the municipal government, he immediately volunteered.
"I used to be in a dragon boat team when I was in Germany ... So when someone mentioned it to me, I said 'why not?'"
The company built its first dragon boat team of 14 men this year and started training more than a month before the competition. Most rowers were inexperienced and at first the boat kept turning around in the lake and once even hit a wooden post in the middle. They kept training.
"We are doing much better now," Rohmer says. "The most important part is not strength, but synchronization - team members who are paddling must be synchronized, which is very good for us to build team spirit."
Since this is the first year for the company team, results aren't important - this is about having fun and getting to know each other.
The aim is to have a good time with family and friends, when they not only compete but also enjoy sunshine, interesting cultural activities and food.
Nationality: FranceAge: 46
Profession: Senior director and site head of Lilly Suzhou Pharmaceutical Co
Self-description: Energetic, direct and honest guy.
The way people drive here. They don't follow the rules so strictly.
Motto for life:My home is where I am. I try to build a new home wherever I go.
The heating system of the first house the family rented was not so good. I complained to the landlady and she was very nice and changed it quickly.
How to improve Suzhou:
Build more public sports facilities such as swimming pools.
Advice for newcomers:
Forget what's in your past life and embrace the new things. Get rid of your Western eyes and jump into the new things.
About the Column
This series focuses on individuals who have lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province for a while and have a tale that’s worth telling. Age, gender, nationality and race are all unimportant in comparison with what adventures the subject has been up to, the experiences they can recount.