Aug 1, 2012
DAVID Warth bicycles to work each day and has done so for the past 13 years.
American Warth, vice president of Asia operations for Emerson Climate Technologies, arrived in Suzhou in Jiangsu Province from the United States in 1999.
Cycling has been part of his life's routine for years. For the first seven years his steed had been the American brand Cannonball that he brought from the US. Now he rides a Trek bicycle, which was made in China.
Getting up at 6am, it takes him around 40 minutes to cross the city and get to work.
"If I take car to work, it's 20 minutes. If I take bicycle, it's 40 minutes," he says.
"Leading a very healthy life and balanced family life and work life is the biggest priority."
Arriving in Suzhou 13 years ago with his wife, five-year-old daughter and one-year-old son, Warth's family was among the first expat settlers in the city.
"It's a good age for them to come and much easier for us to move," says Warth.
The children now have many friends from other countries and can speak Chinese.
"It's totally different from my hometown (in the state of Alabama) where the population is only 40,000," he says, but the family liked it as soon as they arrived.
"There were few expats back then. I didn't see many on the streets, especially Westerners; back then the foreign residents were mostly South Korean," he says.
It wasn't that comfortable for Americans, because there wasn't a lot of American food for the children.
But the food situation has changed dramatically; there are plenty of Western outlets.
"Maybe the bars are not like Shanghai's, but the restaurants in Suzhou are good," Warth says.
Traffic is better in Suzhou than in Shanghai though it's getting heavy now. The Metro helps.
After 13 years, the Warth family doesn't plan to leave, though his daughter will attend college in the United States in September. She wants to return to China after college and work in China, he says.
Warth likes the way the city has preserved and protected old districts while developing its modern side.
Although the protected areas have a large population, they feel like small town. "The people are kind and close," says Warth.
Warth says that at his company people have good working relations at their four locations in Suzhou; he is the only foreigner.
"I learn a lot by working with so many Chinese colleagues. The management team has always been with me. Most key managers have spent the past 13 years with me. Several of them have spent eight years," Warth says.
"I push the people here to balance their family life and work life. We don't require them to come to work at a certain time or stay until a certain time. I just ask them to do the jobs. Sometimes like 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock I'd like to push them out of way. Because lots of them have young kids and they need more time with their family."
He also organizes bicycle contests within the company.
Compared to Shanghai, life in Suzhou is much slower. Sometimes Warth will go to local bars, where his 14-year-old son plays guitar.
Warth invites his son's classmates to visit his company, a world's leading provider of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration solutions, showing his support for the school's youth business program.
Warth was one of the torchbearers for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The torch occupies a prominent place in his office. He was thrilled by the honor but modest, saying he was asked to carry the torch "just because we're among the longest staying in Suzhou."
He offers to advice for newcomers.
"Before we came, we were frightened since we got the wrong picture of China. Open your mind before your come. Don't have some preconceptions before you arrived," he says.
People in China are "very kind, very opening and welcoming, like Americans back in the US. You can really learn a lot of history and culture here. It's a special gift for kids."
His next five-year plan: just keep on going.
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.