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6.1 - Compounded: Corporate Expatriate Home-Making

social science disciplines and through a number of theoretic lenses (Chapman 2004; Mallett 2004; Miller 2001; Pink 2004). The ongoing glob-alisation of the labour market, and consequent increases in population mobility more generally, have led a number of scholars to consider what effect these contemporary geographies of movement and settlement have on the notion of "home" (Ahmed et al. 2003; Al-Ali & Koser 2002; Brah 1996; Rapport & Dawson 1998). For transmigrants, in particular, the notion of the homeplace a physical space where everyday life is lived -need not be, and frequently is not, where they feel most "at home". The tension between these two definitions highlights the extent to which home can be regarded as a process, one which involves ongoing habits of home-making (Blunt & Dowling 2006; Miller 2001).

I will consider postpat home-making practices in greater detail later in this chapter. It should be noted, however, that most postpats did not regard their own lives as typical of the expatriate experience in China. It is for this reason that I begin my examination of the expatriate relationship to Shanghai's physical and cultural landscape with the group most often accused of walling themselves off from it - corporate expatriates.

6.1 - Compounded: Corporate Expatriate Home-Making

Corporate expatriates often brought spouses and/or children with them when they relocated. Most had come to China because their company asked them to, not because of any particular interest or investment in China or in Shanghai. The "sents" rather than the "wents" as one postpat phrased it. The limits imposed by the length of their assignment to China also placed a limit on the ability, and therefore the willingness, of corpor-ate expatricorpor-ates to engage deeply with the local Chinese context.

Corporate expatriates commonly framed their stay in China as a valuable cultural experience and themselves as external observers and consumers of that experience.

The homes of corporate expatriates often sharply embodied this outsider status, drawing unambiguous, physical boundaries between the West and China, between public and private space and between outside and inside.

Although there were exceptions, many of the corporate expatriates I encountered either lived in gated suburban communities, in Hongqiao or Jinqiao, or in serviced apartments attached to 5 Star Hotels, such as the Shanghai Centre or the Kerry Parkside. Typically these were highly West-ernised developments. The Parkside complex, in Jinqiao, includes "182 elegantly designed and fully serviced [apartments]" (Parkside n.d.) as well as offices, several bars and restaurants, a health club, an on-site bakery and a Western supermarket. Inhabitants of the Shanghai Centre, in Jing'an, had access to a similar range of Western-friendly facilities.

Across the road from Kerry Parkside are the Regency Park Villas, an expatriate compound "development of about 367 luxurious villas and semi-detached houses" (CKPH 2015). Like many expatriate compounds Regency Park offers a close reproduction of an upmarket, Western suburban neighbourhood. Identical McMansion style82 townhouses, with fenced backyards, line a neatly laid out network of private roads and footpaths. There is even an international school on the grounds. The postpats I talked to often derided these "expat compounds" and serviced apartment complexes as "expatriate ghettos", and even the expatriates I met who lived in them frequently characterised their own buildings and/or neighbourhoods as almost exclusively inhabited by other foreigners.

In their marketing and in their design these spaces are presented as outposts not just of Western suburbia, but also of unaccustomed privilege. Words like "luxurious", "premier", "extravagant" and

82. A style of suburban development popular in America, characterised by ostentatious,

"super-sized " homes lacking in distinguishing characteristics. Ironically, this style of home is also stereotypically attributed to Chinese tastes in New Zealand.

"prestigious" are commonly used in the publicity material for expatriate compounds (CKPH 2015; WCMP n.d.). Facilities such as clubhouses, cinemas, ballrooms, and sports clubs were an ordinary and even expected benefit of living the compound life for many corporate expatriates. While eating dinner at a restaurant, I overheard one recently arrived corporate expatriate couple discussing their housing options. The male spouse ate his meal and listened while his partner talked him through a series of photographs she'd taken of all the properties she'd seen that day. "This one doesn't allow cars anywhere on the grounds,"

she told him, "Your driver goes down into these underground tunnels, and they go right to your basement door." Then swiping to a new photograph, she said, "That's the clubhouse." "What was the clubhouse like?" he asked her, becoming noticeably more attentive.

Although few compounds that I visited banned cars totally, Regency Park was also planned to resemble a "quaint colonial-period American univer-sity towns... with dedicated pedestrian areas free from cars contributing to the small-town feel" (WCMP n.d.). Indeed, large dedicated pedestrian areas were a common feature of Shanghai's up-market compound devel-opments. It is telling that the designers of Regency Park chose to connect the absence of cars with the coherence of the small-town bubble they were attempting to create, relegating, as it does, not just the car but also its local Chinese driver to the periphery of this imagined middle America.

I visited one couple, the Reeds, who lived in Jinqiao, in a large, two story townhouse with a fenced backyard - a common sight in many Western countries but a sign of real privilege in a city of 23 million people, where space is at a premium. Unlike most suburbs of Shanghai, where the street front is broken up by small shops, the footpath lined with bicycles and motor scooters, and trash pickers and street vendors pass by regu-larly, the public roads of Jinqiao are clean, quiet and largely free of traffic.

Compound walls line both sides of the road, unbroken, sometimes for the whole length of a long city block. Gates are policed by uniformed

bao'an83 and sometimes also secured by motorised traffic barriers and card operated pedestrian turnstiles.

The gate of the Reeds' compound opened onto a two-lane private road, curving through neatly manicured grounds, past the compound office and health club, then branching off into a confusion of smaller pedestrian-only side streets. The townhouses themselves were nearly identical, revealing very little about the personalities or preferences of their inhabitants. All were rendered in the same palette of neutral zones - charcoal, white, off-white - their designs slight variations on a very narrowly defined theme. A bao'an passed me in an electric golf-cart, then circled back around and asked me what I was doing there. "Yi bai san hao," one hundred and three, I told him and he directed me back up the way I had come and down a cul-de-sac.

The neutral palette continued inside the Reeds' home. Achromatic car-pets, soft furnishings and wall treatments suggesting that the house was designed, not as a reflection of personal taste, but as blank space onto which the renter could then project their own notions of "home". This design ethic, which real estate professionals sometimes call "neutral decor", is so widely utilised and recommended in the West that it has now become something of a cliche (cf Lomas 2012).

Its use by property developments marketed at expats allow those expatri-ates to more easily negotiate their engagement with Chinese material culture and the local Chinese world outside their homes. The absence of competing spatial meanings - a defining feature of neutral decor - allowed families like the Reeds to more easily personalise their living space, often closely replicating their homes in the West.

Corporate expatriates are typically provided with a relocation allowance by their employers, making it possible for some of them to ship a

propor-83. Closest approximation in English is security-guard though they are more like doormen - and they are almost always men. Literally translates as Security Protection.

tion of their household goods to China. For these expatriates, the act of relocating home was usually a much more literal and direct process than it was for their postpat contemporaries. Shipping books, photographs, kitchenware and appliances, children's toys, ornaments and even fur-niture to China, allowed corporate expatriates to populate their new homes with spatial meanings and personal narratives transposed directly from their homes in the West.

As the Reeds showed me around their home, I asked them if this or that ornament or piece of furniture had come with the house, if they had pur-chased it since arriving in China, or if it had been shipped with other possessions when they first arrived. The Reeds too often pointed out per-sonal additions to the minimal and imperper-sonal decor of the rental house.

A staircase which came off the entrance way led up to the private family spaces - bathrooms and bedrooms -on the second floor. Photos hanging on the staircase wall showcased absent relatives and memories of life in the West. In the master bedroom, on top of a four drawer dresser, which, they told me, had come with the house, there was a scattering of orna-ments and personal effects. More framed photos of family life in America were arranged in the dresser's rear corners, while, tucked into the edge of the large mirror on the wall behind was an unframed picture of the Reed family on a recent vacation in Vietnam. Near one edge of the dresser a Xingjiangnese bead necklace, recently purchased from a street vendor, spilt from the open top of a jewellery box. A treasured antique perfume bottle, which once belonged to Mrs. Reed's grandmother sat next to a pair of well worn, silver backed men's hair brushes belonging to Mr.

Reed. The bed faced a large ranch-slider, which opened onto a private balcony, overlooking their backyard, and the broader green expanse of the rest of the compound beyond it. With the exception of the bao'an in his golf cart there was nothing in this view that linked it to the rest of Shanghai or to China more generally.

Outside of a small range of popular titles, for which a robust pirate literat-ure market exists, English-language books are expensive and difficult to

come by in Shanghai. Despite this, the children's bedrooms both had bookshelves well stocked with English-language children's literature and, downstairs in the open hallway between the entrance way and the dining room, a selection of adult fiction and non-fiction was prominently dis-played on a shelving unit, purchased from a nearby IKEA.

The children's bedrooms were scrupulously tidy, with favourite toys brought with them from the West given pride of place among newer or more local acquisitions. For a recent birthday, the Reeds had repainted the bedroom of their son in Dallas Cowboy colours, and team paraphernalia decorated the walls. In his sister's room, dolls and stuffed animals sat in neat lines on the bed.

In the sunken living room a lacquered ornamental sideboard, purchased in a Shanghai antique market, sat underneath a large wall mounted flatscreen TV. Both the flatscreen and the off-white sofa in front of it had come with the house. Mrs. Reed told me that sofa had been the thing she'd liked least about the house when the estate agent had first shown them round it. It was covered in brightly coloured throw pillows, pur-chased from IKEA.

Though well designed and equipped, the Reed’s kitchen was small in comparison to the rest of the house. Unusually for Shanghai, it had an oven and a dishwasher. Although far more common in houses and apart-ments intended for the expatriate market, these appliances were not ubiquitous, even in homes like the Reeds'. Until recently it was uncom-mon for the kitchens in local Chinese apartments to even have a built-in cook-top, let alone an oven, and many local Chinese still do most of their cooking on an electric hotplate.

Despite the price and the inconvenience, corporate expatriates often took pains to replicate Western rituals of food preparation and consumption in their new homes. The Reeds brought pans, cutlery, flatware and even some smaller kitchen appliances a coffee maker and a hand blender -with them from America. Like many other corporate expatriates I talked

to, the Reeds distrusted locally produced food, toiletries and even clean-ing products, often resortclean-ing to familiar brands imported from the West or expensive locally grown organic fruit, vegetables and meat. They sourced the majority of their groceries from Cityshop - a chain of supermarkets specialising in imported and luxury food items. Although some local Chinese do shop at Cityshop, it is common to hear expatriates refer to it, or any of the other high-end imported food supermarkets in Shanghai, as expat supermarkets or Western supermarkets. Similarly the imported food section of Carrefour, a major big-box supermarket chain, was also often referred to as the expat section.

The placement and choice of personal effects within the Reeds' home formed part of an episodic and processual narrative, linking a shared familial landscape of kinship and memory with the physical geography of the townhouse they now lived in. As the Reeds showed me around their house their possessions evoked a series of anecdotes and associations through which the couple not only constructed a home for themselves but also enacted a series of collective and individual identities - as parents, as a family, as cosmopolitan world travellers and as expatriates with continu-ing deep roots in their home country.

Scholars have often commented on the important role that possessions play in the construction and maintenance of identity, within Western con-sumerist cultures in particular (Csikszentmihalyi & Rocherberg-Halton 1981; McCracken 1990). For transmigrants, in a variety of geographic and cultural contexts, this importance is frequently heightened. Posses-sions are used by transmigrants to assert and maintain a connection with their home countries and to establish a connection with the host culture (Belk 1992; Joy and Dholakia 1991; Mehta and Belk 1991).

Few corporate expatriates had any intention of staying in China long-term. For most, their intended stay was defined and, to some extent, dic-tated by the length of their assignment. Those who expected to return to their home countries once their stay was over often imagined this as a return to a more authentic existence. Going “back home” or, as Mrs.

Reed described it,"going back to the real world." The ability to reproduce a home-life as close as possible to their own view of normal enabled these expatriates to minimise the impacts of expatriation, on identity and on family. It also allowed them to remain connected to places and ways of living to which they expected to return within a set time-frame.

Faustine, a stay at home mother, echoed this construction of family life in her home country as natural, and of life in China as unnatural, when she told me, “[this cannot] be a normal life. We have a driver. In Europe, we don't have any driver. But we try to stay as normal as possible here”.

Bettina described her own reliance on the family's driver, somewhat counter-intuitively, as a loss of freedom. “It's not a plus for me to have a driver,” she said. "On the one hand, I would be scared to drive in Shang-hai, but you lose your freedom having a driver”.

Drivers were frequently included in corporate expatriate packages and were usually perceived as necessary, or, at least, convenient. With familiarity, they could eventually become an accepted, even beloved, part of family life - picking the children up from school, driving the stay-at-home spouse on his or her errands during the day, fetching guests from the airport and so on. On the other hand, for some corporate expatriates they also represented an unwelcome, even untrustworthy foreign intrusion into family life. During her interview, Maria complained about her driver cheating on his timesheet. "It's always a matter of do I trust you," she told me. "I'm a very trustworthy person and I feel I have a lack of trust in China."

When meeting with corporate expatriates, it was not unusual for them to be dropped off by their driver. Once the meeting was over they would then send a text message, letting their driver know that they were ready to be picked up. Poorly parked late model sedans with smartly dressed Chinese men snoozing in the front seat are a fairly common sight in cer-tain areas of Shanghai, as drivers wait for an appointed pick-up or for a text message telling them when and where they need to be next. Fechter has written about the impact of having a driver on the lives of Indonesia's

expatriates, who she claims "frequently spent their entire day in the city without so much as setting foot on a street surface" (Fechter 2007b, p 43). Likewise in Shanghai, local Chinese drivers gave corporate expatri-ates the ability to travel between bubbles of Westernness, effectively avoiding the poorer, implicitly more local Chinese spaces between. In this way the novelty of these spaces are maintained and, as we have seen, continue to be viewed touristically, as "valuable experiences" rather than as spaces that could and were actually being lived in (cf p 116). It's important to note, however, that large numbers of local Chinese also employ drivers. So many, in fact, that car manufacturers have started catering to the demand by increasing the size of the backseat in models intended for the Chinese market (Wernie 2013).

Despite this, many of the corporate expatriates I met viewed their Ayi or drivers as a necessary but often discomforting and by implication alien -presence in their lives. During her interview, Bettina, who had left a career in computing to move to China, described the impact having an Ayi had on her experience of motherhood,

It's taken my three years to realise how many things I missed out with my second daughter that I didn't miss out with my first one. It was easier. I would cook dinner and the Ayi would give them a bath. With my second daughter from the time she was one-and-a-half till four I missed out on all that play time during the bath, for example, because it was easier for me. I realised that Ayi's are great, for help, but, you do run the risk of, ah, giving them too much responsibility. There will be some things with time they will do with your children that, it's okay if they do it once or twice but] it's a differ-ent culture and if they do it over time, over months, they will take habits and things that aren't necessary what you want.

Anais, whose own choice to be a stay-at-home-parent predated her time in Shanghai by more than a decade, used the behaviour of others to frame her views on the topic,

A lot of, ah, parents here, ah, think that the Ayi can take care of [the] children, [their] home-work, everything. So the parents have a very

good life without the children because the Ayi takes care of them. The driver takes care of the children and, ah, so, your children lose their reality, and they think can do everything they want with the driver, with the Ayi.

Katie, a teacher at an international school, told me, "I've never had a helper in my house [before coming to China]. When [the Ayi is] upstairs and I'm downstairs helping with homework…its just somebody in my house and do I trust them. I'm trying not to be that way because she's never done anything.” ForKatie, it was not only the cultural gap between herself and her Ayi that she found discomfiting. For her, as for many of the expatriates I talked to, domestic staff served as a persistent reminder of unaccustomed relative privilege. Echoing a common framing of the poor in Western popular discourse, expatriates, when confronted by this class gap in their own homes, commonly responded with feelings of dis-trust and/or guilt. Some justified the disconnect between this reaction and their continued employment of domestic staff by claiming that they felt obligated to employ them.

The Reeds told me that when they arrived they had, at first, been reluct-ant to hire an Ayi, but were told by friends that in China it was expected of those with financial ability “to put something back”. This classist social pressure was not really present among postpats that I talked to, for whom having an Ayi was generally seen as a choice. Indeed, the majority of expatriates, whether they were postpats or corporate expatriates, framed this dilemma as a trade-off, with the significant benefits of having an Ayi or a driver winning out over personal feelings of discomfort.

For even relatively middle-income local Chinese families, hiring an Ayi is rarely seen as unusual or as an extravagance. When visiting the family homes of local Chinese acquaintances, it was very common for food to be prepared and served by an Ayi. I also talked to expatriates who worked as private tutors for wealthy local Chinese families - families who in some cases employed as many as five Ayi and two or three drivers.

Consequently, expatriate employment of domestic staff is more accur-ately viewed as an artefact of the economics and culture of China, as well