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7.1 - The Style to Which We Have Become Accustomed: Trailing Spouse Groups

May our wives continue to keep us in the style to which we have become accustomed.

- toast at a Guytai event.

While most of Shanghai's expatriate networking and support groups were nominally open to all foreigners, the active membership of groups like AWCS, SEA and the Guytais were often effectively limited to Shanghai's trailing spouse population. These groups held most of their events in the middle of the day, a schedule which tended to preclude working expatri-ates from attending but often implicitly or even explicitly favoured Shanghai's trailing spouses.

Full-time or close to full-time childcare and/or housekeeping left many trail-ing spouses with little to do durtrail-ing the middle of the day. This ability to socialise during normal work has become a storyed part of the taitai ste-reotype. An article fromThat's Shanghai, entitled "Shanghai Taitai, poses the question "What do people who have nothing to do all day, do all day?"

(Jones 2011). For some, trailing spouse groups, like the ones mentioned above, provided a partial answer to this question.

Trailing spouse organisations typically hosted regular "coffee meetings",

"ladies nights" and "mixers" in Western-themed cafes and bars. Both American Women's Club of Shanghai (AWCS) and the Shanghai Expatri-ate Association (SEA) hosted their monthly coffee meetings in the ballrooms of fIve-star-hotels. The calendars of both clubs are tied to the US school year and because of this they were engaged in their yearly recruitment drive as I began my fieldwork. Coffee meetings form an important part of this recruitment effort and, thanks to my early contact with a vendor who often worked expatriate events, I was invited to attend

both the AWCS and the SEA meetings during this time. There was very little to distinguish these events, beyond the national backgrounds of the attendees - AWCS members were predominantly drawn from Shanghai's American population, whereas the SEA's membership was more varied.

Because of this similarity I will focus my description on the AWCS Meet and Greet Coffee Morning, held every month in the Grand Ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel, in Jing'an.104

On my way to the Four Seasons I had crossed over the Yan'an pedestrian over-bridge, carefully walking around the beggars who often congregated between Yan'an Lu and Jing'an Temple. One man snaked along Huashan Lu on his belly, causing groups of young Chinese women to clutch at each other and give him a wide berth. Above them, and in the distance the gold, hip-roofed peaks of a refurbished JIng'an Temple offered a testament to Shanghai's return to wealth and importance.105

The lobby of the Four Seasons presented a pristine, spacious and gilded contrast to the beggars on Huashan lu. Shanghai was heading into Autumn, and the weather was unusually mild. Even so, stepping into the air-conditioned atrium felt like a cold dry slap, blowing the dirt of the city back out into the street and keeping the heavy, hot air at a comfortable dis-tance. Seeing my look of confusion, one of the staff, who were standing at regular intervals around the lobby, approached me and asked if he could help. "American Women's Club," I said, feeling out of place,

"It's in the Grand Ballroom." The staff member directed me up a wide, marble staircase, onto a broad mezzanine. A rectangular table occupied one end of the mezzanine with a small crowd of smartly dressed expatriate women surrounding it. Four expatriate women, with name badges on their lapels, stood on the other side of the table, offering information, sign-up

104. The October SEA Coffee Meeting was held in the Ballroom of the JC Mandarin Hotel, also in Jing'an.

105. Jing'an Temple had been almost completely demolished during the Cultural Revolution. It was reconstructed by worshipers in the early 1990s. However, this temple was demolished in the interests of urban development and replaced "with a splendid new temple in order to compliment the new pedestrian only street near-by"

(Ji 2011).

sheets and copies of the club periodical, Spirit Magazine, to whoever was interested. Opposite the table, a set of double doors stood open, through which the ballroom itself was visible.

Decorated in cream and gold, with blue and cream carpeting and an ornately panelled ceiling, the aptly named "Grand" Ballroom was con-figured as a marketplace, similar to the vendor area of a trade show or community fair. A variety of stalls was set out in a u-shape around the edges of the space, some advertising services or expatriate organisations and others selling products from jewellery to air purifiers. There was an area to sit down and socialise in the middle of the room, and near the door there was a refreshments table, with coffee, tea and a selection of finger foods. In New Zealand, similar events are usually held in church halls or vast, warehouse-like "exhibition centres" and I was continually struck by the opulence of the venue and what it said, consciously or unconsciously, about the privilege of the community AWCS served.

The fact that trailing spouse organisations often held their networking events in spaces like the Grand Ballroom suggests that notions of privilege played a role in the identity construction of some expatriates, helping to differentiate them further from the majority of local Chinese while also counterpointing their lives prior to expatriation. Through its use by AWCS the ballroom, an economically exclusive space by definition, was re-con-ceptualised as an exclusively Western space as well. Attendees at the coffee meeting were predominantly white, almost all female and of course predominantly American. Except for the "grand" decor, there was very little to separate this event from similar events in the West, and this made the experience of stepping into the ballroom one of dislocation, or perhaps relocation - out of China and back into the West, or from a marked back to an unmarked identity, in other words.

The AWCS Coffee Meeting, and events like it, also represent an opportun-ity for businesses to market to expatriates, and corporate expatriates in particular, in a more focused and direct way. The vendors at these events can, therefore, be seen as a cross-section of expatriate demand. For this reason, an overview of the types of goods and services marketed at these