From Wide-Eyed Tourist To Trusted Local

September 9, 2014

As my plane descended on Shanghai, I didn’t need to look out the window to know I was in a foreign land.

Having spent the past half-decade as a business journalist and editor, I’m inquisitive by nature. My antennae are constantly humming, picking up on nuanced interactions in my vicinity. The distinct mannerisms of Chinese travelers on my flight, with whom I’d spent a dozen hours crammed into coach, provided indisputable evidence that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore (or Minnesota, as it were).

On the ground, our driver weaved through traffic on an elevated highway, paying little heed to painted lines that, back home, would have suggested individual lanes. Bright billboards bearing indiscernible symbols and unfamiliar spokespeople whirred by my window in a colorful blur.

It was at this moment that I realized, among all my previous travels, nowhere else had felt so . . . new.

Consequently, everything — and I mean everything — became a learning experience. A morning stroll offered innumerable lessons: How to traverse complex intersections without being mowed down by a mob of motorized bicycles. How to overcome the language barrier in order to procure breakfast. How to trek several miles to a Buddhist temple without the aid of Google Maps.

Change means embracing the unknown, such as this mystery meat from a street vendor.

Change means embracing the unknown, such as this mystery meat from a street vendor.

Vivid memories of that trip surfaced last week, as I officially began my new role at Fast Horse and again found myself in an unfamiliar environment. (My first “unofficial” day, complete with a party bus in Amish country, was admittedly more “foreign,” but I think some longer-tenured Ponies shared that sentiment.)

Now, roughly a week into my new gig, I admit that the China metaphor is a bit of a stretch. It’s not as though I walked into a room full of colleagues spouting Shanghainese. And the bulk of my new responsibilities fall squarely in my wheelhouse. But I came from a career in which I was the longest-standing team member; in other words, I went from veteran to “new guy.”

Much like Shanghai, this new adventure has demanded an astute awareness of my surroundings, and it has fostered intense interest (and excitement) in every lesson to be learned. Luckily, the collective creativity in this shop is equal parts contagious and challenging, and it’s obvious that I’m learning from the best in the business. Let’s just say there’s no surprise these folks have won so many shiny trophies.

But there’s one crucial distinction. In my brief stint in Shanghai, I did my best to adapt to my surroundings, but as with all other trips, I arrived a foreigner and departed a foreigner, left to reminisce about a mere blip in time.

Fast Horse, by contrast, is quickly becoming home. And I’m immensely enjoying the transition from wide-eyed tourist to official resident — from the guy fumbling with his crumpled map to the trusted local who has staked his long-term claim.

Oh yeah, there is one other parallel between my China trip and my new role at Fast Horse: I’m having a fantastic time.