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Wall Street tumble sends 'sea turtle' back home

TO his family and friends, 26-year-old Mark Zhou has always been a shining example and a success story - getting top grades in college, a full scholarship to study in America, and a highly competitive job in a major investment bank in New York.

Now, he's back home - he lost that precious job as Wall Street tumbled and his employer was engulfed by the financial crisis. He had been earning US$100,000 a year.

He's known as a "sea turtle," or hai gui, literally "returning from across the sea."

"I hesitated for a long time before coming back," saysShanghai native Zhou who returned in December.

"I started receiving all these calls from family and friends inquiring about the financial crisis and of course, about whether I was able to keep my job. I didn't dare tell any of them I was out of work," says Zhou.

Four years ago Zhou went to the United States for a master's degree in finance and joined a major investment bank two years later. He was on a roll: Everyone admired his intelligence, diligence and luck.

Even before the public heard about all the huge bankruptcies, Zhou had experienced the tension in the industry.

"Everyone in the office knew about it as rumors had been going around for a while, but nobody wanted to believe it or nobody wanted to speak it out," says Zhou.

"But, you can feel it. It gets quite nasty in the office."

A second-year associate, Zhou lost his job like thousands of other entrance-level investment bank employees. He tried to find another job in the same field in the US, but "the whole industry was extremely pessimistic, passive and bad at the time. Even those in higher positions worried about losing jobs every day, not to mention the shrimps like us."

For two months, Zhou experienced the cycle of searching for work, calling, networking, and getting disappointed. He called industry colleagues in London and Hong Kong to look for opportunities.

Meanwhile, he had to keep telling his parents, "I'm okay. Don't worry about me. I'm doing well in the company."

Exhausted physically and mentally, he finally told his parents about the situation and arrived in Shanghai last December.

He felt "strange yet intimate with the city" the minute he stepped out of the airport. He decided to stay in his hometown, at least for the time being.

"They told me not to worry and just relax for a few months before making the decision to stay or go back," says Zhou.

"I really appreciate caring family and friends. Everyone keeps telling me, 'It's not your fault, it's the industry.' But to some extent, that's even more embarrassing for me."

Zhou kept submitting resumes and making contacts without telling his parents. But he was anxious about interviews and the inevitable question about his last job.

"I know it's silly, but at that time, I really felt bad about confronting the question: Why did you come back from America? Or did you lose your job during the financial crisis?" recalls Zhou.

Now, through networking, he has landed a job in a real estate company and hopes to return to investment banking when the global economy improves.


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