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January 6, 2010

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Words of experience guide new-wave young expats

FRENCH businessman Manuel Ramos has carved a niche by producing language-specific guides in Shanghai, but he warns budding entrepreneurs that China is no El Dorado, Sam Riley reports.

His own boss at 28 and an entrepreneur building his business in China, in many ways Manuel Ramos is typical of the new expats making their way to Shanghai.

In the past, the standard foreigner in China was likely to have been older and working for a multinational company on a big salary package.

In the last few years, particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis, more young people are coming to Shanghai to try their luck at forging their own path in the city.

Ramos' journey is typical of many of Shanghai's newest expat residents.

A brief seven-month stint in Shanghai studying Chinese in 2005 as part of his MBA led him to want to start a career in China.

"I knew that if I wanted to really get into business, I had to come to the Chinese mainland and I needed to come to Shanghai," he says.

Since arriving in 2006, Ramos has launched an online French newspaper covering events and activities in the city and last year launched a guide helping French-speaking expats set up their lives here.

Ramos says many young foreigners come to Shanghai with little knowledge or planning of what they will need to do to establish themselves.

More than 6,000 of the guides, "Le Petit Milu," have been distributed via the French consulate, Chamber of Commerce and other associations and are also available in some bars and restaurants.

With helpful illustrations and an easy-to-read practical style, the guides provide information on almost every aspect of setting up life in Shanghai from local laws and regulations, medical facilities and insurance to basic tips on Chinese culture and how best to learn Chinese.

Ramos describes "Le Petit Milu" as not a travel or an entertainment guide but a "life guide." It has proved so successful that there are plans to launch a second French-language edition and an English-language European Union version.

There has also been interest from consulates and chambers in other cities in China including Beijing and Hong Kong, he says.

Ramos predicts they will release more than 10,000 French-language copies which will contain specific information for a number of countries where French is spoken, including Canada, Belgium, Luxemburg and Switzerland.

More than 30,000 copies of the English-language version will be distributed when it is launched in April. The new releases have also been expanded to include information on World Expo and also on how to set up business in Shanghai.

It is a challenge Ramos knows only too well. After graduating from university, he originally came to Shanghai to work in marketing for a joint-venture gas company but left after seven months to start his own consultancy company, Omptimeast International.

Ramos, the son of a Portuguese diplomat who specialized in promoting his country's trade and commerce, has helped Portuguese and other European companies to establish businesses in China.

Having lived in a number of countries as a child, he is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, French and English.

He utilized his language skills when he began his first foray into the media as a consultant for a number of French-language guides covering Shanghai.

Inspired to get into media and publishing himself, he launched the online newspaper Le Petit Journal Shanghai edition in 2009.

Le Petit Journal has online editions covering more than 35 countries and in China its editions also cover Beijing and Hong Kong.

The journal provides leisure, business and news from Shanghai as well as international news from the French-speaking world.

It also covers developments around World Expo Shanghai and the site has grown to have more than 40,000 visitors a month.

The readership includes both overseas and local readers as well as Chinese wanting to improve their French, Ramos says.

After frantic four years in Shanghai establishing his burgeoning business, Ramos says he now has some perspective on the challenges faced by other would-be Shanghai entrepreneurs just setting out.

"It is a long process and takes three to four years to begin to see results. There are a lot of young people coming here who have not been sent by a company so they start to think about entrepreneurship when they arrive," he says.

Ramos says one of the reasons for the guides now including business-startup tips was the common misconception among new arrivals that starting a business in Shanghai is easier than in their home countries.

"Shanghai is not an El Dorado. Whether here or back in your home country, entrepreneurship is difficult," he says. "We want our guides to be available online so people can think a bit about what to expect before they actually arrive in Shanghai."

For more information about the next editions of "Petit Milu/The Milu Guide," e-mail to or call 1367-1864-850. Le Petit Journal Shanghai is available by visiting Ramos

Nationality: French

Age: 28

Profession: Entrepreneur



Stubborn, open-minded, optimistic.

Favorite place:

La Villa Basset - the official residence of the French consul on Huaihai Road M.

Strangest thing seen in Shanghai:

A taxi driver speaking to me in French about Baudelaire, Flaubert and Maupassant.

Worst experience:

February 2008, the worst winter for decades in Shanghai (snow storm, no more flights, no more trains, no taxis, etc) ... a real mess.

Motto for life:

"Be optimistic!" as a person; "In business ethics we trust" as a businessman.

How to improve

Shanghai:Coming from a developed country ... I will say that a lot of emphasis should be put on education at every level to improve quality of service (restaurants, taxis, shops, administration, etc), efficiency in the work place, to increase respect between people.

Advice to newcomers:

Shanghai is not an "El Dorado." Get medical insurance; learn some basic Putonghua (Mandarin) asap; be aware of Chinese law.


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