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May 24, 2011

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Writing from the heart

VALENTINE Sorret has made good use of her spare time, compiling her thoughts and observations about life in Shanghai into a charming book. Nie Xin meets the engaging Frenchwoman.

Valentine Sorret fits into the category of expatriates who have come to Shanghai and done something they probably never considered before.

With a background in public relations and marketing, the Frenchwoman says she spent four years compiling "Shanghai Snapshots," a book detailing her thoughts and experiences of living in Shanghai. The book features short little anecdotes and observations about the city and its inhabitants that most expatriates will relate to and identify with. They include bits on everything from the bluntness in which locals speak about money to the ever-increasing wealth gap and the sadness of seeing so many friends move to other cities or countries.

"It is filled with thoughts, emotions and fun stories that I am eager to share," says Sorret, "I do not want to forget anything about this privileged moment of my life: my joys, my pains, my surprises, my expectations and my questions."

Feedback from readers has been mostly "positive, energetic and amazing," she says.

To promote the book, Sorret appeared last Saturday for two hours at Garden Books on Changle Road. She shared some of her experiences of living in China and signed copies of the book.

"Let me take a picture of you," says Sorret, who is wearing a dark blue dress and white high-heeled shoes, upon seeing the crowd gathered in the bookstore.

Sorret says she, her husband and two children move from France to Shanghai seven years ago. When her husband was told he was being sent to China for work, Sorret says she was eager to come: "Yes! Let's go to China!"

Sorret used to work in marketing and public relations for Sens & Bund. Now she is working for a new French company called Dukan.

She says she wrote the book over the course of four years during her spare time.

"Finishing this book was a big challenge. It was a secret until I finished it," Sorret says.

She says she kept it a secret for so long because she didn't have enough confidence to tell others.

So she just kept writing until it was finished.

Sorrte's colorful vignettes are what she likes to call a "picture of words" that capture her vibrant and hectic life while also shedding light on the lifestyles of other French people in the city. She even refers to articles in Shanghai Daily on several occasions.

After "Shanghai Snapshots" was well received among her friends, she says she decided to publish it.

The original version is in French and 800 copies sold within one month.

A friend helped her translate it to English and this version has been available for several months.

Her friend Simon Baxter says the collection of stories is amazing.

"We love the book and we feel that we have had similar experiences in Shanghai," says Baxter, whose wife helped with the English translation of the book.

Baxter read some of the chapters from "Snapshots" to the crowd at Garden Books.

A number of stories and observations talk about cultural differences - everything from riding a bicycle in the sun to taking a cab and the glamor of a night out on the Bund to attitudes about a women's age.

Like many foreigners living in Shanghai, she sometimes thinks the people here are rude, such as when they spit on the road.

"But when I see the flower tea in the water, it is magic," she says. "It takes time to explore this country, which is a magnificent place."

Sorret says she had no desire to explain China in the book and no inclination to write a political or historical book on this great country. She simply says it's one woman's thoughts on living abroad for the first time.

Her experiences in Shanghai have changed her over the seven years.

"You will change a lot, definitely," she tells the expatriates, some who have recently arrived, at her book presentation.

Sorret has also donated books to charity. Eight-hundred copies of the French version have been given to Couleurs de Chine and A Pleines Mains, two charities devoted to helping young girls get an education. Five-hundred copies of the English version have been donated to the Heart to Heart Association.

Her motto in life is "Where there is a will there is a way." At her home, there is a Chinese calligraphy work on the wall that says, You zhi zhe shi jin cheng. It has a similar meaning to her motto and suits Sorret perfectly.

Valentine Sorret

Nationality: France

Age: I would appreciate it if you don't mention my age in the article. Thanks for your feminine understanding.

Profession: Public relationship, marketing, communication



Emotional, active, energetic, enjoy life.

Favorite place:

My two favorite streets are Shaoxing Road and Jinxian Road (close to Maoming Road); I love Flair Bar at The Ritz-Carlton in Pudong where I can enjoy a perfect view of the Huangpu River.

Strangest sight:

The sharp difference between richness and poorness. On the same street there is a poor man riding a tricycle and a rich person driving a luxury car.

Worst experience:


Motto for life:

Where there is a will there is a way.

How to improve Shanghai:

Less cars and less pollution.

Advice to newcomers:

Enjoy every moment, keep an open mind and keep learning.


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