Today we meet Kyle Long, an expatriate who loved his student life in Shanghai so much that he decided to stay. Unable to find a job that interested him and met his needs for a challenge, Kyle took the bull by the horns and started his own business: Untour Shanghai, a tourist offering that combines his busines partner’s love of food with his own love of running. Here Kyle talks about his time in Shanghai and provides valuable advice for expatriate entrepreneurs who want to suceed in business.
Can you please tell us a little about your background and what initially made you move to China?
I graduated from American University in 2007, after having studied abroad in Beijing. I had an amazing experience there, and knew that I needed more time to come back to China on my own and really fully explore the culture, food, and language more. I was blessed with a family who traveled abroad quite a bit (and I don’t mean vacationing on the beach in Mexico), so I caught the travel bug quite early. I studied abroad in Chile in high school, and also did a Master’s program in Germany.
What were your first impressions of China? Did you suffer from culture shock? How did you deal with your initial emotions?
My first impression centered on how chaotic it all seemed. And I mean everything, from the hectic traffic to trying to read menus, to even just simple tasks like having to climb the gate at night because they locked our dorm access earlier. It was sort of a metaphor for foreigners in China: it’s a struggle, but a fun, ridiculous struggle. Little by little, the chaos starts to make sense, and I realized that a semester is fascinating, but maybe I ought to come back, spend more time and climb more gates, so to speak.
What are your favorite things about living in China?
The food is a definite highlight. Most people may not realize that food in China just isn’t anything like restaurants back home. The cuisine is so diverse that pretty much everyday you can be blown away if you have an adventurous spirit. Of course, that means dealing with surprises like chicken feet and beheaded turtle from time to time, but it’s definitely worth it. The language is also a struggle, but a fun struggle. The more Chinese you learn, the more puzzle pieces you start to put together and the more enriching daily life becomes. It’s also amazing to live in a growing, vibrant place. Everyone is abuzz about the possibilities there are here, and that can really positively affect your mood and frame of mind.
What things do you least enjoy?
It’s probably the same for most expats here: Crowds, things could be cleaner, people from the countryside spitting everywhere – every day presents new struggles.
What advice would you give to someone who was relocating to China for the first time?
My best advice for dealing with the things you least enjoy is just to try to either change your routine so they don’t affect you as much, or change your frame of mind, so they don’t bother you. If the subway is too full, figure out a bike route, or skip your Starbucks to pay for a cab. Sometimes it’s about the tradeoffs. If spitting bothers you, maybe it will be therapeutic to start spitting as well. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Just find ways to be at peace. It’s important not to wall yourself off from your host culture though, so make sure your expat bubble is popped every single day.
While you were in China you set up your own business. Please tell us what you do and describe how that came about?
My business partner and I were burnt out job searching and working for people doing things we didn’t enjoy. We’ve always heard that in business to be successful you need to be passionate about your service or product, so we decided to start doing tours based on exactly what we love to do and about Shanghai. Thus, UnTour Shanghai’s culinary tours were born, where we get to show foreigners exactly what Chinese food is really about. We bring guests to restaurants and street stalls they may not have felt comfortable walking into themselves due to a lack of English or just the unfamiliar surroundings, and really blow their minds with how delicious everything is! Since I also love to run, and have been running here myself for years, I put together my best routes for a variety of jogging sightseeing tours. It’s a great way to see a new city and get a workout at the same time. Of course, now we’re doing exactly what we love doing, we’re having the time of our lives, and I think our guests can tell!
What key challenges did you face when trying to establish UnTour Shanghai?
Navigating Chinese beauracracy will always be a challenge, no matter fluent you are. We decided to head off as many problems as possible by enlisting a consultant to help us officially register the business. Some things are just worth paying for.
What three top tips can you offer to expatriates who are considering starting out for the first time?
1) Talk to other expats doing similar things. Expats have great camaraderie, and usually people are quite eager to help!
2) You likely aren’t the first one facing certain situations, so be sure to check out all the online resources available to you. Of course, especially in China, things change quickly, but it’s always a starting point.
3) Don’t be afraid to just do it! We get emails all the time about people wanting to start a business, but don’t know how to get started. The answer is to just start. It may not be as professional or polished as you have your end result in mind, but it probably never will be in the beginning. You have to just start somewhere.
What experiences from your time as an expatriate have been most helpful in assisting you with your venture?
Knowing how to read and write in Chinese has proved invaluable. A lot of expats come here not knowing Mandarin, but they pick up some phrases and sentences from just living here, but never bother to learn to read and write characters. Shanghai can be a pretty easy city to get around with just a few key phrases, but they miss out on so much local culture, not to mention good food, when they can’t read. When I go to restaurants with my illiterate friends, I’m always the one ordering as they can’t read the menu. Luckily for me, that means I get to eat whatever I want! Plus it really helps when I travel to smaller second- and third-tier cities.
What’s next for UnTour Shanghai?
More eating! We’re constantly upgrading our tours and creating new ones to interest our guests. Just this week, we’re launching a new “Dumpling Delights” tour that showcases the wide world of dumplings in Shanghai. A lot of foreigners already love dumplings when they arrive, but even if you eat every day in Chinatown, you won’t be able to find the type and quality of dumplings here.
Kyle Long is Chief Running Officer of UnTour Shanghai. His partner, Jamie Barys, is Chief Eating Officer.