In 1993, world-traveling American business executive Erik Laurence sets foot in Mainland China for the first time. Despite having visited over 40 countries by this point in his life, he finds himself baffled by the strange land. After being led through a series of backroom exchanges of money and promises, Laurence is allowed to make a presentation to the Chinese Army. He addresses the officers through a translator who does not really speak Mandarin, yet is able to make himself understood through pantomime, telepathy and most effectively, an audience volunteer who spoke Mandarin and Cantonese. Impressed with his presentation, local dignitaries stop by the hotel that night and subject Laurence to the Wheel of Death, a culinary initiation ritual. They also attempt to determine his trustworthiness by seeking his participation in an extreme drinking binge, which, due to an expensive Western college education, he survives unscathed. After this initial foray into the Middle Kingdom, the young businessman vows never to return.
Sixteen years later, under the influence of his wife’s promise of participation in the emerging greatness of the new China, Laurence forsakes his vow and boards a one-way flight to Shanghai with his two young children.
Now officially an expat with no return date in sight, Laurence must carve out a safe and happy life for his family while running the Chinese division of an American technology company. While China appears to have changed immeasurably since his early days, he quickly finds that many things aren’t what they seem. Business deals require special relationships that have little or nothing to do with the product, karaoke halls are not about the music, and skies remain gray even on the sunniest of days.
Shanghaied strives to entertain and inform as expat Erik Laurence examines the idiosyncrasies of Chinese culture – the good, the bad, and the inexplicable – and ponders why in the world’s second largest economy must you bring your own toilet paper to the mall.