"There are two types of expats in China: those with drivers and those with bicycles," says Steven Weathers, an actor, director and adventurer from the US who has lived in Shanghai for three years.
"And I have a bicycle," he laughs. The comparison highlights the difference between how expats approach the difficult and often frustrating experience of adjusting to a whole new culture. With his bicycle, friends all over China and self-taught Mandarin, Weathers has opted to embrace Chinese culture, quirks and all.
Total immersion, while taking more effort, has yielded great opportunities and hilarious adventures along the way.
For a start, Weathers has starred in more than 40 adverts, three TV serials, and one pop video (S.H.E's number one hit "Zhong Guo Hua"). After his latest appearance on a popular, melodramatic TV serial based in Shanghai called "Dwelling Narrowness," he is being recognized on the street by middle-aged Chinese women who confuse him with his TV character.
"People randomly offer to buy me pizza and tea. At first it was fun but now I go to dinner and all the people look at me, when I look back they look away," he says.
Weathers has also directed and produced his own video series about China called "Foreigner Perspective." Put onto Youku.com with no other marketing it quickly attracted tens of thousands of hits and the attention of local TV stations. He is now a regular host for International Channel Shanghai.
Weathers first came to China in 1998 with a tour group. He loved it so much the other members of the group said back then he would come here to live. He didn't give it much thought at the time, but seven years later Weathers became tired of the 24/7 grind of corporate America and decided to take a chance on China.
"I wanted a challenge, I'm driven by goals. Though there are challenges in America, like getting new clients, I felt it was pedestrian, like something was missing," he says.
The challenge that China offered, was precisely one which many expats run from, that of understanding a different way of thought.
To pursue this challenge Weathers deliberately avoided the big, international cities at first, settling in Luoyang, Shaanxi Province, for his first year in China. With just two KFCs and six other foreigners, he was forced to learn the language and the culture. When all six of the expats went back for Christmas for a month, Weathers spent Chinese New Year with local friends, visiting 11 families over the period.
"I have learned things you'd never learn in big cities, like when you ganbei (propose a toast), holding your cup slightly lower is a sign of deference and respect for the other person."
Weathers moved to Shanghai in 2006 to teach business and English at Shanghai Normal University, and started a Website, American English Circle, for language and culture exchange.
At the same time he started answering adverts for foreign actors in Chinese commercials and dramas.
Having run an advertising company in the US, he had always wanted to get into the media. In China there were great opportunities for a reliable-looking foreigner in his 30s. Falling into the slightly older, professional-looking category Weathers has played engineers and experts for a range of products ranging from cars to food to household products.