The Netherlands' Consul General to Shanghai, Eric Verwaal, is rediscovering the love he felt for all things China related, renewing his Mandarin skills and enjoying being back in Shanghai 22 years after his first visit as a Chinese history student.
Ties between the Netherlands and China, and indeed Shanghai are numerous. The Netherlands is China's second-largest trading partner within the European Union and is also one of its largest investors.
There are more than 300 Dutch companies set up in Shanghai alone and over 1,000 Dutch expats living in the city, a number that is said to be growing every day.
Now Eric Verwaal, the newly appointed Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands tells about his life locally.
"As Consul General I promote Dutch economic interests in Shanghai and the surrounding provinces Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui."
There are the three main pillars of work that link the Netherlands and China, commercial, consular and culture.
"We concentrate heavily on the creative, bringing in designers and architects as this is a strong resource that the Netherlands can offer and what China is looking for."
With an arts background himself, Verwaal, was born in Gouda, one of the oldest cities of the Netherlands and he first came to Shanghai in 1985 as an exchange student studying Chinese history.
His interest in China initially stemmed from two and a half years spent in Indonesia at the age of 11.
"I became fascinated by Chinese characters, through their complexities," he says.
This was the first step, that lead the Dutch expat to study Chinese.
"I was always attracted to languages and history but did not want to be a teacher as the majority of people with these interests become. So I thought why not give Chinese a try, a decision that was strengthened when someone told me that Westerners can not learn Chinese."
Proving those people wrong, Verwaal graduated in 1987 and took a job as a teacher at the Maastricht school of translation, before joining the Ministry of Foreign affairs after two years.
Now 20 years later he is using his Chinese skills once again having taken up his current position as Shanghai-based Dutch Consul General.
"Chinese is not something you can learn spontaneously unless you are a baby. I lost it for a while however, it was just buried in the back of my brain and being here my Chinese skills are being activated once again."
Now, having been living in Shanghai less than two months Verwaal says: "Everything is different, when I first came here I was a student and my life and China were so different then. It is an interesting experience as it is new yet familiar at the same time. But being able to communicate with local people is a great benefit both personally and work wise."
The Dutch community in Shanghai is relatively large, he continues.
"Standing at about 1,100 people it is growing every day. People come here through a company, to set up their own or just for a holiday and realize they like it so much that they decide to move here."
Having himself moved locally in April with his wife Erna and two cats (Bonny and Clyde), Verwaal says he is settling in very well.
"Every time people ask how long I have been here I realize that the answer is not very long. However, it does not feel like that, for example sometimes you buy a new coat and it fits so well that you feel like you have been wearing it for ever."
"I am getting to know Shanghai again, renewing my language skills and just enjoying the country."
With a keen interest in not only cultural activities, the Dutch expat has also now started to pursue his other interest, horse riding.
Calling himself an advanced beginner he says: "I have been riding for five years now; I first tried it on a riding holiday in Tuscany and from there is escalated. We have a horse in the Netherlands called Puk but we could not bring him out here with us."
Although horse riding is not an activity that would be an obvious pastime for a city dweller, Verwaal says, "I go to Meadowbrook, close to Sheshan. It is a big riding center where I can do most of what I could back home. And for the more advanced there is some land outside the menage where you can take the horses."
Enjoying his new life, Verwaal says he plans to stay in Shanghai until at least 2011.
"Shanghai is a very dynamic city; you get the feeling that it is the place where things are happening at the moment. It is a very stimulating time to be here."
This year is an important time for Dutch Chinese relations, he concludes.
"We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Rotterdam commercial representative office and this year also marks 35 years since the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the People's Republic of China upgraded relations to the level of ambassador."
(Shanghai Daily May 16, 2007)