Just two years ago, Thomas Chabrieres was working as a marketing executive for an international advertising agency in Beijing and life was plodding along nicely. Then, something happened to catapult him into a brave new world.
His very demanding Paris boss was visiting Beijing and wanted a good time and it fell upon the young Frenchman's job to make that happen.
Chabrierers organized a ride to the Great Wall in a WWII-motorcycle sidecar followed by a picnic of red wine, cheese and baguette.
The Parisian big shot was absolutely delighted, especially with the Changjiang 750cc motorbike.
Chabrierers' sidecar bike is now parked in front of his office in the French concession where edgy restaurants and chic boutiques share space with traditional Shanghainese housing.
Frenchman Thomas Chabrieres describes his life in Shanghai as "200km/h". [Courtesy of Thomas Chabrieres]
Soon after the boss' visit, the 30-year-old French expat trashed his office suit and went all out to make his passion his living.
"Forget about the money, forget about the career, and forget about the way people look at you" was his credo when founding his startup Shanghai Sideways.
"I love to ride my bike, I love to discover Shanghai, an amazing city that's always changing, and I love people. That's why I set up Shanghai Sideways."
Raised in the south of France and graduating from a business school in Paris, Chabrieres ended up to Beijing and then Shanghai to work in website production and advertising.
"My family has a quite long history with China. We first came here in the 19th century to do some trading in Guangzhou. Since then we have always had an interest in China but my sister and I are actually the first generation to live here," he says.
Shanghai Sideways is Chabrierers' very own and unique approach to tourism. For 1,000 yuan ($146), people can seat themselves in a 1930s sidecar and discover Shanghai in a four-hour tour.
"We try to show our customers parts of Shanghai that they have never seen even if they have been living here for years."
"The sidecars were originally designed in the 1930s. And the 1930s are still very present in Shanghai. So it's like a time machine," says Chabrierers.
"From a macro-perspective Shanghai is an ugly city, just a jungle of high buildings. But from a micro-perspective, this city is absolutely gorgeous and unique."
It is obvious from Chabrierers' enthusiasm that discovering Shanghai is not only his job but also his passion. His tours range from visiting the famous and less famous markets of the city to inspecting the fast disappearing traditional Shanghainese neighborhoods as well as its most recent architectural attractions.
Chabrierers is, nevertheless, open to ideas and if they are really good, he will invite you to a coke in the heights of the Hyatt hotel of the World Financial Center.
Though he still playfully considers himself a laowai, his plans for the near future are definitely linked to China: "As long as China wants me and as long as I want China, I'll stay."
Chabrierers is currently busy launching another branch called Sideways Escape which offers multi-day tours all over China, ranging from a weekend trip to Taihu Lake outside of Shanghai to a 10-day road trip covering 1,800 km from Xiamen over Mount Wuyi and several other spots, to Shanghai.
Describing his recent years in Shanghai simply as "200km/h", he smiles and adds: "And I'm not talking about the speed of the bike!"
(China Daily August 10, 2009)