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Shanglow Days – Car Troubles

by | Sep 25, 2015 | 0 comments

blue VW busAmong the expats living in Shanghai, it’s common to talk about Shanglow days. The opposite of feeling high, you’re feeling low, or a little blue, in Shanghai. Lots of things could bring on a Shanglow day – the weather, the traffic, the cost of living, or the poor construction in your apartment or house. We have our share of Shanglow days for various reasons, but in the past week they’ve been related to our car.

Before moving here we sold two cars – both functioned well and had lost of bells and whistles. Yes, we were very spoiled. Fast forward to China and we now share one vehicle, which is assigned by my husband’s company. Before moving, the company asked us a couple of questions about our car needs.

1) Did we want a mini-van or a sedan?

2) Did we want a silver or blue vehicle?

The Van

We opted for the minivan, and since we had 2 silver cars in the US, chose blue. Sure enough, we were picked up at the airport on day one in a blue minivan. It was a few years old, but looked nice and had lot of features, like a DVD player, heated seats, lots of outlets to charge our phones, and automatic sliding doors. We liked it. Everything was great….until it wasn’t anymore. Before long, we started to notice some problems. The check engine light was always on. The sliding doors only functioned about half of the time, and the DVD player rarely worked. Then, one day I was stranded during a rain storm because the battery died and the driver couldn’t reach me (Uber to the rescue!). So, husband put in a request to swap out the van for one in better condition. No problem, we were told, we’ll find you a better van.

“Better” Vans

The swap out happened really quickly – they notified my husband that they’d found a better van and we’d have it tomorrow. Sure enough, the driver arrived the next morning in a different van. We are baffled at who thought it was better though. As soon as I looked in the open door, I knew there were problems. The “better” van looked like it had been in a fender-bender or two, had ripped seats (with stuffing showing), and the engine made a loud grinding noise whenever you turned the steering wheel. How was this better? This van was BU HAO (not good)!

We requested another change and the next day got a “much better van.” Apparently, “much better” means you get smoky smell and a half-peeled-off “Baby on Board” sticker. On top of that, all our creature comforts, like DVDs, outlets to charge phones, and heated seats were gone.

Not surprisingly, husband was angry and demanded answers as to why we getting these sub-par vehicles. The answers we received made us feel pretty “bu hao.” We learned that company policy is that people in his position qualify for a second-hand entry-level car. We asked why our first vehicle was nicer than the “better” vans they replaced it with, and were told that the car manufacturer stopped including those features back in 2011, so if we want them, we have to get an older vehicle, and the mechanical issues that come with it. This is not the answer we wanted to hear, as these “better” cars were significantly lower-level than what we drove back in the US, and what we see many other families driving here.

Another Issue

Prior to us, our driver drove for more senior business leaders and drove them around in luxury cars, much fancier than the mini-van we wanted, let alone the ones we were getting. With our poor automobile luck, we’re crossing our fingers that he doesn’t ditch us for a family with a better pay-grade/better vehicle. Maybe the moon cakes and hand-made card we gave him for Autumn Festival will help keep him around?!

Key Learnings

  • We are spoiled, coming from the US with two nice cars. Both my husband and I have driven our own cars since high school, so it has been a major adjustment for us to adjust to being a one car family. Most people in this city don’t own a single car, and rely on electric scooters or public transportation. It helps put things in perspective when I remind myself about that.
  • It’s frustrating to come from a place where you have nearly limitless choices about what you drive a situation where you have very little. The ability to choose where you live, where your children attend school, your mode of transportation, where you shop, and the food you eat is a luxury. Try not to take it for granted
  • I never thought I would have mini-van envy, but now realize it can happen.


After some more pushing, we received notice that the company would make an exception to the policy and order us a new vehicle that should arrive in one month. It won’t have the features we hoped for, but that’s OK. At least we won’t have to deal with check engine lights, smoke smells, slashed seats, and peeling stickers.

In the meantime, they gave us yet another van, which has slightly less smoke scent. In place of the Baby on Board sticker we got wrinkled window tint film. Keep calm and drive on!