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Ladies who lunch serve up charity
By Luo Man (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-11 06:15

SHANGHAI : If you thought the life of an expat wife was an endless round of luncheons, then think again.

The truth is, the daily inspection of the specials board and forking gingerly at a Waldorf salad as you catch up on the latest gossip is one way to avoid a lonely existence.

And for many among the lunch set, the table by the window is where great ideas to help the community are served up with the crevettes et asperges.

For too long, too many people have thought the life of an expat spouse is a corpulent merry-go-round with all the trappings - driver, ayi, health club, beauty parlour and salon and let's not forget the lavish dinner parties.

Not so, says Alison Hassanein, who runs Lifeline, an anonymous telephone support service run by expats for expats.

While many expatriate executives come to Shanghai and have to hit the ground running at work, their spouses often have a blank sheet and a household to set up. For those that make the trip on comfortable expat packages, material needs are pretty much looked after.

And while it is easy to raise a cynical eyebrow, they lack a network of friends and, often, the simple ability to communicate.

"It sounds silly, but they cannot go out and do little things without help," says Hassanein.

Sitting in a posh restaurant in Shanghai's trendy Hengshan Road, a group of ladies who lunch say they often get a hard time.

"We do get a bad reputation. People think we get together and lunch. But there is more than that," said Catherine Tulauskas, president of the American Women's Club.

"There is a great untapped market of expat women," she adds.

Many turn to charity work. "We are trying to focus more, trying to do more than just social events," says Tulauskas.

Just about every group for expatriates and in Shanghai there are groups for as many cultures as there are foreigners undertakes some kind of charity work.

There is no overarching plan for these efforts, which range from raising money for children to have medical treatment, to looking after children at orphanages or as is the case in an upcoming arts gala on May 21 raising cash for arts programmes at local schools.

"In one way you might think it's so trivial, but every little thing helps someone," says Juliet Hentschel, also of the American Women's Club.

"The first year, you may want to shop. But by the second year, you might want to do something," she adds.

The arts gala will be a first event by "awcforarts," an offshoot of the American Women's Club that will aim to raise some 40,000 yuan (US$4,800) for art supplies and programmes at a two schools for migrant children.

"We hope to generate an awareness that we are willing to raise money for these areas where there is a need," said organizer Angela Crockett.

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