SHANGHAI - When Cornelius Fricke made the decision to leave Germany to come to work in Shanghai in 1994, he did not know a single character of Chinese and never expected to stay long enough to learn.
But destiny had other plans.
The German has been working in China for 16 years, and is bent on continuing until he retires.
Fricke, 53, an executive at Federal Mogul, an American automotive products company based in Shanghai's Pudong New Area, still maintains his knowledge of the Chinese language is "limited", but the barrier cannot dent his passion for Shanghai, and China.
"When you look at the past 20 years, it's amazing. No country in the world would be as successful as China," he said.
Shanghai, and Pudong in particular, is the window through which Fricke has perceived the fundamental changes that have made China what it is today.
Back in 1994, Pudong began to witness large-scale development with the central government's announcement in 1990 to develop the area as a further promotion of the reform and opening-up policy.
Fricke, then 37 years old, saw "everything was under construction". He was among an increasing number of foreign businessmen who had already become aware of the huge potential unfolding in the emerging metropolis.
"When I was driving through the iron bars where they had constructed an elevated highway, there was mud underneath and no paved roads. It was annoying to be honest. But, on the other hand, I was amazed at the speed of development.
"Projects that take a minimum of five years to finish in Germany, China was about to complete them in two," he said.
Back then, all street signs were only in Chinese and Fricke had to depend on buildings to know where he was.
"There were a lot of rural areas in sight, but no metro or any big supermarket," he said.
Today's Pudong, however, is nothing like it was more than a decade ago and foreigners like Fricke don't feel like strangers in the city.
"You have everything here and you don't really miss anything. When you look for shopping possibilities, or restaurants, there is a great variety, whether Chinese, Indian, Southeast Asian or Western," he said.
Though he is unable to converse much in Chinese, Fricke lives in a Chinese-dominated community - a decision he made to get as close as possible to the locals.
"When you live in international communities, you don't feel like you are in China," he chuckled, adding that the fact lots of Chinese people now speak English makes life much easier.
If there is anything in Pudong that leaves a lot to be desired, it is public transportation, which is still not convenient enough.
"You need to make it more attractive so that people want to come here. Nobody wants to work eight hours a day and then spend three hours on the road."
The companies where Fricke has worked have also been part of the changes Shanghai has experienced. Continental AG, the first company he worked at in Shanghai, experienced "tremendous growth" in the first few years since it was established, thanks to the growth of the Chinese economy. The company set up a research and development center in Shanghai in 1998 and expanded with a winter test center in Heihe, Heilongjiang province.
Frick now works as the Asia-Pacific vice-president at Federal Mogul, which manufactures popular automotive parts brands such as Champion and Ferodo.
"China has changed my life," said Fricke, who worked more than 10 years in Germany before coming to Shanghai.
He said his primary job in Germany was to cut staff to lower manufacturing costs, which was often a sad experience.
"Here in China, I only have to be careful that they don't employ too many.
"Businesses are permanently growing. It has been going on for the past 15 years. I'm sure it will continue to grow for at least 10 more years."
(China Daily 04/21/2010 page6)