Live from Suzhou


Plant and equipment manufacturer – Simon Käppeli, electronics engineer – Janick Lang and designer – Ralph Harmath arrived in China. From July to August 2018 they will work abroad to broaden their experience and gain exposure to a new culture.

The internship is organized in cooperation with Integrate Chinese Life (ICL) – an organization dedicated to internships and study programs in China. Both countries benefit from the skills exchange. China is experiencing exceptional growth and the young professionals from Switzerland will provide required practical knowledge and experience. In addition, they will develop interpersonal skills such as autonomy, open-mindedness, problem-solving and communication. Designer - Ralph Harmath shares his experience in the following blog.

Ralph's Blog

What happened so far…

First of all, I’d like to write some words about myself and the period of time before my adventure in China. My first job at Schindler was an internship in the HR office between my Matura graduation and the start of my military service. More or less by accident, I discovered the possibility to do a Way-up apprenticeship. Instead of four years, my previous education allowed me to absolve a short, basic professional training as designer. I completed the required classes at the vocational school in only two years. In the remaining third year, I can start my studies.

After my military service, some time in Capetown and four months working on a construction site, I started my apprenticeship as a designer in August 2016. After the basic year, which contained a lot of different courses and classes, I was happy to join the Large Project Division. Our engineering team oversees non-standard solutions for all kinds of high rise projects all over the globe.

I can still remember being at the beach on summer holidays last year and reading Jan’s Blog from Suzhou, hoping, it was not a unique opportunity. This year in spring, I was contacted and asked if I’d be interested in traveling to Shanghai to work for our local team in China. I accepted the offer immediately and I am looking forward to this new challenge.

Week 7 - Going home

It has already been a week since I left China. It was not intended to wait that long to publish my last blog entry. But as soon as I arrived in Switzerland, I was busy with my next adventure, my studies. Let’s take some time for a quick recap of the last week and my whole trip to China.

Shanghai skyline
Shanghai skyline

As I reported last week, I was sent to Hongkong to give a three-day training on Creo modelling, manufacturing drawings and calculations. The people I trained, worked only for two months in Creo and got all their skills from YouTube tutorials.

I was highly impressed, how much they knew about the program and I even learned some new things from them. They assumed that I had at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering and several years of working experience, while in fact I started my apprenticeship two years ago and I am about to start my studies now. This shows clearly, how valuable our education system in Switzerland is. An apprenticeship gives young people the opportunity to gain a huge set of skills in a rather short period of time.

After six days in Hongkong, I went back to Shanghai for one last night before I left for good on Friday morning. It’s hard to sum up 7 eventful and intense weeks in only one paragraph. I’ve seen, tasted, learned and experienced so many things but it still feels like it was only a tiny bit of this huge country, since Shanghai is quite cosmopolitan and not the «real» China.

There would be plenty of things to do for another trip (e.g. visiting the great wall in Bejing). Overall, I am thankful that I was offered this amazing opportunity to work abroad in such an interesting country on the other side of the world.

Jinji lake
Sunset at the Jinji lake

Week 6 - Discovering Hongkong

My time in Shanghai came to an end. On Wednesday night, I had my farewell dinner with my co-workers at a nice Japanese restaurant right next to the Jinji lake. I took the opportunity to thank everyone for having me in Suzhou. I think they really appreciated that I came to China just to support them and to share my knowledge. But I’m still curious how effective my training was. We will see this in the future.

Victoria Peak
On the top of Victoria Peak

I caught my flight to Hongkong on Saturday afternoon and arrived at the hotel around 5pm. The ride from the airport to the hotel was already a first kind of sightseeing tour. Driving over the huge bridge from the airport and then through Hongkong island was quite impressive. The way the huge buildings, the big roads and bridges are squeezed on the small island looks quite futuristic.

According my health app, I walked almost 20 kilometres and climbed 160 floors on Sunday. I went from my hotel to the piers of Central Station, then to the busy streets of Mong Kok on the mainland, back to Central Station from where I explored SoHo. As the highlight of the day, I hiked all the way up to the Victoria Peak.

I kept walking past the view platform till I reached the transmitting station at the very top. The way up was quite steep and maybe a little bit adventurous for the last bit. But being at this rather unconventional view point with almost no people was absolutely worth the effort.

Factory in Suzhou
Factory in Suzhou

Week 5 - Factory in Suzhou

For the first time here in China, I had the chance to visit the factory in Suzhou. I was accompanied by David, a supply chain manager from Valais. Together, we checked the quality of different parts and discussed some issues with the people working in the factory. I appreciated being able to see many components which I only knew from pictures and PDFs.

Besides this, I also joined my boss and two other engineers for a trip to Sematic (door supplier). After a quick presentation of the latest door model, we spent around two hours in the showroom, looking at the door models and developing ideas for certain non-standard situations, which is much easier in front of the actual model, talking face to face to each other than looking at PDF plans and talking at the phone.

It was already the last time, I went to the counter at the railway station to get my train-tickets for the following week. I will work in Suzhou for only one more week. Afterwards, I will fly to Hong Kong to give a similar kind of training to local designers and engineers as I did here. All the sudden I realize how many things I still want to do, how many places I want to visit and how little time is left…

West Lake
West Lake

The only time, the sun appeared on Sunday was in the name of the day itself - it was raining cats and dogs. Nevertheless, we made our way to Hangzhou (which is about one hour from Shanghai if you take the highspeed train). In the morning, we took a cable car to a Buddhist temple on the top of a hill.

Thanks to the rather unwelcoming weather, it wasn’t crowded at all. Even though the view could have been better, I liked the calm ambience, the wind and the fresh air. After walking down the hill and having dumplings for lunch, we headed to the West Lake (another UNESCO heritage). We spent the afternoon strolling around at the lakeside looking at the countless number of colourful umbrellas hoovering over the bridges and paths at the park.

Week 4 - Working in Suzhou

Reading the last few blog entries, you could think that I’m here only for vacation. Of course, this is not the case. Getting to know another culture is part of my stay, but as usual I’m working the regular office hours from Monday to Friday.

Temple in Suzhou
Temple in Suzhou

My work here consists of two main things. On one hand, I’m working on regular projects, as I would do in Ebikon (Lucerne). This includes designing 3D models in CAD, preparing manufacturing drawings and sometimes doing some calculations. On the other hand, my task is to support my local co-workers in these topics.

To share my knowledge, I organize either trainings in which I speak to the whole group and adding topics to the OneNote notebook Jan created last year or I provide individual support for specific cases. Overall, I can say that I like this kind of work in which I can help people developing skills and I appreciate that I got the chance to do this.

Last weekend, I finally had the opportunity to see a bit more of the city I’m working in. More than just the way from the railway station to the office. One of my co-workers invited me to have dinner with his family and showed me the old town of Suzhou on Friday night.

We met again the next morning and visited the Lingering garden (UNESCO world heritage), a temple (I forgot the name) and the university of Suzhou. I enjoyed seeing these traditional Chinese places and open, green spaces, which are quite hard to find in the modern city of Shanghai.

Power Station of Art
Power Station of Art

Week 3 - Power Station of Art and celebrating the Swiss National Day

For Saturday afternoon, a visit of the famous fake market was scheduled. Instead of joining the group to this rather crowded and loud place, I headed towards the Power Station of Art.

Established on October 1st, 2012, the Power Station of Art (PSA) is the first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art in mainland China. Renovated from the former Nanshi Power Plant, PSA was once the Pavilion of Future during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The museum has not only witnessed the city’s vast changes from the industry age to the IT era, but also provided a rich source of inspirations for artists with its simple yet straightforward architectural styles. (

After spending about three hours in the former power plant, I can only recommend visiting this place. Besides the amazing artwork and the astonishing architecture, I enjoyed the calm atmosphere, which is a welcome change to the hustle and bustle in this 24 million people metropolis.

To celebrate the upcoming Swiss National Day, we followed the invitation of the Swiss community in Shanghai. It was very interesting to get to know other Shanghai-Swiss with all kinds of occupations. Another highlight was the delicious buffet, as well as the vast amounts of Swiss chocolate.

Tea tasting
Tea tasting

Week 2 - Tea tasting

On Tuesday night, we had our first Chinese classes. I think I can speak for all participants, saying that it was a mind-blowing experience. I can’t remember when I was learning anything new, starting with absolutely zero knowledge.

For example, when I started learning Spanish, the progress was quite quick, because most of the words were somehow like the word with the same meaning in French, English or Italian. In contrast to this, the Chinese language has no link to western, Latin based languages.

Nevertheless, I completed the goal I set myself (to be able to know more than «Ni hao – hello» and «Xiè Xiè – thank you»). Let’s see if I can do more than just introducing myself after the second classes next week.

For Saturday afternoon, ICL organized a traditional Chinese tea tasting at the Tiashan tea city, which is basically a small shopping mall, where you can buy only tea and more or less traditional local art and decoration.

Fortunately, our group of six people included a Chinese guy who was fluent in English and French because he grew up in Geneva. Through his translations we learned the basic facts about the different sorts of Chinese tea. Tea has an important role in this culture which can be compared with the western affection to wine. As you can pay hundreds of Swiss francs for a bottle of Bordeaux, you can spend the same amount of money for some exclusive 12-year-old tea leaves, harvested from some very old trees in remote areas of China.

After a pretty late Sunday brunch, we headed to a supermarket. Even though it was a Carrefour, we found some rather unusual groceries. I’m still wondering, why someone would buy a flat rolled, dried pig head and even more, how one prepares a meal with this ingredient.

Sadly, we’ve also seen many fishes, turtles and even frogs, which were still alive and packed into tiny boxes. Looking at the current speed in which this country changes, I’m positive that there will be changes regarding this matter in the near future as well. Nevertheless, the chili Simon prepared for dinner was delicious (and no, it didn’t include any of the things mentioned above – maybe next time).

Swiss passport
Off to China

Week 1 - Hello Shanghai!

A passport, a smartphone and two credit cards – That’s all you need to travel the world. Last week, my view regarding to that changed a bit. Until now, it didn’t matter if I was in the forests of Chiang Mai, the streets of Capetown or at the beaches in Holbox. I always got along with these three items and my language skills.

This is not applicable to China. Yes, you always need your passport. Doesn’t matter if you are registering on the local police station, opening a Chinese bank account, signing up for a gym, even to buy a train ticket. They always want to see my red booklet.

The smartphone itself is very useful. Even though our beloved western applications such as WhatsApp, Instagram or Uber are blocked in China and only accessible with a VPN app. Nevertheless, there are many great local apps, like WeChat, which is a combination of WhatsApp and Twint. Unfortunately, the payment function only works if you have a Chinese bank account. If I like it or not, I must pay cash (which is very unusual here) till my Chinese bank account works.

Besides the minor difficulties I’m facing, I’m surprised how fast I settled in here. Using the subway is the same in every big city anyway. Hailing a taxi or purchasing a train ticket at the counter works now as well (thanks to a screenshot of the Chinese equivalent to google maps, which shows the destination).

The food is amazing as well. At the ICL welcome dinner on Wednesday, countless local dishes were served and shared. At this point I’d like to thank my parents for feeding me all kinds of food and getting me used to new tastes since I was little.

The apartment I’m sharing with Janick and Simon is located right in the city centre, on the 36th floor and has a great skyline view. Okay, it’s not in exactly the 36th, because all levels which would contain the number 4 are missing. As I saw at Galileo once, the number 4 is like our number 13.

Highspeed train
Highspeed train to Suzhou

After a day of rest and time to arrange some administrative things, I had my first working day at the office in Suzhou on Thursday. To get there, I take the subway from my apartment to the railway station (fortunately only one station), then the highspeed train which reaches almost 300 kilometres per hour and afterwards the taxi from the railway station to the office.

Overall, it takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. It might be a lot of time, but it’s still quite comfortable. In Switzerland, it takes me as well almost an hour to get to work if I’d use the public transports. However, that’s not even a fifth of the distance.

It’s been a while since I had my first working day. In this time, I checked my mailbox (which was full after 6 weeks of absence), introduced me and my mission to the team and started preparing PowerPoint presentations and training material. I’m looking forward to getting into my new role as a coach and I hope that the local co-workers can benefit from me, even though most of them are more experienced than I am.

Shanghai skyline
Shanghai skyline by night

I arrived just in time for the LPD summer party on Friday night. Over a glass of wine, I got to know people from all over the world, but also swiss employees who are working in Jiading.

On Saturday, my mission was to purchase the train tickets for the whole next week, so I wouldn’t need to wait in line every day. It took a while, until the guy at the counter understood that I must travel every day from Shanghai to Suzhou and back.

The ticket office was near the Jing’an temple where the unique contrast between tradition and innovation in China was clearly visible. Of course, I had to visit the Bund as well to see the Shanghai skyline by night. When we went there before going out on Saturday, all the lights were already turned off, so I had to go again on Monday night. It was amazing!

We are here for you.