Getting Specific Map Directions in a High Context Culture – It Sucks

Published on 2012-05-05

Source: Jace @ Flickr
I FIRST MOVED TO CHINA (SHANGHAI) back in 1998. Then, the internet was newish, there was no Google Maps, and Shanghai Ren were still amazed when a white person walked near them on the street (hello..hello…hello…) I’d see an obvious foreigner (about every other day, only), and we’d give each other the nod of shared exclusiveness. We had a bond of being … the ‘other’.
I’ve mentioned my initial experience about getting directions in China in a previous post, here, but that was in 1998. Things might be different since then. Nope
Last year, I needed to visit our local office in Shenzhen (I live in Shanghai). As a project manager type of dude, I plugged the address into Google Maps to find out where the office was and the relationship to my hotel. Unfortunately, Google Maps is not very accurate in many cases, especially when in non US countries (汉字/vs/pinyin).
So, to double check, I IM’d the Shenzhen Sales person:
“I’d like to know where the office is, I know it is on Shennan Lu (really long street), can you tell me the cross street? I can then get there easily from my hotel.”
Reply: “Don’t worry about it, your hotel is only two subway stops from the office.”
Me: “Thanks, but I’d like to know the nearest cross street the office. This way I can see where I am going.”
Reply: “Just tell the taxi driver where to go, I’ll SMS you the address.”
Me: “No, this is not what I’m asking. I know the office is on Shennan Lu. Tell me the nearest street that intersects it.”
Reply: “We don’t use cross streets in Shenzhen.”
Cue Pat banging his head on his keyboard.
Yesterday, Shanghai, great colleague, very smart, I asked her where to get my belt fixed. She could only give me directions in relationship to other landmarks. I drew her a scale direction oriented map. She still couldn’t use this to give me directions, “near the baozi place and Family Mart”.
Once she got the directions straight, and was shown exactly on the map I showed her, she got it. This was not very different. She had difficulties naming the actual street names where the office is located (in English).
In contrast, this is the directions I gave a colleague today:

I thought this might be useful when you get into the cab Sunday night.
Tell the taxi driver, Puxi, Jing’an Qu, Changshou Lu/Jiaozhou Lu.
Here is a map reference,,121.456904&spn=0.02568,0.052357
I also shared my Shanghai map with you (separate email).
The taxi fare should be anything from 70 to 100 RMB.
When you are at the intersection of Changshou Lu (major east/west street), you will need to go north on Jiaozhou Lu (normally this will be a left turn if coming from the airport).
However, depending on how experienced the driver is, they might want to take Jiaozhou Lu north from where our office is located. This is bad. If you remember, there was a major fire in an building in Shanghai about two years ago. This is on Jiaozhou Lu. Therefore, that street is STILL sealed off and is not a thru street.
Anyway, once you get to Jiaozhou Lu (north of Changshou Lu), the compound is located on the left, first turn. It is called BaHua YaYuan. Address is 1077.
Have taxi driver go thru the gates, turn right, and follow the road. Following the road, you have the initial right (in the compound), then a left. Follow this, then there is another left.
Go almost to the end, then stop. This is building 8.
Go in. Building door may be open. If so, come up to 15th floor, apt 1501. If not, u can try to buzz me using the phone or give me a call.

So, don’t assume things are similar to home. General and Specific are fun concepts in China