My interview series will start with one of my favourite classmates at the Shanghai International College of Culture, the friend who takes me around and gets me bags at bargain price and shares my enthusiasm for Xinjian cuisine. She gives us an insight to her energetic life and how she’d made friends with our chosen city, Shanghai.
Place of Origin: France
Time spent in China: One Year and Four Months
Reunion Island sounds pretty exotic.
True, Reunion Island is quite a curious place. It belongs to France so it has a fascinating mixture of cultures. Coming to Shanghai from a home so far away was such a huge jump! There are around 900,000 of us in the whole island, as opposed to over 24 million in the city here. I can assure you this is the biggest place I’ve ever lived so far. Let me add that Shanghai’s pretty special, too. Exotic but not in the sense of coconut trees and white, sandy beaches.We have also to count people in from different part of the wold. There are so many foreigners here, from all around the world. So, blend all these Western and Asian people together and we’d have a big bunch of colourful flowers. It’d be difficult to say, though, which place might be more enticing since I’m so attached to both and it’d be hard for me to take side on this.
You came to China just over a year ago. Although you’d never learnt the language before, you are now in one of the highest level classes, speaking fluently. I was only able to be your classmate last term due to an administrative blunder. What’s your secret?
When I arrived last year I was thinking that speaking English would be helpful (although I’d signed up for mandarin classes as soon as I arrived). But I quickly realised that it wasn’t anything like Hong Kong and pracitally no one was understanding me. So, I went to Chinese class everyday, 4 hours each, for 5 months. I cannot deny that at the beginning it was really hard, all those tones and characters. But when I came here, I only knew „Nihao” & „Xie xie”. At the end of the 5 months I could understand well and communicate pretty ok. With the first year ending, I went back home for a while, and when I returned I signed up for even more classes. I felt I needed to learn more if I wanted to work and start my career here. Now, as you know, I am in 中级2 (Zhongji 2 = Intermediate 2). I think the key is to practice as much as you can with local people and have a good memory!
You work at events with wine tasting. How do you find China’s international wine scene?
I did some freelance work for a wine-event company. We had people play some fun games, and then try some wines. Many Chinese people are now interested in winetasting but they don’t know how to appreciate or drink it. With the company we help them understand more by having some blind tests and do quizzes about the georaphy vineyards. In fact, you see 2 groups here; the foreigners who love drinking wine and will come to our events and stock up on some bottles and there are the locals, who are more into the entertainment part. They actually prefer to have a good evening to buying a bottle for their own to take back home.
What’s your luxury of the month?
My luxury of the month, whouahhhh! Well, I really live quite simply. Maybe, I would say, I sometimes buy myself a nice bag. Just one more 😉 We, girls, can never have enough of them!
A friend of mine once told me that there’s not enough hugs in this city. What’s the dating scene like here for someone in her early twenties?
I definitely agree with what your friend said. Chinese guys are really not that a hugging & sharing kind of people, so dating here is not that easy actually. Mostly, it seems, men go for one night stands or they all are married (or, well, both!). I think if you want to find someone interesting and nice, it might take a while.
Pick a place for coffee or tea in Shanghai.
For a coffee I usually go to Starbucks even if it’s a bit more expensive than other places. I love their Caramel Macchiato and their Xmas drinks.
For tea, I know a lady at the Pudong fake market, who always offers me some free traditional tea and tells me all about the teas and how & when to drink them. Thanks to her, I’ve been learning a lot regarding Chinese’s teas.
A tip you’d add to a guide book?
What I like most is all the small places off the beaten track. All guides are explaining the Bund, Yu Garden and Jing An Temple. But you can also go to Tian Zi Fang to check out the art galleries and the antique markets. None of my guides included these recommendations.
Your favourite meal in China?
I will say my own special noodle with fried eggs, tomatoes and green vegetable. I love it, mainly because it’s healthy. My other favourite is the homemade noodle offered by a restaurant just below my flat.
A piece of advice for people interested in coming to live in Shanghai.
Don’t be afraid to come to this crazy city, even if you don’t speak the language. Just keep cool, bring some stuff you’d sure miss from home (i.e. snacks, medicine). Shanghai has really such a Western way of lifestyle, where people are incredibly friendly. Besides, this city is really safe!!!
As a full-time student having a part-time job how much money do you think one needs for a week to sustain a comfy life?
Well, I don’t have a job right now as I’m still a student. If you are looking for work, however, you’ve got to be prepared that the wages are considerably lower than those in Europe. I think, by eating simple, local food in the street, taking the subway and not being a crazy buyer, you can get by. Per week, I’d say one’s able to live on as little as 500 rmb if they don’t party hard and can resist shopping all the time.
What would you recommend travellers most who plan to visit Shanghai?
To opt for backpacker hostels and try local dishes at authentic, cheap restaurants, which don’t necessarily target foreigners. No fear, people, we are all keeping healthy here.
Also, they should try some massage, a one-hour foot massage for instance, which is just awesome. Then, of course, go and see the tourist attractions, as well, and do some shopping.
Last thing that freaked you out in Shanghai?
Hmmm, I don’t remember anything that would freak me out in Shanghai, maybe sometimes the taxi drivers can be scary by driving like hell (Fast and not respecting the driving code).
Your home town versus Shanghai?
2. Shanghai’s such a safe place
3. You can do whatever you want here and no one will critisize you
Favourite Chinese pop song/singer/movie?
I really liked the movie called „Mao’s Last Dancer”.
How many times have you been to a Karaoke bar? What’s your impression?
I’ve been around 3 times, was fun! You have to go with people you know that you’re going to have some good laugh with. The most hilarious thing is to hear how bad singers some customers are! Some of the businessmen act so serious at KTVs (Karaoke Bar) and end up, after couple beers, drunk and with their ties on their heads.
If you could use only one sentence/phrase to describe it, what does expat life mean to you?
Being a foreigner gives you a completely new lifestyle in an unknown culture. Learning about locals by, for example, being their guests, helps you understand them much more.
Your destination at Chinese new year?
I will go back home during the winter break. I can’t wait to celebrate it with my Chinese friends there, who live in my neighbourhood!
Favourite recreational activity during the weekend?
I love wandering around Shanghai. Even after having lived here for over a year, I still tend to get lost and discover completely new areas. It’s great to go somewhere unfamiliar and just keep walking without knowing where you’d end up eventually.
Things that are the hardest to get used to in Shanghai?
People staring at you all the time because you are a foreigner (seems as if they’d never seen a Westerner in person before). It’s quite weird, especially when I take the subway. It took me about a month to get used to that.
Three things you love about locals.
How cheerful they can be sometimes. For example, they try and talk to you in Chinese, invite you to places all the time to share a meal and talk to you about their culture.
Why Cranberry White Chocolate Macchiato and in a stolen mug?
Haha, ok, I love Xmas drinks from Starbucks! Last November was the first time this drink’d been on this year and, while I generally have the toffee nut latte, this time macchiato is just amazing!! Cranberry is also such a good mix 😉
On the two of us nicking the little cup (see my entry sometime in November and pics in the cab). Apologies for the company, but well, there were no free seats, it was a bit chilly outside, plus we had to rush somewhere else (to urgently purchase some shoulder bags), so why not take taxi and finish up your macchiato while sitting and approaching your destination then? Was a great idea I think!