Interview With A Language Classmate

To offer some more insights into my life here in Shanghai, I thought it would be fun to share some information about a fellow classmate of mine, Kathi from Germany. I will follow up shortly with more details on how I have found learning Chinese thus far.

Matt: Hi Kathi, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Kathi: I´m currently doing an internship at a German company in Shanghai. Altogether I am staying here for 6 weeks before I´ll go back to Germany to finish my studies. I am studying International Relations and Management. At university, I have already learned some Mandarin and a lot about Chinese culture. Last year I studied in Spain for 6 months and interned in Mexico, also for 6 months. I love to travel and to explore new countries, cultures and languages. In comparison to Mexico and the other countries I have been to, China really is different – in every aspect!

Matt: What do you enjoy about studying Chinese? What do you find hard about it?

Kathi: I like Chinese grammar. It is logical! There are not multiple tenses like in English (or even worse in German), e.g., if you want to say something in the future you just put “tomorrow, next week, next year etc.” in the beginning of the sentence and then use present. Also the figures are quite logical: you have different words for the numbers from 1 to 10 and then use 10+1,10+2 (saying ten-one, ten-two) and months are even easier: January is month1, December month12; in Chinese you do not have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc: you use the word for “week” and then 1,2,3 etc. However, pronunciation is really difficult. For every word you have 5 different pronunciations with different meanings. Ugh – sometimes I say a word 10 times, trying to pronounce it differently until somebody understands me!

Matt: How do you like living in Shanghai?

Kathi: It is my first time in Shanghai and I was/am impressed by the huge skyscrapers and the great city center. There are so many different areas: the financial area, wealthier and more working class areas with vastly different housing (in general, the difference between rich and poor is immense here in Shanghai), the shopping street Nanjing Road, the Bund on the Huangpu River, the Pearl Tower, the other tall buildings where you can get upstairs and have a great look over Shanghai, etc. I also like the Metro system – you can get everywhere very easily and cheaply! As I love going to markets where they sell typical Chinese food, Shanghai has a lot to offer. In my opinion, you can learn so much about China and the Chinese culture in these markets. I also like that the people are so happy to see a foreigner; they look around, want to touch you, want pictures with you, smile at you, etc. As I already said I have also been to Mexico, where I lived for 6 months. There, many times the people were not happy about seeing a foreigner. Especially compared to Spain and Mexico, Shanghai does not have many homeless people panhandling. Also, I like the fact that Shanghai  is so safe and secure! In Mexico, I almost never could go to other places on my own or had to remove jewelry if traveling on public transportation. That is not the case here. I even read an article saying that China is the most secure country in the world for tourists. The only thing what I do not like here is the weather. It is so cold and as the apartments do not have central heating, the first few days in January were freezing cold! Also there is a lot of smog in the air and sometimes you can’t even see the building right next to you. And sometimes there are just too many people…

Matt: What do you dislike or find difficult about living in China?

Kathi: In addition to what I talked about before,  I also find it difficult to have great conversations with people here. Especially at those markets it is difficult to find somebody who speaks “Putonghua” (proper Mandarin). In some areas, finding English speakers can be difficult despite Shanghai’s international reputation. I find that is only true in the areas where many expats live (where I do not like visiting) and in the city center.

Matt: What are some strange experiences you have had in China?


  • People touching me and my hair
  • Brands are so important: everybody has a iPhone, Gucci bags (fake or real)
  • They have more German cars (especially the expensive ones from Audi, BMW) than we have in Germany
  • Status is so important; people feel the need to show off what they have
  • Every hour they play the music from Mauzedong on the clocks
  • The killing of a chicken with putting it into a hot boiling water pot

Kathi: The company where I am working at is quite small (only one person besides me) so I am often on my own. My first week I went to the city center where I met two people who seemed very kind to me. They pretended to be students from the north of China and to be on vacation in Shanghai. We had a great conversation and they invited me to come with them to a tea shop. As I was happy to meet new people I went with them. In the tea shop we received a great introduction on the tea culture in China and were allowed to try different teas. The two students translated everything for me so I could understand what the woman was talking about. It was really interesting as the different sorts of teas have different meanings, e.g. one is important for the eyes, another for your heart, skin etc. We talked, laughed, drank for hours and they helped improving my mandarin. We also exchanged contact info to meet again. But when we got the receipt I was quite surprised: 500 Yuan for some tea (it would be around 65 Euro)? I asked them if it is always that expensive and suddenly they pretended not to understand me although they did understand everything perfectly before. Later I realized they told me they were tourists but knew the right way to the tea shop. When we entered, they went to another room without waiting for the waitress – as if they have been there before. This happens to many tourists and normally they have to pay a lot more (2,000-10,000 Yuan, which is awful). Nevertheless it was a good experience.

Matt: Describe some interactions you have had with local Chinese people.

Kathi: You mean besides the tea ceremony? Hah. I also met a nice guy on the Metro who later showed me around Shanghai . I am really open minded and like to talk about everything. But I knew from my studies that there are certain things that you should not talk about with Chinese people as they might feel embarrassed. This new friend seemed to be open minded too (he also studied in England for one year) and after awhile I started to ask him about relationships in China. But he suddenly went quiet and I changed the topic. Another time I asked a taxi driver (at this time my Chinese were good enough for small talk) who told me that he has two kids. I wondered about the One Child Policy but after asking him he smiled, looked on the ground and said “yes, yes”. I wanted to know more and asked him again but he just smiled. I realized that he did not want to talk about this topic any more. In China, “face” is so important as is respect for elders.

Matt: How do you like the food here?

Kathi: I really love the Chinese food – such a diversity of regional cuisines! But as I don´t eat meat it can be difficult. The Chinese eat a lot of meat and cannot understand why somebody would not want to eat meat. In most of the restaurants there are pictures of the food so you can show the server what you want to order. But in the less touristy areas of Shanghai you won’t fine pictures – only Chinese characters! Chinese people really eat everything: dogs, frogs, cockroaches, starfish and a lot of other things I had never seen or tasted before. I especially like Hot Pot: a pot with boiling water where you can put in an assortment of vegetables and meats. Also I like the bamboo salad you can find here and the fact that they cook everything with garlic.

Matt: Thanks so much Kathi!

Kathi: Well, I hope that I could give you a good insight into the Chinese life here.

Link to Shanghai pictures


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