Like a mirror

By Chen Shasha Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/5 18:23:40

Chinese-Dutch woman seeks opportunities and adventures

Editor's Note:

Decades ago, many Chinese people spared no efforts and expense to immigrate to developed countries in order to pursue a better life and more job opportunities. Their offspring, however, are now attracted by China's rapid development and surging economy in order to realize the Chinese Dream their parents never had. The Global Times recently interviewed several "third-culture" Chinese who have recently returned to China for work. Cherlene Ye is our fifth interviewee.

"It was pretty easy to get used to the life here, even though I only speak a little Putonghua," Cherlene Ye, a 30-year-old Chinese-Dutch who moved to Shanghai in 2013, told the Global Times.

Ye was born, raised and educated in the Netherlands. She used to come to China every couple of years to visit her grandparents. "I saw China becoming very different from what I saw 20 years ago," she said.

After graduating from a Dutch college, she found a job in Amsterdam. But Ye soon started to think more and more about Shanghai, which she felt was bursting with far more opportunities than Europe.

"My brother was already living in Shanghai and said it was pretty cool, so I decided to come and check it out. I found it is so much cooler than Amsterdam," she said.

Ye is currently working in digital marketing at an Australian company based in Shanghai. "I am pretty satisfied with my job. It helps me maintain a comfortable lifestyle here," she said.

Different choices

Ye's family is from Wenzhou of East China's Zhejiang Province. At home they spoke Wenzhou dialect, which is widely considered one of the most difficult in China to understand. "My family and I speak better Wenzhou dialect than Putonghua," she said.

Her great grandfather on her mother's side immigrated to Europe in the 1930s in pursuit of business opportunities. After traveling through several countries including Italy, France and Germany, he finally settled down in the Netherlands.

In the 1980s, Ye's grandparents moved there along with all seven of their children, who were born in China, including Ye's mother. Ye's father had moved to the Netherlands at the age of 24 to  run a business.

"My great grandfather started as merchant selling candies. After that, the majority of our family members started restaurants around the Netherlands, but some began working in the textile industry in France and Italy," Ye said.

Ye's decision to return to China, however, didn't win any support from her parents at the very beginning.

"They thought it was really weird that my brother and I wanted to come back, because they didn't see it as an opportunity for my generation," she explained. "But now they can understand, because China's economy is booming. There are a lot of foreigners looking for opportunities in China."

Ye contends that the elder generations of Chinese used to want to move West because that is where the opportunities once were, but now many among Ye's generation are going to or returning East for the same reason.

"The mentality has turned around now, like a mirror," she said.

Adapting to local culture

For foreigners who expatriate to other countries in search of adventures and opportunities, it can take time and effort to adapt to the local culture and customs.

But as Ye's family all maintained Chinese traditions at home, such as speaking the Wenzhou dialect and preparing Chinese dishes, Ye didn't suffer much culture shock upon arriving in Shanghai.

"It was easy for me because I am Chinese, and I have the cultural background already. Moreover, I still have family connections here, which makes it even easier to return to my roots," she said.

One thing about Shanghai that bothers Ye, however, is the turnover of its foreign population. As many of her friends and colleagues are expats, she expects that most will probably leave Shanghai after several years or less.

"Living as an expat here, most people don't have families. Your friends are your family and your most important connections. But the turnover is really high, so a lot of friends you make will leave at some point," she said. "That is the downside."

Ye thinks that the biggest difference between the East and the West is more about mindset.

"Westerners are more scheduled, which means you have to do things in a certain way. But in China, you can do things very fast. If you work hard, you can get a lot of stuff done quickly," she said.

"Everything goes so much faster here. You have to hustle more. In the West, even small things take longer," she explained.

Ye said she still can lead a more "spontaneous lifestyle" in Shanghai compared with in the Netherlands.

Work, work, work

Wenzhou people are famous in China for their good business sense and hard work. Ye agrees, saying that her family never complained about the challenges and difficulties they encountered when first arriving in Europe.

"I am sure it was very hard for them to move to another country and set up a business, as they didn't speak Dutch or understand its culture," Ye said. "But just like other Wenzhou people, they worked, worked, worked instead of sitting around complaining. I think that is a good mindset; I don't like complaining either."

Cherlene Ye's parents and brother

Cherlene Ye Photos: Courtesy of Cherlene Ye and Chen Xia/GT



blog comments powered by Disqus