This week, we bring to you a very special girl, whose positive outlook on life, the world and its mysterious ways is contagious.At least that’s how everyone who read her interview here in Chinese Tools feels! German-born Selly lived in Ireland for a pretty good amount of time, before China won her heart for good! Her blog, Selly’s little world, is an extremely entertaining, moving and certainly poetic anthology of thoughts, experiences and pieces of good literary work. As its title indicates, it is a window to a new world, an inspirational description of life in China! Enjoy meeting its creator!
1. Tell us more about your relationship with China? What brought you here and how has the country been treating you so far?
My relationship with China…we’re on very good terms actually. We don’t fight and we don’t argue so I guess no couple’s therapy required just yet. Occasionally China likes to be a little stubborn and we sometimes misunderstand each other but it’s nothing a little bit of heavenly Chinese food or a good heart to heart with a friend can’t fix. I guess I could find some reasons to hold a grudge but it takes too much off an effort and is so not worth it.
As for why I’m here, a couple of things brought me here. I had a good life in Ireland but the corporate trot was getting me down and so was the Irish weather. I wanted time to explore the world, see something different, make a life for myself in a country that is so unlike anything I’m used to. I think everyone should get out of their comfort zone at least once in their lives, although I’m actually quite comfortable and happy here in China. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to do it but falling in love made short work of the last of my doubts. My love for languages (Chinese and English) brought me to China, the thirst to learn more about Chinese culture and history. It’s difficult to really learn a language if you don’t understand the why’s and how’s behind it all. I wanted to teach and make an impact on someone’s life instead of sitting in front of a computer day in day out. My insatiable love for Chinese food also played a big part in pushing me to just do it.
2. So Wuhan? How did you end up living there? What do you love and what do you hate about it?
I always knew I’d never be happy working and living in Shanghai or Beijing or one of the other big cities like Shenzhen or Guangzhou. Wuhan isn’t exactly small but it feels a lot more comfortable, old and new blend into a unique perfect mix that you won’t find in any other city in China. History and development are neighbours. Love was the reason why I ended up looking for a job in Wuhan. After eight months in a long distance relationship I was well and truly fed up and so was my boyfriend at the time. Before I met him I’d already decided I’d spend some time in China but I wasn’t in any rush to relocate. All that changed after he swept me off my feet. Our relationship didn’t last and we’re no longer together but I still love Wuhan. Despite the scorching hot summers and the chilling winters without heating it has charm. Wuhan’s location in Central China is ideal and it’s so easy to get anywhere. We’ve direct flights to Europe and many cities in Asia and an excellent network of high-speed trains, connecting us with almost every corner of China. In fact taking the train from Wuhan is more convenient than flying out of Wuhan. Hubei province has lakes, mountains, beautiful scenery, hot springs…and it’s all just a stone’s throw away from Wuhan. The food here’s amazing, heavily influenced by Wuhan’s central location. There’s spicy Sichuan food, light and delicious food from the south, traditional Hong Kong milk tea and dim sum, more varieties of noodles dishes than you can try in a single lifetime and then there’s the fish. Who cares that we’re in the middle of China, straddling both banks of the Yangtze River, the Wuhanese love their fish!
There isn’t much about Wuhan that I don’t like, however occasionally the bad traffic really does test my patience. If you’re really unlucky it will take you two hours to drive five kilometres but Wuhan’s public transport system is bearable and it’s easy enough to get around. Also, Wuhan is often heavily polluted and it’s especially bad in winter. The amount of construction that’s going on everywhere is one of the main reasons why the air around here isn’t exactly the best but I still don’t want to leave.
2. How is your Chinese coming along? Any advice to all the learners out there?
My Chinese is coming along nicely, I try to use the language every day and as much as I can. I feel like I’ve improved a lot since I arrived and I get more and more confident every time I manage to successfully handle myself. I love being independent, being able to grab a taxi whenever the mood strikes me to and take the subway or bus if and when I feel like it. I don’t speak Chinese when I teach, unless my students are completely stuck (I have a strict no phone, no dictionary policy) and a little confused. Sometimes I use Chinese to tell them off for speaking Chinese instead of English and it makes them feel at least a little bad for not trying. Living in China has definitely helped me improve my Chinese and being exposed to the language and the characters on a daily basis makes it easier to remember things. It also helps that my students are eager to help me and my colleagues and friends will correct my pronunciation without as much as batting an eyelid. We often speak an odd mix of Chinese and English and it’s fun. I’m not a fan of sitting in class and learning Chinese at least not the conventional way. Back in Ireland Chinese classes with my Chinese teacher were always special and we both prepared the material. Actually, what I love the most about speaking Chinese is being able to strike up a conversation with just about anyone and learn more about the culture and history from the horse’s mouth so to speak.
As for learning Chinese, my advice would be that you first figure out what kind of learner you are and then you tailor your Chinese studies to suit your own style and preferences. I, for example, am not the kind of person who will survive in a classroom, so I chose private classes. I hate the pressure of ‘having to understand’ just so you can keep up with the class, having a private teacher made it easier for me to learn at my own pace and it also helped that my teacher knew exactly what my weak and strong points were. She still does! I’m not good at learning vocabulary, if I don’t know how to use the word I will forget it in an instant. I find it easier to look up a word when I need it and it helps me to remember. So my best advice for all learners of Chinese out there would be to have a little fun when learning the language, there are so many things you can learn while studying the language. I used to speak clear Standard Mandarin, then I discovered Taiwanese idol dramas and it all went pear-shaped. Now that I live in Wuhan I definitely don’t speak Standard Mandarin, I don’t even know what that is anymore. I don’t speak Wuhanese but I’ve picked up on the local language quirks and customs. For example, what you’ll learn is: 你在做什么? 你在干嘛/干什么? = What are you doing? I’ll ask you: 你 (到底) 搞啥在? Same meaning, different way of saying things.
3. Has China affected your writing? If yes, how so?
China has definitely affected my writing, I’m having a lot more fun now with my writing now. I can be quite sarcastic and life in China is usually just one big adventure after another, the possibilities for things to write about are practically endless. In saying that I could really write more but sometimes I feel too tired or burnt out to focus on writing something that meets my own requirements. I think if I was to force myself to write something for my blog once or twice a week I’d write something just for the sake of writing it but my heart wouldn’t really be in it. I’d rather enjoy my life here and when something happens I really wanted to write about, I’ll share my thoughts. I enjoy writing and I need to have time for it, nothing’s more of a muse killer than rushing yourself to get something written just for the sake of hitting the ‘publish’ button.
4. What triggered you to start blogging and how has that changed your outlook on the world and life?
I started my blog back in 2010 and back then I wasn’t quite sure which direction I wanted to take, I just wanted to have a place to share my thoughts and ideas, maybe some poetry or short stories. In the beginning I felt like a fish out of the water. I had no idea what blogging really meant, what possibilities and opportunities came with it and I had even less of an idea what to write about or not write about. I didn’t want to write a diary-like blog but I felt that my life wasn’t exactly that interesting. Then my Chinese studies came along and I thought why not write about that. It’s not like everyone’s learning Chinese…someone might find my thoughts interesting. Fast forward four years and I’ve met some amazing bloggers and new friends. I learnt that you can blog about almost anything, as long as you can make it interesting. Personally, I enjoy writing about my life, my experiences, language studies, food, travels, taking photos…not necessarily in that order though.
5. What advice would you give to those who are thinking about moving to China? How can one limit the culture shock?
Stop thinking about moving to China and just do it already. How much time to spend thinking about drinking something when you’re thirsty? I don’t think, I just grab my water bottle and drink until I’m feeling comfortable. Moving to China is an amazing experience, it doesn’t come without its obstacles but if you want to make it work you will!
One word of advice though, no matter your intentions, keep your expectations to a minimum and enjoy your new surroundings with an open mind and a natural curiosity. You’ll enjoy your new home a lot more. Also, learn some Chinese, it goes a long way here. People truly appreciate your efforts and if you take a step into their direction they’ll take two into yours. Chinese people are friendly and welcoming and will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Don’t use it, appreciate it and pay them back in one way or another.
I didn’t suffer any culture shock when I moved here, I knew what I was signing up for and when you say China I say home.
6. Germany, Ireland, China… Do you ever get homesick? Is home where the heart is?
I don’t get homesick, or at least I like to think that I don’t. Sure, I miss my dad, my family and my friends but I’m still happy here in China. I sometimes briefly miss Germany but a phone call from home or a message from my sister or friends sorts me out and all is good in the world again. I just really enjoy my life here in China and I’m grateful to be here.
7. Time for the “favorites” question: Please name:
Favorite foods you discovered there?
Hot dry noodles 热干面, fish, dumplings, fresh vegetables and some exotic fruits that cost you a fortune back in Ireland or Germany.
Favorite hangout places?
My bed? Haha, no. Well actually yes, but I know that’s not the answer you want. My local wet market, my hairdresser, my friend’s manicure shop, my favourite restaurants, Han Street 汉街, Optics Valley 光谷广场, local parks and my friend’s mum’s snack shop.
Favorite Chinese artists/musicians/writers?
I have a very soft spot for Leehom Wang 王力宏 but there are many singers I like, admittedly they are mostly male and listing them all would take quite some time but I’ll give you a random selection: Jay Chou 周杰伦，JJ Lin 林俊杰，Jackie Cheung 张学友，Eason Chen 陈奕迅，Richie Jen 任贤齐，Show Luo 罗志祥，Wang Feng 汪峰。I love S.H.E.’s 中国话 (Chinese), and I’m a big fan of Hong Kong action movies or any movie with Any Lau 刘德华, in them. I also love Jackie Chan 成龙。 Li Bai 李白 wrote some beautiful poems but I struggle to make sense of them sometimes. Still I enjoy reading them and hand-writing the characters or just listening to a poem being read to me.
Favorite Chinese weird habit?
Eating my hot dry noodles on the way to work when I work the morning shift. The first time I tried it, I felt awkward but after that I just thought nothing of it. After all, half the people I met are eating on the way to work, so why can’t I?
I want to finish this interview with a Chinese riddle, let’s see who can give me the right answer, you’ll have to answer in Chinese though!
Think you have the riddle figured out? Well, visit Selly’s blog and let her know!