Meet Sfiso Sokhela, the 28-year old English teacher from Vryheid in KwaZulu Natal who has made Shanghai in China his second home.
Why did you move to China?
I moved to China because it was a chance for me to explore a bit more of the world and it was not as expensive as I thought it would be. I moved as well to learn and develop as a teacher. I am based in Shanghai.
How many years have you been in the country?
I have been in the country now for a year and 2 months but it feels like I just landed yesterday.
What was the most challenging adjustment for you?
I have to admit that the culture and the pace at which life goes here was a big adjustment. People are always on the move and if they get an opportunity they take it, doesn’t matter where it leads them. I was surprised by the culture as there are some similarities and vast differences. I know at home grandparents, if they are close enough, take care of the children, take them to school and bring them home until their parents come home. Here in China if you look when the school bus comes to drop off the kids or pick them up its the grandparents and a few housewives with the grandparents. I thought this was strange at first but I learnt that most parents work such difficult hours that the grandparents have to do this and they love doing it.
How China different from South Africa?
I have to also say the public transport, taxis, the subway and even the busses are very well run. The trains and bus run on time but during rush hour you see that there are really a lot of people in the city. Add the fact that there is free WiFi and that data is cheap. It is so easy to do things and spend hours and hours on your phone streaming shows and movies.
The other major difference is the work ethic. Public services and security is incredible. The police are very efficient and response time is very quick and the public services are a lot cheaper than I expected. However, the pollution levels are pretty bad but I have to admit that they are improving.
What is the fashion, food and weather like, compared to SA?
The fashion is on point here. You get people who really know how to go all out, wearing big brands. You’ll also find few people who wear questionable clothing.
What was the first thing you noticed about the Chinese that was different to South Africans?
The first thing I noticed was how brutally honest they are – they tell it like it is. The other thing I noticed was how they believe that if something is bad for you, get it out of your system. So you’ll sometimes see people spitting in
public and it was a bit of an adjustment but I have come to understand it.
How different is the work culture compared to South Africa?
The work culture here is unbelievable. People travel across the country to find jobs, irrespective of how small it is or the kind of job it is. There are so many parents who leave their children with their grandparents to find work in the cities as they develop and grow so fast. If you choose to leave a job you must know that there are at least 30 other people who will be grateful for that job you hate. The people here work hard and they try make sure that their families are taken care of.
What is your favourite place to visit in China?
I am still travelling around China but I have to mention the Great Wall and Hangzhou. These two place are so beautiful. I learnt from one of my students that people died on the wall and they are part of it. The West Lake is so beautiful words cannot describe it. This country is so beautiful and every city has something special about it.
What is your favourite local dish and drink and why?
One of my favourite dishes is Double deep fried pork with lemon and honey dressing. You would think it sounds unhealthy but its so good. Every time I go to the restaurants here I always try get that.
What are other amazing things the outside world doesn’t know about China?
I would have to say is that when they see foreigners, some of the people from the smaller villages stare at you especially if you are a person of colour.
What advice would you give someone visiting China for the first time?
Embrace everything. You are in a different country, they do things differently but if you embrace it and try to adapt you will love it. Come with an open mind.
What is your favourite meal from back home?
The meal I miss most is one of Mom’s dishes, Phutu (pap) and beans with (any kind of meat. When I come home soon, I want to have that as my first meal.
Which go-to spots would you recommend to tourists visiting South Africa?
I would have to say Natal Spa and Resort. It’s a good place to just escape and relax with the family and friends.
What is your favourite thing about South Africa?
Without a doubt, its people. Where I work there are a few South Africans and we speak to each other in IsiZulu, IsiXhosa and Afrikaans. We have a real sense of what it means to be one people as we are so far away from home. When I think of home and the parts that I miss, it’s not the buildings or food or even the nature, it’s the people.
If there is something about South Africa that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime, what would it be?
There is no one thing that I think people should do but a series of things, like going to the Western Cape and doing some winetasting, going to Clarens and going through Golden Gate and spending a week in the Drakensberg.