This year I decided to immortalize my friends here on my blog. You know me, I like meeting new people. I have learned so much about so many different countries during my time here. One of those things is that Liberia is not in the Middle East, LOL! Yes, I said it! I was THAT ignorant and stupid. So, I gave it some thought and I decided to do the following: interview them so I will always have a part of them with me. All of them have left a mark on my heart, in some way, and will never be forgotten.

Living in China has granted me many great opportunities. I have learned one of the most amazing languages on this planet, learned so much about the culture, made so many new friends. Every year, new students come here to our beautiful school with the intention of learning the complex and beautiful ancient language. We spend a great amount of time together, but then… comes the time when we all have to return to our homes, our jobs, our reality.

They are people I will never forget and hope to see again. This is why I decided to interview some of them.

Interview with James Rodrigues, an Angolan police officer.

I don’t exactly remember how we got introduced to one another. If I’m not mistaken, it was through our mutual friends, the other Angolan students here at 华文. I have to admit something: I was SUPER HAPPY with James’ arrival! Why? Because for the first time in three years, I wasn’t the only Black person in my dorm! “HOORAY! There are other Black foreign government officials in my dorm! I’m not alone anymore!”

What was my first impression of him? Just based on physical appearance, I thought he was pretty cute. But later, when we started talking to one another, I noticed that there is much more to him than just a good-looking exterior. Thank heavens! Now, if his wife is reading this, I mean this with the utmost respect. He is a great friend.

We had lunch together and sat down for this quick interview on a Tuesday, a week before his departure.

Me: So James, please tell me a little about yourself. What made you come to China to learn Chinese?
My name is James Rodrigues, pronounced as “Jamie,” I am thirty-one, born and raised in Angola. I am a police officer, I work at the international airport of Angola, and I work in the immigration department. Nowadays, there are a lot of Chinese in my country. The main obstacle is the language: we don’t speak Chinese and they understand little to no English.

Me: NONE of them speak English?
The ones I have come across, more than eighty percent, yes. Of course, you have the exception here and there, but the majority doesn’t speak English. So, we had to think of other ways to communicate with them.

“We had a three-month-course in Angola about the Chinese language, the culture, and everything that has to do with being Chinese. Afterward, four of us were selected to come here for one year to study Mandarin.”

Me: Of course you have heard of one of the biggest economies in the world. Before setting foot in China, what were your expectations?
There are countless Chinese people in my country. To be honest, all over the world. Those Chinese that I have met, they treated me like a brother. We eat together, we have fun together, they don’t even shy away from sitting next to you on the bus. That’s what I expected to experience here, as well. Also, I already knew that China is a beautiful country, so I was looking forward to seeing this with my own eyes.

Me: And did China live up to your expectations?
In certain areas, yes. It really is a beautiful country, very advanced, everything and anything advanced and modern under the sun you can think of, you can find it here. But, then there’s the other side of the coin: most Chinese people I have met are very prejudiced about Africans. They think we are all poor, illiterate, and well… ugly. Many people compliment me on my appearance, saying I “looked good for an African.” They all were pleasantly surprised by my appearance.

Yeah *crickets chirping* I can relate. Now I can laugh about it, but in the beginning, I felt as uncomfortable as he did.

Me: I can relate. Many Chinese people have made me out for a liar because I told them I was from South America. They told me that South America doesn’t have Black people.
That’s the funniest thing, but also the most annoying thing. I really dislike how most people I meet, have a distorted image of my country and my continent. Sure, there is war, there is poverty, there are a lot of things that need changing. But tell me, which country is perfect? There are many great things about Africa and Angola, but I have no idea why people seem to want to focus on all that is negative.

Speaking of “negative”

Me: Can you tell me about your worst experience here in China?
For me, it was learning the language, and also being the only Black person in my class. My class was filled with people from Laos and Thailand, they speak the same language (more or less). They tend to keep to themselves, and I often felt left out. I felt that no real effort was made to welcome me into their group, to make me feel like one of the class. They were also better at the language, for most of them had already learned the language before they came here. They have to pass HSK 4. So, whenever I made a mistake, they would laugh at me, which really lowered my self-esteem. It wasn’t easy.

Me: So how did you deal with it?
I am thankful that I am a very positive person and decided to not let that defeat me. During our winter vacation, I studied day and night. “Vacation”… what’s that? Every single day I got up at 04:30 to review words, study the vocabulary and the texts. It was difficult, but I came here with the intention to learn the language.

“After a while, I gradually started to feel better about my time here. One of my teachers also helped me a lot. I have to admit that I made some great friends here.”

He continues:

I went out every single day to talk to Chinese people, because speaking is the most important thing. It was a real challenge for me to feel at home here, especually since most Asians I have met here don’t have any experience with Black people, so they can be kind of closed-minded. But, where there’s bad, there”s good, and I have made some real friends here, both of Asian and non-Asian descent.

Interview with Jaime Rodrigues – Jaime and his classmate, a lovely young woman from Thailand. She is one of the true friends he has made here.

What I will take away from the experience is the following: people are usually scared about what is different. Some are curious and take lots of pictures, which you’ve also experienced. It can be annoying. But I have learned so much about myself. I am a strong person and I can do anything I set my mind to. Last, but not least, I am thankful for this amazing experience. These were the hardest ten months of my life, but also the most beautiful because I am a better person because of this. Thank you!

Interview with Jaime Rodrigues – Jaime with a friend of his.

I want to thank Jaime for agreeing to talk to me for half an hour. During our ten months here, we haven’t really had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together. But the little time I spent with him, was enough to convince me that he is an amazing person, very respectful and I will never forget him.

Interview with Jaime Rodrigues – Jaime and I at our graduation dinner July 4, 2018.

Obrigada meu amigo! <3