ROSA LIU exemplifies the famed warmth and charm of Sichuan, having five years ago moved from a small town in the southwestern province to the far less personable but far more prosperous southern Chinese city of Shenzhen to better her lot.
And half a decade later, she told NextInsight that she is taking a time-out from the rat race here, giving herself a half year to kick back and relax – and immerse herself in an all-English learning community in rural Guangxi province – to spruce up her bilingual skills in a move she hopes will help lift her a few rungs up the social ladder.
Every two weeks, we like to bring you insights into the lives and aspirations of young professionals living and working in Shenzhen, China's most crowded city and one of the fastest growing as well -- both in terms of its economy and its population.
I recently met up with the twenty-something Ms. Liu to get her take on life in Shenzhen, which she described via a mixture of English and Mandarin.
NextInsight: First of all, tell us where you grew up, when and why you came to Shenzhen and how you occupy your days now?
Ms. Liu: I grew up in a small town in Sichuan Province, one you probably never heard of. For reference’s sake, it’s a bit closer to Chengdu than it is to Chongqing. I know a lot of people think of Sichuan – especially Chengdu – as a magical and idyllic place of laid back and friendly people sitting around in parks on the weekends playing chess while fanning themselves over tea.
And of course Chengdu is the gateway to the Himalayas and is also home to some of the best delicacies in all of China. Surely you must have looked around Shenzhen and seen the seemingly hundreds of “Chengdu Snack” shops? So, I suppose your next question will be: Why on earth did you leave such a great place to come here? My answer, I came here five years ago for the same reasons as everyone else – money.
You mentioned you studied nursing. That seems like a profession that is not only recession proof, but also in demand around the country. After all, Shenzhen has no monopoly on the sick and injured.
Ms. Liu: Yes, but I make a lot more on an hourly basis here than I ever would at even the finest hospital or retirement home in Chengdu. As an example, I would have you take a good look around at all the elderly people with perhaps arthritic knees or broken hips who are being pushed around in wheelchairs each day. Who do you think is doing the pushing?
I will tell you that in Shenzhen, there’s a good chance that the person behind the wheelchair is unrelated to the person sitting in it, and is quite likely from The Philippines, Vietnam or even Indonesia. But back in Chengdu, I don’t think I have ever seen a non-Chinese caregiver working in this capacity. So the conclusion to be drawn here is that there’s a lot more money here, and opportunities. However, that being said, if I were an 80-year old woman with trouble walking, I would much rather be pushed around by my future daughter or son – by wheelchair of course! – in Chengdu than I would by a foreign domestic helper on salary.
Do I detect a bit of regret in your decision in 2005 to move to Shenzhen?
Ms. Liu: No, not at all. I actually find the working environment here more stimulating and exciting. But I am taking a break from the big city life for a while, and am on a short break from a “study-vacation” in Guangxi Province. I can’t even begin to tell you how different life there is from here.
In short, my parents agreed to give me a break and fund my study stint at an all-English language study compound for six months, and I am currently halfway finished. While I love being a nurse and find it very rewarding, I just figured I needed a break and also by being bilingual – Chinese and English – I feel I can expand my options quite a bit when I am done with this half-year course. I never use, or have the need to use English in my duties as a nurse, so this is the perfect opportunity.
Please tell us about the major differences between your life as a student now in Guangxi Province compared to your life as a nurse here in Shenzhen?
Ms. Liu: Well, first of all, there is no traffic to speak of in Guangxi, at least on our campus. The only thing resembling traffic there is me waiting in the morning outside the bathroom for my female classmate/roommate to finish showering. My first reaction when arriving there was a nervous one because:
1) it was a full-immersion course and during class they actually fine you five yuan for each time you break into Chinese 2) the teachers seemed to be all unshaven backpacking sorts and I was worried they would not be serious and run off to climb some mountain the minute the weather warmed up.
But I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of the place.
Yes, the teachers are all backpacking sorts and not necessarily professional teachers, but it really has a friendly family feel to the whole campus, and I get a bit of special attention because I am the only Sichuan girl at the school, with everyone else – and I mean that literally – being mainly ambitious girls from Dongguan (Guangdong Province’s manufacturing mecca) sent to improve their English by well-to-do parents.
And what are your plans when you permanently move back here to Shenzhen?
Ms. Liu: Well, I will have to continue nursing at first, as I have nothing else lined up at the moment.
But if I can really be functionally bilingual, then I think a lot of doors will open. I just hope I choose the right door.
And with all these classmates I have and competing schools in the region, I know I will not be the only person waiting outside the best doors for them to open. So I have to really work hard, while not forgetting to play sometimes too.
Our publication is read by investors across Greater China. What would you tell them about investing here?
Ms. Liu: I would tell them... please come and teach me about the stock market, because I never seem to pick the right ones!
Actually, I do sometimes put some money here and there and enjoy following their progress.
But it's more a fun little hobby than a serious form of secondary income.
But who knows, maybe after being bilingual I can read more outside reports on this stock or that and make wiser decisions?
See previous pieces on Shenzhen pros:
SHENZHEN GRAD: Property Market "Doomed To Collapse"
SHENZHEN EXPAT: Briton walking on the wild side
SHENZHEN GIRL: Loses, Finds Self In Myanmar