What's it like to be a foreigner in China if you're a kid? We asked our readers to let us interview their kids, both little and big—and they did. What did we learn? The biggest difference between China and everywhere else is the weather.
Lyndon is 6 years old and from the U.S. He attended a local kindergarten and is now in the first grade at the Longjiang Lu Primary School. He lived in Thailand for several years before moving to Chengdu one-and-a-half years ago. His father lived in China in the 1990s.
What's your favorite subject in school? Hmm ... Writing. In Chinese? Yeah! Which subjects are you good at? Drawing! And English! You're the best in your class? Yes, because other people don't know how to draw [write] in English. Do your classmates like you? Yes. All of them? Yes! Why? I don't know why. You're the only American? Yes. Is it strange for you? No, not strange. Do the girls like you? A little bit. Do you have problems at school sometimes? Sometimes. Like ... hard Chinese. Like you have a piece of paper, and the teacher lets you see it and then when you start writing and then the teacher turns it over and you have to copy the Chinese. I just got 99 points. I just need one more, then I get 100! Any other problems? Sometimes. Like I run around, sometimes fall down, get up, then fall down again, get up ... . [Dad: Yep, that's a problem.]
So all of your classes are in Chinese? Yes, but there's a little bit of English. Is it hard? No! It's easy! Do you speak Chinese with your dad? Sometimes. And your sister? Little bit too. Is her Chinese better than yours? Mine is better than my dad's and better than my sister's!
Where did you live before you lived in Chengdu? In a hotel! Where? Bangkok. Did you like it? Yes. Do you like China better, or Thailand? China! What's your favorite Chinese food? Meat. What kind of meat? Chinese meat? What do you wanna be when you grow up? A doctor. And when I grow up I'm going to play American football! What's your favorite thing to do here? Play with my friends. And see changing faces. I saw it at my school. Just one time, that's it. Can you change faces? Yes, but I won't show you. But I can. Is there something you don't like? I don't like ... . I like everything! We don't believe you. There must be something. It's ... toys. I'm too big! Do you like kung fu? Yes, Kung Fu Panda! Do you learn it at school? We learn Taekwondo. Are you good? Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. You lose against the bigger kids? They're like 10 years old. But 9 years old is OK. Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. And 20 years old. You fight with 20-year-olds!? I can. But I don't want to. I'm afraid the other person will lose! I'll hit them right in the nose!
Do you think there's anything weird in Chengdu? No! Nothing? Nothing! Do you miss something from home? I miss ... my grandma and grandpa. Where do they live? Oklahoma! What is the best thing about Chengdu? The best thing? ... Painting! What do you like to paint? I like to paint rockets. Why do you like living in China? China is big. And? Nothing else. What about Russia? It's also big. I never been in Russia. If you could change something, what would you do? Help other people. Help them stay away from the bad guys. How do you know when you see a bad guy? They have swords and guns and knives and they have strings over here, and they have a hat, and a shirt and pants and shoes.
John, Sarah, and Lily
John, 10, Sarah, 9, and Lily, 7, are from the U.S. and moved to Chengdu last year. Before that, they lived in West Africa for three years. They went to QSI last year, and now they go to Léman International School.
You lived somewhere else before you came to Chengdu, right? [Lily]: Yeah, Waterfront! [Sarah]: No, Ghana! Africa! And did you like it there? [Sarah]: Yeah ... well, it was too hot. [John]: It was hot and there's a lot of power outages. What's the biggest difference between here and there? [John]: It's really cold here and really hot in Africa. Sometimes it's hot here. [John]: But not as hot as Africa. And I don't think there's any power outages here. In Africa we had them like every two days.
Where else have you guys have traveled? [Lily]: Egypt ... [John]: And we've been to Finland, the Arctic Circle, Thailand ... [Sarah]: Bangkok and Chiang Mai. [John]: So many places I can't really remember. Which was your favorite? [Lily]: That's hard. [Sarah]: I liked Egypt. [Lily]: Yeah, but I liked all of them. [John]: Maybe I like it here. [Lily]: I like Chiang Mai too. [Sarah]: I like Bangkok! [John]: What I like the most is where we live because right around our house is this huge golf course and whenever no one's golfing we go over there and we're running and rolling around the hills. [Lily]: And we bring our dog, he's like that big. He's only four years old. Do you have a cat too? [Sarah]: No, just a dog. [John]: If we had a cat, Jocko would eat it. [Lily]: In America we did, remember? We had Janet. [John]: Yeah, but when we got Jocko we gave Janet to someone else. [Lily]: Yeah, to Sarah's teacher, and now she has babies! [Sarah]: Yeah, I know! [John]: Janet lives with her mom. And has babies. [Sarah]: Yup!
What are your favorite things to do in Chengdu? [Lily]: Sometimes we go in the mountains and we hike, and right now, we're living in Luxe Hills and there's another house next door and we can play there and— [Sarah]: Yeah, we built a fort! No one lives there! [Lily]: We just take all the leaves and cut them and stick them on the fort. And then we build a fire ... . You build a fire? [Lily]: Not a big one! Just this big! [John]: I think what I like to do here is explore their culture, you know, they have the temples and stuff. [Lily]: There's one that we went in Thailand! [John]: That's not in China, Lily. [Lily]: Yeah, but it's in Thailand! In Bangkok, and we climbed this big mountain ... . [Sarah]: It wasn't a mountain! [Lily]: Well, it looked like a mountain, but it was kind of like this temple-mountain-thing. And it was steep! [Sarah]: I like to play in my house. What do you play? [Sarah]: Games. What kind of games? [Sarah]: I dunno! [John]: She watches TV. [Sarah]: No! [Lily]: No, not always. [John]: What else does she do? [Lily]: She plays her iPod. [John]: That's the same thing.
Are your friends mostly Chinese or foreigners? [Lily]: Some of them are Chinese. [John]: No. [Lily]: Yeah. [John]: They're Singaporean. [Lily]: Oh yeah. [Sarah]: They're Korean! [John]: Because we go to an international school, not a lot of Chinese kids go there. [Lily]: But once we went into the mountains and there were a lot of Chinese people, and they were poor, and there was the earthquake when we went there ... and we gave things to them. And I met a girl, she's Chinese. [John]: She gave you a bunch of stickers. [L] No. [John]: Yes, she gave you a lot, and you put them everywhere. What did you give to them? [Lily]: We played sports. We taught them baseball. And the little kids were sitting in a circle, I think they were playing Duck, Duck, Goose, and I knew the song, but now I forgot. Was it easy to talk to them? [Lily]: It was when I was like 6 years old. It was easier, and I remembered more, but when I went to Léman, I forgot some. Is Lily the best at speaking Chinese? [Sarah]: Yeah! She's the youngest. [John]: If you see the smaller kindergarteners, all they speak is Chinese, and they're from places like Italy.
Is there something you don't like about living in China? [Sarah]: Not really. [John]: When we were building a fort, our little fort, in the little corner, I was building it and soon I got really tired and I felt my head, and I was sweating, and I was like, Why am I so tired? And I realized it was because it was really cold! [Lily]: You're tired, and you're cold, but you're not sweaty. [John]: Also when we're crossing the street, people on the little bikes don't stop. We're saying stop— [Lily]: And they don't stop! They just go faster and faster and faster.
Gemma is 8, and she is from the U.S. She is in the second grade at QSI. She was reluctant to be interviewed because she doesn't want to be famous, and, more importantly, she doesn't want William to see her photo in a magazine.
How many classmates do you have? Thirteen. What's your favorite subject? Writing. What do you write about? Hmm ... friendship. And you speak Chinese? [Nods.] Can you understand everything people say to you? Not everything. Do you have a Chinese name? Mmhmm. I have two Chinese names. Mostly Chinese people call me Jima, and at school they call me Nana.
What's your favorite thing to do in Chengdu? On Fridays I have swimming lessons with my friends. Even when it's cold? Mmhmm. Because it's an indoor pool. The outdoor pool has worms in it! Really? What kind of worms? I don't know. Real worms. In the water. I don't know what type of worms they are. Auntie Lin told us that they are 'world worms.' Do you like other sports? Tennis. What about ice-skating? I don't even know how to ice skate. But I want to! Do you ride a bike? Mmhmm. I got a new one for my birthday! What color is it? Pink. I don't like pink! I like gold! What's your favorite Chinese food? Sweet and sour pork? Does your mom cook it for you or do you eat it at a restaurant? My mom cooks it and we go to a restaurant. Who makes it better? [Points at mom.]
What do you want to be when you grow up? A teacher! So you must like school. Yes. Do you get a lot of homework? Math, reading, Chinese, but not on Fridays. And my mom gives me homework when I have spelling tests. What's the most difficult word you can spell? "Because!" "Please" is the hardest. I don't even know how to write it right now. I forgot. Is it easier to spell in English or write in Chinese? Chinese! Can you write a lot of characters? Mmhmm. I already filled in one book with lots and lots of characters.
So you go to America every year? Every summer. For a month. We stay in China for a little bit and then we go to Papa's house. Where in America do you go? Nebraska! I like Arizona more. 'Cause I was born there! But it's hot there, isn't it? It's really, really hot. What's different about Nebraska and Chengdu? Nebraska has snow, and Chengdu doesn't. And there's sand. There's a lake? I don't know.
So do you wanna stay in China for a long time or go somewhere else? Go somewhere else. Where? Malaysia! Have you been there before? Mmhmm. I wanna live there! Maybe when you're grown up and become a teacher you can move there. Teach English? Chinese? I'll just teach English, not Chinese, 'cause I might forget it!
Have you been to any other countries? Thailand, Vietnam, America, China, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland ... to see my grandma and grandpa! Do you like Ireland? Mmhmm. I like seeing my friend! She's in the garden of where my grandma and grandpa is so almost every single day we play with each other or something, we play at night before dinner. I ride on her bike. And sometimes she wears her roller skates. Is there something that you miss from home? Nothing! I miss my cousins. Except for [edited, so nobody's feelings get hurt]. By the way, who's William? My boyfriend! I been kissing him! On the lips! Whoa.
Jianne is 14 and from Palawan, an island in the Philippines. She has lived in Chengdu since July 2005 and previously attended Meishi International School but is currently home-schooled.
What do you like most about living in Chengdu? The atmosphere is relaxing, and I have lots of friends in the homeschool group ... . It's really fun here, and I really enjoy it. What about the weather compared to the Philippines? Yeah, in the Philippines, it's all summer, but here it's really cold, and the first few years here we had a lot of trouble adjusting to the weather, but now we're fine. Do you think you're going to live here for a long time? Yeah, because my mom's business ... she just signed a contract for like 20 years! And you'll stay once you're an adult? I like China, so probably most likely. I really like it here.
What do you miss most from the Philippines? The food. Can you cook it here? My mom does. Some of it. But there's some stuff you can't find. Do you ever go back home? We go back every two years. Do you keep in touch with your friends back there? Yeah, some through Internet chat. You don't ever feel like you wanna move back there? I told my parents that if only I could bring my friends and family back here—and the food—I would stay in Chengdu forever. Because I really love it here. Oh yes, and the beach, if I could bring the beach here!
So you speak Chinese now? Just a bit ... I'm not much into it. You also speak Tagalog? Yeah. And English ... Yeah, pretty much everyone in the Philippines can speak it. But I developed speaking English here because I hang around so many foreigners. [My family is] practically like the only Filipinos here. I've never met any others. Most of my friends are Americans. So you speak three languages? Two-and-a-half is more like it! Did you learn how to write in Chinese too? Yeah, I have a tutor once a week. Most of it's like talking, not much writing. Do you find writing difficult? Actually, I like it because it's like drawing. I really like drawing so it's fun.
What are your favorite places to go in Chengdu? Happy Valley. It's a good place. The malls, like Wanda and Tianfu Pavilion. I like those places. And movie theaters. Because in the Philippines the movie theaters—I mean in my province, not the city—there's like no good theaters so I really like watching movies here. I go to the theater when I have time with my friends. Do you ride a bike? Yes, I do. My transportation is usually bus or bike. My bike got stolen just recently. Because I was stupid enough not to lock it. But I was only really, really near, and I saw this guy pedaling away, and I tried to chase him, and I couldn't say anything because I was in panic, and I was like, 'That's my bike! My bike!' So you're pretty independent. My parents let me roam around here. That's another thing I like about Chengdu. Because in the Philippines it's too dangerous to roam around.
What can't you get used to about China? The spitting. The spitting everywhere, and the little kids, they just urinate everywhere. What's your favorite Chinese dish? Well, it's not really a dish, it's a dessert, you know, the bao bing? Even in the winter I eat it. What's your favorite memory in Chengdu? Me and my friends had a sleepover and we all went in pajamas and were singing really loud outside in pajamas and buying shaokao. So that's pretty much it.
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