-Where were you born?
I was born in Freiburg am Breisgau in Germany. In June, 1982. That makes me Gemini in western horoscope and a dog in the Chinese horoscope. But I am not superstitious.
-In which country and city are you living now?
In Shanghai, People's Republic Of China. But when you start traveling around in this country, you realize quickly that Shanghai is exceptional and not really 'China' at all. Shanghai is modern and developed, while most other cities are completely different. And I'm not talking about Beijing...
-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my wife. I don't recommend living here alone (or at least without friends).
-How long have you been living in China?
Since November 2005
-What is your age?
I am currently 25 years old. Changes every year, that.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in China?
That's a really long story. I came here to work in an office as a media designer for two months, then I met an angel who would later become my wife. So after just 6 weeks, I decided to move here for good. I wrote a really long story about this, about meeting my wife, getting used to China; the writing took me about two months. Feel free to read it here.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Not at all, China is very open. The first visa ever I got was a three-month business visa for 100 dollars. Once I even went on the day my visa expired to renew it and got it back a week later. They told me it's not even a problem to run around without one, as long as you can prove that you're currently renewing yours. Only the price is high: A one-year family visa costs almost 400 dollars. Ouch. Luckily, there's a Chinese green card that you can apply for after a couple of years living in China which is valid for 10 years, and even gives you the right to buy property and stuff.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No, German insurances are quite good.
-How do you make your living in China? Do you have any type of income generated?
My work allows me to work wherever I want, as long as there is internet. One of my companies is a German lifestyle news portal, http://www.mysan.de - I am a big flick addict. I think I live for movies, and I've been writing reviews for a long time. They also get published in a German print movie magazine called 'deadline.'
-Do you speak Chinese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Chinese is a very difficult language. I speak German, English and Italian (and I learned Roman Latin in school, but you can only read that), and while these languages have similar gramatical structures, Chinese is completely different. You have different tones, different structures... I am learning it, not professionally, but via learn-mp3's and vocabulary software. And with my wife. It is very important to have somebody around who speaks Chinese, as most Chinese people don't speak English. Many know it through school, but due to improper talk-training, they are afraid to use it.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Let's drop a heavily overused word, but it fits so perfectly: Globalization!
Of course I miss my family and friends every once in a while, I miss the many neat coffee shops of my hometown Heidelberg... But nowadays you have email, MSN, ICQ and even free phoning through Skype, so even when you are physically not there, you are at least 'mentally.' Since the middle of the 90's it has become really easy to live in other countries or even continents.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Travel more! China is as big as Europe and has so many different faces. I've been to a lot of places already, but there's always more to see. In Europe, there are at least 50 interesting places to see, same goes for China. It's interesting how every province in China is different from the others. If you plan on going on a trip to China, go see Beijing, Xi'An, Shanghai and Hongkong. If you live here... Oh, that's a lot! One place I really fell in love with was the city Sanya on Hainan island, which is China's Hawaii. Highly recommended if you're in the mood for sunny beaches and coconuts. If you're in Shanghai and not able to travel that much, you should at least check out Hangzhou, which is 2 hours by train and Suzhou, which is 40 minutes away. Since I'm a 'media guy', I take a lot of pictures. Go have a look at my flickr sets to see some places in China.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
When I first got here, I lived in the office where I worked - that was a temporary solution. After deciding to move here, we found an apartment downtown, near the Jing'An temple. It had 60 square meters and cost us 350 dollars per month. But it became too noisy after a while, so we moved to the north of the city, in an area called 'Zhabei.' There we had an apartment with 80 square meters for only 225 dollars per month! But then my wife changed her job and we moved once again, this time to the new area called 'Pudong.' Now we're living in a 120 square meter apartment with two floors and a roof balcony - 245 dollars per month. If you go rent an apartment as a foreigner, you'll probably pay twice the price - this is why I said you need to have someone who speaks Chinese around. Chinese people love to gamble and to bargain, so there is always a margin...
-What is the cost of living in China?
Depends really on your lifestyle! If you go to fancy restaurants every day you can spend easily over a 1000 dollars on food every month. If you live like a local, 150 or 250 dollars should be enough. Electricity, water and phone bills are always under 50 dollars per month.
-What do you think about the Chinese?
Well, Shanghainese people are used to foreigners, as Shanghai was always full with them; but how many are really here? Shanghai has 21 million people offically, and my guess is that over 15 million of those are from the 'countryside.' Recently, as Shanghai is expanding and the economy booming, more and more people from other provinces come to Shanghai, searching for their luck. This is why Shanghainese are, well, a little bit racist against other people. They lose more and more jobs to the people from outside of Shanghai, who will work for much lower salaries... I guess you can't really blame them for that.
Chinese people per se are very friendly, helpful and open people, as long as they speak English. In my two years here, I've only had two encounters with Chinese people who were hostile against foreigners - and even that is only half true, as these two times the Chinese were hostile against my wife for being with me, a foreigner. But I guess that's rare and won't happen anymore as China opens up more and more.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in China?
Shanghai is loud, hectic, dirty... Sometimes you just want to run away, into the Antarctic or some place where there are no other people. But that's rare. Mostly you just step outisde on the street and you already feel good. Shanghai is like a pumping heart, always beating. Shanghai is alive. I come from a small city, where nights feel like death. In Shanghai, there is always something going on. You either love or hate that. I always say: Work and party here, and retire or move someplace calm when you're older - or can't stand it anymore.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in China?
Yes. Always bargain! Never ever go to a Chinese hospital when you're sick, find a private or foreign doctor. Make sure to get foot massages every once in a while. Travel around as much as you can. Don't be afraid of trying new food. Buy Japanese electronics (sorry, all the Chinese I bought broke down... fast). Read about Chinese history - then you'll know that you can not talk good about Japan to Chinese people. Don't talk about Chinese politics, you never know exactly who you're talking to. Be friendly, never lose your cool. Get used to the horrible bureaucratics. Open a Chinese bank account and get your salary from abroad transferred there - much better exchange rates. Don't give money to beggars on the street, or you'll have an army of beggars around you in no time. Never accept an invitation to something from someone you don't know - there are many criminals running around.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about China?
My blog: http://jakob.montrasio.net
My pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yakobusan