New documentary explores foreigners seeking a better life in Chinese citieshttp://www.globaltimes.cn/Portals/0/attachment/2018/2018-12-27/c24a8e19-bae5-4706-9fd4-8c5fde0ff89a.jpegPromotional material for Living in China Photo: Courtesy of haiwainet.cn (Global Times) "Sir, more pepper please," American Jonathan says in Chinese flavored by a strong Chengdu accent as he recalls one of the first phrases he learned upon first arriving in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, 20 years ago.
Jonathan went to Chengdu back then as an exchange student. Knowing nothing, not even the language, Jonathan's love of spicy food helped him integrate into local life in the city famous for its blazingly spicy food. After participating in a red pepper eating competition, Jonathan even become something of a local celebrity.
Jonathan, who now runs a hot pot restaurant in the city, is one of nine foreigners whose connections to Chinese cities are explored in the recent documentary Living in China, which debuted on Chinese news site haiwainet.cn and streaming sites in December.
Love of food and music
"I came to Chengdu in 1998… At that time, the Second Ring Road had just been built… because Chengdu was really small at that time, riding a bicycle within the Second Ring Road was quite convenient as long as the weather was good for riding. But now, oh my, Chengdu is so big and has developed so much," Jonathan says in the documentary.
While it was his love for spicy food that led Jonathan to call Chengdu home, it was rock music that caused Jukka Ahonen to move from Finland to Beijing.
A fan of rock'n'roll since childhood, the 21-year-old guitarist learned from his schoolmates in Finland that Beijing, the cultural center of China, had gathered some of the best musicians in the nation and due to the fact that so many young people in the city loved rock, there would be many opportunities for an aspiring musician to perform.
To pursuit his music dream, Ahonen came to Beijing in 2014, and quickly became part of local music circles.
"I like Dou Wei very much for his various styles such as jazz, rock'n'roll and many offhand experimental songs. Every time he releases an album you have no idea of what it will be like. They are always changing," Ahonen says in the film, adding that he has been impressed by the talent of a lot of young Chinese musicians, especially how they incorporate other musical instruments into rock music.
While he probably would have led a more comfortable and steady life in Finland, Ahonen was more than willing to give that up for the large number of opportunities in China, where the capital alone has a resident population of more than 21 million.
"There are so many people in Beijing, and so many places in need of bands. Finland has a small population. In many cities you can play in only a few places," Ahonen notes Career opportunities
Opportunity is also what brought Korean American Howard Kim to Beijing.
After graduating from the University of Virginia in the US in 2007, Kim received an offer from an architecture firm in Beijing. Although he later left Beijing after a few years, after working in the US and South Korea for a few years more he chose to return to Beijing in 2015, at the age of 29.
"In South Korea, experience prevails. At the age of 35 or 30, it will be difficult for an architect to get some major projects or opportunities. But in Beijing in China I feel that if you want to try, they will give you the chance… you will get fewer opportunities in South Korea and the US," Kim says in the film.
Forty-eight-year-old Miguel Angel Ley Montano comes from Mexico and now works in Tianjin, a coastal city near Beijing, as an airline captain for Tianjin Airlines. While he has lived in China for the past six years, he had never thought about working or living in China prior to being invited by the airline.
Ley Montano worked in the Panama airline industry for years until the company he was working for went bankrupt. Roving between several airlines in Mexico and the US later on, he could not find a place to settle down. At the time, Tianjin Airlines was expanding their business and in need of experienced pilots, and so Ley Montano got an invitation to work with the company.
At first Ley Montano hesitated between his desire for a stable job and the fear of moving to, what was for him, a strange nation in the Far East that he had little knowledge of, but his wife convinced him that a stable life would be better for their kids.
Over the past six years, Ley Montano has not only risen to the position of captain, but also helped cultivate a number of young Chinese captains and instructors - an accomplishment of which he is very proud.
"For me, it took 11 years to become a captain. Back in America or in my country, in Mexico, it's not easy to upgrade… because normally all the companies, they don't grow all that fast. So if they don't grow, you need wait for the chance, for a captain to retire, or the company buying a new airline," Ley Montano explains.
Another source of satisfaction is that both his son and daughter have adapted well to the Chinese city.
"I hope to retire here," Ley Montano says.
Americans are welcomed in China, not so for Chinese in US!