Kyei Nana was born in Ghana but moved to the UK as a teen. He talks to AKADi about his decision to relocate to China, how the experience shattered some of his perceptions about the country and living through COVID-19.
1. How long have you been in China?
2020 is my sixth year. However, it hasn't been six years of continuous living in China. Rather it has been two years and I am now doing a four-year stretch.
2. Why did you decide to go to China?
As a teacher I have always envisaged travelling and teaching abroad. I did not pay particular attention to China as a potential destination to do that because, I guess, I bought into the stereotypes associated with the country. But my opportunity came about because I was not able to progress as I would have wanted to as a science teacher in London.
I wanted to teach A-level chemistry. I started out as a teaching assistant at a London school and dedicated six years of my working life there. But when opportunities to recruit a teacher with experience in chemistry arose, I was always passed over.
You would think that my employers would have some confidence in allowing me to co-teach or train me up. But that wasn't the case. China, however, took a gamble on me and for that I am forever grateful.
3. What are you doing there?
I teach chemistry to secondary students in a school. It is quite unusual for me to be teaching chemistry as most foreign teachers in China teach English.
4. How were you received by people there when you came and how has that changed over the years?
My first placement in 2014 was in Harbin, northeast China. Harbin is not as developed or savvy as the mid-state or southern China but I loved it. Yes, some of the locals had not seen a black person up close before - so there was the pointing and commenting. But after a month or so, I did not experience that anymore.
DID YOU KNOW China's population is 1.4 billion, compared to the UK's 68 million and Ghana's 31 million
Attempting to and successfully picking up some loose terminologies and phrases bemused the locals and this led to most of them accepting me and generally going out of their way to assist me. I believe the staring has ceased dramatically because when I last visited, there wasn't much pointing or photo-taking. I believe this is because more black people are coming to Harbin and there is greater awareness and education going on there.
5. What was your perception of the country before going and how has that changed?
Well growing up in Ghana, our perceptions were that Chinese people always ate rice, were martial arts experts and always wore Chinese hats. Education had taught me that stereotypes are a mix of fact and fiction but can also be a sign of ignorance. As a result, I did not have a balanced perception of China. I was right on the rice aspect. I have been eating rice almost every day since living here but not everybody is into martial arts!
I was particularly surprised at how cold the country is and at the same time how hot it can get. Moving to the south I have also realised that you cannot judge the Chinese by the state they live in. In Harbin, the locals were very friendly whereas down south the locals although they were nice and friendly, were nothing compared to those up north.
DID YOU KNOW ….Harbin is known for its beautiful ice sculpture festival in the winter and is known as the Ice City for its well-known winter tourism and recreations
6. What qualities have you been able to offer to people you interact with? I have learnt to be more tolerant and accepting because China will test you. Their cultural values, and their food are totally different to what you may experience in the UK or Ghana. I have learnt not to underestimate people too. Most Chinese people are not necessarily spiteful. Rather some are ignorant not by choice but due to them not having the opportunity, experience or the knowledge.
7. What advice would you give to people considering relocating to China? Do your homework before relocating. Build up a network of reliable friends and work on your financial support. The language is very difficult so I would encourage you to start learning and pick up some common phrases.
China like marmite. It is an acquired taste. The country will definitely test your patience and tolerance. Know why you are there, set your goals and do not deviate if you can make it in China, Alaska will have nothing on you!
8. What do you love about China?
I love the scenery and lifestyle in Ningbo. Ningbo is a city in northeastern of the Zhejiang province in southern China. I find the locals to be friendlier and more accepting than the Chinese I meet abroad. I also love the transportation system.
9. Tell us how you coped when the coronavirus hit.
Friends had been warning us to be careful because an epidemic was sweeping China but we had no idea about its severity. However come 28th January 2020, it was clear that the Chinese government was taking this seriously.
They implemented lockdown which meant only one member of a household could go out every two to three days to get necessities. This order was very severe, brutal and ruthless, forget human rights this was more of survival rights.
People's temperatures were being taken on the spot before we could enter our communities, there were sanitisers in lifts and tissues to accompany them. Were we scared? Of course we were scared. Imagine it started here in China!
10. There were reports that you were on almost 24/hour lockdown. Was that true?
The most scary part was the propaganda coming from outside the country. We were allowed to go out for shopping, but some media were making the world believe that we couldn’t even step out.
One thing that worked in mainland China was that regardless you being a police officer or a cleaner, everybody adhered to the curfew and the lockdown rules. You see COVID-19 is no respecter of any person, and a time comes in life when personal pride needs to be put aside for the mass survival.
11. What is life like now that China has come out of lockdown?
Schools will soon be opening soon. COVID-19 lockdown was harsh but it brought togetherness and gave nature a chance to reclaim what she had lost.
12. Any final words to your brothers and sisters across the globe?
Stay safe. Call a loved one. Show love for if COVID-19 hasn’t taught has anything, it has shown us that nature is powerful and human beings are just pawns in this game of chess we call life. Why do we rush? - massa anɛa wu wuo ɔkyena wu bon. Stay safe, respect nature!
And read about other Ghanaians Abroad - such as Emmanuel Agbeko Gamor in South Africa.
If you are a Ghanaian in the diaspora living in some far-flung part of the world and would like to share your experiences with us, fill in our mini questionnaire and you could be featured in our next post.