Hold the surówka
Poland Today sits down with Ling Ding, a Chinese analyst in Warsaw, to ask her about living in Poland.
Why did you decide to study Polish in China?
It was totally accidental. I studied at the best university for linguistics in China, a crib for most of the Chinese diplomats. I had to study a language and my five options were Hebrew, Malaysian, Polish, Serbian or Spanish. I chose Polish and I didn’t even know where Poland was.
What did you know about Poland before moving here?
I didn’t know anything about the country but I met some Polish students at university because they were studying Chinese. They were open, warm people. My only other impression of Poland was from watching the movie, ‘The Pianist’ with my grandmother. It’s a great movie but Warsaw was presented in a horrible state.
How closely did your preconceptions of Poland match your first impressions?
During my second year at university, I spent one year in Katowice and it was close to the Poland I imagined. I lived in a dormitory in a suburb and it was grey, near the woods and quite horrible. When I traveled, however, I learnt that it’s not like that everywhere and Poland is changing rapidly.
In that case, what is your view on Warsaw?
In infrastructure, I would compare Warsaw to a third-tier Chinese city. Five years ago, there weren’t as many skyscrapers but now the city is changing so fast. In other European countries, things don’t change so rapidly – new buildings pop up, new roads are built and the maps are changing like crazy. That’s what I love about it – you see the potential based on how things are changing – just like in China.
What are the most striking similarities between Poles and the Chinese?
In China and Poland, people care about you and invite you to their home to eat. That’s very warm and I don’t know if it’s like that in other countries. My neighbours wave to me and say ‘Dzień dobry’ every time they see me. It’s so warm.
What was the hardest thing to adjust to when you moved to Poland?
The food – I tried ordering catered food at work and it’s just not my taste. Western food is very bland – Chinese food is usually deep fried with lots of spices. Whenever I order at Asian places in Poland, I tell them I don’t want surówka – a Polish coleslaw – which they add as a side to every dish. Instead, I ask for double the rice.
What Polish thing do you wish they had in China?
I wish quality consumer goods in China weren’t so overpriced. Prices are honest in Europe, but if you go to a Chinese department store, the prices are crazy and I don’t know why. If you go to a department store here, clothing and shoes are so cheap. I wish there was honest market competition in China.
What Chinese thing do you wish they had in Poland?
I wish Poland would have the flexible mindset of the Chinese people. The Polish people that I have met are quite rigid – the rules are the rules. They don’t tend to break them, change them, or modify them. Chinese people would rather look for other ways around and sometimes it gets things done quicker.
What advice would you give to someone from China going to live in Poland?
I would tell them to be more social. I have Chinese friends and we always stick together – that’s a very Chinese thing. If you really want to blend into society, you need to be more social with local people, not just the local Chinese people.
In what ways has Poland changed you for better or for worse?
I’m more relaxed in Poland and it’s good mentally. In China, it’s very different. The pressure is greater – you have to compete with 1.4 billion people. So, no matter what you’re good at, there are over a million people better than you. However, I think that this has also changed me for worse because if I have to go back to China, I’m worried that I will be too relaxed to compete with other people.