Editor’s Note: The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) will be held in Beijing from April 25th to 27th, 2019. In the six years since its inception, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has had a far-reaching and profound impact on the world. The BRI has played an important role in promoting closer ties between countries, and boosting global growth. Five young expats from five continents that have been living and working in Guangdong during the past six years gave exclusive interviews to Nanfang Daily and News GD. Below is one of their five stories.
Tamara is a Dutch air hostess for China Southern Airlines. She began her Guangdong story five years ago when her father gave her a clipping with a job advertisement from China Southern Airlines cut out of a local newspaper.
Tamara’s Guangdong story started with a newspaper clipping
In October 2013, Tamara was working in a restaurant in Amsterdam Airport. One day after work, her father brought her the clipping that he found in a free newspaper at the station, remembering that his daughter had always wanted to be an air hostess.
“My father told me that this might be a great opportunity and very different experience. He said that I always have the chance to work for a Dutch airline, but not for a Chinese or foreign airline,” Tamara recalled.
After doing some research on the airline, Tamara decided to give it a try and sent her resume in early November, not only because China Southern is one of China’s “Big Three” airlines, but also she wanted to learn more about Chinese culture.
About 800 people applied for the job, with only about 20 positions available. Tamara did her homework, but was still very nervous. “I got the offer right before Christmas. We were so happy. I didn’t expect it,” Tamara smiled.
Tamara (R1) and her colleagues [Photo/Nanfang Plus]
Cultural differences and the language barrier at work
Tamara started in her new role in February 2014. After six-months of training, she became a regular member of the cabin crew on flights between Guangzhou and Amsterdam. Over the past five years, she still competes with 6-7 hour time difference, and jet lag thanks to the 11 hours flight between Guangdong and Holland.
Tamara works on two to three round-trip flights every month. Her flight usually takes off at noon from Amsterdam Airport, and arrives in Guangzhou around 7am. Two days later, the flight departs Guangzhou in the early hours of the morning and reaches Amsterdam before dawn.
Her first challenge in this job was how to communicate properly with her colleagues and passengers. They all spoke English, but to different degrees and with different accents, so of course there were misunderstandings. “Now even if it’s not the same as I would say it, I just know what they mean.” Tamara has also learned to speak a little Mandarin, but not fluently yet, therefore she uses body language to communicate with the passengers if necessary, “If our passengers only speak Cantonese, I need my colleagues to help me”.
Around Spring Festival every year, China Southern has a celebration on its flights, for instances this year saw airborne temple fairs introducing Cantonese culture and Spring Festival customs. After working during the Spring Festival travel season for years, Tamara has become familiar with the festival customs and can take part in the celebration with ease.
The Dutch crew including Tamara know a great deal about the different habits and customs that both Western and Chinese passengers have: typically Western passengers prefer eating one dish at a time, while the Chinese passengers would like to have all the dishes on the table at the same time. Tamara pointed out that her flights even had to adjust breakfast, finding a time neither too early nor too late for passengers from both parts of the world.
Tamara shows a pair of Dutch wooden shoes. [Photo: Zheng Yijian]
First impression of Guangdong: Everything is so big!
Tamara’s longest stay in Guangdong was 10 weeks in 2014, during which time she was training with other new recruits in Guangzhou. The company took them on a tour around the city. It was then that she got her first impression of the province: “Everything is so big, so amazing. I was very impressed by the metro system.”
“The people are very friendly, even though we don’t speak the same language, they will try their best to help me. I also really like the food,” said Tamara, “I like most Chinese food, especially dim sum. I love shrimp and pork dumplings. I can’t really handle very spicy food, so Guangdong is the perfect province for me." When Tamara tries something new that she likes, she brings it home for her family and friends to try.
Due to the time difference, Tamara’s top priority is to catch up on sleep after landing in Guangzhou. When she goes out, she goes for food or hangs out with friends around the city, visiting typical tourist spots like the Canton Tower, Lotus Mountain, Chen Clan Academy and Shamian Island.
If Tamara is confused about some of the local customs, her friends do their best to explain it. And she shares Dutch history with her friends when bringing them Dutch souvenir, the wooden shoes. “When I give this souvenir to my friends, they are always very happy and interested, because they will get to know the story,” Tamara said, people, especially farmers, used to wear wooden shoes in the ancient days, because the soil in Holland was wet, and the wooden shoes were hard, safe and waterproof.
Tamara has brought her parents and her boyfriend to Guangzhou for short holidays. She told us that they really enjoyed their two-day visits here, and wanted to come back to see more places and stay longer.
Tamara is in an interview with Nanfang Daily and News GD. [Photo: Zheng Yijian]
“More and more people are travelling”
China Southern operates a daily direct flight linking Guangzhou and Amsterdam. On this flight, Tamara has noticed a few changes over these years: more and more people travelling for both business and pleasure between the Netherlands and Guangdong. “Guangzhou is an important hub, many passengers who travel from Oceania to Europe or other continents prefer to choose Guangzhou as their transfer point,” Tamara explained.
Tamara often bumps into the same people time and time again. She told us of two Dutch businessmen that travel to Guangzhou every few months, checking their factories and business, and some Chinese passengers who regularly fly to the Netherlands.
China Southern has launched 172 air routes between China and 38 countries and regions along the Belt and Road. Due to an increase in passenger numbers, a new Dutch crew consisting of 18 flight attendants will join Tamara soon, and start flying between both Amsterdam and Guangzhou and Amsterdam and Beijing.
In Tamara’s opinion, the Belt and Road Initiative is a great idea that connects many countries together, promoting development, and bringing a lot of new opportunities for cooperation in fields like industries, businesses, infrastructure and technology.
She mentioned that Dutch milk powder and cheese can be seen in China, and Chinese cell phones, souvenirs and toys are very popular in the Netherlands. “A lot of people shop from Chinese online stores for cheap but decent quality made-in-China commodities,” Tamara said.
Tamara told us that she is amazed by China’s development. When her boyfriend visited, he was jealous of that way in which people can do everything with their phone, especially mobile payment.
As regards her future plans, Tamara hopes to continue working for China Southern, and become a purser.
Planning: Cao Si, Zheng Youzhi, Hu Liangguang
Reporters: Hu Liangguang (Nanfang Daily), Monica Liu & Keane Wong (Newsgd.com)
Video & Photography: Zheng Yijian, Zhang Ziwang (Nanfang Daily)
English editor: Simon Haywood