“Nigerians, Remove China From Your Japa Plans”- Abroad Life

February 18, 2022

The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.

Today’s subject on Abroad Life loved the Chinese language so much growing up, she decided to learn the language and move to China. Now she’s there, and after getting called a “black monster” and seeing shops with “no blacks allowed”, she can’t wait to leave. 

When did you decide to leave Nigeria?

I finished a two-year diploma in mass communication in 2015, and in the middle of trying to get into university, I decided to change plans and chase my passion — learning Chinese. I’d been interested in the language since I was a child when I watched Chinese movies. I didn’t understand what they were saying, but I liked the way it sounded. When I got older, I picked up a few words and sentences from Googling on the internet, but this time, I wanted to learn it officially. 

So what did you do?

I signed up for Confucius Institute language classes. It’s a two-year programme with six levels where they teach you Chinese. If you want to continue learning the language when you graduate, you can take an exam and if you pass, you get a scholarship to study Chinese in China. By 2017, I got my admission. 

In 2018, I finished level 5 out of 6, then applied for a translating job in Lagos to test my skills. The gig was at a small company that made pots and pans, and my job was to bridge communication between the Chinese who owned the company and the people who worked there. 

After a few months there, my teachers at Confucius Institute called me to come back to complete my level 6. The goal had always been to finish level 6, write scholarship exams and go to China to study the language more in-depth, and they didn’t want me to miss the opportunity. I finished my level 6 in January 2019, wrote my exams, rested for a month and then resumed another job in Ibadan. This time, I also dealt with clients and attended meetings. 

When did you leave?

September 2019. I got a full four-year scholarship from the institute to study the Chinese language in China.

Expectations vs reality: China Edition.

When I first started learning Chinese at the institute, my Chinese teachers were the nicest and most thoughtful people. They were welcoming, warm, and even helped some students pay their exam fees when they couldn’t afford them, so I thought that’s how all Chinese people were. Then I started working as a translator. The people I worked with there were more official. You could tell that if they didn’t have to interact with black people, they wouldn’t.  But nothing could prepare me for the level of hatred and racism I faced when I got to China. 

Tell me about it. 

First of all, as a black person, once in a while you have to be ready to be called “黑鬼”, pronounced as, “hei gui”, which means “black monster”. I got angry at it the first few times, then I got used to it. Some people that don’t want to be too rude would call you “黑人”, pronounced as “hei ren”, which means “black person”. It’s also a derogatory term. 

The non-derogatory term people have for black people is, “非洲人”, pronounced as “fei zhou ren”, which means “African”. 

Whenever people call me hei ren, I call them huang ren. It means “yellow person”, and they absolutely hate it. 

The things you hear about Chinese people covering their noses when black people pass by is also true. I’m very dark-skinned. Even in Nigeria, people consider me very dark. Before COVID, they would just keep their distance and put their hands over their noses whenever I pass. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve experienced people doing that. 

Interesting that you bring up COVID. How did it progress in China?

There’s a likelihood that whatever you hear on the news about China isn’t the truth. They’re super careful about what goes out in the media. COVID, for example, started way before it became popular. 

We didn’t go on lockdown until March 2020. Before that, most non-African international students had left for their countries. 

When the lockdown rules were made less stringent and we were allowed to go out with masks, black people weren’t allowed in stores. It was written there boldly on many storefronts, “No blacks allowed”. The narrative started changing that it was foreigners, specifically black people, that brought COVID into the country. It’s what many people in the country believe now. 

I assume there are many Nigerians in China.

There are, and I wonder why. I know some people are here for school and others for business, but I still don’t understand why so many people stay when they’re done with what they have to do. 

I’m curious, do you have any Chinese friends?

I talk to about three Chinese people. I wouldn’t consider them friends. I can never really trust their intentions. I keep thinking they probably just want to learn English from me. It’s happened to a few people I know.

Because I’m learning Chinese in school, I don’t have any Chinese classmates, so I don’t have to interact with them. I also take my classes at home – so I’m mostly by myself.

That sounds lonely.

Sometimes, I break down in my room and cry because of how lonely it gets. The only consolation I get is that my family calls every day. 

What’s student life on a scholarship in China like?

The scholarship pays me ¥3200 monthly. ¥2500 for living expenses and ¥700 for rent because I moved out of school when COVID hit. Apart from that money, I’m not allowed to work to earn more. A few times, I’ve gotten a job as an English private tutor for a Chinese kid, but it’s dangerous, because if I get found out, they’ll imprison me for 100 days and then deport me.  

I’m assuming you don’t want to be in China after you graduate.

Absolutely not. My plan is to move to either the US or the UK and get a master’s in creative writing while also freelancing as a creative writer and a Chinese translator. Whenever  I hear a Nigerian say they want to come to China, I make it my mission to stop them. There’s nothing for black people here. They won’t treat you like a human. This is not the place to japa to. Just don’t do it. 

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