West African Sissi has two sides — in Shanghai they both come out to work and play

The shy woman from Africa has big ambitions: she wants to be the belt connecting her nation and China.

Holin’ words:

After about 40 minutes’ waiting, I finally met Sissi who was in a real hurry. “Sorry, I’m so sorry”, she apologized at her workplace on Dingxi Road.

With short, curly black hair, this lady from Western Africa looks just like the Chinese stereotype of African women, her black shirt with large, lace trimming both fashionable and exquisite. She has pink painted on her fingernails, and is wearing black-framed glasses, with a pair of big, exaggerated earrings in a ring shape.

As a project manager, I imagine she is always in a busy state. Although she kept her cellphone on silent during the interview, message after message flashed up — its screen was always bright.  

She speaks slowly and cautiously, in a heavy African accent, but don't let this shy woman fool you: she has huge ambitions, not only to help other women like her become successful, but also to devote herself to the "One Belt One Road" project between her nation and China. 

Holin Wang / SHINE

Name: Amehon Essivi

Nationality: Togolese

Job: Project manager

Years in Shanghai: 7

Holin: Do you have some impressive stories related with Shanghai to share?

Sissi: There are always stories related to Shanghai, ‘cos Shanghai is a place of many expats, many business people who can talk business stuff.

I made a friend from Shanghai, who is Shanghainese, and he wanted to invest in Africa, and how we met was very impressive because we actually met on the subway. He’s not the one who wanted to invest, but he has friends who wanted to invest in Africa. They were working on the One Belt One Road project. They were looking for markets in Africa, so we met and then when he came to me I was a little bit distant like, ‘what does he want from me?’ I wasn’t that confident. Then he gave me his business card and I thought, ‘okay, that’s fine.’ But he was being very nice, which is very rare. Nowadays it doesn’t happen often, everyone is afraid of everybody. He’s an old man. He tried to comfort me, and he knows that life in Shanghai isn’t easy for us as foreigners, and especially for Africans. So, he asked me what my name is, and what I’m doing. At that time I was studying, but was doing research on business management. So, we built a friendship. He’s helped me a lot, introduced me to a lot of people.

Holin: What do you usually do on weekends or in your leisure time in Shanghai?

Sissi: I like to read, so I love going to private and quiet places where I can read, like Shanghai Library. If I want to enjoy the weekends, maybe I would make plans with some friends. If I want to spend my weekend quietly, or with friends, it depends...

Some people say I’m rude but I’m not, I’m a very nice person. People who don’t know me believe I’m rude, maybe I won’t laugh all the time. So, when I’m not laughing, or lovely, they are like, ‘oh this lady, she might be very rude’. I get more inspired when I am alone in a quiet place, so I can think more. So, I need a quiet place if I want to come up with new ideas... I need to isolate myself.

Holin: Which place in Shanghai do you like best? 

Sissi: I like the Bund, and I like the nightclubs. I like clubbing also, I have two sides — I like being alone and I like being with people. 

Holin: Which road do you like best?

Sissi: I’m not a traveling person, but a road I like is Taikang Road in Dapuqiao area, with all the ancient buildings in the area where I can meet new people also, when I want to have fun. When I want to meditate, think, I need to be alone.

Holin: Seven years here is not a short time. Tell me, what attracts you here? 

Sissi: I like the city, it's beautiful. Especially at night. It's just so beautiful. I like to talk to taxi drivers — I think Shanghai taxi drivers are very nice. I've never met a bad one, maybe I'm just lucky! Most of my taxi drivers are very nice to me, and every time I get a taxi we talk and so on. And they congratulate me about how my Chinese is very good (laughs)!

I had learned Chinese for six months and then I did night classes for two years and stopped. I completed all their levels and then had to stop, because there were no higher levels. I like the food here, I'm not picky with food. And I love the transportation.

Holin: What do you hate in Shanghai? I mean, something that makes you feel uneasy?

Sissi: If I had to say something it wouldn’t be about the transportation, which is very convenient! 

When you walk, it’s very embarrassing when you know people are talking about you. You don’t feel comfortable. This is human nature. Or taking a picture of you, that’s very embarrassing and impolite. You’re walking and someone is taking a picture of you, or there’s an old person talking about you. Come on, you don’t do that! Especially when you have kids. And so now kids are doing it even more, and a lot of foreigners don’t like it — it makes them want to get away, to travel somewhere else.

Daily life is very stressful, very difficult. So, when you have to face these things on the street you can become very angry. If you had to tell everyone off about it every day you’d be so tired — it happens all the time. I’ve lived in many places in China, like Beijing and Wuhan and Guangzhou, but I have only experienced this problem here, in Shanghai.

Holin: Any memory from your life that really impressed on you?

Sissi: It’s hard to say… it’s something private (laughs).

What does Sissi want to say to her future self? Have a look! Sissi is sending a message to her future self to watch ten years from now!

Filmed by Holin Wang. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Special thanks to Joan Zheng and Andy Boreham.

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