She's lived everywhere, but Jovita from Indonesia believes Shanghai is her second home

Wang Haoling
Shy Jovita was at first afraid of being filmed, but she made it in the end. In her interview, this loving Indonesian woman shares her big dreams, and her exciting past.
Wang Haoling

Holin’s words:

Jovita from Indonesia has a Chinese face. If I walked past her I would never think she was a foreigner. I didn't even recognize her as my appointed interviewee when we were face to face with each other in Tianzifang, one of Jovita's favorite places in Shanghai.

But it didn't matter. The girl with dark hair and dark eyes recognized me from my WeChat picture. She waved out with a smile.

After I told her there would be a short video part in the interview and then I would take some photos of her, she waved her hands again: “No, no, no! I’ve never been interviewed before, especially showing my face!” I could feel her shyness.

Then when I took out my camera and found a perfect place for the photo, she just smiled sheepishly into the lens without any hesitation. As for the video, you'll have to check it out below to see how it all went.

She's lived everywhere, but Jovita from Indonesia believes Shanghai is her second home
Holin Wang / SHINE

Name: Jovita Tjandra

Nationality: Indonesian

Job: Marketing Director

Years in Shanghai:

Holin: Could you tell me your experiences before you came to Shanghai?

Jovita: I had lived in a few different countries prior to Shanghai.

I was born in Jakarta, in Indonesia, and I stayed there up until 10 years of age. And then I moved to Singapore, and I finished my high school there, then I moved to the US. I was in Boston for five years for university. After that I worked for one year and then moved back to Asia.

I was done with America and wanted to move back to Asia, so I moved back to Singapore but then I was only there for a few months before I realized I wanted to do something else, to try something new.

I was single, no kids, I just wanted to explore. So, I decided on Shanghai so I could see the mainland.

Holin: There are so many possible choices for you to see the mainland, like Shenzhen and Guangzhou and Beijing. Why did you pick Shanghai as a place to explore? And what impressed you most here?

Jovita: At the time my sister was here. I am not a big fan of Beijing. I visited there and here and I prefer Shanghai.

To be honest, I didn't like my first month. My first month was a bit of culture shock. I guess with the language issue – it is hard to talk to anybody. Now, more and more people speak English but before not as many as today did. I think as years go by, things are improving at such a fast pace. I think it is the most impressing thing about China in general – it is something that I think a lot of countries can learn from as well.

I love your country, and I am not saying this just because you're interviewing me. I truly think that China does a very tremendous, amazing job in providing for its people. I think not many countries do that. A lot of governments don't help their people as much as the Chinese government. Like a lot of priorities are given to the locals. Foreigners are welcome to live in China, to work in China, and do anything. But we don't have benefits like you know in other countries, you can get primary residence or you can become like a citizen, but in China there is none of that. And if you want to do business, you can, but it's all towards people. For instance, like selling on Taobao, anybody can sell things on Taobao, anybody with a phone can do it. But foreigners can't do it. We need a business license. Same as if we want to open a store, we need to apply for a business license first.

Holin: Really? I know you have a company, can you sell things now?

Jovita: Yes, because I have a business license so I can now. But without the company license, you can't sell things personally. I think it’s good and it’s bad. But you know that has benefits for you guys. I think your country is doing a lot of things for you guys.

And no country in the world has developed infrastructure up to this scale in such a short period of time. A lot of people ask me why you live in China, why not Singapore? And I will ask them, “have you ever been to China?” You know, their perspective is still like, (Chinese) people are running around and planting, (but) no body is farming here anymore. And when they are, it is an advanced farm like, an organic farm. China is really coming in, and soon it will be the number one.

Holin: But you didn't know this till you were here, right? And in terms of your friends' question, why Shanghai and not Singapore?

Jovita: I was in Singapore. I definitely know that I want to live in Singapore, so Singapore is always my home. But I wanted to go outside and explore first. And when I finish exploring, then I will go back home.

I think Singapore is like a safe haven for me. But I think Shanghai is soon becoming the second home for me, so I don't know, maybe I'll stay here a lot longer.

An interesting thing is that every time I go out I always see a new building – the speed of development is amazing and sometimes you turn around like, "there is a new building!", then you turn around, "Oh my god, there is another new building!"

Holin: You’ve been here for six years. Can you share with us the differences now compared with the first time you came to Shanghai?

Jovita: Very different. And it is more expensive. I love eating local food and street food. I love malatang (a Sichuanese dish with meat and vegetables boiled in spicy soup) and the barbecue on the street. I feel like when I first came here there was so many, but now it is different.

Holin: How do you spend your weekends in Shanghai? 

Jovita: Now I have two kids…

Holin: Yes, I know it will be totally different with kids. You can give me two versions: before kids and now.

Jovita: Before kids, we hung out and went to coffee shops, restaurants. In Shanghai, there are so many new restaurants opening. We just like to try new things, so whenever anything new is open, we try it. That kept our weekends busy cause there were so many things open.

And now, after kids, the weekends are about kids’ activities and sometimes they have sports classes. My son goes for swimming practice on the weekends, and he plays soccer as well. He is five years old and he loves sports, so usually we bring him to the park and then we just play.

If the day is not so nice, if the pollution is not so good, or it is raining, I usually take him to an indoor playground and play there for a few hours, or take him to the cinema.

Now, a lot of weekends are based on the kids. It is whatever the kids do, we focus on the kids.

Holin: Which place in Shanghai do you like best, and why? 

Jovita: I think Tianzifang is one of my favorite places. The local feeling is not so much, because there are a lot of foreigners around this area as well. When we have some girl's meetings, we just go out with girlfriends and just have coffee, I like going around the Tianzifang area and just kind of sitting down. After dinner, just have a beer or something. Before it wasn't so commercialized, now there are more tourists. Before that, you could see a lot of local artists drawing pictures. That was nice, I don't think you see much of it in Shanghai anymore. I am hoping that it still maintains the local culture and arts because I think it is important.

And suddenly I feel like Shanghai is losing a lot of that local feeling and becoming more commercial. It is no different from Europe, Singapore or other big cities.

I have to say Tianzifang is one of my favorite places, for me, as an adult, as a mommy, or just as a woman.

As for the family, I would say (our favorite place is) around Century Park. That is a nice area. It is great and it is a big park with a lot of activities. We love taking our kids there, just around that area. There are so many family friendly places suitable for kids, which I think it is very nice.

Holin: Which road do you like best? 

Jovita: We used to hang out, before the kids, in Huaihai Road M. There are a lot of bars, clubs and shops there. And the former French Concession is a nice area and it still maintains a lot of the structures. But now I don't go there much anymore because it is a bit far away from where we are and now with kids it is like harder to get around. Yes, before I used to go there and we had tons of memories there. There are many little Chinese bars there, I'm always there having my breakfast...

Holin: What do you love in Shanghai?

Jovita: The convenience. Now with technology and development, I can stay at my house for one month, because anything can be sent to me, everything comes so fast. Every supermarket does delivery now and I don't think any other country has that convenience. But considering that I am working, and I am a mom, sometimes I am too lazy to cook. There are (mobile apps for ordering take-away food) Baidu Take-away (百度外卖), Meituan (美团), (饿了么)… there are so many options now from very cheap street food to restaurants. My friends told me you can buy a monthly card that gives you free delivery, I just order and order. Even my kids know this and they ask me to order some ice creams, pizza for them. I cannot really read Chinese, but I memorize the location (which button to press). The only thing I get very upset about is when they upgrade the app, oh no, I have to learn all again!

And I love, although sometimes it is a little bit horrible, because I buy too many things. But it makes me happy, because every day I can receive a parcel. It makes me feel like it is my birthday. My husband often says, "What did you buy this time? Stop buying things!" I am just like, there are so many things which are so cute and so cheap, how could I not buy? I love everything!

Holin: What do you hate about Shanghai?

Jovita: I am fine with Shanghai. Shanghai is okay, a lot of people here are open-minded, I feel. Other cites aren't so much, and not as welcoming as Shanghai.

If you look at me, you might think I am Chinese – my grandfather is Chinese. But when I went to Guangdong for Canton Fair, I never feel so discriminated against. They thought I was Chinese until they heard me talking with my colleagues. They are not so welcoming as Shanghai people. And I feel safe in Shanghai – I can walk around at midnight.

However, I love Shanghai. I don't really have any dislikes. One thing for myself is speaking not enough Chinese. I wish I could speak more Chinese. I want to, but with work and kids, I don't have enough time. I just talk to my Ayi, and she said that my Chinese is better than when she first met me.

If I had to choose one thing I don't like about Shanghai, it's probably that it moves so fast, I can't slow it down. Sometimes, I feel like time moves so fast. I don't know, maybe the pace that everybody's working.

Holin: Compared to your country, are there any shortages in Shanghai? Do you have any suggestions?

Jovita: My husband always makes fun of me because I don't have a home. I move between so many different areas. I can't compare Shanghai to Singapore, because Singapore has a very close personal relationship with my heart. If I compare Shanghai to Singapore, it's gonna be unfair. If I compare it to America, to make it short, I don't want to move there, I am staying here. Although living here is not so easy, it is getting harder and harder every day with tougher regulations and expensive prices. I still enjoy staying here. I know that things are growing greater in Shanghai because I know the government has not stopped moving and developing. So I think we are just at the beginning.

I see the things change from when I first came up to now, anything that I thought was missing in a few years and a few months, it usually comes. When I first came, I usually complained so much about the driving. People were driving so carelessly and so quick, now it is better now. Government is doing many things to improve this. If I point out I don't like this, this, this, it will be unfair because I know they will do something later.

One thing for foreigners like me who live here more than five years, or 10 years, you know they are paying taxes and everything… maybe give them a little bit of benefits. Not just treating us as the same as the foreigners who just arrived in China. I feel like we have no extra benefits for being here for a longer period of time.

Holin: Any impressed memory during your life?

Jovita: The most impressed thing for me may be living in multiple countries. I think everything that happens in life has its reason, good or bad. Without the combination of good and bad, it would not make me the woman who I am today. I think there are a few bad things that happened in my life and there are also many good things, but everything is a lesson and makes me who I am today. Without these, I wouldn't be a good person or become better.

When I was in high school in Singapore, I was always very active in doing community work. You have to do it, but I didn't feel like it was a requirement, I really enjoyed doing that kind of work. Throughout college and university, I lost that passion until I met Suzanne (Founder of a charity organization “More than Aware”) recently. I miss that part of me.

And one of the reasons why I fell in love with my husband is because we have so many similarities in terms of what we want in the future. We want to build schools for women who can't go to school. I hope that everything can be free for them; after they leave my school, they can be a part of society, not just staying at home and raising kids. It doesn't matter where it is, I can start this anywhere. I hope I can achieve that.

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

Shot by Wang Haoling and Zheng Qiong. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Special thanks to Andy Boreham.

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