Camila knows a lot about Shanghai's history, and she's keen to make it her future, too

This woman from Colombia has a strong sense of mission to serve the relationship between her country and China, and she even made her husband and son step up and help.

Holin’s words:

If you look at Camila's photos, you might think she is a strict person.

"Take it easy, Camila. Smile, and more, and more..." I tried my best. Then I saw Camila's pictures in her WeChat Moments, and I realized she tried her best, too. Camila never smiles to the camera, even in her five-year anniversary snaps with her beloved husband.

Actually, I had an enjoyable and relaxing talk with this big-eyed woman from Colombia — laughter flowed freely during our chat. Camila has a very nice personality and a beautiful, crystal-clear voice. All questions were welcomed, nothing was off-limits. I enjoyed listening to her answers. She was even willing to share some things that I thought were very private.

What impressed me most was that a strong feeling of mission had been indelibly printed in Camila’s mind. That is to be the bridge between Colombia and China. The warm-hearted woman even wished her whole family – her husband and son – could continue to do so in the years to come.

Holin Wang / SHINE

Name: Camila Gómez Hormaza

Nationality: Colombian

Job: Deputy Consul General of Colombia in Shanghai

Years in Shanghai: 9


Holin: Can you share the first time you came to Shanghai?

Camila: The first time I came to Shanghai was actually in 1997, it was 20 years ago. I used to live in Beijing. I came for a visit and I was impressed by the city.

In 2008, I applied for a scholarship to do my masters degree in China, and then the Chinese government sent me to Shanghai. So it was very nice and surprising for me. I had other plans, but they told me they read my application and they thought Shanghai would be a better place for me. I said, “That's OK.” You know, I liked this city when I first came here. So, I said yes. That was how I first came to Shanghai in 2008.

Holin: So you must have done some research about Shanghai, right?

Camila: Yes! When I was back home in university, I studied international relations. And during my five years' studies, I always did research about China. So, all my essays, all my papers, even my thesis, were about China.

Holin: So maybe you know China more than us!

Camila: You know, I have studied a lot about China, but it is constantly evolving. China is a very interesting country, and Shanghai is an even more interesting city. So, I think even though I studied China a lot, I studied China for a long time, I still need to keep learning.

Holin: Do you have an impressive story related with Shanghai?

Camila: I did a masters degree on Chinese history and culture. I studied Shanghai's history a lot. I was very impressed with the fact that Shanghai is a very welcoming city to foreigners. After studying Shanghai's history, I understood a lot better why. So I don't have one particular story about Shanghai, but I can say that I was very impressed by the city's history and how Shanghai people adjust and welcome foreigners more than any other city in China I have been to. That's why I like Shanghai particularly.

Holin: Does the “Shanghai history” you mentioned refer to Shanghai opening its door to the world in 1843?

Camila: Yes. There were many foreigners from different nationalities, and they all lived together in Shanghai. In the 1920s, they mixed with Shanghai people. So I find the history of the city is very interesting.

Holin: Can you briefly tell me about your findings, what made Shanghai so welcoming?

Camila: I think it is because of their own history: they are used to foreigners.

Shanghai is a coastal city. It's open to the ocean, to the sea. Therefore, it's open to other people and other cultures coming in. When the foreigners came here, they could easily cohabitate with the locals.

Even the population of Shanghai is made of not only Shanghainese, but also “wai di ren,” that's other Chinese from different provinces that also come to Shanghai. It's such a great developing city that everyone wants to... I mean it attracts everybody. That's also one of the beauties of the city.

Holin: How do you spend weekends in Shanghai?

Camila: I am constantly looking for activities for my son. He is three years old. He is very active and very energetic. So we are always looking for activities to do and always trying to get him to burn some energy.

Shanghai is also a very active city, it's very dynamic, so there is always something going on. We usually spend our weekends either in a cultural activity or a children's activity. We usually go out for lunch and spend the afternoon out, depending on the weather. We like to go to parks — I personally like Century Park a lot. I think it is very welcoming, and it has a lot of activities to do, with or without children.

Holin: So before you had a child, you spent six years in Shanghai — what about your spare time then? 

Camila: It was a little bit different then. Before I had my baby, we used to go out for dinner. It was mainly about the nightlife, dinner at nights, and perhaps drinks and parties and the like.

Now with our baby, our life is turning more to daytime activities than nightlife. That also helps us to discover a different Shanghai – Shanghai with children, which is also very nice.

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

Camila: The Bund. Being at the Bund is very significant. When I came to Shanghai the very first time 20 years ago, I came with my parents. Being there reminds me a lot of that time when I visited. It's the perfect place where you can see the future and the past of Shanghai. If you stand on one side, you can see all the modern parts of Pudong. If you stand on the other side, you can see the past of the city. I like the Bund a lot. It just reminds me how beautiful the city is. I like to go there a lot.

Holin: Which road do you like best?

Camila: Taikang Road in Tianzifang area… And I would have to say, maybe not a specific road, but the area of Xintiandi, especially where they have the shikumen (stone gate). I think there are fewer and fewer places where you can see shikumen nowadays. So I also like to walk by those places where I can see the old Shanghai. 

Holin: And what do you really love about Shanghai?

Camila: I love the fact that Shanghai is cosmopolitan. I have met people here from all over the world, including places that really seem so remote to me, that I thought “wow.” That only happens in a city like Shanghai! So I like that a lot. 

Holin: For example?

Camila: In university, I met someone from Iceland. And even more remote to me, was meeting somebody from Reunion Island, a small island next to Madagascar, close to Africa. And when I met that person I felt like wow, and I think only here can I meet people from all over the world.

Also because of that, I like the gastric offerings Shanghai has. If I feel one day I want to go have Indian food for dinner, I can find an Indian restaurant. I can find restaurants from almost all over the world. That's a fact I like a lot.

Holin: What do you dislike, then?

Camila: The two things I disliked the most before, they have already done something about. I used to dislike pollution, for example, but I have seen a lot of improvements in that sense.

Holin: What kind of pollution?

Camila: The air pollution particularly. We have meetings one time a year and we get to meet with the city Mayor. They always tell us about the work they are doing and how they are improving things.

The other thing I didn't like that much about Shanghai is the traffic. The traffic can get a little bit crazy sometimes in Shanghai, but I have also seen improvements since last year and new traffic regulations released. We are getting a lot better.

Holin: By the way, how do you get to your office every day? 

Camila: I have tried every transportation option available in Shanghai. I have tried the Metro, the bus, scooter and car. Now, after we had the baby, we use the car more often, because we first drop him off at day care, and then my husband drops me off at the office, and then he goes to do his own work. So right now, we choose car in the morning, and in the afternoon, if I don't have the car, I take the subway. But I also take the bus, bicycle, motorcycle or walk back home. We live close to the office, so it is very convenient.

Holin: Which way do you like best?

Camila: I like to walk, but if I am working, I will take Yuyuan Road until Haifang Road, which is only for bicycles and pedestrians, so I like to take that way because there are no cars over there. 

Holin: Okay, let’s get back to the question. Do you have more dislikes about Shanghai?

Camila: I don't like that Shanghai is more and more expensive every year. I feel it started with the World Expo in 2010. After the Expo, it was increasingly expensive.

Holin: Do you have some specific examples?

Camila: I can only think about the rent of housing. It's crazily high. Our apartment is very nice I have to say, but compared to my country, or to other countries I have been to, Shanghai's living expenses are getting really high.

That will be another thing I don't like about Shanghai. Maybe in ten years the price will still be the same as today! Hope it doesn't increase any more.

Holin: Compared to your country, are there any shortages in Shanghai?

Camila: The only shortage in Shanghai is that there is no Colombian restaurant. We used to have one Colombian restaurant, but they closed, so there is no Colombian restaurant now. That is the only shortage for me.

We have Colombian citizens who can cook Colombian cuisine and sometimes they invite us to try their food. And we also make Colombian food at home, but we don't have a place to go.

Holin: Don’t worry, one will appear here soon since the market in Shanghai is very smart — no opportunity will be missed. Maybe the Consulate General can invite some Colombian chefs to open restaurants here?

Camila: That would be very nice but there is a lot of paper work to do before that. But we definitely should start that possibility.

Holin: Any impressed memory during your life?

Camila: Of course, with my family. I got married in Shanghai. We met in Colombia a long, long time ago, and we met again in Shanghai, and we got married here. That is a good memory I made in Shanghai.

Shanghai is a wonderful city, and I also tell this to all Colombian visitors that Colombian citizens and Chinese citizens have a lot to learn from each other. Even though we are making a lot of progress in bilateral relations, I think there is still a lot to be learnt and to be done. I'd like working as a link between the two countries, and showing Chinese people my country – Colombia. And also showing Colombian people what China is all about.

Holin: I am interesting to know some specific examples about the things Colombia needs to learn from China, or the things China needs to learn from Colombia?

Camila: I think Shanghai sets a good example in infrastructure and also public transportation. I admire a lot the subway system in Shanghai. I have had the opportunity to live in many countries before because of my parents’ work. Compared to the other cities I had lived in before, I think Shanghai's metro is one of the most complete and easy to understand than any other city in the world I have been to. So, we should learn a lot about your metro system.

And Chinese people can learn Colombia. We have different cultures, and we are usually very happy and welcoming, we have a lot of things in common. But I think Chinese people can learn our culture more.

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

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

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