Daniel, the young Russian man who is slowly becoming "New Shanghainese"

Young but mature Daniel started working at 14, then bravely came to Shanghai alone and supported himself. After six years here, this talented Russian can even speak Shanghainese!

Holin’s words:

Daniel is the first Russian I know who can speak Shanghainese.

“I can say a little, but I can understand maybe 60 to 70% of Shanghainese,” Daniel smiled confidently. He said he learned what he knows from many “lao a yi ("old women" in Shanghainese),” and proudly calls himself “a new Shanghainese.”

Yes, to some extent, Daniel knows and understands Shanghai more than me, a Shanghai native.

I saw Daniel in a restaurant in Xintiandi area when I went to have a late lunch after an interview. As a foreign waiter, Daniel was a rare sight. I talked to him initially and asked him directly if he could do an interview about Shanghai.

“Sure,” he quickly replied. Then he went back to his busy work.

On another hot afternoon, this young but mature guy told me not only a vivid coming of age story, but also his deep-thoughts and the perplexing situations he's faced in his life so far.

Dear Daniel, thank you for trusting me! I’m so grateful. Whatever you decide is right for you will all work out just fine.

Holin Wang / SHINE

Name: Daniel Listopadskii
Nationality: Russian
Job: Manager in a Western chain restaurant / Soccer coach
Years in Shanghai: 6

Holin: Can you share with me your previous life before you came to Shanghai? 

Daniel: When I was small, for two years I was living in Thailand, from four years old until six years old, and I totally forgot my mother language, Russian. I’m from St. Petersburg. And then, after two years living in Thailand, my mother decided to move back to St. Petersburg. At that time I was six years old. And then I started to study Russian because I could not communicate with my grandmother and my family, I just could not communicate. At that time I could speak only fluent Thai. At home we spoke in Thai, because I slowly started to forget Russian. My mom can speak Thai too.

After going back to St. Petersburg, when I started to learn Russian, I forgot all my Thai! From seven years old, I played professional soccer. I played for seven years professionally, training every day. When I was 14, I got a problem with my knee, and I realized the problem with continuing to play soccer was money, because I needed surgery. But my family wasn’t able to afford it. I knew the problem was money, so I knew at that age that I needed to get money.

From 14 to 16 was the most important time, when you will become professional or not. If I did the surgery, I knew I wouldn’t be able to play for one or two years, and then I couldn’t be a professional player anymore. It was my left knee, so I couldn’t do the surgery and started to work.

My first job was selling ice cream, I was outside, at 14 years old, selling ice cream. And my second job, it was like in a museum. You know, when you visit some museums, you need to wear disposable shoes, the blue ones. When you’ve finished, you need to take them off and leave them somewhere, right? I was the guy who had to clean that all up. There I got some money, and I bought my watch and some jackets. I was in high school then, and in the second year I was still at the same museum, but selling souvenirs — there I got really good money!

But I realized, the point is that, to study and to live in Russia is not that good. I had travelled to other countries, and even though St. Petersburg is the best city in Russia for sure, the lifestyle, the way the people look at you angrily, for me I realized that I didn’t want to live there. I wanted to live outside Russia, so I got money. I started to do some research into which kinds of jobs I could do in this life, so I thought maybe something to do with finance. I found out Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia are all really good, but really expensive, and I didn’t have enough money. I was supporting myself.

Then, I found out about Chinese mainland. The financial city is Shanghai, and I moved here in 2011 after high school. It was hard for me to leave my mother and my sister, because coming here I didn’t know anyone. Not even one person, and I couldn’t speak Chinese. I realized that I need to do something. It was difficult, yeah, but later when I arrived, I just had one address, that was my university. I found a university where I could study the Chinese language, and that address was all I had.

Thankfully I got a taxi who didn’t rip me off, and I arrived at my university and I slowly started to study Chinese. I did only Chinese language courses for two years, all paid by myself, from my savings. I slowly realized I had less money, so I started doing some part time jobs in China. The first one was movie acting in some TV series, pretty cheap and poor quality, but it gave me money. At that time it was about 1,000 yuan (US$153.3) per day, from my white face.

Then I started doing my bachelor’s degree in finance, thanks to a scholarship from the Shanghai government, so my school was all free. But I still needed to pay for my accommodation, which was okay but it was hard, so I started doing another job. I started tutoring Russian to Chinese kids, and I also started doing some waiting. Then I decided to do some other jobs, and a friend of mine introduced me to coaching kids in soccer. I still have a problem with my knee, but I can coach, though I can’t play serious soccer. Now I’m really enjoying my two jobs. I’m nearly finished my bachelor’s now, and am doing an internship, too.

When I first came to China I was 17 years old, and now I’m 23. I need to make some more decisions about what to do with the rest of my life, which is hard. And to be honest, I’m afraid. I’m brave, but I’m still afraid.

Holin: Wow, thank you for sharing. I like your forthright words, and now I am pretty clear about your work history. Then could you give me any interesting or impressing stories relating to Shanghai?

Daniel: Well, I have a few of them! First of all, something that really made me so happy… I’m in love with soccer, and the head coach of one of Russia’s biggest teams moved to the Shanghai football club. The thing is, it was like just a normal day in the restaurant I work, and there was a line during lunch time. A huge line. Then someone came for a table for four, but it was winter. The only table I had left was really cold, and so we asked the guys if they mind sitting in a cold place. They said they didn’t mind, and then I realized it was that famous coach! My heart skipped a beat! I knew it was him, but I was thinking, ‘How can it be?’ So, I asked him, “Are you Mr. Boas?” (André Villas-Boas, a famous Portuguese football manager). He had no security or anything! Then I told him where I’m from, and he was really surprised! That was great. I was so happy at that moment.

Another one, well, I have happy and not happy memories. One was a really bad experience for me, when I was taking a taxi. My driver, he fell asleep while he was driving. I was sitting next to him and I was looking at the street, and he was driving kinda weird. So, I looked at him and we were on the highway, and we were slowly turning, and we were almost going to crash, so I took the steering wheel and started steering and woke him up. I didn’t pay for that taxi!

Holin: Amazing things! Lucky everything was okay in the end. And how do you spend your leisure time in Shanghai?

Daniel: To be sure, I’ve been here a few years, and I’ve gone back to St. Petersburg only once, three years ago. I have a really busy, tough life here. Really busy.

For me, everything depends on the weather. If the weather is really hot, I can’t take it! I prefer to stay inside, maybe in a café or bar. If the weather isn’t too hot, I love to walk a lot. My favorite way is to walk, if the weather is good and my mood is good, from the Bund all the way down until People’s Square, and then through two parks including People's Park with lots of trees, and then into Xintiandi and there’s another park, next to K11. You see, I know more than you about Shanghai! I love to walk and watch.

Holin: Yeah, you win. And in your mind, which places comes to mind that you love best in Shanghai?

Daniel: I would say Xuhui District, like the former French Concession, or areas around Xinle Road. It’s the old Shanghai. The real Shanghai. I like a lot of trees, and small roads — not like huge roads, like Pudong which is really huge. I like old Shanghai.

My favorite road would have to be Huahai Road M. — mainly for walking — because it’s pretty long. It’s the one street where you can see everything in the one street, from modern, huge shopping malls, to old, tiny houses.

Holin Wang / SHINE

Holin: What kind of elements or aspects of Shanghai do you like best?

Daniel: To be honest, I love the Shanghainese people — I mean, actual Shanghainese people. It’s similar to my city, in Russia, and St. Petersburg, we don’t like people from Moscow. Shanghainese people, as with St. Petersburg, we always say that our city is the best in the country. People here are always open-minded and friendly, always smiling, and always willing to help people.

For example, I lived in Hongkou, not far away from Hongkou Football Stadium three years ago. I always went to a cai shi chang – a market bazaar – to buy meat and vegetables… all the time saw lao a yi ("old women" in Shanghainese) everywhere, they helped me like my own grandmother. They're always curious about like “How are you? What you gonna eat today? Have you ate something?...” Although we did not really know each other, but it made me feel like a family, so warm.

Chinese from outside Shanghai are different to people from here. For me, it’s easier to accept that, and easier to become like Shanghainese. I feel like I’m becoming a “new Shanghainese”!

Holin: So, new Shanghainese guy, what do you dislike about Shanghai?

Daniel: I hate that it’s getting harder and harder to work here, as a foreigner. The working visa policies, prices, cars and apartments… if you really want to live permanently here it’s really hard for foreigners to do that. Year by year, it becomes harder and harder. The rules are becoming more rigid.

I will never get used to one thing on the subway, and that is that when the door opens, you can’t get out. And I’m sorry to say, it’s also Shanghainese people doing this. In my city, it’s simple: when the doors open the passengers get off, and only then can new passengers get on. It comes from education. I’m not talking just about wai di ren (Chinese from other parts of the country), there are just too many people and they need to learn to wait.

And another thing is funny and cute, but I will never get used to it for the subway. No matter lao a yi, young men, or kids, when they enter, they see the empty places, and they are running to get the seat of the empty place! For me now, it’s like a fun. But before, I felt “Wow.”

Apart from that, though, I think the Shanghai subway system is great — it’s really convenient and easy to understand. Every day I take subway.

Holin: Apart from subway etiquette, is there anything lacking in Shanghai compared to your country? 

Daniel: My country, we have to learn from Shanghai! Even six years ago, no one used AliPay, no one used WeChat to pay. Even three years ago! Now, I never use my wallet, or cash. And it’s really comfortable! It’s a really good point, so I’d suggest to bring that to St. Petersburg!

Another is hard, I said it already. It’s not a Shanghai problem, but a Chinese problem – the education. Education in the way people talk, run, eat… For example, when you eat, you will spit bones to the table. You will think it’s normal, but for me, I will never do that. It’s different, but it’s culture difference. I lived here, I accept it, but I will never do that.

It’s related to early education. Maybe it’s the one-child policy, one family has only one child. Parents need to do work, and kids are raised more by grandparents. Kids are like princes and princesses.

I’ve been a coach for two years. My team kids are from three to four years old to 14 to 15. Once I was really shocked and really happy. One four-year-old kid’s mother came to me, said: “Daniel coach, thank you so much. My kid has some changes at home.” I thought I did nothing… And I realized that when you teach them how to play the soccer, you make a person. For example, kids wear sleeveless garments when they play soccer. After finishing the exercise, the kids need to take it off and fold it up. If you need to drink water, do it yourselves, even for three-year-old kids. If you cannot reach it, I can hold you.

Later, when kids are growing up to 14 or 15 year old, they are educated. That’s my point of view on education.

Holin: Yes, it’s why we need you. Can you share with me a memory from your life that has impressed on you?

Daniel: I will always remember one day, when I was cooking BBQ in Russia, there was no rain, but it was about to rain. It was really interesting, standing in one place the sky was black, and then if you moved just a little bit, the sky was totally blue. I was in the middle. And then, I knew that soon it was going to rain. Russian BBQ has quite big pieces of meat, not small. And then lightning struck, just nearby to me, maybe fifteen meters away. The sound was huge, like I hope you will never experience that! I thought, “Am I dead or alive?” 

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

Filmed by Holin Wang. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Translated by Jack Zhou. Special thanks to Andy Boreham.

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