Mosaic of China Season 01 Episode 04 – The Symphonic Siren (Astrid POGHOSYAN, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra)

Oscar Fuchs
Astrid Poghosyan is an Armenian violinist and the first non-Chinese management employee in the 140-year history of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.
Oscar Fuchs
Mosaic of China Season 01 Episode 04  – The Symphonic Siren (Astrid POGHOSYAN, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra)

Astrid Poghosyan is an Armenian violinist and the first non-Chinese management employee in the 140-year history of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

Original Date of Release: 03 Sep 2019.

[Trailer]

AP: Have you ever smelled the stinky tofu?

OF: Oh god.

AP: I think your brain can't even imagine a kind of smell like that existed, ever. That's why it's shocking every time.

[Intro]

OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs. Thanks very much for all your comments about last week's episode. That was with Eric. And a lot of you know him well, and a lot of those people told me, well, I made a mistake to interview him, because Eric's the kind of person who speaks in such beautiful, flowing, well-informed prose, that he makes anyone around him look pretty stupid. Thank you for that feedback, I wish somebody out there would have warned me about this earlier. But I'm glad at least that it isn't just me.

So we go from one of the more venerable tiles in the Mosaic to, I think, the youngest person in the whole of Season 01. Today's interview is with Astrid Poghosyan. Astrid is an Armenian violinist, and she's the first non-Chinese management employee in the 140-year history of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. So yes, just because she is the youngest in the series, that doesn't let any of us off the hook when it comes to being impressed with what she's achieved in the last 9 or so years I think, that she's been here in China. Astrid and I talk about her passion for music, her passion for Armenia, and her life as an unofficial ambassador for both of those parts of her identity. We'll also learn about what the ATM machine and the hairdryer have in common. You might know this already, but for everyone else, if it helps you win a pub quiz in the future, I will be expecting my share of the prize.

[Part 1]

OF: Well, thank you so much. I'm here with Astrid Poghosyan.

AP: That's correct.

OF: Oh god…

AP: Finally somebody said it correctly.

OF: Well, I had a little pause, you probably heard…

AP: Yes.

OF: Astrid is the Assistant to the President of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

AP: Yes, I am.

OF: Well, thank you so much for coming today.

AP: Thanks for having me. It's my pleasure.

OF: And let's waste no more time, and let's go straight into your object. So what object did you bring?

AP: I brought the meaning of my life. Wow, that sounded special, right? Yeah, I brought something that I've been doing for my entire life, almost. And that's exactly, like, a name-card of myself, and who I am. That's what I brought with me today.

OF: And I can see this object, so it's not a surprise to me. But why don't you reveal what your object is?

AP: That's something… My object… You're gonna hear my object.

OF: Ah, OK. Well then why don't you put the microphone down. And I will record you as you play your object.

[Violin music]

OF: Thank you so much.

AP: Thank you.

OF: Well, tell me about that piece.

AP: Well, I just played an Armenian traditional folk song. I grew up listening to these songs, including like, my mom used to sing it to me when I was a little kid, as a lullaby. And then it was basically the first introduction to music to me. And these tunes have been following me through my whole journey, my life journey itself. And while I was in China as well, when I was feeling homesick, when I was missing home and my family, I would just play it to myself, sort of as a reminder of my roots, and just comforting myself, and getting connection with whatever I had before.

OF: Wow, well thank you again, that was awesome.

AP: My pleasure.

OF: And so how did you get from Armenia to Shanghai? What's the story in a nutshell?

AP: Well, the story started back in 2009, when I graduated from my high school - when I was about to graduate from my high school - and I applied for a governmental scholarship. Because I was just turning 16, and my mom wanted me to go somewhere safe. And so I applied for a governmental scholarship. But eventually, they told me that I was the first musician ever applying for that programme, that's why I have to wait until any country will accept me. And I was applying to go to somewhere close to Armenia - that means, like, somewhere in Europe - but then one day they called me, they said the only country that is accepting musicians is China. And that was the clashing moment of me realising that, I don't know what I'm going to do, whether I'm going to take it or just stay in Armenia.

OF: Because until then, had you had any connection with China?

AP: Well, I remember, myself, when I was a kid, I used to watch a lot of Jackie Chan movies. And being a girl, it was the rare thing. But for some reason, I really liked him. And also the Disney cartoon Mulan, I remember myself watching it, like, five to six times per day. Because I was never a Cinderella type of girl - deep in my heart, maybe - but I always like the Mulan character. So afterwards, when I came to China, I realised that probably it made some sense, back then when I was watching Jackie Chan and Mulan, and probably that was for some reason.

OF: And what age were you then, when you first came to China?

AP: I just turned 16.

OF: Wow, so young.

AP: Yeah, maybe yeah. Comparable to now, I was young. Yeah, that's true.

OF: And so you went straight into a scholarship for school, right? How did that work?

AP: Yes, first when I arrived… Because I didn't speak Chinese back then. And then they told me that they will give me eight months of time to learn the language. Because all the classes in the Conservatory of Music were in Chinese, so if I couldn't speak it then I couldn't study. So they gave me eight months to take the exam for 'HSK' - that's the Chinese language exam - and after that, luckily, I learned Chinese, and then I was able to study here, continue my studies.

OF: So let's go back to those days when you were studying here in China. 16 years old, maybe turned 17 after you passed the HSK test…

AP: That's true.

OF: What were the things that you enjoyed the most? And what were the main challenges back then?

AP: The challenge, of course - I think, as every foreigner coming to China not speaking the language - is the language. Because it was super different. I was myself like, already speaking three languages, Armenian, Russian and English. And then I thought, probably this is going to be OK. Then I realised that it has nothing to do with any Latin alphabet. And then it was like, just a whole new world to me. And then every day studying was super, super hard. That was one of the biggest challenges. But then - at the same time as how challenging it was - then the benefit of it, and the enjoyable part of it is really learning it. But learning not only the language, but learning the culture itself. For me, language is always as a package for a culture itself. So it was that beautiful period of time of getting to know China itself, the culture, the people and customs, and including the language.

OF: And so what did you find out about the Chinese knowledge of Armenia

AP: That was really one of the biggest shocks for me, as an Armenian, because even though we are super small country, our people are a very proud nation. And we grew up in - I wouldn't call it a bubble, but we grew up in - a bubble, that we are the centre of the world. We created, you know, we invented these things, the hairdryer, we invented the ATM, by the way, which is true. And then we think we are the centre of the world. And then with that mindset, I came to China. And I remember the first person asked me "Where are you from?" I was proudly saying that I'm from Armenia, and then I was thinking, you know, fireworks and everything coming, but then the person asked, like "Where is it?" And then I was like "What do you mean, where is it? It's Armenia, like, how do you now know where Armenia is". And then I realised that actually, he really didn't know. And, like him, there were thousands and millions of people. So that was my first cultural shock, let's say. Luckily, back then I had a tool with me, which is called music, which doesn't require any language. So by the time I was learning Chinese - before learning it - I decided, while I'm learning the language itself, to be able to communicate and tell them the story of my country, I can use music to explain my identity. Which actually, back then, worked perfectly. So I used music to introduce my country in my identity to Chinese people.

OF: And of course, violin was was what you played. What was your your first experience learning violin back in Armenia?

AP: I remember that, because I'm coming from a family where I have two sisters, musicians. I was about to say that I'm coming from a musician family, but I'm not. It's only my sisters playing it. And my mom always told us that every girl should learn to play an instrument, because it makes them more feminine and nice. So as I was the youngest, my first sister was playing piano, and piano was always at home. And I could just go and play whatever I wanted. But with the violin, that my second sister was playing, it was always something super sacred, you know, she would never ever let me touch it. Because she was scared that I was going to break it obviously. And then, so when it came to me, my mom came and asked what I wanted to play, whether it's like I want to play piano or violin, and without any hesitation, I said "Of course, I want to play violin," because I never got to touch it. Because my sister never allowed it. So because of her, I chose to play the violin. It's not because she was inspiring, it's because she never let me touch that instrument.

OF: Got it. So how did you then become somebody working in the Symphony Orchestra from being that violin student. What was your second story?

AP: Because while I was studying, I realised that of course violin is something that belongs to my soul. It is what it is. But I always realised that I cannot only just play this. I was always very interested in doing a lot of other stuff, be it management, be it doing some activity. Organising some activities, or doing some other stuff. So when it came to choosing what to do afterwards, I decided maybe I can just try to do something with management. And exactly when I was hesitating at that period, I got this offer from the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra to work for them as a part of management. And I decided to give it a try, and I'm glad I did.

OF: So tell me about how it's run. What kind of organisation is the Symphony Orchestra?

AP: The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra is a governmentally run institution. It's very different from what happens elsewhere in the world. Because in different countries, it's usually that the orchestras are private, they are funded by private funders. But here in China, all the orchestras belong to the government. So it's fully… it's mainly covered by government, mainly funded by government.

OF: And it's the central government or it's the Shanghai local government?

AP: Central. But of course, every city is taking care of it on their own.

OF: Was there a time when there was something which was a market driven force, which then the governmental side didn't quite understand?

AP: I guess, one of the examples can be like, if we are having, let's say, a world-famous conductor, or some artist that is coming to the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra to play… And of course, we know that every single artist, they have their own requirements when they come to China, or anywhere they go. Be it hotel rooms, be it - I don't know - preparations. And sometimes the requests they have regarding hotels can be, like, I don't know, the Presidential Suite, and stuff that cost like 25k or 30k per night.

OF: Right, because these are world-class conductors, and world class musicians.

AP: Yes exactly.

OF: Right.

AP: And it's very hard to explain to the local side, some local funds, why we need 25k or 30k per night for some certain musicians to stay.

OF: Of course. Well, especially because it's public money. So I mean, you can see why.

AP: Yes.

OF: OK that's a good example. And then do you now get to play, at all, with the company? Or are you now purely management within this organisation?

AP: Within this organisation, I'm now purely as a part of management. And it is very exciting for me to be, because even though the orchestra has 140 years of history - and this year it is celebrating, it's one of the oldest in the world and the oldest in Asia, actually - but I'm the first foreigner employee working for the management of the orchestra, ever.

OF: Wow.

AP: So that is really humbling and exciting for me.

OF: So obviously, those Chinese lessons paid off, didn't they?

AP: Hopefully so, yeah. I'm still learning, now I'm learning the Shanghai dialect. So it's really hard.

OF: Wow. Well, you said that there's a long history of classical music appreciation here in Shanghai. So what is the audience like, you know, when you're talking about audiences here, versus maybe elsewhere in the world?

AP: I find the audience in Shanghai very fascinating. And not only me, all the world class artists - when they come to Shanghai, they perform - all of them, after each concert, they give the same comment about our audience, how amazing it is, in terms of like the age range, in terms of behaviour. Because sometimes you can go to concerts, and you see, like, I don't know, 5-6-year-old kids sitting throughout a whole Mahler Symphony, and not making any noise. Or coming with their parents, and you see different age ranges:10, 15, 30, 50, 70... And it's something super rare in the world, because we know that classical music has this cliché of old people going for the concert wearing tuxedos and stuff, and having certain rules. But what's happening now in China is like having all this kind of different age ranges, and all kinds of people, because they are curious about learning. Even though it has over 140 years' history, it's still a relatively super new field for Chinese people. That's why they're curious to explore.

OF: I happen to know that you have been on TV recently, haven't you?

AP: Yes.

OF: OK so let's talk about that. What was this TV experience you recently had?

AP: It was actually starting, like, two years ago, when I got invited to take part in this Shanghai Central TV talk show, which was about having six to seven foreigners every week gathering, and talking about some customs about their own countries. And I was, of course, representing Armenia. And I thought, it's a great chance for me, myself, to represent and spread the word about my country. And so we would just casually sit, and talk about different topics. Let's say one week we would talk about weddings, and all the country representatives, they would talk about wedding traditions in their own countries, so in that way, I was able to talk about the customs of Armenia. And then next time we would talk about, like, sports. And we talked about how the field is developed in the countries that we are representing. So at some point, I realised it brought some kind of recognition to me, and most importantly, brought recognition to my country. So I would have some people running around the street, and then coming over to me, and start telling me that "Oh, you're that girl I saw on TV. What's your name? Er, you're from Armenia." That would be like "Yo, that's great. You don't remember my name, but my country." Then yeah, mission achieved.

OF: And what what do you think are the similarities between Armenia and China?

AP: One of the most similar things for me personally, I find the customs in terms of like traditional values, family values that we have. And that's one of the main things probably, when people ask me "How come you stayed in China for so long, and you still feel like staying here?" And I believe that's one of the most important things that I realised, they have the family values. How they spend time together, how important it is to talk every day to their parents, and ask about their wellbeing. Because even though I know like, you know… I have some friends that… they will talk to their parents once in a while, for Christmas or something. But for Armenians, we just every day, you know, you have to talk about where you are and stuff. I realised they have the same for China, Chinese people do that. For Spring Festival, they gather. And yeah, I think that the family values are one of the most similar things that Armenia and China has. And people, yeah.

OF: And so what do you do in your spare time? Like, I know how busy you are with your job, and you also do other musical projects on the side, as well as your TV appearances… Do you have any other projects that you're involved in?

AP: Other projects that I do, they're probably for nourishing my soul. That's how I call it. I do some charity projects that I started while I was a student at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. And I remember back then, I did that with my Chinese classmates in the conservatory. There was a charity project we named 'Turn On Your Heart' which was about… the main goal was about to go to all these schools or kindergartens for autistic kids…

OF: Autistic kids?

AP: Autistic.

OF: Right.

AP: Sorry for my pronunciation.

OF: No, no.

AP: And we would go to their places, and then perform for them, introduce music to them, musical instruments. Because some of the kids, they were problematic - in terms of like, I don't know, some were hyperactive or hard to talk - but the music was something that you don't have to make them talk or… they just have to listen. And we would have incredible results.

OF: Right, and that's where, you know, music is really universal. Because you could be in China, you could be in any place in the world, and have the same effect, right?

AP: Yes. Yes I totally agree.

OF: Going back to the the orchestra then, what is your actual job? You work with the president? And what are your responsibilities?

AP: Actually, yeah, it's very broad, because as the President has to do all the things, whatever is happening within the orchestra, so my job is following her. So it requires to communicate with all kinds of departments.

OF: And she's Shanghainese?

AP: Yes, she is Shanghainese, a very young lady, very inspiring woman.

OF: And so what kind of programme do you run? I mean, is it diverse? Or is it focused on one particular kind of classical music?

AP: No, because we have traditional seasons in the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra - which are classical traditional concerts - but at the same time, we also have music festivals during summer - 'MISA' - which is about jazz and contemporary music. So we have all kinds of genres because it's, as I said, it's developing, so we are trying to give the market all kinds of classical music that is available now in the world.

OF: Did you ever think - even, like when you were studying - that you would stay for 10 years?

AP: That's the thing, in terms of like, while I was studying here, when people asked me I would say "Oh, I'm studying here, I'm studying here". So that was, like four years or five years. "I'm studying here." Six years: "I'm studying here." At the seventh year when they asked me, I'm like "I'm living here".

OF: That's it, you've graduated.

AP: Yes, I've graduated.

OF: Well, I think you've probably become quite institutionalised, now. I don't know how much longer you'll stay, but you seem to be so at home here, especially since you came in such a formative time of your life, really.

AP: I do believe so. Because soon it's gonna be almost the same time that I've spent in Armenia - and counting that, in Armenia, for the first five years, I was not able to understand what's going on - and all my conscious life, I mean, I've been in China. So I believe it's quite an important, big role in my life.

OF: Great. Well, thanks very much for that. And I guess because you've been here so long, I'm excited about your answers for Part 2.

[Part 2]

OF: So let's go straight into the then questions that we have prepared. I'll start straightaway with Question 1. What's your favourite China-related fact?

AP: China-related fact… Actually that was on my mind, I think it's like, you know, that put together, all of China's railway lines could loop around the Earth twice.

OF: …And they're still building more right?

AP: Yes. So maybe it's gonna be three times.

OF: Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?

AP: Oh yeah, I do. Favourite phrase, it's like 烦死了 [fánsǐle], when you say…

OF: Ah, 烦死了 [fánsǐle].

AP: It's one of the most frequent things I keep saying all the time, 烦死了 [fánsǐle], and people who doesn't know what it means, it's really hard to even translate what it is, it's just when you get really frustrated or something, you just keep saying 烦死了 [fánsǐle].

OF: I've only heard 太麻烦了 [tài máfanle], but…

AP: 太麻烦 [tài máfan], 麻烦 [máfan] is also 烦 [fán], it's the same 烦 [fán], it's 'annoying'.

OF: Yeah.

AP: Yeah.

OF: Well there you go, I'm gonna switch now. I'm gonna say 烦死了 [fánsǐle].

AP: Yes, please.

OF: What's your favourite destination within China?

AP: I love Hangzhou city. I like 西湖 [Xīhú], and I remember until now, every time when I go there, it's some kind of peaceful emotion I always get there, something unexplainable. And I think it's different when you go to Europe, it's a different kind of peace you find in Hangzhou. It's really like those old Chinese times, like when you read in the books, it's exactly that. So I really love that city.

OF: Yeah, I've only been there once. But I went, I think, during one of the crowded, busy seasons…

AP: Lucky you!

OF: Well, exactly. But even then, you know, you could find these quiet areas, especially up in the mountains where, you know…

AP: It's magical…

OF: …Where I think I felt a little bit about what you're talking about. How many times have you been there?

AP: I think five to six, I believe.

OF: Nice. And it's so convenient, it's one of those places that actually is only a couple of hours away from from Shanghai.

AP: Yeah, right? Yeah.

OF: If you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?

AP: I think the most I would miss is traditional local 小笼包 [xiǎolóngbāo]. I would miss that very much. And what I wouldn't miss is probably… have you ever smelled the stinky tofu?

OF: Oh god.

AP: I think your brain can't even imagine a kind of smell like that existed, ever. That's why it's shocking every time.

OF: And have you ever tasted it before?

AP: No, please!

OF: It's actually not as bad as it smells, but…

AP: That's… All Chinese people say that. So you're saying that too?

OF: I'm saying it too, but…

AP: Have you ever tried it?

OF: I've tried it, I've tried it. But I am not used to it. And I I've tried lots of smelly foods. I quite like so many foods, so like blue cheese… So I thought "You know what, one day I will get used to stinky tofu." But yeah, it's never happened.

AP: OK.

OF: Is there anything that still surprises you about life in China?

AP: I think after living in China for ten years, there is nothing that surprises me anymore. And it's not about only China, it's about the world.

OF: What is your favourite place to hang out, to eat, to drink, here in Shanghai?

AP: I think one of my favourite places for food is Sichuan Citizen restaurant. And it's been, I think the first Chinese restaurant I've ever even tried in Shanghai, because back then they used to be at 东湖 [Dōnghú] Road, and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music was beside it. And I've been going there for, like, ten years already. And the people there, I've known for ten years. And I spend, like, five to six of my birthdays there with them. So it's just very, very, super, like 'first place to go' and take my friends, whoever is visiting here. And then besides that, for drinks, I'm a very 'terrace' person. I really love terraces, and Shanghai gives so many opportunities for that. So just name a terrace, anything open-air, sounds good.

OF: But there's only a certain time of the year that that really makes sense. Otherwise it's freezing cold or it's boiling hot, or…

AP: Yeah

OF: That's the thing about terraces, they always seem like a good idea to me, but I always find a reason to complain…

AP: For example, yeah, it's too cold, or hot, and…

OF: Exactly. Maybe that's just my personality there… What is the best or worst purchase you have made in China?

AP: The best purchase I've ever made, so far… It's - I don't know whether you have seen it - it's like this like automatic wine bottle opener machine. Have you seen that thing?

OF: I have.

AP: … I think I saw it in China, and it surprises me so much. And after that, every time I'm just like "Just look, look, this is so cool". I just show it. So yeah, that is the best purchase I've ever done.

OF: And the next question, what is your favourite WeChat sticker?

AP: Oh, I have an addiction with the stickers. I have, like, 200-something, so I have to choose. This one, that I sent to you, OK this is my favourite.

OF: Ahh.

AP: One of the frequent ones. I'm using. It's very hard for me to describe what it is, like. But um, once you say something that somebody didn't expect, or you got them, you just send this in sort of like… now I'm literally physically imitating this…

OF: Right.

AP: So this is the one.

OF: So there's a little kid basically going "Yeah!"

AP: Like "I told you!"

OF: "I told you", pointing at you… And this part's coming out, it's

AP: It's a lot of… Once you live here, I think it's a lot of things that's like "I told you so", right? And it just becomes like that.

OF: Right. So actually yeah, it's a cute way of saying "I told you so, I'm cleverer and better than you."

AP: Yes. Exactly. Thanks. Thanks for putting it in the right away. Um, and another favourite one I use is this one, the second one that I've sent to you.

OF: A-ha, another little kid.

AP: Another, I don't know why I have so many kids, but… But this, the second one, is just, I think a lot of people can relate to who are living in China, because sometimes you hear some stuff, and this is exactly the emotion you are getting.

OF: Oh, I like it. I almost don't want to describe it. But maybe it's just like a "What the hell was that?"

AP: Yeah, like… Yes, exactly. It just… I think once you see it, and you live in China, you just get it, like, you don't have to explain it.

OF: Next question, when you go to KTV - to karaoke - what is your go-to song?

AP: Oh, wow. Because as a musician, people think that I have to sing really well. Because I'm a musician, I have perfect pitch, and all my life is all about being in tune. So when I'm in KTV, I'm trying to sing as out of tune as possible. And I try to go for those songs, the sad ones like, you know, you find people sitting in the corners and relating to their lives and stuff, like Michael Jackson, "You Are Not Alone". And I'm trying to do it in a super out-of-tune way, and I really enjoy it. But I'm the only one enjoying it, I believe. So…

OF: And could you, if you wanted to, sing it in a good way? Or actually, that's just the best you can do?

AP: No, of course I can. But I just… because everyday life, I'm being in tue with my music, so KTV is the time to leave it to your soul, and just go out of tune.

OF: Yeah, like forget the perfection.

AP: Yes.

OF: Exactly. And finally, what other China-related media or sources of information do you rely on?

AP: To be honest, I think mainly what I do, I rely on my 朋友圈 [péngyǒuquān], I rely on my WeChat moments. Because I have a variety - "mosaic" - of friends, coming from different parts of the world, and they share their own country's news; Chinese people share the local what's happening… So it's like, I think it's a bouquet of all kinds of news. So I rely on my 朋友圈 [péngyǒuquān] for news.

OF: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for that, Astrid.

AP: Thank you for having me, Oscar.

OF: My pleasure. And the final question, so if there was one person that you know of, here in China, that you would recommend I interview next, who would it be?

AP: For my recommendation, this time, after thinking a lot, I'm gonna recommend Freda Fung, actually a wonderful human being that I got to know in Shanghai. And currently she's the regional President and Managing Director for probably one of the most admired organisations in the world, Special Olympics. And the mission of this organisation is to provide, like, year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. And every time I hear Freda talking about it, she's so passionate and enthusiastic about it. So I'm sure she will have so many stories to share with you, and inspire other people too.

OF: That's great. Oh, thank you so much, I look forward to meeting Frieda.

AP: Thank you.

OF: And thanks so much for your time today.

AP: Thank you too Oscar, my pleasure.

[Outro]

OF: So that was Astrid. I first met Astrid outside a café down my street, she was having drinks with a Persian Armenian friend of mine, Vaché. Vaché made the introduction, and this is the result: a new friendship and a new podcast episode. And that's how things work around here, people are very generous with their connections and open with their support. But Vaché is especially like that, so a special thanks to him.

As always, please check out the images associated with today's episode on social media, it's @mosaicofchina_* on Instagram and @mosaicofchina on Facebook, and for WeChat, add me on ID: mosaicofchina* and I'll connect you to the WeChat group.

So this week there's a Wikipedia image on where Armenia is in the world, in case you might need a handy nudge about that; there are photos of the Shanghai Symphony Hall, it's a beautiful building inside and out; there's also a photo that I took in Hangzhou, which ia Astrid's favourite place to travel to in China. Astrid said that she loved 西湖 [Xīhú], this is "West Lake" it sits in the middle of Hangzhou, and that's what the photo is of. What my photo does not include is the other hundreds of Chinese tourists who were just to the left, and to the right, and behind, and on top of where I was standing.

The thing that Astrid would miss the most if she left China, she said 小笼包 [xiǎolóngbāo]. Those are the classic little shanghai dumplings that are filled with hot soup. And I've posted a photo of those, they're nice with a dash of vinegar. And, of course, her two favourite WeChat stickers are up; and her favourite restaurant, Sichuan Citizen; and the final batch of photos are from her appearance - or rater multiple appearances - on that Chinese TV show, it was called '生活大不同 [shēnghuó dàbùtóng]'. Astrid mentions the HSK test, that's the name of the Mandarin language proficiently test that is officially recognised here in China. These days, there's a points system for getting work permits, and your HSK test result is part of this equation, alongside of course many other factors. The 'H' of the 'HSK', the 'H' means '汉语 [hànyǔ]', which is 'Chinese'; the 'S' is '水平 [shuǐpíng]', which is 'Standard' or 'Level'; and the 'K' is 考试 [kǎoshì], which is 'Test'. And there are six levels, HSK1 is the easiest, and HSK6 is the top.

Also on the subject of visas, Astrid mentioned to me after the interview that she was in the first batch of graduates who could stay on in China after completing their studies. Before that, you needed to leave the country and then work somewhere else for a couple of years before coming back. So she was able to accept that job at the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. And in fact, her visa application was '001'. So at the time she became a big focus of debate on the whole value of allowing young foreigners to stay and to work in Shanghai. So that was part of her life that we didn't cover in the interview, but one thing that I thought was quite interesting. And also, another reminder that there you have it, you know, despite being the youngest guest, there's probably still another whole episode's worth of stories we could have covered.

Mosaic of China is me Oscar Fuchs; editing by Milo de Prieto; artwork is by Denny Newell; and China technical support is from Alston Gong. If you like us, please rate and comment on iTunes, or wherever you download this podcast. Thank you for listening this far, and see you next week.

*Different WeChat and Instagram handles were mentioned in the original recording. These IDs are now obsolete, and the updated details have been substituted.

Mosaic of China Season 01 Episode 04  – The Symphonic Siren (Astrid POGHOSYAN, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra)

Oscar Fuchs: Creator, Producer and Host of the Mosaic of China podcast

Oscar Fuchs was the Co-Founder and Managing Director of a global executive search firm dedicated to the Human Resources profession. He was born in the UK and has lived in Asia for 18 years, including 3 years in Hong Kong SAR, and 7 years in mainland China. In 2019 he sold his company, and launched Mosaic of China.

In China, the podcast can also be found at 苹果播客, 小宇宙 and 喜马拉雅.

Internationally, it can also be found at Apple, Spotify, and all other podcasting platforms.

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