Four decades in China: The Turkish man and his treasured belongings

Andy Boreham
Noyan Rona has collected a lifetime worth of "things" during his four decades in China, much of which is now shown off in pride of place in his 300-square-meter villa in Pudong.
Andy Boreham
Directed by Andy Boreham. Shot by Andy Boreham, Zhou Shengjie and Song Xinyi. Edited by Andy Boreham. Subtitles by Wang Haoling.

Noyan Rona comes from Turkey, but despite retaining an affection for Turkish rugs, he’d be hard pressed to hold a conversation about Turkish trends, current affairs or entertainment: he’s lived in and studied China for the past four decades, longer than he ever spent back home.

That all began when he graduated from Wuhan University, where he was a “poor post-graduate student” of Chinese history, around 38 years ago. “Wuhan is very special for me,” he told me, while pondering the city’s new found international fame.

After graduating, Rona worked as a diplomat for around 15 years, both in Beijing and Shanghai. He eventually settled here some 25 years ago. In 2012, he was given the Shanghai government’s highest honor awarded to expatriates: honorary citizenship.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rona has collected a lifetime worth of “things” during his four decades in China, much of which is now shown off in pride of place inside his 300-square-meter villa in Pudong.

“I bought many things through the years,” he recalled. “So I have my own furniture, own things. It is comfortable, cozy and nice-looking I believe.”

To Western eyes, his house is nothing unique — this kind of stand-alone home is the norm in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. “When you look at the house, it’s very similar to any house in the world,” Rona admits. 

But in Shanghai, a city of millions of high-rise apartment dwellers, it’s a real novelty.

Adding his treasured things to the large, two-story house really transformed the space into his home. One of the first things you notice is the abundance of bright, colorful rugs in every room. 

“All the rugs are from Turkey,” he explained. “This is our custom. I feel that if I don’t have any rugs on the floor, I feel that the house is empty. It is not like home. So when you put down rugs or carpet, it becomes your home.”

Rona told me he normally returns to Turkey once a year or so, mostly on brief business trips, and uses his spare time to find new rugs. “When I go back, I look for new rug designs, new shapes and sizes.” That’s changed since last year, obviously. 

His treasured things also include artworks from Asia, Europe and Africa, and small pieces and ornaments collected during his travels, both domestically and internationally.

“Some of the objects are from China, from Turkey, from Japan, from Canada, from the US. So many places I visit, I buy these kinds of things and then I put it (here at home).”

But probably his most prized possessions are his books, mostly Chinese, which cover a gamut of topics that would surely send most readers into a dizzy spell. But for Rona, they’re his path to relaxation. 

“When I want to relax, I read books. I mostly like reading Chinese books, history and some international relations and diplomatic things, and these kinds of books.”

It’s these books, and his other “treasured things” from China and around the world, that really give Rona his sense of home. They help cement his place in Shanghai, probably because they carry his stories and highlight his journey.

“My home is here, definitely, because all my life is here. I’ve lived in China more than I’ve lived in Turkey, so this is definitely my home here,” he explained while holding a book in Chinese on economy. “So that’s why I really try to make it like my home. I live with these things together. If you take out all things this is meaningless. This is not home. When you have it all together, you feel at home. And where is my home? Definitely here, in Shanghai.”

If you’d like your home to feature in an upcoming episode of “Home Sweet Shanghai,” don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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