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Interview with Yun Zhang – On Making Space: from Beijing to Cape Town

Updated 5 Jul 2010

Yun Zheng pictureChinese expat Yun Zhang is stretching out into the seemingly endless space that so many Cape Town locals take for granted. Read on for a rare glimpse into the mind's eye of an Asian woman gone African.

For more information about expat life in Cape Town visit the Expat Arrivals city guide to Cape Town or read more expat experiences in South Africa.

About Yun

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: China

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Cape Town, Claremont

Q: How long you have you lived in Cape Town?
A: 14 months.

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: My spouse lives here, I came by myself.

Q: Why did you move to Cape Town; what do you do?
A: To be with him, and to experience a new country, a totally different culture from mine.

About living in Cape Town

Q: What do you enjoy most about Cape Town, how’s the quality of life?
A: Cape Town’s natural beauty never ceases to amaze me. Life here is a bit quiet compared to that in Beijing, but the sheer scope of the space and the natural phenomena is amazing. I am slowly but surely getting used to “fewer people” and no “crowds.”

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Food. Authentic Chinese food. You do get some good Chinese restaurants here, but they just never taste like home.

Q: Is Cape Town safe?
A: Generally, yes. I know I won’t walk around alone at night.

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Cape Town as an expat?
A: Too many! The city of Cape Town is so spoiled by nature. Claremont is quite nice and close to good schools!

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Cape Town?
A: Compared to where I came from, space is so available in South Africa. It’s an “African luxury”.

Q: What’s the cost of living in South Africa compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: The cost of housing and renting is much more reasonable and affordable than that in Beijing; on the other hand, food costs are higher. In particular, good schools and restaurants are expensive. Fresh fruits and domestic servants are cheaper here.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: The locals are nice and friendly; I do socialise with some Chinese. What I like is that Western people generally respect personal space.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Cape Town?
A: Not really, I still find this to be a downside to my life in Cape Town.


Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: I hold a life-partner visa. I don’t think there should be any problems getting a work permit here given the current status of my visa.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Cape Town, is there plenty of work?
A: Judging from the amount of beggars at your door on a daily basis, the economic climate is quite trying for the majority of people, especially for those that are impoverished. That being said, I do think there’s plenty of jobs for both the skilled locals and expats. Cape Town is a world-class creative city. There’s plenty of job opportunity revolving around creativity, design, architecture and art stuff…

Q: How does the work culture in South Africa differ from home?
A: A local saying that has become common knowledge is that in China you make friends before you do business. Business is often based around friendship and connections and bribery. I believe in the West generally, business doesn’t mix with friendship, which is a good thing.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: My fiancé is just that, a 'relocation company'. I didn’t need to hire a formal organisation, we did it all ourselves.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: No he’s local. I don’t think he has any problems adjusting to his own home!

Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: I don’t have children as of yet. It’ll be great to raise them half time here, half time in China. They’ll grow up in a bilingual and bicultural environment.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: I know there are several schools in Cape Town, but there are an insufficient number of Chinese-language teaching schools here.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Cape Town?
A: Haven’t had to test it yet! I know that private medical care will cover a lot of expenses, but you have to pay a monthly fee, which is only affordable for those who earn a decent salary.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you'd like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: South Africa is not as dangerous or unstable as the media portrays. I know that Chinese media are very prejudiced about this country. It’s a beautiful place, just be brave, come here and check it out!

~ Interviewed July 2010

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