征文47 ▏Raj: Speaking Minnan made my life in Xiamen easier

家外之家 2021
征文47 ▏Raj: Speaking Minnan made my life in Xiamen easier


Name : Raj


Country of Origin : Singapore, of 3rd Generation Singaporean Indian

国籍:新加坡,第 3 代新加坡籍印度人

Occupation : Interior Designer


Years in China : 21 Years

在华居住时间:21 年

How did your journey in China begin?


The first time I step foot on Chinese soil was in 1997 when I went to Beijing for a work trip regarding the design of a hotel there. Coming here for the first time helped to dispel a lot of the misconceptions in my head and the rumors that I heard about living here. I heard that China was so crowded absolutely everywhere, that people misbehaved, that there were no proper toilets!  Well, of course, it was all wrong.

我第一次踏上中国的土地是在 1997 年,我当时去北京出差,为一家酒店进行设计。第一次来到这里,打消了我脑海中存在的许多误解,那些关于在中国生活的传言也不攻自破了。我听说中国哪里都很拥挤,人们行为粗鲁,也没有体面的厕所!当然,这是完全错误的。

For the first years, I would travel constantly in and out of China for work, getting a visa was quite easy, but I officially decided to settle here in 2008 when I moved to Ningxia, where I stayed for two years. Ningxia is a state just off of Inner Mongolia; it is part of Xibei and has a large Muslim population.


Being there in the early 2000s reminded me of 1970s Singapore with dusty roads, no taxis, really cheap amenities and extremely friendly locals. Their kaorou ( 烤肉 meat barbeque), served in a huge pan, is very famous. In winter, the nights were so long and cold that locals would fight the cold with 78% alcohol baijiu (白酒 is a Chinese colorless liquor high alcohol in volume), it tasted like diesel to me! But wearing many layers was not enough; this was their way to fight the cold.

21 世纪初的宁夏让我想起了上世纪 70 年代的新加坡,道路尘土飞扬,没有出租车,基础设施非常简陋,但当地人非常友好。他们的烤肉非常出名,通常用超大平底锅来盛。冬天,夜晚漫长而寒冷,当地人会喝 78 度的白酒(白酒是具有中国特色的酒,无色,酒精含量很高)来御寒,对我来说,白酒的味道就像柴油一样!这就是他们御寒的妙招,把自己裹的里三层外三层是不够的。

Another impressive fact of Ningxia was the desert storms. Do you remember that scene of “Mission Impossible 6” where Tom Cruise runs across a hotel and there is a desert storm passing through? Well, it was just like that in Ningxia. They would announce there was a desert storm coming; and I was terrified, I had not experienced anything like it before! It was beautiful, a real desert experience. Spring was even exciting with array of blooming flowers everywhere.


After Ningxia, I headed to Shanghai for a short while and then my former HBA colleague that I worked for asked me if I wanted to come to Xiamen to run the company. I heard Xiamen was and island city, surrounded by the sea like Singapore, so I leapt at the opportunity. June 6th 2012 is when I landed in Xiamen and I have been here ever since! It’s been almost ten years, I never left!

离开宁夏之后,我在上海待了一段时间,以前在 HBA(赫希贝德纳联合设计顾问公司) 工作时的同事问我是否愿意来厦门工作。我听说厦门是一个岛屿城市,像新加坡一样四面环海,所以我抓住了这个机会。2012 年 6 月 6 日,我来到厦门,从那时起我就一直在这里了。已经快十年了,我从来没有离开过厦门!

Raj and his wife Amy enjoy a day out in nature

What do you like the most about Xiamen?


The beauty of Xiamen never stops to amaze me and I constantly fall in love with this city every single day. Interestingly enough, I was raised in a Minnan village in Singapore, so my mom and dad spoke Minnan language, the local dialect of Xiamen! Moreover, I was exposed to a Chinese way of life from an early age.


The first time I came to Xiamen I was staying in a hotel-villa behind Nanputuo Temple and I heard the monks chanting beautifully in the early morning, I felt like I was in Shangri-La! If you stay near Xiada (Xiamen University) and hear the morning chanting, it is definitely something you’ll never forget, it’s so spiritual.


That day, I came out in the street and overheard a conversation in Minnan language the same language my family spoke back in Singapore! I was so glad I understood everything! I immediately engaged in conversation with the locals and it was amazing, they still get surprised every time and it definitely has made my experience and adaptation to Xiamen so much easier.


Language note by Raj: The hardest language to learn is Kejia (Hakka) that is spoken by everyone in Longyan, you can learn Cantonese if you are going to stay in Guangdong province, but Minnan language in Xiamen is similar to the one spoken in Taiwan, the Minnan language spoken in Quanzhou is a bit slang, so I can’t understand so much. So I encourage everyone in Xiamen to learn Minnan dialect, it is not difficult at all!

Raj 的语言小贴士:最难学的语言是龙岩人说的客家话,如果你要留在广东,可以学粤语。厦门的闽南语和台湾的差不多,泉州的闽南语包含一些俚语,所以我听不太懂。所以我鼓励大家来厦门学习闽南语,一点都不难!

What is your unique China story?


To be frank, I found another Singapore in Xiamen! Remarkably, the culture around me in Singapore is closely related to Xiamen so it was here I learnt a lot of the sharing of cultures and I can appreciate our Chinese heritage in Singapore. It’s been my 10 years in Xiamen and yes it’s my second home now; I don’t think I will ever be leaving at all!

坦白说,厦门就是另一个新加坡。新加坡的文化与厦门紧密相连,有许多共通之处,在新加坡也能欣赏到中国的文化遗产。我在厦门已经待了 10 年,是的,它现在是我的第二故乡,我想我永远都不会离开!

The people here are extremely friendly and when I converse in Minnan language they feel so pleased! First they speak to me in Mandarin, then I reply in Minnan, and when they see my foreign face they go: “You?!?!” and I go: “Yes!” We sit down and chat during the weekends and I learn so much about our common history and culture.


Realistically, I didn’t expect people here to understand me when I speak, but they do! It is almost the same language, it is rather simple! It is super easy for me to fit in and I didn’t expect to stay here for so long, but my work as an interior designer here is my passion!


5-storey villa project recently completed by Raj

Most of my design projects are referred by friends and business partners. I like working this way as I understand where they come from and how difficult it is to get a designer that listens to your needs and understands your vision, and that is what I do. In other words, we have lots of fun doing this!


On top of that, I also find many activities to engage in that make my experience in Xiamen so enjoyable. Engaging in outdoor sports and in the activities organized by the local animal shelter and volunteering in some of Guanren Community Projects are some of my hobbies.



Here are some of my rescued furry relatives. Ell (Left), who is handicapped, was rescued one late evening in 2018. I thought she was injured and brought her to the vet to realize she had lost 3 paws and had been abandoned for some time which prompted me to ponder over the stray dogs’ welfare and the TNR programme. I was then head-hunted to work in Dubai but instead decided to stay in Xiamen.

以上是我拯救的一些毛茸茸的小家伙,它们就像我的亲人。左边的是 Ell,她患有残疾,是在 2018 年的一个深夜获救的。我当时以为她只是受伤了,带她去看兽医,才知道她已经失去了 3 只爪子,已经被遗弃了一段时间。这让我开始关注流浪狗,关注 TNR (流浪猫绝育)项目。后来,我被挖角到迪拜工作,但我拒绝了,还是决定留在厦门。

Raj 与厦门阿福之家流浪动物保护中心合作

Raj volunteering in animal rescue foster campaign with the Afu Expat Rescue Group of Xiamen.

Raj 与厦门阿福之家流浪动物保护中心合作,加入动物救援领养行动。

This charity group is now renamed “Paws”. Raj is the brains behind the logo for his friend Lee, founder of Paws.

这个慈善团体现在已经更名为 “Paws”,创始人 Lee 是 Raj的朋友,Raj 为 Paws设计logo。

Raj working with kids on the Guanren Community Centre Roof garden newly revamped vegetable garden

I would say, in Xiamen I care about the community and the multi-national people living here. They are our friends and become part of our family. There won’t be any instance that I would not volunteer when the need arises even when I’m overloaded with my projects as I always find time.


Raj volunteering with Guanren Community One World’s Zuzana during the recent lockdown which ended 3am in the early morning.

作者:Raj 翻译:潘泽彬

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