May 16, 2013
Malaysian student Loo Lihao is majoring in software engineering at the Dushu Lake campus of the Global Institute of Software Technology (GIST), a vocational joint venture backed by educators from the UK, Malaysia and China.
Loo is of Chinese descent, from Surgai Petani, Kedah in Malaysia. He studied organ at the London College of music, plays various instruments and also teaches practical English to medical staff.
"Many Chinese people in Malaysia cannot speak any Mandarin if they've never attended a Mandarin school, like my mom," says the 19-year-old.
Loo speaks Mandarin fairly well, since he graduated from a Mandarin-speaking high school and doesn't have the language problems faced by many expatriate newcomers.
He says he knew nothing about Suzhou before he saw a booth for his college at an education fair in his hometown.
As for why he moved to China, Loo says, "I have a passion for electronic products, like all the Apple stuff. I was also looking for a place away from the tropics where the changing seasons can be truly felt.
"So when I found out GIST specializes in software and is located in eastern China, it occurred to me it could be the perfect place for me for the next four years."
Air surprisingly good
Suzhou is bigger and more developed than Loo expected. He also likes the diversity in the expatriate community.
"I was warned of the air quality here, but honestly I think it's fine and sometimes pretty good in the Dushu Lake High Education Zone, where my campus is located," he says.
Loo's classmates are from China, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. "We became good friends through sport since this is something that doesn't involve culture or mindset," Loo says.
He used to play on his high school's volleyball team.
As well as playing basketball, volleyball and tennis, Loo is also a keen musician who plays the organ, drums and flute.
He started to learn the organ when he was three-and-a-half years old and received a diploma from the London College of Music when he was 17.
He plays keyboards in two bands at school and the musicians are invited to perform at many schools and public events.
Since last semester, Loo has taught English at the district hospital, helping staff who deal with the growing English-speaking population in the community.
"At first it was kind of embarrassing to teach doctors and nurses much older than me. I'm lucky that most of them are self-driven, respectful and interested in learning," he says.
Loo has found it challenging and rewarding.
"I think I have made a lot of impact in this part-time job, with the help of my lecturer," he says. "Many of my students have a big enough vocabulary and knowledge of grammar, but they don't know how to make the right response in a real conversation. So I make them practice speaking as much as possible."
Speaking of his new home, Loo says Suzhou is distinctive because of its many beautiful gardens and historical architecture. Suzhou's Industrial Park and High-technology Development Zone attract professionals.
In the Dushu Lake Higher Education Zone, there are many renowned universities, vocational schools and research institutes, a clustering that is expected to help Suzhou become a center of research and development.
"My parents and I think China is now a perfect place to get employed or run a business, and Suzhou is definitely one of the best cities to live in this country," Loo says. "I plan to travel extensively around China."
I'm still not used to people spitting everywhere.
How to improveSuzhou:
The most important thing is to protect the environment.
Advice to newcomers:
Newcomers should prepare themselves for the four seasons, materially and emotionally. The winter can be very chilly, wet and depressing. They also should make sure they are able to eat some local food and learn some Chinese basics for daily communication.
Motto for Life:
Appreciate everything that you have now.
Q: What's your favorite place in Suzhou?
A: I like to visit the old town streets and buildings. Different buildings have different designs and patterns in doors, eaves and on the roofs.
Q: Favorite dish?
A: My favorites are hong shao rou (red braised pork) and ba si xiang jiao (deep-fried bananas dipped in honey).
About the Column
This series focuses on individuals who have lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province for a while and have a tale that’s worth telling. Age, gender, nationality and race are all unimportant in comparison with what adventures the subject has been up to, the experiences they can recount.