Photo: IOM/Tiago Figueiredo
"I was born in China, in a coastal city. I came to Lisbon by myself in 2002. A cousin of mine who lived in Porto had told me about Portugal. When I arrived I started working as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant. Over a few years I managed to save enough money to open my own small grocery store in the Ameixoeira neighborhood in Lisbon. I only close my shop to go to the doctor or when I need to go renew my Portuguese residence card at the Borders and Foreigners’ Agency (SEF). I sell vegetables and fresh fruits, as well as some other groceries. There are also three small tables by the shops’ window so that customers can enjoy a cup of coffee or eat a small pastry that I made myself. One of my customers, Mrs. Leonor, loves the “sweet rice” (“arroz doce”, a typical Portuguese sweet dish) that I cook. She says that it is the same as her mother’s recipe. It was my neighbor who taught me how to cook Portuguese dishes. I live and work on the same street, so I know people from this neighborhood. They are the ones who help me when I need help.
Portuguese is very difficult to learn. I've taken several classes and I also use a mobile app, but I am still afraid of misunderstanding the language. I learned to drive in Portugal and I passed my theory exam right away, but I only passed my driving practice exam on the fourth time. Today I have a van that I drive to go buy products for my store at the Lisbon General Market, as well as a smaller car for my every day journeys. When I have to go to the city center I usually go by metro to avoid wasting time looking for a parking space.
I have not been to China for 11 years and I mostly miss my mother, my sister and my son. In 2010 both my son and spouse came to Portugal. They stayed for one year, but they decided to go back to China because they couldn't integrate. I use my mobile phone and social media to talk to them. Even though I have been in Portugal for 15 years, I do not intend to acquire the Portuguese citizenship because I would have to renounce my Chinese citizenship making it difficult to go visit my family. When one of my relatives celebrates their birthday, I usually bake a cake and take a picture to send it to them. It is a way of shortening the distance between us and for them to know that they are always in my thoughts."