Tallinn City Center Expat Chat: Jie from China

Jie from China.
Jie from China. Source: Private collection.

The eighth interview in our collaboration with the "Tallinn City Center New Arrivals Project" is with Jie from China.

This interview was carried out by Svetlana Štšur project manager of "Tallinn City Center New Arrivals Project" which is run by Tallinn City Center (Kesklinn) Government with support from the European Social Fund.

Every month, Štšur will interview an expat living in Tallinn and discuss why they moved to Estonia, what they like about the capital and their experiences in Estonia.

Jie from China

Jie has been back and forth to Estonia for the last 10 years, graduating from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre in the hope of becoming a professional opera singer and pursuing his biggest passion in life - music. Music is simply incomparable for Jie, it quite literally sets the tone for his day from the moment his morning singing practice begins.

"I came to Estonia from Beijing to study singing, but I cannot yet call myself a professional singer because I have never had a job in the field. I do all kinds of little jobs here and there to pay the bills, such as teaching Chinese or doing translations and so on," Jie said.

Jie's audition experiences were controversial, to put it mildly. During one audition, he was even told to head back home to China. "I remember returning to my professor in the academy with the news of my failed audition and he was like, "If you were bad, who was good?" Jie recalls.

After that unfortunate audition, Jie sent his resume to music schools all over Estonia. A vast majority of his applications have gone unanswered thus far. "I have tried to apply for positions in the rest of Europe as well, as I was told that tenors are in high demand everywhere. I almost became a soloist at the Bulgarian Opera house after a successful audition, but ultimately something went awry, they just stopped responding to me. And it was much the same in Poland, France, Belgium - no results," he said with a small laugh.

I asked Jie if he can come up with reasons why he has been denied so many times despite being quite favored by his Estonian professors during his studies at the academy. Jie believes that as a foreign artist, it is not enough to simply be a qualified performer for hire, rather you have to appear as "super extra qualified" to compete with local singers who have more connections in the local cultural circles. "Opera is a world of acquaintances, you have to be there, you have to know someone. The truth is that there aren't that many Asians in it, "Jie said.

Despite some negative experiences, Jie has not lost hope in fulfilling his dream to one day perform his favorite opera pieces on stage in front of an audience. However, he does not rule out switching to a slightly different artistic career path like acting, but if it happens to be opera, he would prefer to do something in the comedy genre: "Comedy opera is particularly challenging because tragedies are about singing (particularly good for tenors) and the plotline, but in comedy you have to make people laugh. It is challenging to sing and act simultaneously, and it is difficult to make people laugh".

While living in Estonia, Jie's closest associates were and continue to be fellow expats and co-ed students of the academy, the majority of whom return back home after receiving their degrees as is often the case. As for local acquaintances, Jie recalls passing by Viru Keskus around 8 p.m., and a group of young well-dressed men shouted at him: "Fucking Chinese". Fortunately, it was just a one-time occurrence.

"I hear quite often in Estonia that I have a beautiful voice. But this is something that I've been given by nature, it is my natural instrument. If you would like to compliment a violinist about their music, would you focus on the beauty of their violin? You work so hard, perfecting your technique every day, taking lessons and then you receive praise about your instrument, would it feel like a compliment to you? The interesting thing is though, I have performed a couple of times in front of a Russian-speaking audience. So, after the concert, they came to me and expressed their feelings about certain parts of the performance and I appreciated their straightforwardness and feedback in general. It was refreshing".

When thinking about his period studying and living abroad, Jie cannot say for sure that Estonia had a particular impact on him. To Jie, Estonia is not that much different from other European countries that he has been to, especially from a professional perspective. The Estonian opera circle has a similar structure and familiar tendencies - it is based on personal connections, which unfortunately Jie did not manage to create over the last decade of living here: "I knew it would be easier for me to bend and on my knees for a position in the field here or anywhere else. But maybe it is because I am too stubborn, I will only feel well as an artist when the job or applause is given due to my artistic and professional competence, instead of political correctness or/and personal connections".

Jie's family is far from the musical realm. His mother used to be a factory worker before she retired, and his father was an entrepreneur. "My father loved singing, but only after a drink", said Jie laughing. Jie is in his mid-30s, and fortunately, his parents do not push him to settle down or anything else romantic. "I am not in a rush with marriage. I recall being attracted to quite a few females in my life, but eventually, it all came down to me enjoying working with people who appreciate music. Not so much about a person, but as an artist," Jie concluded.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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