Published in the South China Morning Post, 25 October 2009

When Sun Shang-chi left his native Taiwan for Germany to pursue a dance career, he made sure he packed a rice cooker along with his ballet shoes, lest the unfamiliar world of German sausage and sauerkraut proved too outlandish for his Chinese palate. “I couldn’t cook at all. With a rice cooker, I thought I could at least have some rice,” he recalls.

Eight years on and such concerns are far behind him. Now an up-and-coming choreographer based in Berlin, Sun has adapted to life in Germany – and its food.

“I got very homesick in the first two years. But afterwards, everything worked out well. And I’ve got used to those salty, meaty German dishes,” he says.

Born in Taipei, Sun, 32, runs Berlin-based dance troupe Shangchi Move Theatre, and has several accolades under his belt. He developed a passion for dancing when he tagged along with his actress mother to dance clubs as a child. After graduating from the National Taiwan University of Art, he performed with a couple of companies in Taipei but set his sights on Germany. “I’d never been there but it appealed to me because of great German choreographers like Pina Bausch,” he says. He worked hard to save money and then flew to Germany to audition for eight dance companies. In 2001, he joined a Nuremburg outfit.

Life in Nuremburg was challenging as there was no Taiwanese or Chinese communities and his broken German was an obstacle. Differences in mentality also added to his frustration.

“I often focused on results while my European colleagues focused on process,” he says. “Before an idea was executed, I would judge whether it would work or not, while they would just try it out.” But Sun gradually found himself learning much from “the European way of thinking”, and he began to enjoy life in Germany, where “people are communicative and attach much importance to the quality of life”.

When Sun turned 30, he became a freelancer and moved to Berlin for a change. “Many people told me it wasn’t easy to be a Chinese freelancer in Germany. But I just followed my heart,” Sun says.

It turned out to be a good move. Work has been coming his way, and the German capital has charmed him.

“Berlin is an alternative, international and eventful place. It’s a poor city rich in art. There’s no class mentality. You can find rich and poor people dining in the same restaurant. Berliners are very open-minded. It’s very easy to make friends,” he says.

Soon after the creation of Shangchi Move Theatre, Sun worked with Hong Kong choreographer Franke Ho and premiered the dance/fashion show Walk Faster! in his homeland.

“I still miss Taiwan, my mum and friends, and Taiwanese xiaochi [street snacks]. But life is great here.”

And that rice cooker? “I’ve given it to a friend. I don’t need it now.”

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