China's decades of change in eyes of a German family
After finishing a day's online English class, Steven Forster from Germany often meets with friends for dinner and then goes for a walk.
Having lived in Taiyuan, the capital of north China's Shanxi Province, for 12 years, Forster relishes such a simple routine.
"Taiyuan is becoming cleaner, safer, and more beautiful, and the city is my home," he said.
Forster's bond with China began in 1995 when his aunt Lorraine came to work as an English teacher in Taiyuan. Though it has been over a decade since China began to implement the reform and opening-up policy, foreign faces were still rare, especially in the inland region.
To Forster, his knowledge about China was barely more than his favorite sweet-sour pork served in the local Chinese restaurants.
In 1999, Forster came to visit his aunt in Taiyuan. "Taiyuan was so different from European cities. I could always find something novel," Forster recalled.
The unique oriental country attracted the whole family.
In 2001, Forster's mother also came to Taiyuan to teach English, and nine years later, Forster followed suit.
In the same year, China conducted the sixth national population census, which showed that the number of foreigners who had lived or would live in China for more than three months was up to more than 590,000.
Over the decades, the German family has witnessed the impressive changes that have taken place across China.
"Chinese students used to be shy, but now they are becoming more confident," said Forster.
They feel that the country is also becoming more open and inclusive.
Data showed that Chinese made only 17 million overseas trips between 1949 and 1978.
In about 40 years after the reform and opening-up policy took effect, over 5.8 million Chinese studied abroad, and residents on the mainland made 1.38 billion trips overseas.
After returning to her mother country, Forster's aunt revisited Taiyuan in 2015 and was astonished at the city's dramatic changes upon arrival. The skyscrapers towered outside the window, and trees and flowers were planted on roadsides. Passengers could scan a code to pay the taxi fare.
"This was not the Taiyuan I remembered," Lorraine said, referring to a city with heavy air pollution and very few high-rises.
"Pollution is gone, and there are more green belt areas and parks," Forster told his aunt, adding that the gap between Taiyuan and European cities is narrowing.
The hospitality of Chinese people remained unchanged.
Lorraine visited many Chinese friends over a month. "I thought my aunt came to visit me, but she ended up visiting friends most of the time. I didn't realize she had so many friends in China," Forster joked.
"Chinese people are hospitable and inclusive, and I'm very comfortable in China," he added.
To not affect his class, Forster determined to return to Taiyuan from Germany in February 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and has been in China ever since.