While millions in China have had to forfeit their plans to celebrate the Lunar New Year because of fears of a spread of the coronavirus, the community in Malta are welcoming in The Year of the Rat.

Mother-of-two Kitty Wei, 40, says she hopes to spend the weekend having a barbecue with her Chinese friends. There are around 20 to 30 families in Malta who come from the same province called Jiang Su.

“We will get together and celebrate with my niece and children,” she says.

Kitty and her family moved to Malta full-time at the beginning of September, but had visited for vacations in 2017 and 2018 to make sure they liked the country and could settle in.

They are now trying to buy an apartment here.

“We like Malta, but of course it is very different to China, especially when it comes to food and how people drive. We like how relaxed the school system is for our children. In China, they would have to do homework until 10pm, but that doesn’t happen here. But the biggest problem when you move here is trying to open a bank account. It’s been very difficult for us.”

The biggest problem when you move here is trying to open a bank account

This is also something 22-year-old Tom Li struggles with. “I come from Shanghai, which is a massive financial centre, so opening a bank account there is easy. It has modern technology such as making a payment using facial recognition. You can even open a bank account through an ATM in under 20 minutes!” he points out.

But other than that, Tom likes Malta. The student moved here with his family 10 years ago and now calls it home.

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“After studying in Switzerland, I returned here and now work in the hospitality industry. For Chinese New Year, I will return to Geneva and spend the holiday with my mother who moved there in 2010 while I was a student. I’m also returning for my graduation ceremony as I missed it in June because of a slow visa process in Malta. I’m looking forward to having a big dinner with my family.”

Tom says he regrets not buying a property when he and his family first arrived in Malta, especially seeing how the property market prices have shot up.

“But I like the freedom and people’s openness in Malta and how relaxed things are. People are generous and caring and it is a safe and stable society.”

He says Malta is a great country as it has saved so many people out of poverty “regardless which part of the political spectrum you belong to”. He adds: “I will definitely stay in Malta long-term as long as the transportation system gets better and there are fewer drunk people in summer!”

Yijun Chen is new to Malta, having come here just four months ago to study at the University of Malta. “On Saturday, my friends and I will have a hot pot in my flat and we will make dumplings. This year is the Year of Rat. In the Chinese Lunar Calendar, every 12 years is a period and each year has an animal symbol. The calendar always starts with the Year of the Rat, so this year is the start of the next 12 year period.”

He says he finds that China and Malta are very different and there are positive and negative things about both.

“Malta is a lovely place where people are friendly and the weather is beautiful. It is relaxed and slow. But I miss China and it is convenient and fast. After I finish my university here, I am planning to go to UK to continue my education, but I will definitely come back to Malta for a vacation often.”