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A Foreigner’s Chinese Dream and Love for China

By Lisa Sankar-Zhu (People's Daily Online)    10:25, June 01, 2017

When I left my country Trinidad and Tobago for China to study Chinese language and culture, never in my wildest imagination did I think that twenty-one years later I would still be here. Two decades is a long time, yet I often tell my friends that it feels like only two years. That is because, China is an exciting place to be, with lots of opportunities for go-getters or those who seek adventure, culturally. It so happens that I fall into both categories.

At first, I was not sure whether I would like my experience in China, so I initially planned to study for only one year when I left Trinidad for Beijing in 1996. But as fate would have it, I fell in love with China, its people, and its culture. I extended my course for another three years to learn all I could about this fascinating country. Upon graduating in 2000, I became the first person from my country to attain a degree in Chinese language and culture.

Studying at the Beijing Language and Culture University gave me more than I bargained for. With over 90 percent of the student population being international, I also learnt about the cultures of many other countries from friends who came from almost every corner of the globe.

A major turning point in my life came in late 1998, when I met my husband-to-be, who is a Chinese national. We met at the famous Chang’an Theater. I often tell people that if it wasn’t for us going to the Chang’an Theater to see Butterfly Lovers – a play known as the Chinese equivalent to Romeo and Juliet – we would not have met. Two years later, after I graduated, we got married and moved back to my husband’s hometown, which is located in Zhengzhou City, Henan province. We are now the proud parents of two teenage sons.

Lisa Sankar-Zhu and her family, photo provided by author

Before moving back to Beijing last year, I lived for fifteen years in Henan province, where I was further steeped in Chinese culture, Henan being the birthplace of Chinese culture and the home of four of the eight ancient capitals of China.

Being in China has allowed me the rare chance to meet many distinguished people, such as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, U.K. Prince Charles, and the late Venezuelan President Chavez. It has also allowed me to do things which I think I would not otherwise have had the chance to do. For example, during the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, I was appointed pavilion director of the CARICOM Joint Pavilion for part of the six-month duration to assist the fourteen participating countries.

In 2010, I published my first book, “The Emperor, His Bride and the Dragon Robe.” It is an original Chinese fairy tale picture book which tells the story of a young Chinese emperor and two young women who vie to become his bride and the next empress of China. The book was launched at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai. Then, in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Trinidad and Tobago from May 31 to June 2. On the second day of the visit, on June 1, the then Prime Minister and first female prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar presented President Xi with both an English and Chinese copy of the book as State gifts.

President Xi Jinping’s visit to Trinidad and Tobago was considered historic for more reasons than one, including the fact that it was a State visit and the first visit ever by a Chinese president. I was in China when the news first broached. In an e-mail to me, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, who knew about the book, requested copies. I had met him on a trip back to my country one year prior to President Xi’s visit. 

He didn’t say why he wanted the copies, and I arranged for them to be delivered to him without asking. It did occur to me that he might make it available to some of our government officials to review so they could make reference to it during their meetings with the Chinese delegation. But I quickly dismissed that thought as mere childlike fantasy. Then on the second evening of the visit, my mother, full of exhilaration, telephoned me to say that it was televised on the local news when my book was presented as a State gift to President Xi. To this day, I feel highly honored.

Among my to-do list is a musical play for children based on the book and ultimately a feature 3D animation film, also based on the book. Through this book, the play and movie, as well as other intellectual properties in the pipeline, I hope to share my love for China and engender in children around the world a similar love for Chinese culture.

I believe people should have dreams no matter how big or small, and that they should take every good opportunity at hand to make their dreams come true. But most importantly, I believe that people must strive to make more opportunities for themselves to fulfill their dreams rather than wait around for a few opportunities to come along by chance. In this regard, I like to use one of Francis Bacon’s quotes: “A wise man will create more opportunities than he finds.”

Lisa Sankar-Zhu,The author is Chairwoman of the Caribbean-China Friendship Association and CEO of Golden Mushroom, photo provided by author

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(Web editor: Wu Chengliang, Bianji)

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