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Accidental celebrity's dream comes true

By ZHANG XIAOMIN in Dalian, Liaoning | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-06-03 07:43
Jiang Wenqiang

Editor's note: This series tells the stories of selfless individuals, from medical workers to volunteers, who have bravely fought the virus outbreak with extraordinary dedication.

Jiang Wenqiang, who became nationally known as "Dalian xiaohuo," or "young guy from Dalian", for his experiences in Wuhan, Hubei province, during the coronavirus lockdown, recently opened a barbecue restaurant in his hometown in Liaoning province.

The 28-year-old who arrived in Wuhan by mistake volunteered for a cleaning job at a hospital and became a celebrity.

Jiang's restaurant, named the Dalian Xiaohuo Aquagrill, serves Dalian's local specialty, seafood, along with a Wuhan favorite-reganmian, or hot dry noodles.

"The epidemic changed my life," Jiang recently told China Daily, as his restaurant began a trial run.

In February, Jiang was on a high-speed train from Shanghai to Changsha, Hunan province. He went to the dining car, bought a boxed meal for lunch and ate in a nearby car before returning to his own seat.

When the train pulled into Wuhan, all the passengers in that car, which turned out to be specially reserved for Wuhan passengers, were asked to get off the train.

Jiang was stranded in Wuhan for a month and a half.

Since he could not do his previous job, he returned to his old trade. Jiang had been a cook for six years and dreamed of opening his own restaurant.

"Many people say the restaurant industry doesn't look good now. But I'm going to show it is not that hard," he said, adding that he felt more socially responsible now.

"All the help I received in Wuhan saved my life. I have to give back to society," he said.

Jiang said his restaurant, which can accommodate 60 people, is doing well.

Some customers came to see the new celebrity. A netizen named Meiting Aline posted a photo with Jiang on Sina Weibo, saying, "Yum! My friend and I went to the seafood barbecue run by Dalian xiaohuo. We happened to encounter him there."

Jiang clearly remembers the day he arrived in Wuhan. It was raining and snowing. Things once routine became difficult.

He wanted to buy a ticket to leave but found no one at the rail station counter. He wanted to stay in a hotel but couldn't book a room. He wanted to take a taxi but car-hailing was suspended.

Thinking he couldn't live on the street, he searched the internet for help. That's when he saw an advertisement recruiting volunteer cleaners at hospitals. "Free food and accommodations provided", the ad said, so Jiang signed up.

That night, he was taken to Wuhan No 1 Hospital, and the next day he found himself working in the coronavirus isolation ward. He wasn't prepared for that.

Jiang worked 12 hours a day, delivering three meals to patients, removing their trash and disinfecting medical workers when they took off their protective clothing.

"It was very stressful. Fear, despair, negativity. Those were what I felt at first," he said.

"There was an older man. He talked to me in the morning. When I went to collect the trash in the afternoon, I saw a body bag lying on the bed. He was the first person I knew who died. I was shocked. I ran out of the room and sat for a long time in a chair in the corridor to calm down."

Jiang thought it was only a matter of time before he caught the virus himself.

Later, he faced other difficulties, but all the while his quick mind and quick feet endeared him to doctors, nurses and patients.

When people heard the story of how he got there, they always laughed.

Jiang learned that the healthcare workers were prepared for the possibility that they might get infected. When they said goodbye to their families and went to the front lines to fight COVID-19, it was a somber moment.

Jiang was mentioned in media reports and his fame spread. Some people were inspired by his spirit of seeking joy amid hardship. Some, including the municipal government of Dalian and the city's medical team that was sent to Wuhan, offered support.

On March 30, Jiang and another volunteer from Dalian, Yan Libin, returned home with the city's 529 medical workers.

"It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life," Jiang said. "At first, it was really hard to accept psychologically, but if given the chance, I would go there again. But, not by mistake.

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