World / Opinion

Expats blaze path to greater understanding

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-01-22 08:11

Editor's note: When Sino-Egyptian economic relations are further enhanced by the opening of the New Suez Canal and the Belt and Road Initiative, many Egyptians will be making their livings in China, and using their personal backgrounds to contribute to a more consolidated people-to-people contact.

An Egyptian guide advocates hiking in China, saying tourism can lead to greater understanding.

Expats blaze path to greater understanding

Egypt has become a popular tourist destination for Chinese, with many flocking to see the natural wonders and relics of its ancient civilization, yet relatively few Egyptians are traveling in the other direction.

Software engineer and part-time hiking guide Karim Muhammad thinks that has to change.

The 31-year-old resident of Shanghai for more than three years says more needs to be done to attract his fellow countrymen to visit the Middle Kingdom, so they can better understand Chinese culture, and share theirs with the Chinese.

Stereotypes still exist, he said. "I was once asked by a Shanghai taxi driver whether I lived in a pyramid. Many people back in Egypt also think similar things, such as Chinese people eat everything on the Great Wall."

In 2014, Muhammad and several friends set up Xuantu Sport Development (Shanghai) Ltd, a hiking company that runs tours along some of China's best trails, mainly catering to international visitors.

He said the company provides a small but effective way to show people China's wonders, adding that the country's varied landscapes would tempt many Egyptian hikers as evidenced by the response he receives back home to his Facebook posts.

"The landscapes (in China and Egypt) are so distinct from each other, apart from some desert areas," he said. "So it's worth introducing and experiencing."

Hear the one about Egyptians in China?

Expats blaze path to greater understanding

Mohammed Magdi, a China Telecom marketing team leader, moonlights as a headliner at a Shanghai comedy club, where he entertains his audiences while debunking stereotypes

Funny stories can offer insight into a strange culture thousands of miles away, the 26-year-old Egyptian believes.

During the week, he promotes new China Telecom packages in Shanghai's expatriate community, and on weekends he performs as a stand-up comedian at a local club called Kung Fu Komedy.

"People often have a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding about Egypt, Islam, Africa, and the Middle East. It's not only in the Chinese community, but also among many other foreigners, too," he said. "Living in a global, cosmopolitan city like Shanghai gives me a very good chance to tell my stories to a larger audience."

Magdi said he wouldn't go so far as to think of himself as a cultural ambassador, but the fact remains that many people don't know anything about Egypt apart from instability and revolution. So he tries to break through the stereotypes with a performance that is funny but also thought-provoking.

"There are a lot of ideas that can't be expressed in a very serious way - like racism, discrimination and stereotypes - and using comedy is a good way to make an impression and help people remember."

Early film successes a proof of potential

Expats blaze path to greater understanding

Mohamed Osama was surprised to discover recently that there was a time when Egyptian movies had a big audience in China, back in the 1960s and 70s. And the situation was similar in his homeland, too.

"I asked my older friends, and they remember a time when they were all watching Chinese movies."

The cinematic exchange cooled as domestic and international conditions changed, but for Osama that earlier time demonstrates the potential for greater cultural exchanges between the countries.

"The most beautiful part of this world is the different cultures; we should enjoy sharing and learning about them," he said.

Osama is a familiar face on the small screen in China. He is a co-host of Informal Talks, a Chinese-language entertainment program that in December began its second season on Hubei TV. He believes television and movies are an effective way to convey culture to new audiences. As President Xi Jinping makes a state visit to his country, Osama hopes the trip will revive cultural ties between Egyptians and Chinese.

Osama, better known in China as Mu Xiaolong, speaks fluent Mandarin and has lived in China since 2011. The Cairo University graduate previously worked as a tour guide in the Egyptian capital.

He first appeared on Chinese TV in 2011 as a contestant on If You Are the One, a popular dating show. This raised his profile and his followers on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, quickly soared to about 34,000.

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