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After escaping war, Iraqi vlogger makes splash on Chinese social media

China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-17 09:22
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CHENGDU — With camera in hand, Ahmed Jabar has kept busy chronicling his life in China since he moved here a decade ago.

Usually dressed in a sharp suit with curly hair and a beard, the Iraq native speaks Mandarin as he vlogs about his culinary experiences.

On Chinese social media, Jabar, whose Chinese name is Wang Lixuan, operates the immensely popular food vlogger account "Lao Wang in China", which has amassed over 15 million followers. His bio reads, "Having faced life's most painful trials, I cherish the stability and peace I've found in China. I adore the cuisine here, and the scenery is breathtaking."

Born in Iraq in 1994, his childhood is a tapestry woven with the sorrows of war and displacement. From Iraq to Syria, Jabar and his family braved the devastation of conflict.

"I mistook (the booming sounds) for fireworks at first, but soon realized it was the sound of falling missiles," Jabar recalled.

In 2014, with the aid of relatives, they finally reached China.

Upon his arrival, Jabar took up a role as an Arabic teaching intern at an international school in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, where he taught Arabic while diligently learning Chinese.

"The people around me were incredibly patient," he said. "Although I couldn't comprehend their words initially, their eyes spoke volumes of their genuine affection and desire to assist me."

With unwavering determination, he seized every opportunity to master the language, achieving fluent communication within a year.

Over time, Jabar has embraced various roles: Arabic teacher, international student counselor, model, actor and livestream host. Each transition has allowed him to further acclimate to life in China and rediscover a sense of security.

In 2018, he enrolled in a short video training course. This experience taught him basic editing skills and how to navigate social media and short video platforms such as Bilibili and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

During one trip, he recorded a video of himself eating and commenting on the food, which he edited and posted online to considerable acclaim.

Motivated by this success, Jabar continued to produce food exploration videos. With his love for Chinese food and a command of the language, he began to gain recognition among an ever-growing audience.

Within six months, his fame skyrocketed, and his follower count on Douyin and Bilibili surged from a few thousand to over 15 million. Through his videos, viewers can explore a variety of Chinese cuisines from the comfort of their homes. "Lao Wang in China" offers a unique perspective on food from a foreigner's viewpoint, featuring heartwarming interactions with restaurant owners and diners, infusing each video with laughter and warmth.

"Heartbreaking" is a word frequently found in the comments of "Lao Wang in China" videos. During this year's Chinese Lunar New Year, while filming in Zhengzhou, Henan, he was startled by the sudden sound of firecrackers while eating alone at a barbecue stall. His eyes welled with fear as he froze for a few seconds, a moment captured by the camera.

"I thought it was the sound of a bomb explosion," he said.

This scene moved countless viewers, who left comments like, "Don't be afraid, you're in China," and "His startled reaction shows he's protecting himself, but lowering his head with a smile shows his trust in China."

In March, Jabar returned to his homeland after nearly 20 years, reuniting with family members after many years. During his brief six-day stay in Iraq, he witnessed the gradual recovery of his country. To his delight, there are now Chinese restaurants in Baghdad, and schools, hospitals, bridges and railways are being built with aid from China.

"I deeply feel that China is warmly helping Iraq move forward," Jabar remarked. "I'm a foreigner, but not an outsider. I love the peaceful life and the peaceful people."

From Iraq to Syria and then to China, Jabar has spent 10 years finding the security he longed for and his direction in life.

Looking ahead, Jabar hopes to expand his videos to include Chinese tourism, tea culture, clothing, customs and ethnic groups, aiming to create more quality content to help the world better understand China.


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