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US citizen collecting WeChat friends

By Zhao Ruinan and Liu Kun in Wuhan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-19 09:30
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Steve Carpenter

Steve Carpenter, a US citizen who has been living in Wuhan, Hubei province, for 20 years, has made 1,436 friends on the WeChat social media platform.

Every day around 9 am, Carpenter heads downstairs for breakfast. Across from his apartment complex near Caijia Market are his two best Chinese friends, including Weiwei, the owner of a breakfast shop.

Their friendship is built on mutual care. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Weiwei brought fresh vegetables to Carpenter and invited his family to make dumplings during the Chinese Lunar New Year. Carpenter is her only foreign friend.

"He said his family was out of vegetables, so I sent him some. It's no big deal. We're friends," Weiwei said.

Another friend at the market, Wang Yongping, shared baijiu, a Chinese spirit, with Carpenter, and their families often dine together.

"I have 1,436 friends on WeChat," Carpenter, 60, said. "At our biggest Thanksgiving party, we had 340 friends come, and at least half were Chinese. The rest came from maybe 25 different countries. Wuhan is a place where it's easy to make friends."

However, things were different when he first arrived in Hubei in 2004, where he worked as general manager for Diamond Power Machine (Hubei) Company until 2016.

"When we first moved to Wuhan, there was only one subway line. The subways didn't get built until sometime after 2010. Now, with the subway system, you can get almost anywhere throughout the city," Carpenter said.

He also observed a rapid increase in the number of private cars in Wuhan. During his early years in the city, the vehicles on the roads were primarily taxis or public cars, with few private cars. Now, private cars crowd the streets, which he sees as a testament to "the general prosperity of the people of Wuhan, even in the middle class".

"I love Wuhan. It has grown a lot over the past 18 years, and I often tell people that on a day-to-day basis, you can get almost everything in Wuhan that you could get in Shanghai, and I think it makes Wuhan a great place to live," Carpenter said.

After arriving in China 20 years ago, when the economy was rapidly growing, Carpenter said it was great to be part of "the euphoria of the accelerated growth". Even as China, like many other countries, faces challenges after the COVID-19 pandemic, he said he believes China "will emerge" and "continue to grow and prosper economically".

As chairman of the Central China executive committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, Carpenter praised China as a good place to invest.

"I think foreign companies that choose to invest in China today can feel more confident about the business environment being more predictable," he said.

Carpenter is now the general manager of Profab China, a company providing manufacturing solutions for semiconductors. He has obtained permanent residency in China and, on Dec 1 last year, was among the first 50 foreigners to receive the Five-Star Card. Issued by the National Immigration Administration, it serves as a legal identity document for foreigners with permanent residency in China, eliminating the need to present their passports.

"I'm very proud of it, and I am now the envy of most of my foreign friends," he said. "And my wife should get hers very shortly. We're both very excited about it."

Carpenter said he wants to promote people-to-people exchanges between the United States and China to help more Americans understand China better.

"I've even thought about starting a podcast or social media site, particularly in the US, to share honestly about our good experiences here in China and help erase misperceptions that people who have never traveled to China might have," he said.

He is confident that bilateral relations will improve despite China-US tensions in recent years.

"I do feel that initiatives China has proposed promote increased communication and understanding," Carpenter said. "So I am confident that over time, things will improve in the relationship, and, hopefully, trust at the highest levels of government will also grow with that."

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