An Australian TV hostess' passion for China

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In China, Heidi Dugan teaches people how to cook Western cuisine. While in Australia, she helps people know about a real China.

Dugan, 48, is a TV hostess for the cooking show You Are the Chef in Shanghai, where she spent 24, or half of her years.

At the end of last year, she set up a consulting firm advising Australian companies how to do business in China.

"I have spoken to so many companies recently, and all of them are so excited about moving on going to China," she told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

Dugan has been doing her TV show since 2002, which now boasts more than six million viewers.

She went back to her hometown Brisbane earlier this year, and, due to COVID-19 restrictions, she was unable to return to Shanghai.

She was so eager to return to the city, which is hosting the ongoing China International Import Expo (CIIE), that when the Australian Financial Review ran a story about her last month, the title was "Why Heidi Dugan can't wait to get back to Shanghai".

"It was such a cool city," she said. "Honestly, Shanghai is one of the big cities of the world that would rival any other big city like New York or Sydney."

"And it's so welcoming of international brands," she added with a bit of pride. "CIIE is one of those important expos where it brings all of the world's best produce of brands under one roof."

Bubbly and easygoing, Dugan is like many foreigners in China: married to a Chinese and speaking fluent Mandarin.

Talking about China, she had so many stories to tell: she went to Wuhan in 1996 where she studied international trade. At the end of that year she moved to Shanghai.

She later worked with the Shanghai TV station helping training reporters for international news. Also in China she developed her love for food.

"So much amazing food," she said. "There is an incredible variety of food that I really became very passionate about that kind of things."

She remembered going to five-star hotels at the beginning of her cooking show, and witnessed changes of China throughout the decades.

"We have had some of the most amazing Michelin star restaurants on the show," said Dugan. "A lot of the local Chinese chef became more prominent in the level of cooking on an international scale, whether it was Chinese food or Western food."

She believed that with China's development, an increasing number of Chinese people got the chance to travel overseas, and Chinese people could enjoy more imported food, with the availability of different ingredients.

"Travel, exposure to other chef, exposure to new ingredient but ultimately it's about the diner that is expecting better food," she said. "The local person goes abroad to eat different food. When they come back to their home country, they then go to these restaurants and want great food in Shanghai."

At the same time, many elderly people feel the need to learn a foreign language.

"It means they could communicate with their children and their children's children who are learning English at school," she said. They also like talking to foreigners. "They are very helpful and friendly. When I am walking in the street they would come up to me just to say hello. They like to have a chat and ...they also encourage their little kids to speak to foreign kids."

About five years ago Dugan started as a volunteer to teach the seniors English. Also about that time she began doing consulting for companies going to China.

In spite of the twists and turns of relationship between China and Australia, Dugan said she always saw the interest of Australian companies going to China.

"Seeing the successful companies that I bring in and help grow in China, many other people will look and say 'well, I want to do that too', and they will be interested in coming into China as well."

Admitting that there is misunderstanding among many in Australia, she noted that people's perceptions could change only after they really know about China.

"The more that people travel, the more they understand not only the culture but also people around the world," she said. "It's very difficult at the moment, but...I am not worried."

"Having a friendship between the two countries is the most important thing for individuals like myself," she said. "The way that we can help is to increase understanding." 

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