Multilingual 'Moon Mama,' a hit in backpacker paradise

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With 11 foreign languages under her belt, 68-year-old villager-turned tour guide Xiu Xiuzhen has become a celebrity in the town of Yangshuo, a backpacker mecca in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

68-year-old 'Mama Moon' (middle) with foreign tourists. [Photo/]

68-year-old "Mama Moon" (middle) with foreign tourists. [Photo/]

Xu lives at the foot of Moon Mountain, a must-see tourist attraction in Yangshuo, where she has guided countless tourists. Her sincerity has won her the name "Mama Moon."

Yangshuo, known for its other-worldly karst landscape and the Lijiang River, has been drawing millions of foreign tourists since China opened its door to international travelers in the early 1980s.

The scenic town is home to many people who make a living by both farming and working as tour guides.

Over the past 16 years, Xu has taught herself 11 foreign languages, including English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. In addition to making her incredibly popular, her linguistic prowess has made it easier for her to communicate with foreign tourists.

"My peers are trying to pick up new languages to boost their business, but no one can catch up with me," she said.

But the polyglot farmer's success has been hard-won. She started learning simple English phrases 16 years ago, when Yangshuo's tourism industry started to boom.

Illiterate, she was unable to read grammar books, so she had to memorize each word by its sound. But Xu seized every opportunity to talk to foreign tourists and tried to utter out her English.

Constant communication and a sense of perseverance proved effective, and she was gradually able to express herself in English. The determined woman has since learned other foreign languages in succession.

With her command of 11 foreign languages, Xu is one of the busiest tour guides in Yangshuo. Her reputation draws a large crowd of tourists every day, especially foreign visitors, who come to meet the multilingual guide out of admiration.

"More and more foreign tourists are coming to Yangshuo, and I hope they will feel at home here with my help," she said.

Not content to simply serve as a tour guide, she now owns a popular restaurant and operates a reputable hotel.

Huang Yongzhong, director of Yangshuo's tourism bureau, said Xu's success has encouraged many farmers to follow suit.

Official statistics show that 1.5 million foreign tourists visited Yangshuo in 2012, a number that has inspired local tour guides to jump on the foreign language bandwagon with hopes of achieving success on par with that of "Mama Moon."

"What 'Mama Moon' does is a good interpretation of the Yangshuo farmers' shared Chinese dream -- to make life better by learning new skills," Huang said.

He added that the government supports local tour guides by providing frequent training on the laws and regulations of the tourism industry.

Farmers in Yangshuo are passionate, sincere and hard-working, and this spirit will lead to more success stories like that of "Mama Moon," he said.

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