Across China: Belgian presents charms of Chengdu

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, August 8, 2023
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by Xinhua writers Lu Youyi and Shi Yang

CHENGDU, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- For expats traveling to the city of Chengdu during the 31st FISU World University Games, the information sharing networks created by Dieter Vanonckelen, a Belgian skilled at the Chinese language, can be a window to better knowing this livable Chinese city offering much more than giant pandas and hotpot.

When searching about the FISU World University Games on the WeChat mini program "ChengduExpat+," one could find an extensive range of information in English about sports events and event tickets. Many practical English resources are also available, such as unmissable attractions, popular restaurants, and a guide on linking overseas bank cards to Chinese mobile payment services.

"Thousands of university student athletes from all over the world came to Chengdu. Many of them were visiting China and Chengdu for the first time, and so we have put a lot of targeted effort into content creation to provide a better understanding of this city's unique character," said Vanonckelen.

The "we media" on which he shares information now includes WeChat public accounts, mini-programs, social communities, and Little Red Book. More than 50,000 followers use Vanonckelen's information platform to learn about the lifestyle and attractions in Chengdu.

Back in 2003, he had recognized that China's future was brimming with opportunities. Driven by curiosity and a spirit of adventure, Vanonckelen chose to study Chinese at KU Leuven University in his hometown. After graduating, he applied for a scholarship at Sichuan University in Chengdu.

"In this beautiful city, I have been involved in many endeavors, and I've also made my fair share of mistakes," he joked when introducing himself to reporters. Undergoing numerous entrepreneurial experiences, Vanonckelen now, alongside the widely recognized ChengduExpat account, also possesses his own trading company and runs a successful beer bar.

"In Chengdu, foreigners' interests go beyond pandas and hotpot," noted Vanonckelen, who has lived in Chengdu for over a decade. Operating the Chengdu information platform is not his most lucrative venture, but remains his most fulfilling work.

This platform, established nine years ago, is now not only a WeChat public account providing a variety of information for English-speaking audiences about dining, entertainment, and leisure activities but has also evolved into an international community where one can make friends and extend assistance to others.

Vanonckelen and his team employ methods such as designing mini-programs and managing communities to promptly gather feedback on users' needs. Alongside sharing content, they have assisted many newcomers in resolving urgent matters such as healthcare and policy inquiries.

Surprisingly, the platform's followers are not solely comprised of foreigners. Vanonckelen has observed via the backend system that over 55 percent of the followers actually come from China.

This is closely related to Chengdu's accelerated pace of opening up to the world in recent years. As a vibrant market in the western region of China with active economic and trade exchanges, the city's close international ties have sparked the curiosity of local readers.

In recent years, Vanonckelen has also ventured into Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book, China's lifestyle-focused social media platform.

Under a photo featuring him and his father in front of their warehouse in Leuven, many Chinese netizens have reached out to him about potential collaborations involving charging piles and textile raw materials, demonstrating the abundant possibilities for Chengdu to explore "going global" opportunities.

"People play mahjong, drink tea, and appear very leisurely, but they might also be discussing serious matters. After walking a short distance, maybe just ten minutes, you suddenly encounter bustling skyscrapers. This doesn't necessarily mean it's a slow-paced life. It's just that everything blends in perfectly," said Vanonckelen.

Using the opportunity presented by the FISU World University Games, the Belgian is making every effort to introduce Chengdu to the world in his own way, enabling foreign athletes and students to immerse themselves in an authentic local experience.

"In everyone's eyes, they have their own Chengdu," Vanonckelen said. Enditem

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