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China, a world of mysteries
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By Wang Wei

Francis Tchiegue, a warm-hearted African from Cameroon and a free-thinking doctor-to-be from China's Beihang University, has become a spotlight celebrity on the Chinese stage. Speaking fluent Chinese, he is something of a legend.

Francis Tchiegue from Cameroon, also named Jie Gai in Chinese, in front of the International School of Beihang University on November 24, 2008. He is now working on software design for a second doctoral degree. [China.org.cn/Wag Wei]

Francis Tchiegue from Cameroon, also named Jie Gai in Chinese, in front of the International School of Beihang University on November 24, 2008. He is now working on software design for a second doctoral degree. [China.org.cn/Wag Wei]

Since coming to China in late 2003, he has used the Chinese name Jie Gai, similar in pronunciation with his French family name "Tchiegue". Although it has no special meaning, he loves it and the name has become well known in China.

Life: Exploring its mysteries

Jie Gai's life is surprisingly colorful. Enthusiasm is all; his experiences prove that.

Before moving to China, he already had a PHD in mathematics from the University of Yaoundé 1. "I studied mathematics as most people consider it to be quite a difficult subject," Jie Gai indicated, "however, not being like 'others', I'm always eager to explore such fields. And I did it well."

At the same time, unwilling to give up computer science, he also studied in the African Institute of Computer Science for certification as an Engineer.

On the way to his doctor's degree, he even hosted a TV program about classical music on Cameroon National Television. "It may seem completely different from my field of study, but it's an interest of mine. And it enriches my studies."

For Jie Gai, his life in China is also a voyage of exploration, as it is a country full of mysteries. In Cameroon, two Chinese elements aroused his early interest. The first was kung fu. "My father is a kung fu fan. He often practiced kung fu and took me to watch Chinese films by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. So I was always the winner when 'fighting' with other children in the playground," smiled Jie Gai.

The second element is Chinese characters. In Jie Gai's eyes, they are completely different from English, French, German or any other language. They are all square. Different from the basic 26-letter alphabet, every Chinese character is formed with a unique sound and meaning. "What on earth does that stand for?" was the question continually in Jie Gai's mind until he arrived in China.

"I'm an enthusiast for China."

Jie Gai was working in United Nations in 2003 when he noticed a student exchange program between the Chinese and Cameroonian governments.

Abandoning a good salary and great career prospects, Jie Gai overcame opposition from his family and successfully applied to the program. "I had been to America and many European countries such as France and Germany, but I still felt hungry in my heart." Jie Gai said, "For me, China is a mysterious nation with magic power. I had to learn of it through direct contact."

From a zero beginning in Chinese to the present fluent speaker of standard Chinese, Jie Gai admits it has been a road filled with hardships and frustrations.

In accordance with the exchange program, Jie Gai attended the eight-month language training program in Beijing Language and Culture University before applying to Beihang University for further study. That period created a great leap forward in his life.

With reference to his success, Jie Gai gives great credit to his positive and active attitude. He participated in various activities on campus to practice his Chinese, and never missed an opportunity to improve. From mechanically simulating to simply reciting, Jie Gai made every effort to pronounce each character as clearly and accurately as possible. His efforts were soon recognized, providing further opportunities to him.

But never satisfied with his progress, he found it insufficient to learn the Chinese language without a proper appreciation of its culture.

One day in early 2005, he happened to be watching a TV program featuring the acclaimed Canadian crosstalk performer Mark Rowswell, known in China as Dashan, providing great entertainment to the audience. At once impressed and interested, he discovered that crosstalk was a traditional Chinese language art that required great speech technique and intelligence, and that it was something difficult even for most native speakers.

Despite the difficulty, and with a firm determination to master the art, he set off on a new quest to become an apprentice to Ding Guangquan, Dashan's Chinese teacher. Applying and being refused – it happened time after time. Frustrated he was, puzzled, and even angry, but he would not give up, even in face of the challenging task of reciting ancient crosstalk texts provided by Mr. Ding.

He succeeded, of course. Moved by his sincere desire and irresistible persistence, Mr. Ding finally took him on.

Henceforth he began to explore other art forms, including Peking opera, Huangmei Drama and face changing, and achieved success in these fields. "Now, I am learning clapper talk, which is quite interesting."

"Beihang is my second family."

"Chinese culture is colorful indeed, but I never considered choosing it as a research subject during my further education in China," Jie Gai said seriously, "I could not give up my major. So I applied to Beihang University for research in computer science."

Enrolled in Beihang in September 2004, Jie Gai is now working on software design. In order to make full use of campus time, during the first two semesters he finished a set of courses designed to be covered over four semesters.

"Beihang is my second family," emphasized Jie Gai, "since I have spent some of the most important moments of my life here."

Speaking highly of the well-equipped laboratories in Beihang University, Jie Gai is proud of being a Beihanger. Under the care of his teachers and classmates, he is excited at the prospect of soon receiving a second doctoral degree.

Also in Beihang, he has met and married a Russian lady with whom he has a two-year-old son, named Jie Xinyuan. "Although he cannot officially be Chinese, he is in my eyes."

For information about studying at Beihang University, check here

(China.org.cn December 8, 2008)

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