Across China: Decade of development through the eyes of celebrity Italian in China

Updated: September 27, 2022 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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GUANGZHOU, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- Coffee cheesecake, tomato chicken salad or a cup of homemade latte, Mattia Romeo shares what he makes every day on China's microblogging giant Weibo, where he has more than 500,000 followers.

Romeo comes from Milan, Italy, and has been living in China for almost 16 years. Over the years, he worked for an Italian restaurant, worked as a local TV host, and is now a celebrity on Chinese social media.

He lived in Chinatown in Milan when he was a child and often went deep into the streets and alleys there to explore the daily lives of Chinese people. Chinese characters have deeply captured Romeo's heart since then.

In 2001, Romeo began to learn Chinese by himself and in 2006, he made up his mind to visit China and explore authentic Chinese culture. Instead of applying for a travel visa, he decided to find a job in China and stay there for a longer time.

At the very beginning, he worked for a Sino-Italy joint venture in Zhaoqing City, south China's Guangdong Province. As the only employee who could speak both Chinese and Italian, Romeo played an important role in communication between the two sides.

However, Romeo lost his job as the company closed 6 months later due to poor management. After that, Romeo made multiple attempts to succeed in different jobs, but his efforts ended in failure.

He then went to Guangzhou, a city neighboring Zhaoqing, and also the capital city of Guangdong, and worked in an Italian restaurant there in 2006.

At that time, due to the underdeveloped internet, he wrote down the names and contact information of customers in a notebook, and kept in touch with them by sending text messages and emails. As a consequence, he ended up making many Chinese friends.

Romeo said that he enjoyed helping Chinese friends understand the authentic Italian food culture.

The restaurant's big success in business attracted local media attention, which gave Romeo the chance to start his television career.

"Discovering Guangzhou" was the first TV program he hosted. In this program, Romeo spoke English and gave advice to foreigners on how to explore the city. As the program gained popularity, his sense of accomplishment grew and he decided to focus more on people-to-people cultural exchanges.

Driven by passion, Romeo worked hard in this field, which earned him more exposure in major media and more appearances on television. In 2010, he participated in the "Chinese World Carnival: Chinese-speaking Foreign Moderator Contest" and won the competition.

Romeo also participated in several programs like "A Bright World" by Jiangsu TV, where a panel of foreigners living in China held discussions in Mandarin on various topics and issues.

Busy as he was, Romeo still enjoyed himself in his spare time. "You can find a restaurant at 2 a.m. or eat some street food, or drink a beer," Romeo said. He was impressed by the down-to-earth atmosphere of Guangzhou.

"People's lives here are very slow-paced," Romeo said. He is fond of Cantonese cuisine, which is cooked in a non-greasy and healthy way, "if foreigners come to visit Guangzhou, they shall taste shrimp dumplings and boat porridge."

What impresses the Italian even more is the great change that has taken place in the city in the past decade. Tianhe District, the populous central business district of Guangzhou, where he lives now, was still a large construction site and high-rise buildings could barely be seen back in 2006.

Romeo said that he had witnessed the country's rapid urbanization, but he was most pleased that more and more historical buildings were being protected and turned into coffee shops and clothing stores, which are popular among young Chinese.

"When I first visited Yongqingfang, an old part of the city, ten years ago, what I saw were dilapidated houses, some of which had collapsed, and there were basically no shops and young visitors," Romeo said. But it had become a must-go place now, where people can visit Bruce Lee's ancestral home, beautiful bookstores, and many coffee shops, and experience local traditional cultural activities like printing, ceramics, tea art and more, he said.

Also, as China's technology developed rapidly, Romeo found life has become more and more convenient. In 2006, when people took the subway, they had to buy a coin-sized ticket or use a subway card. But now, with the popularity of mobile payment in China, people can scan the code on their mobile phone to enter the station in less than 5 seconds.

In the past decade, the mileage of Guangzhou Metro has increased from 236 km to 621 km, and will reach 2,000 km by 2035, while the maximum running speed of subway trains has climbed to 160 km per hour.

"Certainly, I am a witness to the rapid changes in Guangzhou, and now, as a social media influencer, what I am doing is recording them by writing or filming, which helps more people know about the development of the city and the Chinese society," Romeo said. 

Editor: Yu Huichen