"I have played the guitar for about 12 years," Aleksandr said modestly. Despite spending three years pursuing his bachelor's degree, five years for his master's degree, and the many days he spent pursuing music as a hobby while in middle school, Aleksandr has few regrets about switching from being a musician to being a businessman. "I like making friends with others and doing business. So, I just let go of playing guitar," he explained.
He shows the same flexibility when describing his new home. "For me, everywhere in China is good," he said in fluent Mandarin. Aleksandr's eyes begin to shine when speaking of his affection for China and how it's become home for his family that he loves so much.
Love at first sight
The year 2003 was the first time that Aleksandr and Yeliena came to China as part of an exchange project between Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory and universities in Shandong. "At that time, China was already prosperous and modern. It did not live up to the false stereotype of backwardness it had in the eyes of Russians, Europeans, and Americans," Aleksandr said. The young Russian couple found this out for themselves and fell in love with China when they came.
In 2005, the then 27-year-old Aleksandr was hired to teach students Russian at Yuncheng Vocational and Technical University in Shandong, and later he taught at Hangzhou Tourism Vocational College. In 2006, his wife began working as a piano teacher at Zhejiang Normal University (ZNU), where Aleksandr went to learn Mandarin. The couple started to gain affection for Jinhua.
"Yeliena has taught piano at ZNU for 10 years. Her mother worked as a conductor for the choir of ZNU for nine years. Yeliena's father visited Jinhua once a year during those years," Aleksandr said of the whole family's deepening connection with Jinhua. "Both Yeliena and her mother won the 'Award for West Lake Friendship' certificate, which was awarded by the Zhejiang Provincial People's Government in 2013," he added, immediately showing the photo of the certificate that he keeps easily accessible on his mobile phone.
By studying Mandarin, Aleksandr gained a good grasp of daily Chinese and began to pronounce words perfectly. Soon he started doing foreign trade business with friends. In 2013, he joined Zhejiang Yingjia Industry and Trade Co Ltd as manager of the foreign trade department. His main task was to expand the Russian market, and his business also began to expand into neighboring countries this year.
"He is a hard worker and an excellent manager. He does not speak and behave in a way that businessmen usually do, which makes him easily win the trust of customers," said Ying Yugang, deputy general manager of the company.
Raising his child in livable Jinhua
"The three of us usually speak Russian at home, and sometimes we speak Mandarin. My son Ivan speaks Mandarin best in our family," Aleksandr said. His colleagues think Ivan is smart, cute, and speaks Mandarin very well. Shop owners and sellers at the vegetable market all know his son.
"Who does your son look like?"
"Me," Aleksandr said without hesitation. "Although I'm busy with my work, I spend a lot of time with my son after work," he added in a loving tone.
Aleksandr's family life is well-recorded in videos and pictures. He opens a photo album on his phone to show scenes of him taking his son to kung fu practice, visiting ancient houses, and buying crayfish at the market together. He also tells a story about his son playing drums at home and disturbing Yeliena's afternoon nap, but his son saying it was Aleksandr who was drumming. He chuckles at the memory, while expressing gratitude for his family life in Jinhua.
"Yeliena and I both come from single-child families. We Russians, like Chinese, attach great importance to educating children and regard children as the future and hope of the family," he said. After giving birth to her son, Yeliena went to work at an art school in Jinhua so that she would have more time with him.
"Jinhua is such a suitable city for raising children," Aleksandr said, praising Jinhua's advantages as a very livable city. He noted that Jinhua cuisine and Hangzhou cuisine are nutritious, and even suitable for children. "The public security and natural environment in Jinhua are pleasant, and some communities with quiet streets are especially suitable for children to play in,"he said.
"The first time I set foot in Jinhua, I was frustrated that I had no chance to eat Russian bread with its unique flavor. Now I'm completely accustomed to Chinese cuisine and not used to Russian food anymore," Aleksandr said. His office at the company's premises in Quanxi Town, Wuyi County is adorned with a Chinese tea table facing the door, with some bookcases and desks placed in another part of the office. On the table are some Chinese tea trays and tea sets, as well as various Chinese stationery and tools for calligraphy.
"I like Jinhua dishes and Hangzhou dishes. I also like Chinese black tea, green tea, and white tea. When I'm at home, I usually make milk tea by soaking Chinese tea in water and adding fresh milk to it," he said. Not drinking coffee or alcohol, Aleksandr admits he's become a bit more Chinese despite his Russian appearance.
Everything is good in China
When asked about his impression of China, Aleksandr blurts out sincerely,"China is good everywhere!" He said that in recent years, he has traveled to some large cities at home and abroad, but they did not give him a sense of security and comfort. "The Jinhua Municipal Government focuses on environmental protection and landscaping. Cities like Jinhua and Wuyi are ideal places to live a properly-paced life with beautiful mountains and rivers," he explained.
Aleksandr speaks highly of the Chinese government's control measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the year, he returned from abroad and was immediately isolated for 14 days, in accordance with the government's regulations. During the initial stages of the pandemic outbreak, his parents were worried about the couple and their grandson. Now that the pandemic situation in China is well under control, his parents are no longer worried about them, but Aleksandr and his wife have begun to worry about their parents in Russia.
"Having been here for 15 years, I have felt the earth-shaking changes taking place in China," he said, noting that he sees the changes in Jinhua and Wuyi with each passing day like the rapid upgrading of their urban infrastructure. "I drive an hour from Jinhua to Wuyi every day. The scenery on the road is as beautiful as Hangzhou and the West Lake," he said. Like many foreigners, Aleksandr feels that Hangzhou and the West Lake reflects the beauty of China to the utmost.
From the bottom of his heart, Aleksandr has strong affection for China and its people. He said, "I'm really impressed by the efforts that the Chinese people have made in the development of their country. I can feel their devotion and enthusiasm for work, which inspires me to appreciate my work, my life, and also my love for China. I love the place where I live and work very much. I'm very grateful to the Chinese government and Zhejiang Yingjia Industry and Trade Co Ltd, which have given me an opportunity and a great experience to work and live in China!"
Aleksandr often shares photos and videos with his friends abroad to help them learn more about China and see the country's beauty and development. Not long ago, he also participated in the launching ceremony for the Jinhua Legal Information Center for Foreigners and became a volunteer to help foreigners understand Chinese laws concerning them.
Currently, Aleksandr and Yeliena have their own careers and friends in Jinhua and Wuyi, and they are fully integrated into their lives. They not only plan to let Ivan grow up in Jinhua, but also bring their parents to live here. Both of Aleksandr's parents are engineers. They don't travel much like Yeliena's parents do and haven't been to China yet.
"Even if I can't talk my parents into it as they are not especially willing to leave their home, Yeliena's parents would be more than willing to live the rest of their lives in Jinhua," he said.
Text and photo by Xu Ying, translated by Zhang Jiajia, edited by Kendra Fiddler