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Cheng Fu Qiang and his wife Shou Qi Chao at their residence in The International City in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Last year during the Golden Jubilee celebrations of UAE at the Chinese Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai, UAE residents were treated to one of the most amazing renditions of the UAE national anthem. Around 80 Chinese expatriates stood waving the UAE flag, singing the UAE national anthem with perfect pronunciation, melody and rhythm. Leading the choir was Cheng Fu Qiang, businessman and chairman of the Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce in the UAE.

For Cheng, 59, it was the best way he could express his love for the UAE, his home for 30 years. He had convinced a group of 80 of his countrymen to participate in a melodious tribute to the UAE, wrote the UAE anthem phonetically in Chinese script for all the participants to get the pronunciation right. He then rehearsed with them for a month to perform it to perfection.

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Cheng, now a successful businessman, said he visited Abu Dhabi in 1993 on an official trip. Then 28 years old, he was an employee of the Chinese government. Image Credit: Supplied

It was in 1993 that Cheng first visited the UAE.

The charm of the UAE, warmth of the land and the great business potential inspired him to adopt UAE as his second home at a time when there were fewer than 1,000 people from China living in the UAE.

Sharing his fascinating story with Gulf News, Cheng, now a successful businessman, said he visited Abu Dhabi in 1993 on an official trip. Then 28 years old, he was an employee of the Chinese government.

‘I realised the great business potential UAE had’

“I earned a very modest salary in those days. When I was sent to Abu Dhabi on an official visit, I stayed in the UAE capital for 15 days and was charmed by the place. After my work was over, I undertook a trip to Dubai and returned to do business here,” Cheng recalled.

He continued: “On my very first day in Abu Dhabi as a businessman, I sold cigarette lighters from China at a local supermarket and earned Dh78. The next day, I made Dh320, selling sunglasses. On the third day, I made Dh700. I realised that the UAE had a great demand for Chinese goods and great potential for business. Therefore, although I hardly spoke any English and there was just one single Chinese restaurant in those days, I chose to move to Dubai. Since 1993, the UAE has been my second home and I am so glad I made the move.”

Business expansion on demand

What started as a modest business grew in leaps and bounds as Cheng always had his ears to the ground. Also, his Emirati friends gave him an idea of the market demands, he said.

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Cheng Fu Qiang with his family back in the day. Image Credit: Supplied

Recalling one particular business deal, Cheng said: “This was soon after the success of the movie ‘Titanic’. One of my Emirati friends requested me to import a 50cm miniature replica of the famous ship. When the piece arrived, he liked the attention to detail so much that he ordered many more. Soon, requests for the replica kept pouring in. This time, my friend suggested that if I could somehow incorporate the famous title song from the film into the miniature replica, it would be something unique. The idea appealed to me and I went back to China and worked towards introducing this musical feature in the replica. The product turned out to be a rage. It was such a hit that I shipped more than 20 containers a month of this miniature. I have always been close to the Emirati community and other nationalities and tried to gauge their needs.”

After Cheng got married, he asked his wife, Shou Qi Chao, to move to Dubai from Shanghai and help run his expanding business.

From miniature ships to giant chandeliers

Shou said: “By the time I arrived in Dubai, my husband had diversified his business from small utility items to home linen, towels and furnishings. Sensing a demand for items of home decor, we moved into providing hotel furnishings, items for interior decoration, chandeliers etc to four and five star hotels all across the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.”

At home in the UAE

Cheng and Shou love the UAE and feel completely at home here. Shou attributed this to the love and encouragement he and his community received from the Rulers of the UAE. “Our community has grown because we feel very welcome here. We are able to celebrate our culture and festivals here with enthusiasm and do business.”

Shou added that she never felt homesick as she had so much of Chinese culture around her. “Our community has grown manifold in UAE. From just 1,000 Chinese people in UAE in 1993, today we are a thriving community of more than 300,000. We have so much of a Chinese ‘feel’ at International City in Dubai that we do not miss home. Near our villa, we have about two hot-pot restaurants and hundreds of restaurants offering specialised provincial cuisines. We are spoilt for choice. We intend to continue living here for a long time,” she added.

Cheng and Shou recently asked their 28-year-old daughter, Cheng Jing Yi, aka Alia, to join them.

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Cheng Fu Qiang with his wife Shou Qi Chao and daughter Cheng Jing Yi. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Alia arrived from Shanghai a week ago and has since secured admission to a popular UK university for business studies. Cheng is confident that his daughter, who hardly speaks any English, will pick up the language here. “My daughter, who lived with her grandparents in Shanghai, often came to the UAE for her vacations. When she was barely a year old, my Emirati friends named her Alia and that has stuck. I am confident that Alia will settle well and pick up English within a few months, like I did, and help me with my business. We intend to be in the UAE for as long as we can. This place has welcomed us with open arms,” Cheng explained.

Giving back to UAE society

The couple, overwhelmed by their success, said they get involved in various charitable initiatives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they distributed free masks to the community. They also distributed food packets, especially in labour camps.

“We distributed more than 9,000 food packets each month across labour camps during COVID 19 for two years. Also, during every Eid, I make it a point to distribute at least 15,000 food packets to blue-collar workers. The UAE has given me so much and it is my turn to give back to my second home, said Cheng.