Monday, May 12, 2014

Kenyan young man embarks on aeronautic dream in China

BEIJING, May 9 (Xinhua) -- Verifying a friend request through WeChat, a Chinese version of WhatsApp Messenger, on a black Chinese Xiaomi smartphone, David Gerald Kyalo appears more Chinese than others here in the way he lives his life.

He likes rice and speaks Chinese. He has been to many places in China, among which, he was particularly impressed by Inner Mongolia, where the prairie is reminiscent of his hometown.

He is a 22-year-old Kenyan student studying at BeiHang University (formerly known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, or BUAA) in the Chinese capital of Beijing, one of China's top universities and renowned for such disciplines as aeronautics, astronautics and engineering.

"My dream was to be a pilot," David told Xinhua in fairly fluent Chinese. "But only Chinese students are allowed to be pilots here in China, so I chose to study aircraft design instead."

The young man first came to the country to study four years ago. After one year's language training in northeast Changchun, he then officially started his campus life in Beijing.

Asked if he had a Chinese name, he replied with a smile, "It is simply Dawei, translated from my English name David as pronounced." The name was given to him by his Chinese teacher, he said, and at first he took "Da" for the surname and "Wei" for the first name, as opposed to English names.

"When I realized I was wrong and the whole part was just the first name without a family name, it was too late to correct it," he laughed. "So that was it."

It was not on impulse that he decided to pursue his studies in China. His interest was piqued as early as elementary school, when one day he happened to come across a copy of a Chinese calendar and was enchanted by the Chinese characters, which looked so unique and different from the Swahili and English alphabets.

"That was the first time I had developed an interest in Chinese," he recalled.

"Learning aircraft technologies in Chinese is like killing two birds with one stone," he said, quoting a famous Chinese four-word idiom with ease. "You can both learn the technology and improve your Chinese."

He was also one of the lucky ones to win a scholarship granted by the Chinese government. Each year, about 50 Kenyan students come to study in China on scholarship, he said, and a few others study at their own expense.

A growing number of students in Kenya are learning Chinese as the language and culture gain popularity there. To work with the trend, China has opened three Confucius Institutes in Kenya, and China Radio International has launched a Chinese-learning radio program called Confucius Classroom to teach listeners everyday expressions.

Majoring in science using a second language is no easy task. Every day he is busy rushing from one lecture to another and it is commonly around midnight before he goes to sleep. With three courses per day on average and difficult and highly professional content, he has to work really hard.

Despite the toil of hitting the books and attending lectures, he also enjoys his spare time: eating out with his friends, going to the theater, traveling for sightseeing and even watching Chinese television plays.

"I love Chinese noodles and rice, we eat rice in my hometown too," he said. While he has not had any problem adapting to Chinese cuisine, Chinese liquor, however, seems too strong for him. When he toured around the country, he was often invited to a dinner at which drinking liquor is seemingly a must. Though knowing that it is a traditional way of showing hospitality in China, he still can't get used to it.

In the past four years, he has been to more than 10 cities, mostly in northern China, including Changchun, Shenyang, Tianjin and Qingdao, but his favorite destination is Yichang, a city located next to the Three Gorges Dam in central China.

"The Chinese proverb goes that he who doesn't reach the Great Wall is not a true man, but I prefer to say those who fail to reach the Three Gorges is not a hero," he said, bursting into laughter.

With only a year left before graduation, he seems to be open to all possibilities and hasn't yet made the final call as to where to go next. He intends to stay if a good job opportunity is presented, but if not, he says he will probably return to his homeland. Going to graduate school would also be an alternative, he added.

"After these four years of studying and living here, I have made China my second hometown," he explained.

As more and more Chinese enterprises go to invest and launch projects in Kenya, having a brilliant command of the Chinese language would certainly be a plus in applying to Chinese-funded companies.

According to the Chinese Embassy in Kenya, most of these projects are infrastructure construction, building road and housing projects, power transformation, oil pipeline construction and airport expansion.

At the beginning of 2014, the China Road and Bridge Corporation started a new project: a high-speed railway stretching from Kenyan capital Nairobi to the port at Mombasa, the country's second largest city.

The project, with a Chinese investment of 5.2 billion U.S. dollars, is to be completed at the end of 2017. By then, it will only take four hours, just one third of the current ride time, to travel between the two cities.

The number of Chinese visitors traveling to Africa has also grown over the past years, as a result of which an increasing number of local tourism companies have sprung up in Kenya. Those capable of speaking Chinese could choose to become tour guides.

Asked his expectations for the future of the China-Kenya relationship, David said he was looking to see more dynamic exchanges between the two countries. China has better technologies, from which Kenya can learn, and investment in Kenya in turn brings benefits to Chinese corporations, he said.

He also voiced hope that Kenyan students studying in China, who have mastered technological knowhow, can be mobilized to get involved in building their own country.

"Currently there is no aircraft design company in Africa except for South Africa. Perhaps when I finish my study, I could start up one with my friends in my country. Who knows?" he grinned.

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