Watch: From selling lighters to landing a ‘Titanic’ bargain, Chinese couple are hugely successful in the UAE
Dubai: Last year, during the UAE Golden Jubilee celebrations at the China Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, residents of the UAE were treated to one of the most stunning interpretations of the national anthem of the United Arab Emirates. Around 80 Chinese expats waved the UAE flag, singing the UAE national anthem with perfect pronunciation, melody and rhythm. Leading the choir was Cheng Fu Qiang, a businessman and president of the Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce in the United Arab Emirates.
For Cheng, 59, it was the best way to express his love for the United Arab Emirates, his homeland for 30 years. He had convinced a group of 80 of his compatriots to participate in a melodious tribute to the United Arab Emirates, wrote the anthem of the United Arab Emirates phonetically in Chinese characters so that all participants got the correct pronunciation. He then rehearsed with them for a month to interpret it to perfection.
It was in 1993 that Cheng first visited the United Arab Emirates.
The charm of the UAE, the warmth of the land and the great business potential inspired him to adopt the UAE as his second home at a time when less than 1,000 Chinese lived 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 realized the great business potential of the UAE”
“I earned a very modest salary at the time. When I was sent to Abu Dhabi on an official visit, I stayed in the capital of the United Arab Emirates for 15 days and was charmed by the place. After my work was done, I took a trip to Dubai and came back to do business here,” Cheng recalls.
He continued, “On my very first day in Abu Dhabi as a businessman, I sold China lighters in a local supermarket and made Dh78. The next day, I made 320 Dh selling sunglasses. On the third day, I earned 700 Dh. I realized that the United Arab Emirates had a great demand for Chinese products and great business potential. Therefore, even though I barely spoke English and there was only one Chinese restaurant at that time, I chose to move to Dubai. Since 1993, the United Arab Emirates has been my second home and I am delighted to have moved. »
On-demand business expansion
What started as a small business grew by leaps and bounds as Cheng always had his ears to the ground. Moreover, his Emirati friends gave him an idea of market demands, he said.
Recalling one particular business deal, Cheng said, “It was shortly after the success of the movie ‘Titanic’. An Emirati friend of mine asked me to import a 50cm miniature replica of the famous ship. When the part arrived, he loved 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 movie into the miniature replica, it would be something unique. The idea appealed to me and I went back to China and worked on introducing this musical feature into the replica. The product turned out to be a rage. It was such a hit that I shipped over 20 containers a month of this miniature. I have always been close to the Emirati community and other nationalities and tried to assess their needs.
After his marriage, Cheng asked his wife, Shou Qi Chao, to move to Dubai from Shanghai and help run his growing business.
From miniature boats to giant chandeliers
Shou said: “By the time I arrived in Dubai, my husband had diversified his business from small utility items to linens, towels and furniture. Sensing a demand for home decor items, we started supplying hotel furniture, home decor items, chandeliers, etc. to four and five star hotels throughout the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
At home in the UAE
Cheng and Shou love the United Arab Emirates and feel completely at home there. Shou attributed this to the love and encouragement he and his community have received from the leaders of the United Arab Emirates. “Our community has grown because we feel very welcome here. We can celebrate our culture and festivals here with enthusiasm and do business.
Shou added that she never felt homesick because she had so much Chinese culture around her. “Our community has grown in the UAE. From just 1,000 Chinese in the UAE in 1993, we are now a thriving community of over 300,000 people. We have such a Chinese ‘feel’ at International City in Dubai that we there is no shortage of home. Near our villa we have about two hot pot restaurants and hundreds of restaurants offering specialty provincial cuisines. We are spoiled 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.
Alia arrived from Shanghai a week ago and has since gained admission to a popular British university for business studies. Cheng is confident that his daughter, who barely speaks English, will learn the language here. “My daughter, who lived with her grandparents in Shanghai, often came to the United Arab Emirates for her holidays. When she was barely a year old, my Emirati friends called her Alia and it stuck. I’m confident that Alia will settle in well and learn English in a few months, like I did, and help me with my business. We intend to be in the UAE for as long as possible. This place welcomed us with open arms,” Cheng explained.
Giving back to UAE society
The couple, overwhelmed by their success, said they are involved in various charitable initiatives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they distributed free masks to the community. They also distributed food parcels, especially in the labor camps.
“We have distributed more than 9,000 food packets every month in labor camps during COVID 19 for two years. Also, during each Eid, I make it a point to distribute at least 15,000 food parcels to blue collar workers. The UAE has given me so much and it’s my turn to give back to my second home, Cheng said.