Viviana Cardozo with her children around the old town of Changting, Fujian Province (COURTESY PHOTO)
You never know what fate has in store for you, which is especially true in the case of Viviana Cardozo who, after more than 15 years in China, has become quite the celebrity in Fujian Province, southeast China.
It's hard to imagine how Cardozo, originally from Argentina, ended up in Changting, a small riverside county on the edge of Fujian. It all started in late 2004, when she met her future husband, Yang Cong, or Pablo, in an evangelical church of the Chinese community in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.
Although they only met once a week, this was enough for Pablo to notice her and make the first move.
By late 2006, a year after the couple had started dating, Cardozo became pregnant with their first child. Pablo had not been back to China since 1999, so the arrival of their offspring offered up the perfect opportunity to take a trip back to his hometown in Changting and, incidentally, for the paternal grandparents to meet their grandson. "I had a tourist visa that was valid for six months, since I thought we were going to return to Argentina in that period," Cardozo said.
However, fate had something else in store for the young family of three. "As the months went by, I integrated more and more into the family and I liked the place, the landscapes, the people and their culture," Cardozo explained.
Changting is located in the middle of an idyllic landscape. However, the distance and the cultural differences were some of the things that weighed on her the most. "At first it was very difficult for me and the uprooting was hard," she said. "Technology made communication easier and seeing my relatives [in Argentina] through video calls eased the distance a bit, although it is not the same as receiving hugs and being present."
Little by little, and especially thanks to the kindness of her in-laws, for whom Cardozo is deeply grateful, things started looking up. For example, just one week after landing, her father-in-law took her to a bookstore, where he bought a stack of children's books. "I thought they were for my son, but then when I got home, we started my Chinese classes. Thanks to this, I learned the language from the ground up, and everything I know today I owe to my in-laws and their great patience," the Buenos Aires native confessed.
Over time, Cardozo became more and more involved in her new home away from home. She worked side by side with her husband at their bakery, and by 2012, the couple had set up shops in five locations. Yet a latent dream lingered... "Pablo had always wanted to have a big, traditional wedding, as is customary in his hometown," she recalled. However, her in-laws felt that this would be frowned upon in the community as the couple already had a child.
It was the year 2016 when a call took them by surprise. They were contacted by state broadcaster China Central Television, which had taken an interest in their story for its Foreigners in China program. "I always watched that show, but I never imagined being on television," Cardozo said. However, what moved her most was the fact that finally, after 10 years together, they tied the knot publicly. Not only before the eyes of Pablo's closest family and friends, but before those of thousands of viewers.
The Hundred Pots Feast, a local folk custom celebrating good fortune, is underway in a village in Changting County, Fujian Province, on February 21 (XINHUA)
An exemplary family
Today, the couple has three children. They sold their bakeries a while ago, but now own a Korean restaurant that has become popular among young people especially. And that's not all. They have become a "role-model family."
"In 2006, I came to this small county and from the beginning it was easy to establish a friendship with my neighbors, since they are very friendly people," Cardozo said, adding, "I always did what I could." When she encountered senior residents in difficult situations, for example, she'd assist them directly or contact their relatives. These actions, especially from an expat, were highly valued by the local community. And so it came to be that in 2015, they were awarded the title of "role-model family" of the town of Tingzhou under the jurisdiction of Changting and later also of the county of Changting, the city of Longyan that administers Changting, and Fujian in the years 2017, 2019 and 2021, respectively.
Because of all these merits, as well as her other contributions to tourism promotion, the local government of Changting appointed Cardozo as a tourism ambassador.
There are many things that the Argentinian loves about Changting. "It is very difficult to choose just one because it is full of charm that makes each person who visits fall in love with it," she said, while highlighting the kindness of its residents. "People are honest, hard-working, kind, generous and always willing to help."
Today, Cardozo, coming from a country some 19,000 km away and barely able to mumble a few words in Chinese when she first landed in China more than a decade ago, has become a role model for her community and a true promoter of the town that has accepted her. Her affection for China is immense, but her love for Argentina hasn't faded either. For that same reason, she wants her children to fully immerse themselves in the Latin American culture and language, and, in this way, continue working for cooperation and friendship between peoples.
(Print Edition Title: A Twist of Fate)
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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