Now the 23-year-old is in Beijing trying to get to grips with
He wants to study the language so in future he can help his
parents with their business selling birds' nests that are used
to make soup.
"I hope to help the business expand and deal with Chinese
people from all over the world," he said.
Thousands of other foreigners are also flocking to China in
increasing numbers to learn Mandarin.
Many believe the country's economic boom will continue, and
say knowing Chinese is not only interesting in itself but will
help them find interesting and lucrative jobs.
In 2004, a record 110,844 students from 178 countries had
enrolled at Chinese universities, according to official
Chinese newswire Xinhua. That was a 43% increase on 2003.
In addition, more than 30 million people are currently
studying Mandarin abroad, the newswire said.
Last July, the government-sponsored first World Chinese
Conference was held in Beijing with the aim of promoting
Chinese language teaching.
Mavis Li, from the privately-run Beijing Mandarin School,
said the sector had been helped by China's entry into the
World Trade Organization and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which
had encouraged people to seek lessons on their own, and
companies to send their employees to study Mandarin.
"Most of our students come from Europe and North America,
but in the last three or four years more are coming from Asia,
South America and Africa," she said.
"China is a huge market; foreigners come for business and
need to learn Chinese for work. More people are interested in
this ancient and modern, marvelous and mysterious country;
many believe they can have an adventure here."
To tap into that market, language schools are sprouting up
across the capital, their advertisements appearing by the
dozen in English-language magazines.
Taiwanese journalist Yu Senlun was recently commissioned by
a Barcelona-based international language school to research
the possibility of opening a branch in Beijing.
She found that it is a tough market to break into as there
is already fierce competition.
"According to the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a
Foreign Language, there are 400 universities in China offering
Chinese language classes. The office estimated that in
Beijing, there are at least 30 universities and more than 50
She said the supply of schools teaching Mandarin exceeds
the number of expatriates wanting to learn in Beijing, but she
thinks more foreigners can be attracted to the Chinese capital
Many institutions have been waking up to this idea and are
recruiting overseas students by holding educational
exhibitions abroad and linking up with foreign universities.
Pang Ming, deputy director of the International Programme
Department at Beijing Union University (BUU), said her
institution had 100 foreign students in September 2000. Four
years later, it had 177, and by the autumn of 2005, it had
Of this current batch, 39% came from Indonesia and 31% from
South Korea, with the rest from various countries including
Japan, Thailand and Britain.