Verses on doors and walls, family gatherings, red envelopes, red lanterns, and holidays…. Do they sound familiar?
You might have got it right that the Spring Festival is coming soon. For most of us, we used to travel a lot before the pandemic. In fact, it was during the Chinese New Year back in 2020, that Gentian Qejvanaj came to Madagascar as a tourist. Due to the pandemic, however, he could not come back to China, so he decided to do some volunteer work to the local students.
"I felt like doing something for China when the outside support was really needed so that Chinese people would know that they were not alone in this battle", Gentian told us when we asked him about how he got the idea. It was after 7 years of living in Hangzhou that he found himself not being able to come back to his "second home" in February 2020. However, despite the 10,000 kilometers distance, Gentian still had his heart with China and found the best way to give his support.
In the small village of Ampefy, Gentian was volunteering as an English teacher to 350 primary school students. He taught his students how to write the characters "加油中国!" as a sign of solidarity, which later on was caught on by the media. The heartwarming message was also accompanied with him informing the local people on how the epidemic was being dealt with, so to dispel a growing local fear of it.
This inspired and warmed the hearts of his friends in China, who sent money to help the local people as well. "Everything started randomly, but it ended becoming a big adventure." And Gentian is nothing short of an adventurer. In fact, Madagascar was not Gentian's first adventure, and definitely not the last.
Gentian was born in Italy and went to Belgium to study. A few years later he earned a scholarship to pursue his Masters' and later his Phd in Zhejiang University. Today still, seven years after his graduation, Gentian keeps a close relationship with the university as a partnering scholar. In Hangzhou, Gentian was dubbed "the Running Man" as he started running marathons in Hangzhou and training around the West Lake. While running was a hobby that he has always loved, he decided to take competitions more seriously after his first race in 2014.
Throughout those years, China represented so many opportunities for Gentian, so he decided to stay. Moreover, he grew the habit of running every morning, regularly taking parts in marathons around China, riding his bicycle and visiting different provinces. So far, he has been in every province but 6 in China, and plans to check all of them this year. In fact, he even plans a bike ride from Hangzhou to Hainan during the Chinese New Year.
Today, Gentian has started his own media company to enrich the relationship between China and Europe. He also partners with Zhejiang University as a scholar in order to stay in the academic world. However, the greatest link between Gentian and Hangzhou would undoubtedly be the West Lake. In fact, up until today, he still runs every morning around the Lake. The site might have been an inspiration for poets and painters throughout the Chinese history for its natural beauty and history. But today, the West Lake represents more than that, for Chinese and foreigners alike. For Gentian, running around the West Lake represents "a daily treat".