Across China: Farmwife's dedication to language learning pulls her out of poverty

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Over the past two decades, Xu continued learning and practicing. Since English is her second language, Xu is now learning her third, fourth and even tenth language, studying languages such as French, Spanish, Japanese and German as foreign visitors from all around the world pour in.

Xu's ambition to learn English began in the late 1970s when Yangshuo became the country's first tourist destinations to welcome foreign visitors after China's reform and opening up in 1978.

NANNING, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) -- How many languages can you say "hello" in? Xu Xiuzhen, 74, nicknamed "Mama Moon" by foreign tourists, who hails from Yangshuo County in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, can exchange greetings in over 10 languages.

"Yangshuo was included on a high-speed rail line in early 2016. I have been considering taking a trip once business cools off during the off-peak season," said Xu. "I couldn't even think of it 40 years ago."

Practice makes perfect. In 1998, Xu was bringing in a stable income of 1000 to 10000 yuan per month working as an English guide, and her sales of water increased rapidly.

"I began to see more foreign faces near Mt. Moon, and locals who spoke some English sold more bottled water than me," said Xu. "No English, no money."

Meanwhile, more local villagers are encouraged by Xu to learn English and have tried to cash in on the booming tourism.

Recently, a video of her giving directions in English to several lost foreign passengers near Yangshuo's well-known Mt. Moon scenic area started trending on China's social media. People were amazed by Xu's self-taught English level.

Statistics show that Yangshuo received over 7.94 million visitors in the first half of 2018. The famous tourist destination is also seen by many a good place to practice English and other foreign languages.

"I used Pinyin to memorize the pronunciation of English words, but my strong southern accent made it quite difficult to understand," said Xu. "So, I turned to foreign visitors for help, and I always appreciate their feedback because they have helped me correct my word choice and pronunciation."

Xu eagerly joined the craze. At that time, she made a living on farming and occasionally sold bottled water to tourists near Mt. Moon.

With the influx of foreign guests in Yangshuo, a craze for learning English began to sweep the county where a large number of villagers sought opportunities given the booming tourism market.

Yangshuo County is best known for its otherworldly limestone karst outcroppings and picturesque rivers that appeared on China's 20-yuan notes.

It was in 1997 that Mama Moon had her first foreign guest, an Italian. She was paid 1000 yuan (over 7 U.S. dollars) for an hour-long guided tour in English. Before that, she would only earn seven to eight yuan per day selling vegetables of her farmland and a meager profit from selling bottled water to tourists.

This year marks the 1000th year since the founding of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Great changes have occurred in Yangshuo, a beautiful county of Guangxi that was thrust into the frontier of the country's opening-up 40 years ago.

Xu never stops learning, always keeping up with the changing world. In 2010, she opened a guest farmhouse with 22 rooms, allowing her to bring in an annual income of over 1000,000 yuan (29,000 U.S. dollars). She recently gained new skills, allowing her to put her farmhouse online and take online reservations and take mobile payments.

Xu's nickname "Mama Moon" is becoming familiar to more visitors and locals due to her inspiring story and her cheerful and friendly personality.