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HANGZHOU, May 29 (Xinhua) -- A Swiss 26-year-old has followed in the footsteps of one of the world's greatest explorers by being named a "Modern Marco Polo and Doctor of Hangzhou."
Liam Bates is currently on his first engagement in a position requiring him to do like Polo and promote east China's Zhejiang Province and its capital of Hangzhou around the world. He was chosen from thousands of candidates after a year-long competition run by the Hangzhou Tourism Commission concluded last week.
For the next 12 months, Bates will post stories of his travels around Zhejiang on social media like Facebook and Twitter in English, earning a salary of 40,000 euro (55,500 U.S. dollars).
His credentials are solid. He first came to China on his own at the age of 16 and has studied kung fu, cross talk, and Chinese music. Also going by the Chinese name Li Mu, he speaks fluent Chinese and in 2010 won top prize in televised language contest "Chinese Bridge." He has since worked as a television host.
To start his new job, he was given a free 15-day trip to Hangzhou and its surrounding cities to retrace Polo's route along the Grand Canal, the world's longest artificial waterway.
Hanghzou featured prominently in Polo's experience of China in the 13th century. The Italian was overwhelmed by the city, and referred to it as "beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world." His reaction aroused an enduring desire among Europeans to see Hanghzou for themselves.
PASSIONS AND CHALLENGES
Bates' tour has already taken in Yongfu Temple and Chinese tea tastings.
Bates loves Chinese tea and admitted that the tasting was far more interesting for him than wandering around the temple.
The Modern Marco Polo should be helped by this identification with what facets of China are most interesting to foreigners today.
Tea appreciation is in many ways similar to that of wine in his home country, Bates explained. For him, tea is a better representation of Chinese culture and of more appeal to foreigners than traditionally popular China icons like calligraphy.
While Bates loves visiting China's many sites, being plucked from his comfortable TV job will have its challenges. He is expected to make more than 50 posts on social media during the 15-day trip, so he has to constantly be inspired by what he sees and come up with ideas.
Hangzhou is not as well known internationally as Beijing and Shanghai. "It is difficult to introduce the place to foreigners," Bates noted.
He picked one example. "Many Chinese told me Hangzhou is renowned for its West Lake. But Swiss people have access to thousands of beautiful lakes, so they're unlikely to show any interest in the West Lake."
Rather than place all his focus on famous sites then, he plans to cherry pick things about Hangzhou and Zhejiang's lifestyle and culture that will be charming in the eyes of foreigners.
"Through only a few words and photos, I want to share some special details with people of the world online," he said. "If they are interested in them, they will keep forwarding my posts so that Hangzhou becomes more known."
Bates, who has the account "Modern-Day Marco Polo - Liam Bates" on Facebook and Twitter, also noted how lucky he is to have modern social networking platforms, where as the original Polo only had books.
MODERN MARCO POLO'S INSIGHT
Bates believes other Chinese cities can learn from Hangzhou's promotional strategy.
He also suggested the city government make every effort to improve travel services to attract more foreigners.
"There is much room for improvement in tourism facilities and service level," he said, taking the absence of English signs in many Chinese train stations and scenic spots as an example.
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