Andre Ivanov, a 57-year-old Russian man, is enjoying life in the southern Chinese resort city of Sanya, where he has settled down with a family and built up a successful travel agency.
Ivanov came to Sanya back in 1994, a time when few other foreigners even knew of the south China island province of Hainan.
The breathtaking tropical seashore grabbed hold of his imagination, and he saw a golden opportunity in the tourism industry.
"At that time, I made up my mind to become a successful businessman in the tourism industry and wanted to introduce Russian tourists to Sanya," said Ivanov.
An affinity for China and Chinese culture had taken hold well before he had ever set foot in Hainan.
"I took Chinese courses to study the language and Chinese culture when I entered Moscow University in 1973, and my interest in the amazing country just grew," he said.
His wife, Dong Xia, is another reason he decided to develop his career here.
The two met at a party in 1993 in Russia, then spent the entire afternoon chatting in Chinese.
Dong was nothing but supportive when Ivanov told her about his ambitions to develop his own career in Sanya after one trip there.
"I supported his suggestion and wanted to help him expand the tourism market, so I left Moscow for Sanya to seek opportunities," Dong recalled.
The couple married in Sanya in 1996, then embarked on a journey to realize their shared dream.
But developing the tourism market in then-underdeveloped Sanya proved no easy task.
In the beginning, the lovebirds made ends meet by working in hotel management in Sanya from 1995 to 1997, while they investigated the local tourism market.
"We had to work for others to accumulate money to open a travel agency specially designed for Russian tourists," said Dong.
At the time, few Russian tourists knew of Sanya, so the couple promoted the city's tourism through Ivanov's friends in the border trading business in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.
Ivanov joined an international travel agency in Sanya in 1996, and the big moment in his career came a year later, when he and his colleagues were able to bring in over 100 tourists from Siberia to Sanya on a chartered flight.
In 1998, Ivanov and Dong opened their travel agency in Sanya, which was the first of its kind to introduce Russian tourists to the city.
Their good management and hard work finally paid off, and soon the number of Russian tourists registering at their agency started growing noticeably.
The number of Russian tourists contacting their agency has reached over 10,000 annually.
"Currently, an increasing number of Russian tourists are coming here to do business, work or relax, which gives me the chance to make more money in the tourism market," Ivanov said.
According to statistics from the Tourism and Development Commission of Sanya (TDCS), the total number of Russian tourists visiting Sanya exceeded 10,000 in 2004 and grew to about 190,000 in 2012.
Ivanov was honored with the national Friendship Award in 2010 for his contributions to promoting Sanya to Russians since 1994.
"I will continue to expand our services in the tourism market, not only for Russian tourists but for those from other countries," Ivanov said.
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