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Even though I was told before the interview that Mustafa Noyan Rona of Turkey could speak very good Chinese, I was still surprised at his fluent Mandarin occasionally mixed with Beijing and Shanghai dialects when I met him. Rona began to learn Chinese in 1978, a year of great significance to China, when Deng Xiaoping proposed the reform and opening up policy, which resulted in a waterfall of reform and vitality. But Rona never expected such momentous changes to be influential on his life.
“I attended my first Chinese class in September 1978,” Rona revealed. “I heard the news about China’s reform and opening up, but had no idea what it really meant.” He was studying Turkish history in college at the time. During his studies, he became fascinated by the discovery that ancestors of the Turks once lived in northern China. “At first, I just wanted to learn Turkish history, and its early chapters are intertwined with Chinese history and written in Chinese. So I started studying Chinese,” he continued. At that time, his friends and family were surprised by his decision, but they now see it with admiration. “Back then, my dream was like everyone else: study hard, get into a prestigious university, get a master’s degree and find a good job. But my dreams became richer along with China, whose development has exceeded my every expectation.”
In 1982, Rona graduated from the Sinology Department of Ankara University with top scores, and became one of the first government-sponsored students to go to China. He received a master’s degree from the History Department of Wuhan University in 1986. With China more open, Turkey needed people who knew about China, so Rona was hired by the Turkish Embassy in Beijing. “At that time, China was just becoming more connected to foreign countries, so I always had a lot of work at the embassy,” Rona recalled. “In 1995, the Turkish President visited China. As a translator, I accompanied him to Shanghai and Xi’an.” After the visit, the Turkish government decided to establish a consulate in Shanghai, and Rona was appointed deputy consul.
“My job in the Shanghai consulate was an official one, which removed me from the local community and left me with only minimal contact with ordinary people.” In the 1990s, more foreign banks were granted access to invest in China. In 1999, Turkish GarantiBank opened an office in Shanghai. Rona left the consulate and headed to the bank to serve as a trade negotiation representative and consultant, which also helped him become more integrated with the local community.