HANGZHOU, June 6 (Xinhua) -- Mohannad Shalabi has come a long way from being a struggling migrant worker to being recognized by Chinese President Xi Jinping as a shining example of China-Arab cooperation.
When the 36-year-old Jordanian came to south China to seek work 14 years ago, his dream was to have his own restaurant like his uncle did.
Initially, Mohannad labored in his uncle's fledgling restaurant in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, barely making ends meet.
"I only made some 300 U.S. dollars a month," he said. "My earnings were all eaten by my expenses."
Despite obstacles, he began to settle in Guangzhou, where he would meet and marry his wife, Liu Fang, a Muslim hailing from east China. They tied the knot in 2001.
As Mohannad's uncle's catering business took off, the older man decided in 2002 to expand by opening a chain restaurant in Yiwu City in the eastern province of Zhejiang. Mohannad and Liu first managed it on his uncle's behalf then took it over themselves two years later.
One of the few Arabian restaurants in Yiwu, the small business, Aqsa, named after the renowned Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, was an instant lure for many Arabs in the locality, and managed to earn a good reputation as well as a surging number of customers.
But it was not roses all the way. In 2008, the financial crisis sent shockwave through the wholesale economy for which Yiwu is known, and the couple came close to bankruptcy.
After narrowly coming through the crisis, they gave the restaurant a complete reshuffle by changing chefs, the menu and the name from Aqsa to Flower, hoping to attract a more diverse range of diners.
It seems that the hard work has paid off, as the couple not only have their own popular restaurant, but also operate a foreign trade company that sells a variety of goods.
Amid twists and turns in the past decade, Mohannad has not returned home once, as he "needed to work hard enough in China to live a better life."
"My mother and two brothers often come to China to help with the business here in Yiwu, which I am truly grateful for," he told Xinhua.
Now with the loving wife, two young kids, friends and a good business, Mohannad said, "My dreams to make it in China have come true." He plans to buy a house in Yiwu to settle down.
Mohannad's story has inspired many. President Xi praised the young man's diligence in his address on Thursday at the opening ceremony of the sixth ministerial conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing.
"I hope more people like me will grasp opportunities and make it here in this wonderful land," Mohannad said.