Feature: Argentina's national stone serves as bridge to China

Source: Xinhua| 2019-02-12 13:00:00|Editor: Yang Yi
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by Victoria Arguello

BUENOS AIRES, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- For young Buenos Aires native Nazeli Berberian, Argentina's national stone, the rose-colored rhodochrosite, has served as a bridge to China.

From a small shop that sells semiprecious stones in Argentina's capital, Berberian recounts how the pink-hued mineral stone's popularity among Chinese tourists helped build a lasting bond between her and the Asian giant.

Berberian, who is of Armenian descent, noticed that Chinese visitors had a keen interest in the rare stone mined in northwest Argentina's Catamarca province.

A little more than 10 years ago, she recalls, small groups of Chinese business travelers began to arrive in the city, and some made their way to the shop.

"They were interested in our products. They loved the colors, the variety, and especially uncut stones in the rough. They really wanted to see in what state the stone came from the mountain," said Berberian.

These initial encounters aroused her interest in China, its culture and its language.

"The first sentence I tried to speak in Chinese was 'Welcome, our products are of the highest quality,'" she said.

"I would ask Chinese tourists if they could write it for me and help me to pronounce it," she said. "That phrase was what broke the ice."

Chinese interest in the stone and its origins gradually led to greater cultural integration between Argentina and China.

"I realized that to get closer to their culture I had to begin to study Chinese," she said.

In the summer of 2010, Berberian and a friend who worked at an airline decided to enroll in the Confucius Institute of Buenos Aires.

After studying Mandarin for eight hours a week for two years, Berberian got a scholarship to continue her language studies at China's Heilongjiang University, in the northeastern city of Harbin.

"At Heilongjiang University, I also gave English and Spanish classes to Chinese students," deepening the cultural ties between the two regions, said Berberian.

"I had contact with China's language, its geography and its culture over a period of more than six months. When I returned, what was most notable was all of the knowledge I came back with," she said.

Today, Berberian is a member of the Argentina-China Association of ex-Scholarship Holders, which was created in 2017. She actively promotes events related to China-Argentina bilateral ties, as she promotes her country's craftsmanship and semiprecious stones. Combining her two passions, Berberian has designed figures in rhodochrosite to celebrate the Lunar New Year of the Pig.

As a businesswoman, she believes ties between Argentina and China have "all the potential to deepen" via their comprehensive strategic partnership.

"The diplomatic ties are there. The political ties are there too. Another important step was opening Confucius Institutes (there are two in Argentina) and granting scholarships," she said.

"The path forward is to reinforce and deepen them," said Berberian.

China's opening-up, she said, offers Argentina myriad opportunities in various sectors, from trade to education and culture.