FROM Koro Island to China with love. If there are words to describe this unique international relation it might be these considering the courtesy Nacamaki villager Napolioni Likuveiqali has to give when meeting strangers for the first time.
Napolioni is probably the only local working at the Nadi International Airport Customs desk that can speak Mandarin language proficiently.
His work as a Customs officer with the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority (FRCA) in Nadi. Transiting and welcoming Chinese nationals onto our soil is really a gruesome affair as the language barrier is something that most government officers, airline and hotel personnel have to endure.
And when Air Pacific recently started its direct flight to Hong Kong coupled with the existing flights into Nadi from the Asian region by Korean Air, it became even more relevant that a local become proficient in Mandarin.
"Nobody was translating for us and it took time to process them. This was a build-up point where I started to look for places to learn Chinese.
"So when the scholarship from Chinese government was advertised in FRCA, I applied for it and specified the reasons why I wanted to undertake the course in China - that's why I had been selected for that short course," Napolioni says.
So off to Beijing he went to learn from the Beijing Language & Culture College, which is a school run by the country's Ministry of Commerce.
The institution houses government officials from foreign countries studying the Chinese language. Mandarin to be exact.
Mandarin is the main language used by Chinese the world over and considering China has the world's biggest population and economy, it pays to know the language.
"I like the Chinese characters (alphabets); it simplifies their culture. The way the Chinese write portrays their culture. For example the word 'rest'. If we look at it properly, it looks like a man resting under a tree or leaning on a tree, so that's why their characters are so unique in their own way — it becomes an important part of their culture," Napolioni says.
While in China, he also came to appreciate the country's rich cultural heritage like its folk literature, music, dance, traditional drama, various art forms like fine arts, craftsmanship, medicine and opera.
This passion and appreciation of the Chinese language has been directly translated into the customer service that Napolioni is now providing on behalf of his Customs Department and the whole of Fiji - also because he's the first person visitors from the Asian continent would come across at the airport upon arrival.
Meanwhile, Airports Fiji Limited has seconded him to do a welcoming speech over the airport's public address system — in Chinese.
"Airport Fiji does their own welcoming announcement in English before they asked me to do the Chinese version on their behalf which I'm doing at the moment for every Korean Air and Air Pacific flight from Hong Kong.
"Imagine three flights in a week by Korean Air connecting from China mainland and two flights a week by Air Pacific connecting from Hong Kong.
"Even the Air Pacific flight from Hong Kong (which) always has their in-flight translator, who is a Chinese national, had congratulated me about my speaking Chinese.
"I also received calls from other stakeholder to thank me for doing Chinese translation."
Napolioni is currently compiling training manuals with the National Training and Productivity Centre staff in Nadi, to assist FRCA staff in learning Mandarin.
Considering that Mandarin is said to be the language of the future, Napolioni shared similar sentiments saying it's a language spoken by 1.2 billion people in mainland China and many other important places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore and Malaysia.
"We should try and understand their language because of the Chinese impact on global economy. China's growing economy played a very significant role in the world's economy.
"It's decision to join the World Trade Organisation has not only helped its country to prosper but also made a great contribution to world economic development.
"Our financial association with China provides Fiji good footing in the Pacific and global arena — it could prove to be possible growth contributors," Napolioni says.
Work aside, Napolioni is also planning to further his studies on the Chinese language and culture.