From hand gestures to fluent Tamil, how this Chinese man at Little India flower stall wins over customers

Xie Dong with a customer at the flower shop in Little India, where he has been working for 14 years.
PHOTO: Screengrab/LianheZaobao

It's safe to say that many of us who watch foreign movies during our leisure time do so to unwind and take a break from work or school stress. 

38-year-old Xie Dong, however, is quite the opposite.

Xie Dong — who moved from Anhui province, China to Singapore some 14 years ago — works at a flower shop in Little India, and prior to this job had no knowledge of Tamil, which made it challenging for him to communicate with the Tamil-speaking clientele. 

To overcome this communication barrier, he decided to learn the language by watching Tamil movies.

When he first came here, he "did not understand anything at all" and was unable to even count up to five in English, much less in Tamil.

"I couldn't understand and speak [to the customers]. I only used hand gestures to communicate, which was similar to sign language," said Xie Dong in a short documentary feature by Lianhe Zaobao. 

This enterprising man decided to turn to watching movies to learn more about the language. 

"I watched (Tamil movies) every day, with Chinese subtitles. I watched every day ... and I also communicate with them (Tamil-speaking customers). About 80 per cent of them are Indians. So I learnt a bit of the language every day," he said. "Now I can speak the language."

Xie Dong also received help from his employer who taught him a little bit of the language everyday. 

Said his employer: "Initially he couldn't speak the language but I taught him slowly. Now he can speak it well. He also didn't know how to prepare the fresh flower garlands but now he can do it."

Now fluent in the language, Xie Dong is able to comfortably converse with his customers — even asking them about their well-being and making light-hearted small talk with them.

In the video, he can be seen wishing his customers a 'Happy Tamil New Year' with a smile on his face, speaking the language quite effortlessly. 

Xie Dong shared that he has since gained many loyal customers, and they'll only buy flower garlands from the shop when he is there.

Separately, in a viral video shared on Facebook last February, an Indian salesman was shown switching effortlessly between different Chinese dialects with ease as he demonstrated how to use his mop. 

syarifahsn@asiaone.com