Kannapolis Research Campus Attracts Chinese
12:00 pm
Fri January 13, 2012

Kannapolis Research Campus Attracts Chinese

XiuXia Du's team of scientists at the North Carolina Research Campus. (L to R: Peter Pham, XiuXia Du, Wen Chao Zhang, Kyle Suttlemyre)

A significant cluster of Chinese scientists and their families has migrated to Cabarrus County in the last few years. They've come to work at the North Carolina Research Campus and have found their growing numbers helpful in adapting to the area.

He introduces himself as "Mike" Wang, but Mike isn't his real name. It's Xinguo. But that just didn't roll off the tongues of his American colleagues at the North Carolina Research Campus, so he settled on Mike.

Wang leads a small team of scientists doing genomics research at the institute created by Dole Food magnate David H. Murdock on the site of an old textile mill in Kannapolis. The campus has proven a magnet for Chinese scientists.

Xinguo "Mike" Wang in his genomics lab at the David H. Murdock Research Institute. Wang founded the Cabarrus Chinese American Association.

He opens a door for a glimpse at his laboratory and the color is shocking: From floor tiles to ceiling, the lab is bright Dole-pineapple yellow.

"Yellow for luck," Wang chuckles, noting the color's meaning in China.

Not that many of his neighbors would know that: Asians are a tiny fraction of the population in Cabarrus County - less than 2 percent.

But here on Murdock's research campus dedicated to life sciences, 20 percent of the team is Chinese. They take American nicknames and bring their dumplings and chopsticks to office potlucks. Occasionally, Wang says there are cultural differences to smooth out.

"Like when, when you come to China, the Chinese when they eat, they don't close mouths," he explains. "Americans see that here and it's maybe a very awkward situation. But that's the difference between the culture."

He chuckles again. A nervous laugh comes easily to Wang and he's become the chief cultural ambassador for the Chinese community in Kannapolis. It was his idea to form the Cabarrus Chinese American Association last fall and open a Chinese language school for local kids.

About 20 students of various ages meet Saturday afternoons at an elementary school in Concord.

Lori Tong enrolled her seven and nine-year olds because their father is American-born Chinese.
"He speaks Chinese fluently," says Tong of her husband Gary. "I would like my kids - since they're half Chinese - I would like them to learn the language and culture because that's something I can't provide at home."

Maggie Li is a volunteer teacher at the Chinese School started last fall by the Cabarrus Chinese American Association.

Several scientists from the research campus in Kannapolis also send their kids to the Saturday school. They speak Chinese at home, but want to make sure their Americanized kids learn to speak and write it properly. The school was a big reason the scientists formed the Cabarrus Chinese American Association.

Another important mission for the association is to help newcomers, explains XiuXia Du. She was one of the first Chinese scientists to start working at the North Carolina Research Campus back in 2008. There are now over 60, and more on the way.

"When they come fresh from China, they don't know how to drive a car, how to get around and the language is a challenge - like it was for Wen Chao," says Du, pointing to one of the newer scientists on her team.

Wen Chao Zhang says the association helped him round up a mattress and some second-hand furniture for his apartment in Kannapolis. But he's still adapting to the sleepiness of his new town. And the North Carolina Research Campus where he works is a cluster of stately buildings surrounded by empty fields.

"China have many people," says Zhang, with a heavy accent. "Here it is very quiet. In China, it is very noisy."

But the Cabarrus Chinese American Association has at least made it easier for Zhang find others who understand his language and culture.

You can join the Cabarrus Chinese American Association in celebrating the Chinese New Year with song and dance tomorrow afternoon at Cox Mill High School in Concord from 1 to 6. Tickets are $10 at the door. The money supports the association's Chinese language school.

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