Appearing before his video camera, a middle-aged man with short, curly hair and blue eyes poses a strange question: "Do you like eating cellphones?"
The man is Tommy Coleman, and he hails from Los Angeles in the United States. He is a popular vlogger on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, going by the name "Hainan Boy." Since his maiden appearance on the platform in March last year, he has accumulated over 24,000 followers.
Coleman posed his question on cellphones after he stumbled upon a translation error in the sign on a hand dryer in a public toilet. The Chinese characters had been ponderously translated to "Bake Cell Phones."
"Yummy!" said Colman, ending the video by "baking" the phone under the dryer and pretending to chew it. In the comment section he wrote the correct translation: "hand dryer."
Coleman came to China in 2006 to study Chinese and Chinese culture at the Beijing Language and Culture University. In 2010, he came to Hainan and soon decided to settle down, working on his chosen career as an English teacher.
"Hainan has clean air and a pleasant climate, which is suitable for outdoor sports. The life here suits me," said Coleman. Since coming to Hainan, he has lost 40 kg with the help of cycling and marathon-running.
On June 1, 2020, China released a master plan for building a free-trade port on Hainan. In October the same year, mindful of the increased inflow of foreign visitors, the island launched a campaign to standardize foreign-language signs in public places, offering bonuses to those who could provide excellent revisions.
Whenever Coleman noticed a poor translation, he would take a picture, upload it through a mini-program on WeChat and provide a better one.
In November 2020, "Hainan Boy" ranked first, with 77 errors corrected, winning a bonus of 1,000 yuan (about 154.8 U.S. dollars). "It's also a good way for me to improve my Chinese," he said.
Foreign-language signs are the "international facade" of Hainan as it builds its free-trade port, according to Wang Sheng, director of the provincial foreign affairs office. Making them precise will help create a convenient working and living environment for foreign talents, said Wang.
has provided the setting for Coleman's success in both career and love.
He met his wife at work, and seven years ago, the couple had a son.
"Hainan has given me many happy moments and unforgettable memories. Now I want to give something back," he said.
Since 2018, Coleman has opened two English language training institutions in Haikou, the provincial capital.
"I believe that learning a language is learning a culture," he said.
In line with this philosophy, he takes his English classes outdoors to Hainan's popular scenic spots, creating an environment of immersive learning.
Coleman has even started learning the local dialect to further improve his performance as a teacher.
In mid-December 2020, when the temperature on the island dropped sharply, Coleman uploaded a video on Douyin, saying: "Haikou is so 'gua'." His use of the local term for "cold" prompted a flood of replies.
Due to the pandemic, Coleman has not been back to Los Angeles for two years, and he has chosen to stay on the island this year too. "The epidemic prevention and control measures in China are very reassuring. Hainan is my home now," Coleman said.