A farmer in China who became an unwitting celebrity for serving up cheap ramen noodles has now decided fame is the recipe for him.
Cheng Yunfu – nicknamed Ramen Brother by online fans – was stunned when a video released on social media late last month of him selling his three yuan (46 US cents) noodle bowls went viral and unexpectedly catapulted him to fame.
Initially dismayed at the disruption to his life and his quiet village surrounds; one week later he has changed his tune and is hoping the continued popularity he is enjoying will improve the livelihoods of his fellow villagers.
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In the video, Cheng, 39, said he had not put the price of noodles that he made and sold at a rural market in Feixian county in China’s eastern Shandong province up in 15 years. The reason, he offered, was that if he did increase prices, villagers would not be able to afford them anymore. Cheng said the alternative was to give people less noodles for their money, which would leave them hungry.
“When everybody is rich and has made fortunes, I will then raise the price,” he said in the video clip that has been viewed 200 million times.
While the general public has been overwhelmingly touched by Cheng’s simplicity and kindness, hundreds of video bloggers have flocked to the Matihe village he lives in hoping to cash in on the noodle man’s new-found fame by filming him to boost their social media presence.
The influx of visitors has caused congestion on the village’s narrow roads while some video bloggers have invaded his privacy, climbing over walls hoping to catch him on live streaming.
Unequipped to deal with the frenzy of attention, Cheng initially retreated indoors and was unable to continue making noodles. He even resorted to hiding at a relative’s home overnight.
“I don’t want to be famous. The current situation has brought me a lot of trouble,” Cheng, told Shandong-based news portal dzwww.com in an interview on February 27. “I am just an ordinary farmer. I make and sell ramen noodles. That’s all [there is] about me.”
As well as the bloggers’ presence, a number of Cheng’s new fans drove hundreds of miles to the market to see him and taste his noodles. Unfortunately, for them, it meant queuing for an hour for the pleasure. Some bloggers were photographed promoting products they were advertising next to him.
Cheng told the news portal that his long-term customers had been frightened away by the large crowds in the market following him, asking him questions and constantly asking to be photographed with him.
“I am under a huge pressure. All of China’s internet users are focusing on me. This has affected my life,” Cheng was quoted as saying. “I hope the public’s attention will shift away from me.”
However, some days later, in an interview with Hubei-based Chutian Metropolis Newslast week, Cheng admitted having a change of heart and had grown used to the constant attention from video bloggers who swarmed around him.
“They began to live-stream at 6-7 o’clock in the morning and ended their work at 10 in the evening,” he was quoted as saying. “I understand them. They are like me. They are only making a living.”
After seeing villagers profiting financially from the influx of visitors, Cheng said he now wanted to use his celebrity status for the benefit of the village by boosting the local economy. Matihe is centrally located in Shandong but has no street lamps or even concrete roads.
“If possible, I wish I could be popular forever, so that the folks of Matihe Village could live a well-off life,” he told the Chutian Metropolis News.
Business at the local inns, restaurants and supermarkets has boomed while small stalls selling barbequed food, lamb soup and traditional local cakes along with entertainment have mushroomed in the area surrounding Cheng’s house.
A woman, surnamed Cui, who was previously a stay-at-home mum, has been using her pedicab to drive the new visitors into the village since Cheng rose to fame.
“During the past week, I have transported around 4,000 to 5,000 people in total, by working from 10am to 9pm every day,” she was quoted as saying.
Li Weiming, a village official, said he and his five colleagues along with 30 volunteers had been working for two weeks’ solid to provide bloggers and fans with services that included keeping the chaos under control and arranging shuttle buses from Cheng’s home to the market.
“I finished my work at 11pm every day,” Li said. “We are all happy that our village has had this development opportunity.”
Since the influx of visitors, the village has expanded its main road into the village and now has six temporary parking lots to accommodate more vehicles.
Telecommunications provider China Mobile dispatched two signal vehicles to strengthen the local signal transmission after bloggers complained the internet connection was too slow.
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