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November 10, 2010

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From Ukraine with Love

UKRAINIAN Iryna Novikova landed in Shanghai five years ago, speaking no Chinese and no English. Now she has mastered both and she and her Shanghainese husband are a super-duo singing and hosting TV shows. Nie Xin reports.

Ukrainian singer Iryna Novikova is something of a celebrity in Shanghai, known by her stage name Yi La and performing in clubs and on popular TV shows.

With her Shanghainese husband Zhang Yibei (better known as Bei Le), Novikova rose to national recognition after the so-called superstar couple won the second runner-up award at the popular Expo-related TV show "Super Family."

The duo is usually called Yi La Bei Le.

Just returning from a short trip in Beijing, the busy couple says they plan to expand their work to the capital, in addition to Shanghai, Hangzhou and other cities in Zhejiang Province.

With blond hair and big brown eyes, she is sometimes called by friends xiaowaiguoren (little foreigner).

Born into a musical family with a grassroots tradition, Novikova carries on her late father's love of music.

After she graduated from the Conservatory of Music in Ukraine, she came to Shanghai, along with her music dream, and started singing in a club in Xintiandi.

There she met Bei Le, a professional local singer, who later became her husband. She says they get along very well, despite cultural differences. "Shanghai men are brilliant, practical and gentle," she says.

"My family and friends in Ukraine were so shocked when I told them I would marry a Chinese man," she recalls. "They didn't know about China and Chinese people at the time."

In their view, Shanghai was poor and Chinese men were short and weak.

Novikova's mother visited Shanghai for the wedding last September and again during the World Expo that ended last month.

Two years ago the couple started taking part in popular TV shows in Shanghai and Zhejiang and they quickly became famous.

From "Don't Forget the Lyrics" on Zhejiang TV to "Super Family" on Shanghai's Dragon TV, they are well known for singing and lively performance.

When they decided to take part in "Super Family" last year to welcome the Expo, they soon had more than 600,000 supporters.

Always accommodating, Novikova enjoys her fans' attention and never turns down a request to sign an autograph or pose for a picture.

"I have never regarded myself as a celebrity. I am just a girl who likes singing and who is lucky to get so much love in this world, from my husband, friends and supporters," she says.

The couple are dedicated to improving their Luwan District community and were active in Expo preparations - thus, they were named Expo ambassadors.

"Both of us are thrilled to do something for the Expo," says Novikova. "I especially love the city's delicious food, customs and art."

She also sings quite well in Mandarin ("There Is Only You, Not Him, In My Heart") and Cantonese ("Shanghai Bund") in a strong and emotive voice.

"Most people don't know that my wife started to learn Chinese only when she started to be on TV shows in Zhejiang," says her husband Bei Le.

Novikova remembered that at the beginning of her life in Shanghai "there was no English, no Chinese. I started from zero and the environment pushed me to learn."

She spoke English with her husband for almost a year before she began to learn Chinese. She said she didn't want to appear "like a piece of wood" on a TV show.

"Just like a little baby, she picks up the language super-rapidly and surprises everyone," Bei Le says. "One day a lot of Chinese words came out of her mouth and she could understand many Chinese words I spoke."

Now Novikova can make jokes and interact with other hosts on TV in fluent Chinese. She also speaks some Shanghainese, Cantonese and Minnanhua, a dialect widely spoken in Fujian and Taiwan provinces.

Her life is busy. When she doesn't perform, she likes to watch movies at home or get together with friends.

The couple enjoys the ocean and frequently travels to Thailand.

The couple has developed good relationships with many TV stations in Shanghai and in neighboring areas where the couple not only performs, but also hosts. They are considered a celebrity family.

"Now we have decided not to take part in any more TV competitions and focus more on our music career, as music is the dream for both of us," says Novikova.

The duo is now preparing two new Chinese songs and will add Russian and Ukrainian elements to their music.

Though the two have been managing their own career, they say they are looking for an experienced manager to help develop their careers.

Iryna Novikova

Nationality: Ukrainian

Profession: Singer

Age: 23


Self-description: Simple, passionate, loving music.

Favorite place: The Melting Pot Bar (288 Taikang Rd.)

Strangest sight: The messy traffic - too many cars, bicycles and passengers on the road, and many of them don't obey the rules.

Motto for life: Too much. Every time I meet different situation, I have my motto.

Worst experience: There are some, but I forgot when they passed.

How to improve Shanghai:

Improve the traffic

Advice to newcomers:

Make friends with local people and foreigners who have been here for a long time. They will share their experience.


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