I HAVE just arrived from my first trip to China. I was part of the Cebu City delegation that Mayor Edgar Labella assembled to join his official visit to the port city of Xiamen in the southeast coast of China. There must have been no less than 50 of us, including businessmen from the Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Cebu Chamber of Commerce, led by Ambassador Frank Benedicto and Robert Dino, the father of the presidential assistant for the Visayas.
Xiamen is where many of the Filipino Chinese trace their roots to. It is a sister city of Cebu and one of the purposes of Labella’s trip was to celebrate the 35th year of the sisterhood agreement with his Xiamen counterpart.
He also addressed the inaugural Silk Road Maritime International Cooperation Forum attended by delegates from all over the world. Other speakers included a former prime minister of Egypt, the current minister of Mining and Energy of Serbia, the vice minister for Transport of the People’s Republic of China and top officials of the largest international shipping companies, including the giant China Cosco Shipping Corp. Labella was the only government official from the whole of Southeast Asia who spoke in the forum.
The last time we traveled with the mayor was in Bangkok three weeks ago. It was supposed to be a pleasure trip but other than the river cruise, we were never really able to become tourists because Labella unintentionally made it a working trip, always thinking about how the night market worked, how traffic was maintained and how Bangkok disposed of its garbage.
This time, I had no illusions whatsoever that I was on a sightseeing adventure. He was on an official visit and was the schedule overwhelming! Aside from the audience with the Xiamen mayor, he dropped by the booth set up by Cebu City’s two chambers of commerce in the Xiamen international trade fair, held dialogues with housing officials and the head and other leaders of the city’s huge government hospital and visited Xiamen’s waste to energy plant. Not surprising since housing, hospital care and garbage disposal are three of Labella’s priority programs.
The only tourist-like thing that we did was a side trip to Quanzhou to visit the monument of Jose Rizal that the city built to celebrate our national hero’s ancestry. Rizal’s paternal great great grandfather was supposedly an immigrant from Shang Guo village.
But I’m not complaining. In fact, I am grateful for the privilege of being able to tag along in an official visit and enjoying the perks that went with it such as breezing through customs and immigration and the dinners hosted by Ambassador Benedicto, Robert Dino and some other wealthy businessmen in the delegation. I even had a soldier saluting me on my way up to the plane. (I returned the salute; the poor guy must have thought I was the mayor).
But the best thing that happened to me was the realization that not all that you read about China are true. I expected a forbidding society crawling with military agents ever ready to pounce on you and drag you to whereabouts unknown for the slightest reason. In fact, what I saw was nothing different from the places I’d been to. There were smiling people and non-smiling people going about their chores the way we do ours. Okay, maybe, they work more seriously than we do.
And there were no military agents or if there were, they did a great job of blending with the crowd. We felt so secure that on our third day, Walk and Talk’s Lester Razo, Alex Monteclar, Noli Caisip and I ventured out into Xiamen’s streets shortly before midnight and bought ourselves a mango fruit, the size of a newborn’s head.
That was the only thing unusual we noticed about Xiamen throughout our five days stay.