I am a diplomat. And with postings in Vienna, Brussels and Berlin, I considered myself “Eurocentric”.
Coming to Xiamen was a difficult choice. But this is my last foreign posting and I wanted to be where my siblings could easily visit me. Also, I was so curious about China – and why I heard so many negative things about it.
With much prodding from the then Philippine Consul General in Xiamen and from former assignees, I chose Xiamen over Berne. Still, when people heard that I would proceed to Xiamen for a foreign posting, they quipped, “Why China?”. But China (Xiamen) it is. I flew in with my family, armed only with “nihao” and “xiexie ni” from months of learning Mandarin.
Landing at Xiamen Gaoji International Airport, I told myself “Ah, this looks like Europe”. I saw order and efficiency. The tall buildings were impressive. Transportation was efficient. The big parks were attractive. I was told that Consulate people who have children settled in Shangli area, near the Manila Xiamen International School (MXIS). Aided by an English-speaking real estate agent and our solicitous local hires, we found an apartment near the sea and close to the mountains. Wow!
飞机着陆于高崎机场时，我不由得惊叹：“哇，这里简直是欧洲。”无不体现着秩序与效率。高楼大厦令人赞叹，交通运输高效迅速，大公园风景怡人。我得知有些领馆工作人员和他们的孩子住在上李，马尼拉厦门国际学校 (MXIS) 附近。在一位会讲英语的房地产中介和热心肠的当地领馆员工帮助下，我们找到了一处山边公寓，邻近大海。太棒了！
Xiamen, of course, became my home ground. With the Philippines being Guest Country of Honor of the China International Fair for Investment and Trade (CIFIT) for two consecutive years, the sprawling Xiamen International Convention and Exhibition Center became my playground (although still confused between XICEC Hotel and Seaside Hotel). In between works were walks by the seaside and culinary outings.
厦门显然成为了我的主场。菲律宾连续两年成为中国国际投资贸易洽谈会 (CIFIT) 的主宾国，庞大的厦门国际会展中心因此成了我的游乐场（但我仍然分不清厦门国际会议中心酒店和厦门国际会展酒店）。在工作的间隙，我会沿海边散步，外出探店寻找美食。
Xiamen is my home away from home. Shoppping malls SM and Robinson’s made sure that I still get the “Malling feel” which I am so used to when we were in the Philippines. Bench (Philippine retail brand) is in Xiamen. There is a Filipino doctor in Guanren for our medical concerns. I hob-nob with Filipino professionals and Chinese with businesses in the Philippines.
Xiamen gave me my two intraocular lens (IOL) after the removal of my cataracts at the Xiamen Opthalmology Center. There was a series of consultations and cross-referencing using ultra-modern machines from all parts of the world. Thanks to Nurse Qu Yu Hui, I need not worry about communicating in “zhong wen”. The operations were swift and efficient. Dr. Zhang had the hands of an angel, and finished the operations before I could end my prayers.
A visit to Xiamen, as they say, would be incomplete without a visit to the Island of Gulangyu. This pedestrian-only UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, with its breath-taking sea vistas, tree-shaded winding streets, high elevations, and a medley of architecture including magnificent mansions of rich Filipino-Chinese, captivates.
Being the Political and Economic Officer of the Consulate presented me with the chance to visit areas under our jurisdiction. My first big engagement outside of Xiamen, the “Familiarization Tour of West Fujian and Ganzhou” sponsored by the Xiamen Foreign Affairs Office in September 2019, took me on a “Red Tour”. The tour was not only informative. The places we’ve visited were breath-taking. I loved seeing the Star of Ruijin by day and the Jichuan Gate at night. The story of the “Red Well” was a lesson in leadership.
作为领馆的政经官员，我有机会访问我们的辖区。我在厦门以外参加的第一个大型活动，就是 2019 年 9 月由厦门市外办主办的“闽西赣州熟悉之旅”，这是一次“红色之旅”。这次旅行令我增长了许多知识，所参观的地方都让人叹为观止。白天我喜欢参观瑞金之星，晚上则喜欢游览济川门。“红井”的故事是领导能力的体现。
The Mazu Island in Putian is my favorite. I believe that Mazu (known in the Philippines as Ma Cho) called me to Xiamen. I have already met the sea goddess while still in the Philippines. On a visit to Our Lady of Caysasay Church in Taal, Batangas, I found her inside that Church. I was later told that in La Union and Taal, some folks believed that Our Lady of Caysasay and Mazu/Ma Cho are one and the same. And in certain parts of the year, the two images are brought together so their people can venerate together.
莆田的妈祖岛（湄洲岛）是我最爱的旅游胜地。我相信是妈祖（在菲律宾称为 Ma Cho）召唤我来到厦门。我在菲律宾的时候就已经拜谒过这位海神了，参观八打雁省塔尔的凯萨赛圣母教堂的时候，我就发现了妈祖。后来有人告诉我，在拉乌尼翁和塔尔，当地人认为凯萨赛圣母和妈祖是同一个人。有些时候，这两座神像会放在一起，方便信众一同敬拜。
Jiangxi is unforgettable, not only because it is home to the famous Oishi (Shanghaojia) brand which made goods in China since 1984 but also because of Mt. Lushan – majestic, tall, spectacular with lakes, cliffs and waterfalls – perfect setting to imagine a Buddhist Monk in meditation.
江西也是难以忘却，不仅因为它是著名的上好佳品牌的诞生地（该品牌自 1984 年以来在中国欣欣向荣），还因为这里有雄伟、高耸、壮观的庐山，还有湖泊、悬崖和瀑布，这是想象中僧侣打坐的完美境地。
But the real charm of China (Fujian and Jiangxi) which leaves a lasting imprint in one’s heart is its people. Hardworking to a fault, the Chinese people are loving, kind and sincere. I understand the importance of “guanxi”. I appreciate long dinners and “ganbei”. I am surprised to find drivers and managers eating at one table. I am amazed at the refusal of tips even when service is good.
I salute the men and women in Fujian and Jiangxi who toil each day to nourish the relationship between China and the Philippines. The Filipino expatriates, the overseas Chinese with businesses in the Philippines, the Chinoys (Filipinos of Chinese origins) expertly navigating Chinese and Philippine systems and even the ones who have never been but yearns to visit my country.
Most of all, I am genuinely thankful of my go-to friends who are always around to lend a helping hand. Take Baolian – our Chinese former employee, who, after retirement, still regularly pops up at the Consulate to check on all of us. A medicine to buy, a visit to the Bank, Chinese food she’d like us to taste, a delivery to be picked up, or simply to accompany us to unfamiliar places we’d like to go – all done in the name of friendship and love.
I still miss Europe (my eldest lives there) and cherish the memories made and friendships gained. But far from being Eurocentric now, I have become a Chinese-believer. And I will, one step at a time, continue to nurture the relationship between our two great nations.