Monday, October 30, 2006

China: Last day in Fuzhou

It’s our last day in Fuzhou. The program officially ended yesterday and the delegates will be heading home today. Our breakfast call time was 5:30 a.m. since the group had to leave by 6:10 a.m. to catch the flight back to Guangzhou.

I was tired and sleepy from the previous night. After the farewell dinner, our Fujian hosts took the national leaders out for supper (meaning more food and drinks) at a hotel owned by one of the sponsors. And to think I was still stuffed from the lavish banquet prepared for us just two hours earlier.

During supper, I had several shots of Chivas Regal since in China, it is rude to refuse a toast, more so from the hosts. And it is customary to reciprocate by offering a toast as well. When I got back to the hotel, I still did not go to bed since I joined the Singapore contingent at the KTV in the mezzanine for more drinks and some singing. Hehe! When the KTV closed at 2 a.m., I was still up since we were still chatting with other delegates in the room. I just remember that I could no longer keep my eyes open since we had been up late the previous nights, so I just excused myself and went straight to bed.

Although I did not have to wake up early since three of us were staying to catch an evening train to Beijing, I did anyway to say goodbye to everyone. It reminded me so much of SSEAYP since I also stayed behind in Singapore then since each participating country left a representative to attend the World Youth Meeting with delegates of the Ship for World Youth (SWY). It was funny watching everyone board the buses and waving as the buses left since it was as if we were just home and saying goodbye to our guests.

Anyway, I went straight to bed right after. Next thing I knew it was time for lunch so I packed my stuff and met up with the others at the restaurant below. We were planning to go to around in the afternoon. But shock hit us when we asked our guide Justin what time we would arrive in Beijing.

Fuzhou is closer to Beijing than Guangzhou. We knew that the train from Guangzhou would take about 22 hours. And we were told that it would thus be shorter if we left from Fuzhou. So when Justin told us it was 34 hours, we just stood there in disbelief. It turns out, trains from this part of China had to navigate through mountains and thus, it took longer. Sigh! I just told the other two that the good thing about the situation was that instead of arriving in Beijing in the evening and having to spend for a hotel, we were going to arrive at 6 a.m. and thus, after freshening up, could already go around since we would have had enough sleep.

With that settled, we decided to shop for food for the 34 hour trip. But we decided to visit West Lake Park first which was just beside the hotel. The main attraction of the park is the two islands in the middle of the lake connected by old bridges. On one island was the sprawling villa of some rich person who lived several hundred years back.

While walking around, we noticed some people in Chinese costumes from the imperial court. It turns out, the costumes were for rent. And excited to try them out, we went straight to the shop to find out that the rental fee was just RMB5 or roughly PHP35! Just great!

Although wearing the attire of the emperor would have been nice, I decided to wear a red robe because of the hat which accompanied it. It was the one with those propeller-like things sticking out of them. Hehe! I remember seeing them when I was a small kid watching those Chinese movies they played on local television long before. Turns out, it was worn by a member of the court who had topped the examination. We were kidding that when everyone else who had gone home found out about the costume shop, they would feel bad since it was right at the door step of the hotel.

After the fun photo shoot, we rushed to the supermarket to get our food supplies. I got myself some bread with shredded pork, cup noodles, canned pork and 4 liters of water. I planned my menu in such a way that the heavy stuff was for when we were nearing Beijing so that I didn’t have to use the squat toilets while on the train. Haha!

We went back to the hotel for dinner, still courtesy of our hosts, and to get our luggage. A vehicle was also arranged for us to take us to the train station. But as soon as we get on the train, we are on our own.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

China: Fuzhou, the City of Banyan Trees

Today, we had a chance to go around Fuzhou, which is referred to as Rongcheng or the City of Banyan Trees which were planted in the city at the time of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). First on our itinerary today was a visit to the Xichan Temple. Finally, after our close to a week's stay in China, we get to visit a centuries-old cultural structure. Good news for a heritage buff! Hehe! The temple was said to have been built in 867 A.D.

According to sources, the temple is in the west of Fuzhou, on the foot of Mount Yi. An ancient temple of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Xichan is one of five Buddhist temples in the city. The most visible structure is its tall pagoda. Another feature of the temple is the many Litchi trees, planted in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The visit to the temple was a good opportunity for many of us to relax and enjoy Chinese heritage, and for some of us, to retreat and reflect.

After the short tour, we then visited some enterprises based in Fuzhou such as the Fujian Jindeli Holdings Corporation which produces jewelry, as well as the Fujian Star-net Communications Company. Lunch was at the Rongquiao Riverview Hotel were a huge buffet awaited us. There was just too much food from the usual Chinese food, to sushi, shabu-shabu, and grilled meats. I really had to control my appetite since I didn't want to gain weight during the trip. Hehe!

This was followed by a visit to the Ninghua Youth Civilization Community to observe volunteer work being done by the group in a community composed mostly of senior citizens. Again, the main discussion point of the camp was volunteerism and I do hope we could strengthen that here.

Our last stop was a few minutes at the Fuzhou Riverside Park. There are just so many parks and open spaces in China. Really great for the standard of living. In Metro Manila, we only have a few open spaces left and some mayor is even attempting to chop down the last urban forest in his jurisdiction. I wonder what runs in his mind when he gets all these crazy ideas. I think mayors here should have the political will to reclaim open spaces such as old plazas and parks that used to be a highlight of Manila at the turn of the past century.

We then trooped back to the hotel to prepare for a very formal courtesy call to the leaders of Fujian province. And just to let you know, Chinese provinces are as big as countries! In fact, the Philippines is just slightly larger than Guangxi. Mainland China, with its land area of 9.5 million square kilometers just has 22 provinces, five autonomous regions and four independent municipalities. In fact, many Chinese cities are bigger than our provinces which I why I wonder where some people in Davao City got the idea that they are the biggest city in the world in terms of land area. Shanghai, China's biggest city, is a little over two times the size of Davao City at 6,340.5 square kilometers.

Compare the China figures to the 79 provinces of the Philippines in just 300,000 square kilometers! I feel the Philippines is just too fragmented, where a few small municipalities can constitute a province. As a result, there is no coordinated development effort with each governor having his own preferences, whims and caprices and the result is a chopsuey urban landscape. In fact, as I speak, votes are being counted for the creation of the new province of Shariff Kabunsuan, the 80th province, which is almost sure of approval by Maguindanao voters. Obviously, this creates more positions up for grabs for our politicians. I feel that this practice has to be stopped and that we should be doing the opposite which is fusing together small political units to halt the chopsuey development. Oh well!

Enough with the digression. So going back, we met up with Mr. Chen Shaoyong, the Secretary-General of the Fujian Provincial Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China, the no. 2 man in Fujian.

A dinner banquet followed at another five-star hotel. I feel this banquet was the most lavish of them all since they brought out some exotic-looking dishes. Wasn't able to note down all the dishes since the menu was in Chinese.

This was the last activity of the China-ASEAN Youth Camp 2006 so it served as a farewell party as well. More toasts were exchanged as a tribute to the strong cooperation among nations. To end the evening, the entire ballroom sang the Chinese and original versions of Auld Lang Syne. This song gives me the goosebumps since it was always played for our emotional farewells in the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program which I participated in way back in 2002.

According to sources, the words Auld Lang Syne literally translates from the old Scottish dialect meaning Old Long Ago and is about love and friendship in times past. The part of the song which goes "We'll take a Cup of Kindness yet" relates to a drink shared by men and women to symbolise friendship. So there, a fitting finale to a week of cultural exchange between neighbors.

Our great China adventure begins tomorrow. While the other delegates go back home to their own countries, three of us decided to make the most of our China trip by visiting Beijing.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

China: Fujian, the link between the Philippines and China

Our next destination was Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province. To me, it was a sentimental trip for the Philippine delegation since the Chinese ancestors of most Filipinos, myself included, hail from Fujian province. So it was like a coming home of sorts.

The group left Nanning shortly before lunch. We had to attend the opening of a China-ASEAN art exhibit before trooping to the airport. Our plane was a Xiamen Airlines flight to Fuzhou via Shenzen. Lunch was served on board.

The flight was delayed so we arrived in Fuzhou behind schedule. Since our delegation head had to return to the Philippines, I took over as delegation head having been appointed deputy delegation head by the NYC. So my ceremonial duties began as soon as we arrived at the airport, receiving the floral token of our hosts as the delegation entered the terminal.

The city proper was about an hour away from the airport. We were billeted at the 5-star Lakeside Hotel. Since we were already behind schedule, we barely had enough time to get dressed for the visit to Fujian Normal University. Ergo, no time to rest. Sigh!

As we arrived, we were welcomed at the library building by a marching band. First on our list of things to do was a group photograph at the lobby. After that, it was off for a library tour. This was our second university visit and they always tour us around the library more than any other place. It just shows how important libraries are in Chinese student life.

The banquet hosted by the Fujian Youth Federation followed so we boarded the buses to move to the next building. And just like always, there were the usual welcome speeches and exchange of tokens and toasts. It was my turn to exchange tokens with our hosts in behalf of the delegation. In the photo is myself with the chairman of the Fujian Youth Federation, Mr. Wu Li Guan. I had to sit at the presidential table too, away from the rest of the delegation. So it was quite lonely there but a different experience which I enjoyed as well.

Unlike the rest of the tables where the food is served on large dishes, each of us on the presidential table got individual small portions of every dish. I didn't keep count but I heard there were maybe fifteen dishes served.

We then moved buildings again this time for the cultural night with the students of the university. But before that, we were treated to a demonstration of the Chinese tea ceremony and its precise and intricate movements. I've uploaded a video of the ceremony courtesy of the Fujian Normal University.

The cultural night followed. We presented a shortened version of our original presentation but got more cheers this time since our repeat performance was very much anticipated. Haha! Again, let's leave it at that! I was impressed with the different cultural numbers rendered by the students which included traditional dances and a wushu demonstration.

Friday, October 27, 2006

China: More from Nanning

Since we had a full day yesterday, our hosts from the All-China Youth Federation decided to make some changes in the schedule and brought us to one of the counties of Nanning City for some sightseeing.

We visited Yiling Cave in Wuming County which was about an hour from the city proper. Before entering the cave, visitors were treated to a cultural experience with the traditions and various ethnic groups of Guangxi presented in an interactive outdoor museum and show. As we entered the cultural park, a group of musicians played on local horns and drums to welcome the group. The tour took about 30 minutes before we finally reached the entrance of the cave.

Unlike our caves in the Philippines, the entire route inside Yiling Cave from top to bottom was all wired for a sort of lights show. I felt it was quite commercialized or maybe I just was not used to seeing neon lights inside a cave. It would have been better if they just used plain flood lights to give visitors an unadulterated view of the spectacular limestone formations. The cave experience seemed more Disneylandish to me than a visit to a natural wonder. Oh well! But overall, it was fun. And it was good exercise too since it obviously got me sweating.

After catching our breath, we boarded the buses to proceed back to the hotel for lunch. We hardly had time to rest and we were off to our next stop which was the secretariat of the China-ASEAN Expo for a briefing on the upcoming event. This was followed by a visit to Qinxiu Mountain again where we planted trees in the China-ASEAN Friendship Park. It would be nice to come back 20 or 30 years from now and revisit the trees we planted.

With that over, everyone was excited since next on our itinerary was shopping. As our hosts quipped, it was time to contribute to China's GDP. We were brought to this large shopping mall called New Mengzhidao (Dream Land) and given two hours to do our thing. Since I was not in a shopping mode given that I had to conserve funds for my trips to Beijing and Shanghai, I decided to sneak out for a while to take a walk to the city square which was just a few meters away.

In front of the Guangxi People's Hall was Minzu Square which was all spruced up for the China-ASEAN Expo. One thing I noticed in China was that the flowers along the streets and squares were all potted and can easily be replaced as soon as they wilt. So there is always a fresh supply of flowers greeting visitors.

I hope Mayor Atienza and our other Metro Manila mayors start to learn the importance of proper gardening in their cities because Chinese cities are just so green and colorful with well-maintained plants and flowers along roads, sidewalks, parks and plazas!

I also took a photo in front of a billboard with photos of Chairman Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. Unlike our political billboards in the Philippines which are for the selfish interests of our incumbent officials, this billboard honors the former leaders of China. And it's tastefully done with proper landscaping in front, not like the political billboards especially in Manila which is basically nothing but clutter!

In the evening, our hosts in Guangxi prepared a farewell banquet. And just like in the previous banquet, toasts were exchanged, this time with the local liquor which explains why a lot of people got drunk tonight, some people we know inlcuded. Hehe!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

China: Nanning, the Green City of China

We left the hotel early yesterday to proceed to the airport for our flight to Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. We arrived in time for lunch. From the airport, we went straight to the Ming Yuan Hotel where buffet lunch was waiting for us. As always, food was overflowing! What else could you expect when China hosts international meets like these? They definitely know how to make their guests feel welcome.

Our first stop for the afternoon was the China Guangxi International Youth Exchange Institute where we met up with the Philippine delegation to another program sponsored by the Chinese government, the ASEAN Youth Cadres. After a brief introduction by the school director and a presentation by the Philippine and Lao students at the institute, we proceeded to Qinxiu Mountain. On the way, we saw the preparations for the 3rd China-ASEAN Expo which is held annually in Nanning.

There wasn't much time so they just took us for a drive around the park. We had to rush back to prepare for the banquet together with the officials of Guangxi government. As always, the banquet at the Ming Yuan Hotel was superb! Toasts for China-ASEAN friendship were exchanged the whole evening. On the right is the Philippine delegation with Madame Chang.

Today was reserved for the China-ASEAN Youth Forum. This was an opportunity for the ASEAN and Chinese youth representatives to discuss the topic "voluntary spirit and civic consciousness of the youth." I was tasked to speak in behalf of the Philippine delegation during the country reports in the morning. Each country delivered a situationer on the state of volunteerism in their own countries. One thing we noticed from Philippine statistics was that the incidence of poverty was lower were levels of volunteerism was high and the opposite where there was little volunteer work. That says a lot about volunteering. If Filipinos stop thinking about what they would get in return for everything that they do, we'll definitely go places!

In the afternoon, we were divided into discussion groups with two representatives per country in each group. We discussed the same topic but this time offered some possible solutions to certain issues raised such as the need for a regional body to coordinate volunteer efforts. I was asked to report for the group during the forum conclusion. Extra work for me! Haha!

In the evening, we had a party with each delegation as well as groups from Guangxi preparing cultural presentations. Our presentation was hilarious! Haha! Let's leave it at that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

China: Modern China in Dongguan City

The China-ASEAN Youth Camp finally began today. Our first stop was the Dongguan Songshan Lake Science & Technology Industry Park. This strategic high-tech industry park is located in the center of the Guangzhou-Hong Kong economic corridor.

Covering an area of 72 square kilometers with a well-protected ecological environment, the park was elected as the high-tech industry park with greatest development potential in China by the National Research Center for Science and Technology.

We visited the exhibition center where an impressive scale model of the park masterplan at the center of the hallway gave visitors a preview of the future of the park. I was impressed by the consistent use of the Post-modern architectural style for many of its buildings.

I was also impressed with how the planners created a sustainable environment for Songshan Lake, with modern industries and institutions in harmony with the natural environment around it. Lunch was served at a function hall by the shore of Songshan Lake. Again, we had more Guandong style cuisine. One of our drinks was white fungus with bird's nest. After lunch, we toured to the Dongguan University of Technology to check out the campus and its facilities.

To cap the day, we took a stroll at the impressive city center of Dongguan. We were dropped off at the headquarters of the Dongguan People's Hall. Again, it was a feast of structures and monuments in the Post-modern architectural style around a vast square of fountains and pools, and plant boxes filled with flowers of various colors.

We were on our way to the Dongguan Exhibition Center to view several hallways filled with exhibits on the history, culture, development, industry and technology of Dongguan. Not only were they informative and well-organized; the exhibits were nothing less than world-class!

Dinner was also in downtown Dongguan. After dinner, the delegation went around some shopping areas but nothing much to buy since it was quite pricey in the area which we visited. Since we were tired as well, we decided to make our way back to the hotel in Hongmei Town which was about 40 minutes away. More photos here.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ivan About Town goes to China

Remember I said I had exciting travel plans coming up? I had to cancel the whitewater rafting trip in Kalinga as well as the bus ride to Samar and Leyte just for this. Hehe! I'm one of the delegates selected by the National Youth Commission to represent the Philippines at the China-ASEAN Youth Camp 2006.

We left for Guangzhou today via China Southern Airlines. Although I've been on several flights this year, all of them were on low-cost carriers. So I completely forgot they served meals on board which was good since I wasn't able to eat breakfast. Our flight left NAIA at 12 noon and landed at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport at 2:40 p.m.

It took quite a while for us to get out since lines were long at the health screening and immigration counters. After getting our luggage, we were met by representatives of the All China Youth Federation. We had to wait for a few more minutes since the delegation from Laos was arriving that afternoon as well. So we took a stroll around the airport in the meantime.

By the time we got back to the meeting place, the Lao delegation was already there so we boarded the coaster which took us to our residence for the next three days, the Grand View Hotel in Hongmei Town, Dongguan City which was was in between Guangzhou and Shenzen.

After resting for an hour, we had a sumptuous traditional Chinese dinner at the restaurant at the ground floor. Several dishes were served on the table which included duck, chicken, fish, squid, mushrooms, and vegetables. No pork was served since there were Muslim delegates.

We took a stroll outside the hotel after dinner but weren't able to see much since we we're not close to the city center. There was a convenience store close by so I bought my supply of dried fruits and water for the night. Since we were tired, we went straight to bed. Tomorrow is a free day while we wait for other delegates to arrive. The camp officially begins on October 24.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Batangas: Verde Island Passage recognized as center of marine biodiversity in the world

I have never tried diving yet although I have always wanted to. And obviously, with so much marine biodiversity in the Philippines, I'm missing a lot. The closest thing I've ever done was walk a few meters from the shore in full scuba gear during a high school class outing in the Eagle Point Resort in Batangas. We also got to snorkel off the coast of Anilao, close to Maricaban and Sombrero Islands. But that was it.

Which is why I was encouraged further when I found out that the Verde Island Passage, which was just a few kilometers away, is now recognized by scientists as "the center of the center of the center of the world's marine shore fish biodiversity."

Just to give everyone a backgrounder on the title, the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape is recognized by the scientific community as the center of the highest concentration of marine biodiversity in the world. Occupying an area of 900,000 square kilometers in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, it is "at the heart of the coral triangle which accounts for 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs," a Philippine Daily Inquirer article reported.

Comparative studies of marine concentration in the Indo-Malaya-Philippines archipelago show that central Philippines, which includes the Tubattaha Reef, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the center of that center of marine biodiversity. It was American marine biologist Kent Carpenter of the World Conservation Union, and fellow researcher Victor Springer of the Smithsonian Institution who discovered in 2004 that the center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity in the world was the Philippines, and not Indonesia.

And it was determined that the center of the center of the center of that marine biodiversity was the Verde Island Passage corridor, which was found to have the largest concentration of marine life in the world with a recorded 1,736 overlapping marine species in a 10 by 10 kilometer area. Verde Island is thus dubbed by scientists as "the world’s blue water version of the Amazon River basin."

For more information, check out the article RP world center of marine treasures. Looks like I'll consider diving in the near future. Hehe! (Photos from Scott Tuason; Diving in the Philippines and Yvette Lee, PDI)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pampanga: San Fernando heritage program recognized anew

I was elated to find out that the "Preserving Heritage for Progress" program of the City Government of San Fernando, Pampanga which I initiated in 2001 won its third award last October 6! The Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) selected the program as the winner of the Heritage Tourism Award of the Best Tourism Practices – Special Award Category "in cognizance of the innovative and valuable effort, passion and commitment of the City Government to ensure the protection and promotion of the City's priceless architectural heritage by restoring and preserving the same for the benefit of the future generation of Fernandinos and the Filipino people."

Mayor Oscar S. Rodriguez and City Tourism Officer Ching Pangilinan received the award in behalf of the local government from Tourism Secretary Joseph "Ace" Durano and Tarlac Representative Gilbert Teodoro at awarding ceremonies held during the 7th ATOP National Convention in Koronadal City, South Cotabato. There were only two winners for the Special Award category, the other being the Environment and Sports Tourism Award given to Benguet's "Mount Pulag Climb."

The "Preserving Heritage for Progress" program was recognized in 2004 by the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) as one of its" Top 10 Best Practices" and by the Galing Pook Foundation as one of the "Trailblazing Programs" of the year. (Photo on the right by Karlo de Leon)

Updates: The Pyestang Tugak - 4th Annual San Fernando Frog Festival was postponed to October 23 and 24. I was supposed to blog about it today. Oh well! For information on schedules, contact the City Tourism Division at (045) 9615684.

I also had to cancel all my local travel plans this month. And to think I was already looking forward to some whitewater rafting in Kalinga! Sayang! But the reason behind the cancellations are even more exciting travel plans. Hehe! So watch out for it in the coming week or two.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Seminar on Philippine towns and cities

The Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), in collaboration with the Urban Partnerships Foundation, and the University of the Philippines History Department, is organizing Philippine Towns & Cities: reflections of the past, lessons for the future, a seminar which aims to promote heritage conservation as a strategy for urban development and revitalization that will redound to local socioeconomic growth.

A strategic starting point for this is to document the history and evolution of Philippine human settlements – how and why they were established, planned, developed, and grew in the manner that they have and in the places where they are.

From this documentation, lessons can be extracted that can help guide policies and approaches for the planning and management of future urban development and revitalization with a strong heritage conservation component.

For registration and further information, please contact:
Ms. Dorie Soriano (Heritage Conservation Society; Tel.: 521-2239; Email:
Mrs. Virginia R. Rodriguez (The Urban Partnerships Foundation; Tel: 895-1812/896-1902; Email:
Related Posts with Thumbnails