The China Delegation. The face of two nations.
by Jil Hrdliczka, 吉林 (Jilin) - Founder, entrepreneur, mentor and writer, delegate of the South African trade delegation to the 5th Global Economic Leaders Summit opening of the 11th China-Northeast Asia Expo, Jilin Province, China Aug / Sep 2017


If ever there was a hand-picked delegation to showcase two great nations it was The China Delegation.

A team of people invited to attend the 31 August 2017 5th Global Economic Leaders Summit (GELS 2017) Belt and Road Forum for Economic Cooperation and Trade and the opening of the 11th China-Northeast Asia Expo on 01 September 2017.

The secondary purpose being to spend time together, to learn about each other, to learn about China for the purpose of friendship and trade and to experience how life in China is different from life in South Africa and that portrayed in the global digital media.

Without question, it was a carefully planned business trip carried out with precision with no downtime or off-duty hours. Business work days of eighteen hours with wakeup calls from five in the morning to lights out long after eleven at night.


There were long flights, bus trips and waiting time all of which were organised hours to spend together to communicate ideas, thoughts, experiences, to ask questions, laugh and giggle over mistakes made, debate issues, to observe, reflect, feel, share, process sensory input, work as a team, ready oneself for what came next, develop connections and build intercultural friendships with the potential to span a lifetime.

The result? The China Delegation was successful.

Firstly, we fell in love with China. Much is spoken about Chinese speed. In record time, four days, China had charmed us with her seemingly uncomplicated, no nonsense, hard approach to business, strict time-keeping, an almost obsession for everything and all interactions to be perfect and, in social situations, the openness and embracing warmth of the Chinese people.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the event coordinators of African National Congress Progressive Business Forum (ANC PBF) and the Foreign Affairs Office of Changchun Municipal People’s Government had, through a combination of meticulous planning, verbal and non-verbal communication and personal experience prepared us with the “know-how” and confidence for every event. Success of our coping ability and performance in each situation was almost a guarantee.

The importance of fully embracing, mentally and physically, the programme prepared by a hosting nation by an invited delegation became more and more evident as the trip unfolded.

By the time we were required to communicate with and buy from Chinese people with no English or translation software assistance, we were ready, no problem.

In one, now famous, transaction involving the purchase of a garment one Sunday morning in Yanji, one of our delegates whose credit card was not recognised was taken from shop to shop where every available technology was used to access money via the card, then to the Bank of China and finally back to the store where any recognised currency in a purse was used as payment for the garment.

The sale of one garment was so important to the Chinese storeowner that the store was closed while the owner and members of our delegation were guided around in search of a way for money and one garment to change hands.

In the process we found a new technology gadget that would help our own storeowners back home transact with overseas travellers.

The garment became less important while our entrepreneurial spirit emerged. We had been prepared for this – English was not required, translation software was not even considered, just hand gestures, eye contact, trust, the skill in dodging traffic on the wrong side of the road and a desire to trade.

The Chinese music and movies played on our tour bus while we were travelling through the spotlessly clean, picturesque Jilin province countryside did not escape our notice. It played an important role in making us comfortable with the people, language and place.

The event coordinators of the African National Congress Progressive Business Forum (ANC PBF) and the Foreign Affairs Office of Changchun Municipal People’s Government had also lead us through the process of handling Chinese food, from knives and forks at the Sheraton Hotels to chopsticks and no forks towards the end of the trip.


Members of the South African delegation proudly eating rice, meats, vegetables and noodles with “sticks” were captured in photos and paraded with equal pride. The concern of eating the feared unknown was also overcome with trust. We arrived at the conclusion if there was something odd on the table we would be told.

Chinese food was enjoyed, the beneficiaries of this experience being those with new restaurants in South Africa and those in the restaurant business in China. 

Our final breakfast was the result of the mindfulness of the Foreign Affairs Office of Changchun Municipal People’s Government – a happy, relaxed, confident, carefree, no rush but be on time, no problem, crime-free, open, calm, inspired, positive and bonded South African business team.

We were photographed eating noodles, eggs, watermelon, two-by-two centimetre pieces of cake with chopsticks in a non-English speaking Chinese environment feeling perfectly at home saying Hello 你好 Nǐ hǎo, Thank you 谢谢Xièxiè (Share-share) and even 不用谢 Búyòng xiè, You are Welcome with perfect Chinese accents. 

With only the approximately 13,372 km flight home, a possible new business project and successful, uncomplicated, no nonsense, profitable trade with China on the mind we were ready to leave China.


Smoking in their smoke-free national park was frowned upon and not accepted. The care, love and gentleness enjoyed by Chinese children from their parents was touching to observe.

Our only distraction being a quick shopping adventure in Yanji, Beijing and Dubai. What did we learn in China about China and about ourselves that, given the opportunity, we could put to good use at home?

Chinese people are respectful, disciplined, orderly and well-mannered. Wherever possible, they try to perform at their best. They respect their rules and show their disapproval of others who do not respond in the same way.

Chinese people like to walk and sharing a loved pastime with the locals was acknowledged by exchanges of greetings, photos and many warm hugs.

We also learned that Chinese women are beautiful, warm, kind, elegant and gracious. They do indeed look like little porcelain dolls with perfect complexions, bright shy eyes and beautifully groomed lustrous hair to frame their refined, delicate faces.

We learned that Chinese people keep their cities clean and eating in the streets except for local snacks of mealies and sausages on sticks was seldom observed.

There were no obvious signs of pigeons, rats or birds observed in their streets and litter was nowhere to be found.

Changchun, the city in which the Summit and Expo were held, was beautifully clean, with streets lined with trees, red and yellow flowers, colours of the national flag with splashes of pink blooms every so often.

We were told that in Changchun rich and poor live together. Living space is sold by square metre. An average apartment for an average income was between 60 and 80 heated square meters. Heating is important in Changchun as temperatures can drop to minus 26 degrees celsius in winter.

Logging on to the free wifi was easy. Adding friends on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, was achieved by simply scanning a code.

WeChat is easy to use and enables many free wifi connections. Using WeChat also established an immediate connection with the locals. They appeared impressed by our technology skills in using their homegrown and much-loved social media product.


Facebook, Google and Twitter were not missed or mentioned at all. Why? Firstly, there was no time. Secondly, we were so focused on achieving perfection in our own performance as a trade delegation that any thought of what other people were getting up to on Facebook was of no concern or relevance.

Chinese toilets were a hotly debated topic for reasons they are generally negatively portrayed in most of the articles about visiting China.

Our findings were the toilets we experienced were clean and easy to use. Travelling with a pack of tissues solved any toilet paper issues and when comparing to our own home situation, Chinese toilets for hundreds of people per day are quite practical. With no touching of any toilet bowls and handles left one feeling relatively clean and safe.

Before leaving for a visit to China it is best to strengthen your thigh muscles a bit, one for all the running around at expansive airports, walking, climbing mountains via staircases and of course handling the Chinese-style toilets.

We learned that the Chinese society is relatively crime-free from a personal safety point of view. You can safely walk around the city during the day or night. We were advised there are the usual international tourist scams which need to be identified and avoided.

In China we felt free, free of crime, free of the stress of crime and free of the fear of crime.

At home in South African walking in the city streets at night is not possible and the feeling of being free, free of intimidation, free of crime and free to move around as you wish in a safe space is something we dream of but realise will probably never be our own reality.

We also learned that China and South Africa have a common problem in the way our children are coping with growing up.

Food and lifestyles of foreign cultures are impacting on our youth. Foreign lifestyles are escalating the occurrence of obesity and negativity in our children.

A problem both countries have yet to solve.

In just a few days we noticed the positive impact of living without sugars, highly processed foods and unbalanced meals. We were energised, we felt healthier somehow and many of us lost weight through balance, balanced controlled eating, balance of work and play and the all-important rest time for the body and the mind.

China is solving poverty and their internal problems their own way, the Chinese way.

The Chinese way can’t possibly work for South Africa, a country that still needs to find its own way.

However, what we did learn from the Chinese is “the way” is not the only key to the success of solving problems. The implementation and the management of the implementation of solutions over time plays a critical role in the problem-solving process.

The invitation extended by the Foreign Affairs Office of Jilin Province for the main purpose of a South African delegation attending the 5th Global Economic Leaders Summit and the opening of the 11th China-Northeast Asia Expo had been achieved.


“Jilin province pays attention to the development of friendship and cooperation with South Africa and provides opportunities to further promote business and trade collaboration between the two sides” said Lihua Huang, Deputy Director General, Foreign Affairs Office of Jilin Province, Jilin, China in one of the communication documents about this trade delegation.

With a touch of sadness The China Delegation, the face of two great friends, South Africa and China, the South African and the Chinese representatives parted ways in Yanji for home.

With approximately seventeen hours and thirty-nine minutes of flying time home there was plenty of time for the South African business minds to rest, reflect and to get to back to work on new trade ideas with China using the knowledge, experience and contacts gained.

Our group social media WhatsApp lit up with “thumbs up” signs for new meetings and a decision that innovative trade projects needed to be found for the newly grouped South African successful business team that had, up to this point, become known as The China Delegation.

Of course also on our minds was How do we get back to China?  Back To Beijing, back to Shanghai – to explore China’s beauty, her charm, her trade opportunities, to reunite with our new friends from the Foreign Affairs Office of Changchun Municipal People’s Government, our adored, dedicated tour guides and those special, warm and welcoming Chinese people we had met along the way.

Thank You: The Foreign Affairs Office of Changchun Municipal People’s Government, The Foreign Affairs Office of Jilin Province, Jilin, China, The South African African National Congress Progressive Business Forum (PBF)

The China Delegation. The face of two nations. If ever there was a hand-picked delegation to showcase two great nations it was The China Delegation. A team of people invited to attend the 31 August 2017 5th Global Economic Leaders Summit (GELS 2017) Belt and Road Forum for Economic Cooperation and Trade and the opening of the 11th China-Northeast Asia Expo on 01 September 2017.

by Jil Hrdliczka, 夏凝非 (Xià Níng Fēi)

China Delegation Support Team –

Edwin McQueen – PBF Events Support, Anderson Lee – PBF China Chapter, Zeituna Dauto – PBF Administration, Zhai Wei – Foreign Affairs Office of Changchun Municipal People’s Government