From Guest to Friend | Living Here

By Jeffrey Wong

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A wholesale flower market in Kunming, Yunnan Province.

A Chinese saying goes, “Nothing, not even mountains and oceans, can separate people with shared goals and vision.” With the theme “Building Belt and Road Routes, Realizing Our Vision for a Community of Shared Future,” the 16th China ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) was held from September 20 to 23 in Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China.

Back in 2005, myself and an exhibitor friend first visited Nanning to participate in the 2nd CAEXPO. Time flies. As a Malaysian-born photographer who has been living and working in Brunei for more than 20 years, 14 years after my first visit to Nanning, I have developed a deep relationship with China, evolving from a passerby to an old friend.

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Jeffrey Wong
poses on the Great
Wall in May 2018.

Frequent Visitor to Nanning

In 2005, I visited many places in China including Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, Nanning, Guilin and Yulin in Guangxi, Chengdu in Sichuan Province, Kunming in Yunnan Province and Shenyang in Liaoning Province as well as major municipalities like Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. I have to say that Nanning is my favorite city.

Like regularly meeting an old friend, I attended every CAEXPO from the 2nd in 2005 to the 12th in 2015. The event has been improving in terms of level, size and number of exhibitors as well as quality of exhibits.

At the Brunei Pavilion of the 2nd CAEXPO, a replica of Brunei Sultan’s royal chariot symbolizing friendship between Brunei and China was gifted to the People’s Government of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to be kept and displayed in Nanning permanently.

Dedicated to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the chariot is a symbol of the supreme power of Brunei and a vehicle still used for the coronation ceremony of the Brunei royal family. The chariot is usually placed in the Royal Regalia Museum in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei. This is the first time a replica has been made and displayed outside Brunei since the Sultan’s royal chariot was first built and used in 1968.

The CAEXPO has facilitated the sustained and rapid development of China-Brunei economic and trade cooperation. The Brunei government attaches great importance to the CAEXPO. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah attended the 3rd and 14th CAEXPO, at which Brunei was the Country of Honor. State leaders including Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah and Princess Hajah Masna have also attended the CAEXPO. Over the years, people from all walks of life in Brunei have actively participated in the CAEXPO and seized fruitful results. CAEXPO has certainly created many cooperation opportunities for Brunei.

Whenever I was attending the CAEXPO over the decade, I also soaked up the local customs and practices of Nanning, made many friends and became immersed in local life, which helped me become familiar with everything there. My most impressive experience in Nanning, however, was far removed from the expo. One evening in October 2010, my friend and I realized we had left our wallets in the taxi that brought us back to the hotel. We were incredibly worried because of the cash and documents in the wallets. We tried to contact the taxi driver, and he sent our wallets to the hotel early the next morning. This trivial but kind gesture left an indelible impression on my mind.

I have also witnessed tremendous changes take place in Nanning. Its continuous development has brought numerous high-rise buildings and spacious and tidy streets, and enhanced living standards in Nanning by leaps and bounds. China’s reform and opening-up has transformed the southern city. I am delighted with the development of Nanning and happy that my old friends have embraced more prosperous living.

Solid Cooperation Foundation

As I have continued traveling China over the years, another obvious change has been the number of suitcases I bring. At first, my exhibitor friends and I would go to Guangzhou to buy various goods such as decorative lighting, tiles, doors and windows and photographic equipment, which all needed to be imported from China. I would take one suitcase to China but bring back three because shopping was such an important mission while in China.

With the rapid development of the internet, you can buy practically anything on Taobao.com, the most popular online shopping site in China. Now when I go shopping in China, if I see goods that I want to buy, I browse Taobao and find a wider range of available styles and varieties at even cheaper prices. And then I discover more things I didn’t know before. So now I just order thing and then return home and wait for delivery. Much of my clothes, photographic equipment, household items, and car accessories were bought on Taobao, which is easy and convenient. Many of my friends do the same thing.

Today, the reasons to go to China are more straightforward: traveling, enjoying local
delicacies and experiencing exotic cultures and customs. In recent years, my family and I went to Beijing to climb the Great Wall, Tianjin to stroll Binhai Avenue in the evening, Guilin to enjoy picturesque scenery, Shenyang to experience ice and snow and Chengdu to taste specialties.

China and Brunei have maintained a tradition of friendly exchange since ancient times, which laid a solid foundation for continued friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries. As an important country along the Maritime Silk Road, Brunei is attracting more and more investment from China. As are other ordinary people, I am looking forward to seeing the e-government, which is being promoted in Brunei, cooperate with Chinese enterprises to build a more convenient and effective online space.

An old Chinese saying goes, “The precious thing for people’s acquaintance is mutual understanding.” The friendly and cooperative relations between China and Brunei will continue to improve, and I am looking forward to more cooperation between the two countries that will produce tangible benefits for the two peoples.

Layout by Tian Yuerong

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