Thursday, July 07, 2005

Conference Day 3 – Opening Sessions and a Chinese-style Banquet

One thing I did the day before was to accompany several conference organizers to purchase shirts for the keynote speakers and myself. We went to a traditional Dai nationality dress shop and I got topic out my own preference in color design, which would then be made into a XXL size shirt (I wear a large in the US) in time for the opening sessions the next day. I had brought a coat and some ties for this event, but was happy to leave those in my suitcase!

I officiated over the opening event, which included welcome speeches and an introduction to Xishuangbanna – the gateway to the upper Mekong tourism region. I also oversaw the first keynote session, introducing the two keynote speakers and making a few comments after each. After lunch I attended paper session – one in a room with no effective air conditioning (they brought in a bucket of ice and two table fans), and the other that had two good air conditioners.

The highlight of the day was the evening banquet. This was actually the closing banquet, which was move up to accommodate the schedule of the President of Zhongshan (Sun Yatsen) University. It was an elaborate affair with live entertainment (some dances, but mostly the singing of different ethnic group songs), and the ritual toasting and wine drinking that accompanies Chinese banquets. I was at the head table, which meant a lot of meal interruptions as people came up to toast us. My son was concerned that I was drinking too much and might not know my limits. In fact, I drank, at most, a quarter of a glass of red wine that evening (I normally do not drink alcohol at all).

After the entertainment, he audience was invited to come up and sing. I was asked if any of the foreign guests could sing, so I asked around without success. The most prominent Chinese singer (who I later learned was Dean of tourism at Kunming University), suggest that Dallen come up and join him in the “Red River Valley” – which he sang in Chinese. Dallen finally obliged, dancing around with him and faking the Chinese version of the song. I told him that he had earned his keynote (he was a keynote speaker earlier that morning) honorarium that evening.

After the dinner a couple of groups walked dwn the the Mei Mei Café, which is a Western-style coffee shop owned by a couple of Chinese ladies who speak very good English. Dallen and I did not stay there, instead opting to walk around the downtown area which was bustling with life in the cooler evening hours. We had been speculating about the jade shops that we were passing, as the owners who were sitting out in front of them were clearly not Chinese. At one point one of them asked where we were from, hoping to entice us into his store. I asked him where he was from and he said Burma. We then chatted with several of them about how they have a visa to work in China and return to Burma to buy their jade. Most of their sales are to Chinese, though also to occasional westerners. And they claim that their prices are as good as in Burma. This is a good example of cross-border entrepreneurism – something that Dallen touched upon in his keynote talk that morning!

Photo: Entertainment at the banquet (below)


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