Sunday Observer Online    


Sunday, 5 May 2013





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Fragrant memories of China

In 1975, twelve officers of the Ministry of Fisheries were to fly to the People's Republic of China on a six-month course on Aquaculture. This was the first FAO/UNDP training program to be hosted by China, after becoming a member of the world body. It was a gracious gesture of appreciation, no doubt from a friendly and gigantic nation for the tireless efforts taken by the then Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike in getting a friendly country into the UN.

A few days before the departure, we were given a multi-course sumptuous dinner, hosted by the embassy. Spouses and ministry-hierarchy were also invited. We were given a taste of the legendary Chinese cuisine we were to experience for six months.

The Great Wall of China

Travel agents met us at the Hong Kong airport. They escorted us upto the border. A bridge separated Hong Kong and mainland China. The Union Jack was flying on the elevated sentry post on the Hong Kong side. We walked across the bridge, towards the elevated sentry post flying the star-studded red flag of China. Senior officers of the Fisheries and Foreign Ministries met us. We went by train to Canton (now Shandong).

It was a pleasant journey amidst a happy flock of peasants waving from the rice fields.


A brand new building block with single room accommodation, television and recreation room, large dining hall, facilities for outdoor games and also table tennis were beautifully laid out by the Serene Pearl river. There was a large lecture hall with facilities for visual and audio presentations.

The food prepared by two smiling culinary experts whose dishes of fried rice, chop suey, chicken noodle soup, pork, eggs, ice-cream, ‘mung ata’ and king size portions of yogurt made most of us to get new trousers tailored. All of them were on the house.

Interpreters were very fluent in their translations into English of lectures given by Chinese professors. Lectures concluded with a walk into the large area of fish ponds constructed close to the fisheries station. There were many meetings with resource personnel, trainees and manual workers. The latter were treated with great respect.

They knew the indepth problems in the fish ponds, day-to-day behaviour of fish in ponds and harvesting, more than what has been said in text books and experts. We learnt with great reverence, the words of Chairman Mao Tse Tung, “Learn from each other.” Our group too learnt from this exercise.


We went shopping. Lovely brocades, ready-made garments exquisite porcelain coffee sets were very cheap.

We swam in Olympic size swimming pools with half a dozen life savers on the alert. The last row of the balcony was reserved for us whenever we went to see a movie. Unforgettable ballets, musical shows and orchestras kept us enthralled in the great Sun Yat Sen Hall. We always occupied the first row. Many foreigners were about three to four rows behind.

It was always the practice of our Chinese friends to take us out for dinner. When we told them that April 14 was a public holiday, they were in smiles. The Chinese too have their own New Year day, they said. They organised a concert. We sang and danced along with the Chinese.

They hummed with ecstacy our Dhanno Budunge and Hela Jathika Abhimane. We returned to the base after a hot cup of coffee or tea. By the way, we were given a bottle of beer a few minutes before dinner everyday. The dignity of labour was practised to the letter. The Director of the Aquatic Resources Canton Province which incidentally is about four times the size of our country drove into our station very often.

He cleaned the windows, at times on a ladder. Later he queued with an enamel plate for his lunch along with the workers. Medical practitioners working in the urban areas and city hospitals have to work in remote areas as barefoot doctors.

No professionals were allowed to warm chairs in air-conditioned rooms. Periods of serving in difficult and salubrious stations were a must for all. One of us was hospitalised. We visited him at the Canton No. 1 hospital which is about seven times the size of our entire National Hospital complex.

Our friend was having a time of his life. Experts were always around his bed. They were such wonderful people who became our friends. The Director of the Hospital, an eye specialist, came to work on the pillion of her husband's bicycle. The latter too worked at the hospital. He was also a specialist. It was dignity of labour at its celestial heights.

Fairy tale

We visited the fish farms and the shopping districts in Shanghai, China's largest seaport and commercial capital. Then a fairy tale that could happen to us only in friendly China. Six Toyota Crown cars with a white uniform clad motorcyclist rode ahead directing all cycles and vehicles to the kerb. We felt like Maharajahs;

Our next visit was to a town closed to foreigners. It was rather a slow drive by bus. Peasants working in the fields came in their hundreds to see us. We waved at them. There was a massive crowd at the entrance to the hotel we were staying for three days. They had never seen dark-skinned people. The head of the City Council paid us a courtesy call. Believe it or not, we saw him clinging on to one of the handles at the rear of a garbage lorry, the same type of lorry seen on our roads.

We were invited to watch a netball tournament in the evening. We were escorted to the city station. A crowd of 25,000 stood up and clapped “Hong Gin, Hong Gin” they shouted (welcome, welcome). The teams walked up to us and bowed. The games began. We were sure that the spectators were more interested in us than the game. Our eyes were glistening. The tournament had been convened in honour of their foreign visitors.

We visited a massive hydropower station. The turbines were under a huge rock, like our “Aththugala.” This was close to the Shikiang Province. Foreign tourists were also present, but only the twelve of us were permitted to see the giant turbines under the rock.

Our final tour was to Beijing from the base Canton. Earlier, the director informed us that Premier Chou En Lai had inquired about us. We felt elated. The Beijing flight was full. We were in the VIP lounge seated on spotlessly white seats sipping green tea till we were invited to join the flight.

It was a long flight. As typical Sri Lankans we began to sing. We invited the stewardesses and other passengers to join in. Next all were dancing on the isle, singing and holding hands. The crew too joined us. We sang Sri Lanka's favourite songs. We had an aerial view of the forbidden city.

We were met by the Chinese Foreign and Fisheries Ministry officials and our embassy officials. They were happy to see all the passengers and the cabin crew embracing us and wishing us goodbye. It was very emotional.

Great wall

We visited the Great Wall, a wonder of the world. Next, a nursery school, where the little ones sang and danced. They waved us goodbye with their tiny insteps which were on their right shoulders. Imagine a bevy of sweet angels standing on one foot with the other foot raised on to the shoulder from behind.

We saw the absolute extravagance of the Ming monarchs whose bourgeoisie life-style led to the October Revolution. We went in and stared at the 10,000 capacity. The Great Hall of the People built in eight months. It could be converted to a 3,000 guest banquet hall within a short time, with kitchen facilities to cater.

The Foreign Ministry hosted a banquet. Our embassy personnel and their fisheries ministry officials were also present. The tiny porcelain cup was for ‘Motai’ their super octane drink for the toast.

It is made from rice. There were many toasts for our countries, their leaders, our program and the world body. A foreign ministry official wanted to know our Sri Lankan term for ‘cheers’, or ‘gambai’, or ‘salute’ when proposing a toast. One of our interpreters who had been with us for the past six months stood up, raised his glass and said, Gahapan Machang.

All echoed the words. Subtle smiles among the Sri Lankans. Our embassy chief asked “Dang kawde eka kiyaladunne? Dang ithin ekama kiyamu!” (Now, who ever taught him that, anyway now we will stick to it).


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