Sleeping giant is wide awake
After China hosted the Olympics showpiece, I became interested in visiting the country.
My week-long stay there was an eye-opener and I now know what the saying, if you snooze you lose, means.
It was an enlightening trip indeed. Chinese people work like there is no tomorrow. It's no wonder their economy is booming.
"We feel that if we sit down for a moment we waste time; even to sit and drink tea or stop to say hello to someone we feel is a waste of time," said Lv Jing, secretary at the South African Embassy in Beijing.
The flight from South Africa to Hong Kong took 13 hours. We stayed there for a day and then flew a further two hours to our destination, Chongqing.
I was especially impressed by the road infrastructure in the country and the way Chongqing was being developed.
Extra-long buildings and soccer stadiums are being built and one could be forgiven for thinking that China was hosting another world event soon.
Another thing that blew me away was how people, regardless of their positions, travel to work on bicycles.
"That's how we live. Here it is normal for even the managing director of a powerful company to come to work on a bicycle," said an employee of the Hilton Chongqing hotel, where we stayed.
"China has many people and you can imagine what it would be like if all of us used vehicles like in your country," she said.
It's a pity that it rained all the time we were there because it prevented us from walking around and meeting people.
I saw no black people, except Mpumalanga premier Thabang Makwetla, his spokesman Ntime Skosana, and his entourage of government officials.
If you thought Nigerians and troubled Zimbabweans were all over the world, like I did, think again. You won't easily bump into a black brother or sister in China.
After three fun-filled days in Chongqing, we went to the province of Sichuan, where thousands of people died in May in a powerful earthquake.
Makwetla pledged R1million towards the Sichuan reconstruction fund.
"The world recognised the resilience and efficiency of the people and government of China and it is in this context that Mpumalanga would like to make a modest contribution of R1million, to demonstrate our solidarity with you during this moment of pain," Makwetla said.
Sichuan governor Jrang Jafeng expressed his gratitude to the people of South Africa and of Mpumalanga in particular.
He said basic infrastructure had been damaged in the earthquake and more than 10million people had to be resettled, while close to 360000 people were treated for serious injuries.
My dream of making a Chinese friend or two didn't materialise. Language was a barrier. Though the people were very friendly, we could not chat because their English was as good as our Chinese - nonexistent.
I was in China as part of the delegation to witness the signing of the memorandums of understanding between Mpumalanga and one of the largest regions in the south west of China, Sichuan, and the Chongqing municipality.
In the two memorandums signed by Makwetla and his counterpart, Jrang, and Mayor Wang Hongu, Mpumalanga seeks to deepen and renew relations between the two provinces.
The areas of focus include human resource development, economic development, agriculture, education, business to business partnerships and other areas of mutual interest.
The visit also formed part of the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Africa and China.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1998, total trade has grown significantly between South Africa and China. According to the Trade and Industry Department, trade increased from R5,2billion to R72,9billion between 1998 and November last year.
China is our fifth largest export market after the US, Japan, Germany and the UK. China was the second largest import partner after Germany in the same period.
Mpumalanga's drive to establish strong ties with China forms part of the national government's approach to strengthen trade relations with emerging markets such as India and Brazil.
l The writer was a guest of the Mpumalanga government.