• Sights and sounds of scintillating Shanghai

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    MAURO GIA SAMONTE

    MAURO GIA SAMONTE

    Conclusion 2

    The tour of Old Town Shanghai the following day was another exposure to the meticulous way the Shanghai government raises revenues. Tourists can have a good fill of the native Shanghai atmosphere of 16th century Ming Dynasty, with its medieval architecture largely preserved together with the cobbled pathwalks and stone bridges. Either you take a ride on canoes that are replicas of ancient ones in surfing the town through the river, or you walk the paths, up the bridges and down to rows of shops perchance to savor everything that you had expected to be all native old China, until they spoil it all by placing there something stupid like Starbucks. My departed kumpadre, Loren Banag, was a millionaire when he died, but by no force would you convince him to pay 125 pesos for a cup of brewed coffee.

    But seriously now, our first stop on the third day, by my personal reckoning, turned out to be the most revealing.

    It was the visit to the offices of the Liwayway Holdings Company Limited, manufacturer of the famous snack food Oishi–and more than a hundred other brands in fact. Founded by Ambassador Carlos Chan, who has been consistently designated as a special envoy of the Department of Foreign Affairs over the past Philippine administrations, the company started as a manufacturer of starch, the Liwayway Gawgaw, which filled the airlanes in radio advertisements in the 1950s. If the starch name no longer seems to command recall now, it is not because the company had abandoned its production but rather because the company had gone on to producing other products in the lines of confectionery, health care food and, yes, snack food, or call it, as it is popularly labeled in the Philippines, junk food, if you may.

    Anyway, Liwayway Shanghai top honcho, Larry Chan, son of the Ambassador, contends, “Let the product speak for itself.” And whether Oishi, in speaking for itself, has done people good is proven by the fact that in Shanghai today, Liwayway Company Limited is among the top 500 corporations, and in the line of snack food manufacture, it enjoys a four-way tie with three other companies. Liwayway has 16 branches spread evenly in all four directions of the compass and between plains and lowlands of China’s topography. Its plants and warehouses in Shanghai occupy a sprawling 18-hectare piece of real estate the value of which must soon appreciate immensely, since the company is in the perimeter of the district which Shanghai is about to develop by way of bolstering its stature as the largest commercial center of China.

    Whether seafood-based, coconut-based or fruits-based, Liwayway has been unceasing in conceiving products that address the demands of the market. This led me to the question: “You started in the Philippines, branched out to Shanghai. How far have you gone out into the world?”

    Larry’s answer was astounding: “We have branches in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, India and South Africa.” And how many percent of Liwayway’s total capital is the value of all these expansions? If the first answer astounds, the next one should devastate: “Ten percent.” Ten percent for practically the whole of Southeast Asia, India and a large chunk of Africa! How much, then, is the principal in China! And here was Larry talking about Liwayway’s five-year-plan. Or did he correct himself, “Four-year plan?”

    To be sure, I was not overwhelmed by the volume of business Liwayway has bloated into. That is intrinsic in the development of capital. What actually intrigued me was the matter-of-fact manner by which Larry was divulging his five-year-plan. You talk of increasing business in a period when China is perceived to be marshalling forces for a heightening tension with the Untied States over the South China Sea. The tension and Liwayway’s worldwide expansion just don’t jibe. How can you talk about increasing business in a situation of increasing war hysteria?

    Larry appeared staggered by the question. He said, “The South China Sea crisis does not impact on business.”

    That got me sighing with relief. Take it from someone who should know. Larry won’t be stupid to go on expanding his business empire if he knew China would go to war soon enough.

    On the way to the restaurant for lunch after the meeting, I explained to Larry that the reason I asked the question was that I remembered Henry Sy beginning to build his empire of malls in the 1970s, when fears of a communist revolution were seizing the Philippines, fears that in fact were abetted by Jose Maria Sison’s intensifying his so-called protracted people’s war. I asked myself then, if a communist takeover was imminent in the country, why would Henry Sy embark on building a business empire? And since Henry Sy proceeded, despite Sison, to build his malls all over the country, eventually making himself the richest man of the Philippines, then Sison’s revolution was already a failure as far back as when it all began. As history would have it, my apprehension then was correct. The Sisonite struggle to defeat US imperialism in the Philippines was a grand exercise in futility and the current effort of the Duterte administration to conclude peace with the communist movement cannot but be a laughable zarzuela, considering that the remnants of that movement, according to Bobi Tiglao, could fit into a European compact car.

    So Larry Chan’s appraisal of the South China Sea scenario is most reassuring. He said he had been going out of his way to explain to Shanghai folk that there is no reason for their fear of Filipino belligerence. He wished somebody in the Philippines could do the same.

    “China has never aggressed any nation in history. She will not attack the Philippines,” Larry said.

    That said, I felt I had gotten Larry to drive home a point, which, as followers of this column would attest to, has been mine all along. Now Larry had repeated it as though to provide a reassuring finish to my Shanghai visit: a reassurance of the spirit of goodwill as the one single cure to animosities among men.

    I would not be able to join the group in the next scheduled activities. The following day would be a critical one. I was brought to the hospital for treatment of my hypertension. Zhang Jiayu, a lady conversant in English, and Gao Liyang, a good-looking guy whose inability with English prevented him from communicating with me except through smiles, attended to me almost the whole day as I underwent a series of laboratory tests. The two are both Overseas Edition Editors of Ximin Evening News. Like Ming who scoured the city well into the evening to look for pineapple juice by which to lower my blood pressure the night before, Zhang and Gao never let go of me until they got the doctors’ assurance that I was well and could make the flight back home to the Philippines the following day. Ming again was there together with Wu (sorry to miss her surname), the lady organizer of the visit, to fetch me from the hospital and bring me back to the hotel for rest. And Zhang again was there to assist me with my departure at the airport on the final day of our visit.

    What wonderful people! All making me feel being loved and cared for. After all, what else can one need at the end of the day but to feel exactly that–having been loved and cared for.

    So never mind that America intensifies its saber-rattling in the South China Sea. So long as Larry’s idea of continuing goodwill between the Filipino and Chinese people exists, no war in the region can ever take place.

    Therefore, more than the spectacles we had been treated to in the visit–the sumptuous dinners, the wine tour at the Free Trade Zone, the rapture of the climb up the Oriental Pearl Tower from where you got a breathtaking view of Shanghai’s sea of skyscrapers, the dazzle and sparkle of colored lights in the Huangpu River cruise, the stroll down history lanes deep into Old China, my private discovery of the little night joys of the Shanghai folk on Walking Street. More than all these and more is that one single spirit that Larry had spoken about: goodwill.

    I’ve had loads of it in the visit, and I can say goodwill is where Shanghai really scintillates in a many-splendored way.

    To wit, together with Zhang to see me off at my departure was a young lady whom Wu, in my trip back to the hotel from the hospital the previous day, had pointed out to me as a pretty girl. I agreed, of course, and I said I will make her a movie star. The lady, who registered her name in my mobile as GuChina, giggled then said that when I visit Shanghai again, she will drive me around in her car. That was a particularly poignant proposal which tugged at my heart. The last time a lady drove me around was in the heyday of my movie directing. That lady was my wife and she passed away last December.

    Now, at the airport, Gu was there again, minding with Zhang my modest luggage. As a final touch of farewell, I requested a selfie with her and she obliged, doing the selfie herself with my mobile.

    And then, feeling emboldened, I asked her: “Have you got a boyfriend?”

    She laughed, saying, “I’m married.”

    “Ouch!” I said to myself.

    Goodwill.

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