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Aloha in the delta PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 May 2008

By Christopher Cottrell

Musicians strum Hawaiian ukulele’s. Hula dancers adorned in plastic grass skirts and flower leis wave their arms rhythmically. Attendees of this luau devour barbecued meats. They take delight in their guava jelly dessert.
They do so in the most unlikely of places — in the white-washed walls of Bellavista German restaurant in downtown Zhongshan. The event was part of Bellavistas’s recent Hawai‘i Week — which is itself a flavour of Zhongshan’s increasing internationalisation as a thriving hub in the Western Pearl River Delta.
Comments Bellavista proprietor Peter Hourle of Germany, “We’re expecting two stops [in Zhongshan] on the Guangzhou to Zhuhai light-rail when it opens. It’s well centered for Macau’s booming economy and Guangzhou’s growth.” The light-rail, which is expected to open before 2010 and will end at the Gongbei Border with Macau, will secure Zhongshan a sweet spot in the Pearl River Delta’s economic boom — particularly as Cotai continues to get roaring and as the 2010 East Asian Games bring in an influx of infrastructure cash. Zhongshan is right in the middle of this twin economic horizon, says Hourle.
Indeed, Hourle isn’t alone in his optimism about Zhongshan’s geographic benefits. 
Hawaiian businessman Devin Ehrig came to Zhongshan from the Islands last October to explore business options here. Ehrig explains, “When the light rail opens, property speculation will take off. This is still a small Cantonese city, and yet it has lots of international connections.” As it grows, it’s going to see many more Mandarin speakers and international businesses arrive, he forecasts.
Ehrig, who co-organised the Hawai‘i Week with Hourle and Ian Chu of the Hong Kong Hula Association, also views the festival within the framework of Zhongshan’s historical ties with Hawai‘i.
Dr. Sun Yat-sen was born in Zhongshan and moved to Honolulu to study medicine. He later returned to China to lead a victorious revolution against the Qing Dynasty.
In fact, wave after wave of immigrants from Zhongshan made their ways to Hawaiian shores — since 1978, scores have been returning back to the Pearl River Delta and China seeking trade. In 1985, Hawai‘i and Guangdong province struck a sister-state/province relationship.
In 2004, the Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism bureau organised a large trade mission to promote Hawaiian products to the coveted China market in Shanghai’s swank Xintiandi quarter.
A year later, the Governor of Hawai‘i, Linda Lingle, led a 200-strong trade delegation to Guangdong. That mission established, among other things, an educational exchange between Zhongshan’s Sun Yat-Sen University and the University of Hawai‘i Manoa.
Fast forward three years — the first group of Chinese MBA students from Sun Yat-Sen University are now poised to move to Hawaii this summer. They whet their appetite for the Aloha spirit at Bellavista’s Hawaii Week.
Comments one such Chinese MBA student, Tommy Huang, “I want to go to Hawaii to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. I want to promote tourism between China and Hawaii.”
Notes Ehrig, “This first batch of students is building on the foundation set up by Governor Lingle’s visit to Zhongshan.”
That’s sweet ukulele music to the governor’s ears.
Asked about the business and cultural exchanges taking place today, Governor Lingle’s office issued a statement that says, “This type of celebration reinforces the deep friendship and historic ties between Hawai‘i and China, and strengthens our ongoing efforts to increase cultural and educational exchanges, as well as foster economic development and trade. Sharing Hawai‘i’s culture, lifestyle and Aloha spirit with the people of China is particularly valuable as the state continues to attract more visitors from this part of the world.”
There’s no doubt about that in the mind of Ian Chu of Hong Kong. Chu, who earned his MBA from the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa, was so inspired by his time in the islands that he created the Hong Kong Hula Association. Formed in 2007, the idea, notes Chu, is to, “share the love of hula with people in China. We are first doing this in Hong Kong and will continue to increase our presence in Macau and China.” Who wants to dance hula in China? Filipinos do, for example. For the Hawai‘i Week, Hourle had Chu train his largely Filipino wait-staff the elements of hula. It worked like a charm. The dancers entranced Chinese patrons with their nimble sways.
In fact, Bellavista’s in-house band had no trouble picking up the ukulele to strum gentle beach ballads. Interestingly enough, the ukulele — which was originally brought to Hawai‘i by Portuguese immigrants in the late 19th century — proved extremely popular with local Chinese, from schoolchildren to government dignitaries. “We could easily replicate this formula in Macau or elsewhere in China,” notes Chu. Of course, the Hawaii Week was more than merely merriment, if you ask Hourle. “The idea is to create firm bridges between people and cultures.” That’s why he also organises the annual German Oktoberfest and regular Stammtisch drinking nights. “For my Filipino Christmas, all kinds of Filipinos from China, especially Macau, come here. It’s packed!” As it happens, Hourle’s well known for helping out Filipinos in transit between China, Macau and the Philippines. “I think everyone should feel Aloha and what better place to share it than in the Chinese city with some of the strongest ties with Hawai‘i?”

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