By Austin Ong
Austin Ong, Pangulo ng Philippine China Friendship Club
"Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together". Amidst the political problems between the governments of the Philippines and China, the Philippines China Friendship Club (PCFC) blossoms in China.
Something Meaningful Was Born
The Philippines China Friendship Club was established by a group of Filipino students and young professionals in Beijing who wanted to build a home away from home where they can share experiences and enjoy much-missed Filipino dishes. What started with this simple mission has grown into something more as this mix of personalities decided to create the Philippines China Friendship Club. Its mission: to be a model friendship club that strives to provide People-to-People, platforms of interactions for Filipino students and young professionals to establish and cultivate life-long friendships with the Chinese. Indeed the very composition of the club exemplifies this.
"Four Groups of Pinoys in Beijing"
There are four main groups of Pinoy students in Beijing. The first group is called the "Language Pinoys" who sojourned to China for a six-to-twelve month intensive language program. Although the original Language Pinoy members of the club were from the Beijing language schools, having started in "Wudaokou" or what we would consider our U-Belt or Katipunan Avenue, there are actually droves of such Pinoys studying Mandarin in Fujian, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. In the language schools surrounding Wudaokou alone, about 70 to 80 Pinoys enroll annually.
The second group is the "Post-Grad Pinoys" or those who committed themselves to a graduate/postgrad program, lasting at least two or more years. Some of these groups are under the Chinese Government Scholarship, similar to other government scholarships provided by the United States and Japan, which provides for full tuition, housing, and a monthly stipend. Similar to the first group, this group of Pinoys can be seen excelling all over China pursuing a diverse array of programs from Beijing, Shandong, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Xiamen in majors including International Relations, International Journalism, Business, among others. The folks back home can be very proud of our scholars as many of them are excelling in the classrooms of the best universities in China, if not Asia, including Beijing University, Tsinghua University, Renmin University, and Fudan University.
The third group, endearingly referred to as the "GIs" for "Genuine Intsik", are Pinoys who had lived in China for five or more years, most of them had families immigrating to CHina when they were young, and speak better Chinese than Filipino. On one occasion, when of the the "GIs" was asked whether he spoke Tagalog, he gave "Gamay" as the answer. It's quite easy to distinguish this third group when you ask what "pasalubongs" they want from back home. The first two groups would often ask for bags of dried mangoes or packs of Sinigang mix, this third group would often ask for childhood favorites such as Choc Nut! *GI has since gotten to be connoted as a derogatory term in the Philippines. However the GIs in China are the held in high and affectionate regard (the closest but perhaps incomplete way one Pinoy in Beijing describe them: mix in ¼ Pinoy Kalambingan, ¼ Pinoy Sense of Fraternity but devoid of the regionalism-based mentality, ¼ Chinese sense of extreme generosity, ¼ Chinese humbleness!)
The last group, also endearingly referred to as the "TAGs" (short for Tagalog Specialists), are the Chinese students who are pursuing a undergraduate degree in the Philippines Studies Program in Peking (Beijing) University, the most prestigious university in China. The program chooses about 10 students per batch every four years. Within that period, they become fluent in Tagalog, well-read on the Filipino classics, and thanks to a 6-months study tour on their 3rd year (currently based in Ateneo) well travelled in the historical places in the Philippines. This group especially is an untapped resource by the two governments in their pursuit of people-to-people exchanges to improve relations. This program has been around for more than 20 years, having just graduated its 5th batch this July.
Pinoys Helping Pinoys
Folks back home can be proud of the accomplishments of this young group. During Typhoon Yolanda, PCFC collected and sent home donations totaling P60,000. To properly appreciate this feat: Chinese universities prohibit students from partaking in any externally organized financial transactions or solicitations on school grounds. In addition, they lent helping hands as volunteers in other fundraising drives organized by other members of the Filipino Community--one in particular helped provide new fishing boats to the displaced fishermen. Another popular activity dubbed "VIP Talks" introduces the newcomers to successful Pinoys who have lived in China for ten or more years, and allows everyone to see how Pinoys thrive wherever they may be. Moreover through its partnerships with its sponsors including Philippine Airlines, San Miguel, and Oishi, the members of PCFC have actually become ambassadors of the Philippines's international brands.
Indeed the Honorable Ambassador Erlinda Basilio--who has become a beloved mother-figure for these youngsters, no thanks to her always present-readiness to take selfies--would always remind the members that the best way to help our country is to be its best representatives in China, whether that be in the classroom, in social gatherings, or at work with the Chinese. "If you are a good student, a good friend, or a good worker, you show to the Chinese the caliber of a Filipino."
In this context, the PCFC is also playing a positive role in improving the Philippine standing in the ASEAN community, starting in China. Ever since other student associations of the ASEAN countries, some over a decade old, learned about the PCFC, the Filipino community has been invited in ASEAN-China events such as its annual sports and cultural festival. When the PCFC could not organize a job fair because companies thought its population was too small, it initiated the 1st Southeast Asia-China Networking Event with the help of its ASEAN and Chinese friends. Several Filipinos and other students have since found employment from the event.
Friendships That Last Lifetimes
PCFC, has since refined its mission "to build and to strengthen Filipinos and Chinese friendships through fun and meaningful events", and has organized potluck events and friendship tours to cultivate friendship not only inside but outside its membership, i.e. with the Chinese. It has also developed language-exchange- program where the Chinese would learn English (or Tagalog for the TAGs) from the PCFC members, and the Filipino students in turn gets to practice their Chinese outside of the classrooms--such friendships made and reinforced sharing a meal, shopping or getting lost together are the ones that last lifetimes. Indeed the success of PCFC and its members in their different fields in China, and the many OFWs for that matter, gives testament to the kindness, generosity, and hospitality of their Chinese hosts.
There is an ancient proverb that states "We cannot shake hands with close fists". Maybe PCFC can show the way.
It recently had at its first successful leadership transition led by Aaron Jed Rabena, a Ph.D candidate in Shandong University. Its current plans include establishing PCFC across China and to provide support and opportunities wherever there are Pinoys and friends to be made. For interested partners or sponsors, please connect with us at email@example.com or visit us at pcfc.weebly.com.
Austin Ong is a Tsinoy, Chinese by blood and Filipino by heart. He grew up in the United States, completed his BA Political Science in UP Diliman, and received his MA International Development in Beijing. He is the Founding President of PCFC. He is currently available for consultancy services and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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