By Austin Ong
“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 exemplify this.
"Four Groups of Filipino Students 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 them 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; while a very few are "self-paying". 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. Like other top destination countries which sees Pinoys in the top global universities, the Filipinos are excelling in the classrooms of the best universities in China, if not Asia, including Beijing University, Tsinghua University, Renmin University, and Fudan University. Something noteworthy to contribute to Global Pinoy Pride!
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 their families had immigrated to China when they were young, and speak better Chinese than Filipino. The GIs appreciate the PCFC differently than the first two groups. For them, PCFC is a place where they can learn more about their homeland-- to reconnect fleeting memories. On one occasion, when of the the “GIs” was asked whether he spoke Tagalog, he gave “Gamay” as the answer! The first two groups would often ask for packed Lechon or Bagoong for pasalubongs, while this third group would often ask for childhood favorites such as ChocNut!
**The label “GI” has since gotten to be connoted as a derogatory term in the Philippines unfortunately. 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 pursue their undergraduate degrees 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, as it would be the best equipped to understand the complex internal dynamics of the two countries. This program has been around for more than 20 years, having just graduated its 5th batch this July.
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 non-academic 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 10 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, she has become famous among the students for her ever 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.”
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.
PCFC is the story of humble contributions made into something meaningful.
There is an ancient proverb that states “We cannot shake hands with close fists”. Perhaps the youth of 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.
Its current plans include establishing PCFC across China and provide support and opportunities wherever there are Pinoys and friends to be made. For interested partners or sponsors, please connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at pcfc.weebly.com.
Austin Ong was the founding president of PCFC. He studied in the United States, completed his BA Political Science in UP Diliman, and received his MA International Development in Beijing. He is currently available for consultancy services. He may be reached at email@example.com.