A Beautiful Start to the Beautiful Hebei Picture Expo at the University of Westminster

23:19 (UTC±00:00), 31 OCT 2015 | GBR HARROW, GREATER LONDON

2015 10 31 Hebei Opening Ceremony

PS — just a quick note that for Chinese ceremonies of a “happy” character, it is quite usual to wear red flowers, or to put them all over the venue. That’s Chinese traditions for you! Just in case you were wondering…

It was yet another decision I made in half a second that I had no regrets about. Just like in November 2003, when I agreed to host the finals of a key English-speaking contest in Beijing, I had no regrets this time when the Hebei Society in London approached me — not just to merely take a browse around Fyvie Hall at the Regent Street Campus of the University of Westminster, but also to see if I was interested in “working closer”. This would eventually mean that I made it to the shortlist of event emcees, and my involvement as compère was confirmed around a week before the event got off to a start.

Over two hundred people came as the opening ceremony to the Beautiful Hebei photo exhibition kicked off in the afternoon hours of 31 October 2015. Local and Chinese media covered the event, and we had speakers and key guests from the University of Westminster, Hebei enterprises (with some making a very long trip over to London from China), and others, including support from the Chinese Embassy in London. The ribbon cutting kicked the event off into gear, with speeches also made (as usual), but a lot of entertainment as well — including Peking Opera, Cheongsam, and solo guitar performances. Messages of congratulations from Hebei in China were also read — it was quite an important event, with 66 pictures of Hebei displayed throughout Fyvie Hall.

Most of us might be wondering why Hebei was “such a big deal”. Here’s why Hebei’s key: It is the “other host” to the 2022 Winter Olympics. Victory on 31 July 2015 has not meant that solely Beijing has nabbed the games whole. Events will be shared between Beijing and Hebei, with central Beijing and Yanqing hosting some events, then Zhangjiakou (specifically Chongli) hosting others. It’s probably not all too nice to win gold in China in 2022 — if you forgot which province you won it from! The other big reason why “Hebei must be it” is the creation of a new megalopolis that will dwarf Tokyo and Yokohama in comparison — Hebei is joining the larger Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei metropolitan region, which will see in the mix the Chinese capital, a central municipality, and dozens of major cities in Hebei. Already now, we’re unifying standards across three jurisdictions so that the greater Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area is reality sooner. If you’re into major developments in North China, you cannot afford to “just ignore” Hebei.

Rail people might also want to note that Tangshan is home to HSR trainset plants, creating the CRH380B trains. The same city — Tangshan — once ravaged by an awful earthquake in the 1970s — will in 2016 host the World Horticultural Expo. (And yes, in case you were wondering, I’ve been in Tangshan many times, and I can confirm the place is safe as houses!) Finally, for those travelling around Hebei — by train or otherwise — the photo gallery also has pictures of many vistas and places of outstanding natural beauty, including the Great Wall, the Chengde Summer Palace, and much more. This is a part of China that’s easily the dimensions of 16 Yorkshires alone (and it’s also of note that Hebei itself was far from the largest province in China!). These were all key reasons why it was decided to hold such a photo gallery for Hebei here in London.

It was a fantastic time entertaining visitors, and me and the other host, Shuo Zhang, pulled this off in both English and Chinese, often with one person alternating between these two languages on the fly (even if just for a bit). Perfecting things meant putting in extra efforts, adapting to any and all on-the-fly changes, and getting all scripts ready, even if it meant staying way into the wee hours — a fair bit of work, granted, but more than worth it. To produce the optimal effect, of course a small mountain of printed, then-scribbled-over, then reprinted draft scripts and cue cards were made, but you did this to improve the experience for everyone! Also, for once, it was quite an experience introducing senior academics I work with (instead of myself being introduced by the distinguished scholar, which happened more frequently my end!) onto the stage — there was a lot of mutual support and appreciation. It was also quite something being particularly recognised for being the “smiling emcee” (but we all smiled!) — here’s hoping there are a lot more smiles for visitors to Hebei, even if for the trek through to Heathrow, that stiff upper lip might be more “the usual”. (Oh well. But then there’s always China. And I’m not the only one saying that our people are hospitable!)

The photo gallery is at Fyvie Hall in the Regent Street Campus of the University of Westminster, and is scheduled to run through to 06 November 2015. See you there — and hopefully, see you in Hebei, too — soon!