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The Toronto Star Published an Article by Consul General He Wei

On February 16th, 2018, the Chinese New Year's Day and Spring Festival, the Toronto Star published an article entitled ALL ROADS LEAD HOME, CHOOSE YOUR VEHICLE by Mr. He Wei, Consul General of the People's Republic of China in Toronto. The full text of the article is as follows:


My life in the diplomatic service is a state of almost constant motion.

And though my mind needs to be focused on all the moving parts of a life on the road, it wanders home in the moments leading up to today, Spring Festival. The New Year's Eve feast Chinese people shared with their families last night is deep-rooted in millennia of tradition. As hundreds of millions of Chinese people around the world tucked into ancient recipes, I thought about the notion of family reunion and how it's transformed for me in the years I've been abroad.

Canada is my fourth overseas posting. I've had many opportunities to see first-hand how different cultures ensure family remains the centrepiece of the holiday season, any holiday season. In the midst of my first Chinese New Year here in Canada, I've been reflecting on this core value of the human experience; going home.

I am originally from the city of Handan in north China's Hebei Province. It's roughly the same distance from Beijing as Toronto is from the Canadian capital of Ottawa; about 450 kilometres.

When I was a child, the quickest option home was an eight-hour train trip. It now takes two hours because of the Beijing-Guangzhou high speed rail line that opened in 2012. This makes it possible to be back for a weekend or even a single, holiday meal if time is tight because of work or other commitments. China's rapidly expanding high speed rail network is the backbone of a system that recorded 357 million trips throughout the Spring Festival holiday season last year.

Before the journey home, however, gifts from the big city are a top priority. In my youth I spent hours trudging through malls looking for the perfect sweater for my mother or father.

Red envelopes are synonymous with Spring Festival but even that custom has seen change. Wechat, an enormously popular app that combines the features of WhatsApp, Apple Pay, and Facebook now enables users to send a digital red envelope, reshaping a tradition that has been around since at least the beginning of the 20th century.

The advent of e-commerce has revolutionized the process of gift giving. And I'm not simply speaking of same day sweater delivery.

National Pavilions are a subsection of China's online marketplace run by Alibaba. The Canadian Pavilion is one of its most popular. The platform hosts 300 Canadian companies that sell everything from live lobsters to maple syrup to Arc'teryx winter jackets.

All of these items can be shipped from Canada to my parents' front door and all of them are a significant improvement on the sweaters I used to buy them. Platforms like this allow me to connect with family if I can't be there in person by sending them meaningful items that are representative of my adopted home.

Even the very act of going home is not what it used to be. What was once a race to make it back from jobs in the city to our ancestral hometowns, now might involve taking the family with you. We are seeing an exponential increase in the outbound flow of traffic.

In 2017 6.1-million Chinese citizens traveled abroad during the seven-day Spring Festival holiday, spending roughly 100-billion RMB. (about $20-billion CAD)

This year, I expect many of these people have set their sights on Canada. The China-Canada Year of Tourism just kicked off. It's a program that bolsters a trend we've seen for several years already.

Chinese arrivals to Canada between 2008 and 2016 almost quadrupled, rising from 160,000 to 610,000.

Canada has responded to this growing need by opening seven new visa processing centres in China. In turn, Chinese travellers support about 7,400 jobs in Canada. (source: Destination Canada) In 2017 China reported over 135-million outbound travelers, a number that on its own would represent the 10th largest country on earth.

For Canadians of Chinese descent, the decision in Parliament to officially recognize Spring Festival was more than just a symbolic gesture.

There are real life implications for Chinese-Canadians who have seen Spring Festival transition from a small-scale neighbourhood-based celebration to one that is recognized not only at the highest levels of government, but also in unexpected corners of cities and towns across the country. Those who see their minority cultures recognized in the communities they live in are motivated to connect to the community as a whole and help it flourish.

The nomadic nature of a life in the foreign service often muddles your sense of home. But despite the profound changes in how that notion is defined and pursued, what remains clear to me is the universal need to recapture a sense of being back where it all began.

Now whether your vehicle home is a train, an app, or a miraculous winter parka sent from afar, I've learned there are many ways to say the same thing.

Happy Spring Festival to you and those you love.

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