IN MY previous column, I inadvertently forgot to mention that Paolo Severino, president of the Sagay-Escalante Planters Association, was also part of the delegation. Thus, I will make mention of the SAGESPLAS group in this column.

Paolo was the most closely guarded member of our delegation in China. With him were his lovely wife Mel, his mother Merle, and his sister Gina. As I was the one shepherding the delegation, I had an easy time accounting for the SAGESPLAS group. Wherever we go, they stick together as a family. When I see one member of the Severino family, I know that the other three are not far behind.

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Foreigners who don't speak Chinese will have a difficult but often hilarious time in China, as Paolo himself experienced.

After flying in from Xiamen to Shanghai during the third day of our trip, we were taken by our guide for a Brazilian barbeque lunch in Dagama Barbeque Grill located in one of the upscale malls in Shanghai. The barbeque was a welcome change after two days of Chinese cuisine in Xiamen.

In Xiamen, the meals came with a complimentary bottle of Tsingtao beer and either Coke or Sprite. If you want more drinks, you pay. In Dagama, I was surprised that the waitress provided me with bottomless Coke. Everytime I took a sip of my Coke, she immediately refilled it.

I was flattered by the attention, thinking that my good looks have cross-border appeal. My ego was shattered, however, when our guide told me after the meal that, in restos which offer buffet barbeque meals, unlimited drinks are provided because, the more liquid you take, the less solids you eat. Was I taken in! Grrrr!

After the meal, Paolo and Mel went for a look-see around the mall. They must have thoroughly enjoyed themselves that they didn't notice when it was already time to leave. I looked around and spotted M'am Merle and Gina, who told me that the couple is close behind and that they got a little delayed because they bought something from the local McDo outlet.

The couple were still grinning as they approached the place where I waited for them. Paolo told me that they bought Coke from McDonald's. The members of the staff don't speak English while the couple doesn't speak Chinese. The quick-thinking Paolo pointed at a picture of a Coke tumbler and raised two fingers, gesturing that he wanted two tumblers of Coke.

The waitress obviously understood, as she smiled and said, "Okay, okay!" When she returned, she gave Paolo and Mel two orders of a value meal comprising of a large tumbler of Coke, cheeseburger and French fires. The tumbler of Coke which Paolo pointed at was part of the value meal. The waitress thought that the couple wanted two orders of that value meal.

Paolo and Mel just took it in stride and paid for the entire lot. They kept one cheeseburger and fries for themselves and gave the other burger and fries to me. Thus, when we watched the acrobatic show late that afternoon, I was well-provided for. In between taking still pictures and video of the show, I was munching on the burger and fries. Thanks again, Paolo!

In China, you must always have with you the business card with Chinese characters of the hotel where you are billeted. I made sure all members of the NFSP delegation had one. In case they get separated from the group, they can show the card to the taxi driver and the driver will know which hotel to take them.

Thankfully, not one member of the delegation I was shepherding got separated from the group. Except for me. We were on our way back to the bus at around 9pm after the exhausting tour of the World Expo. I got carried away taking footages of the mesmerizing lights of the different pavilions. When I looked around, I did not see any familiar face. Worse, I didn't know where to start looking because I didn't even know where the bus is parked and I was a stranger to the place.

The group waited at the bus while the guide looked for me. After sometime, NFSP president Nene Rojas said, "Don't worry about Butch. He can find his way back to the hotel." So off went the bus without me.

Resigned to the fact that I had to take a taxi back to the hotel, I immediately approached an empty taxi stopping at a red light in an intersection. The driver waved me away, pointing at a designated taxi loading area. I went there and had to line up for several minutes before it became my turn to board a taxi.

I approached a Chinese policeman, saying "I speak no Chinese. I need to get back to the hotel." I showed him the hotel's business card. He took the card, gave instructions to the taxi driver and, with a polite wave of his hand and a slight bow, motioned for me to board the taxi. I thanked the police with a lower bow and eventually got back to the hotel without any problem.

Some members of our delegation who were having a beer at the lobby had a good laugh when I arrived. They laughed harder after my interaction with the waitress that same night.

I needed to light my cigarette so I approached the waitress and gestured for a lighter. She looked puzzled. I was also stumped on how to make myself understood. I took a cigarette, put it between my lips, made a gesture of lighting a match and applied the imaginary matchstick to the tip of my unlighted cigarette.

Discernment dawned on her face. "Ah!" she said, ecstatic that we finally understood each other. She vigorously nodded her head and exclaimed, "Fire! Fire!"

Members of our group from Central Visayas retorted, "Asa man sunog, Butch?"

(For reactions and suggestions, email bbacaoco@yahoo.com.)