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The First Ever Veg Congress in China

I'm writing this from the 5th Asian Veg Union Congress in Hangzhou, China.  Just a text summary for now, photos will follow next week as there are too many to sort through and no time here.

The story so far for me : –

Sunday Nov. 6 - drove four hours to London, then usual couple of hours hanging around the airport, ten hours flight to Beijing, another couple of hours changing flights, boarded the plane to Hangzhou and sat on the tarmac for an hour and half (‘rush hour’ they said...), then the two hour flight. Arrived Hangzhou 5.30pm Monday, local time, about 24 hours after leaving home.

The vegan food on the flights was OK as airline food goes, the airlines all seem to get it from the same catering contractors. My first experience of Air China was OK too, I’ve flown with plenty worse.

Met Dr. George Jacobs, chair of the IVU council, arriving from Singapore a few minutes later and we decided to eat before going to our rooms. If I laid down I might not have got up again...

The hotel(s) are superb, we have a 5 star and a 4 star next to each other in the same parkland setting, with most of us, and the Congress, in the 4 star section.

The food is also outstanding – provided you like authentic Chinese food (which I do), very different to the sort of thing we get in Chinese restaurants in the west. There is a vast variety of very high quality – I have no idea what some of it is, but we’re assured it’s all vegan so I’ll try anything, and looking forward to more.

Having eaten we were then persuaded to attend a meeting of the Asian Veg Union, still without having seen our rooms, and I was feeling considerably the worse for wear by then. But they are a great bunch and we had a good meeting. The main topic was the venue for the next, 6th, Asian Veg Congress, which was agreed to be in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2013. The KL team are showing great enthusiasm and it promises to be another outstanding event. The plan is to combine this with the annual IVU Congress/Vegfest, so the whole world will be invited.

Finally to my room and some sleep – but up again at 6.30am to get breakfast, sort out a few things, and get to the opening ceremony, where the ‘leaders’ had bright red roses pinned on our jackets by Chinese girls in traditional costume.

The Congress itself inevitably started a little late as opening speeches in Asia are always taken seriously. The several hundred participants had a choice of two conference rooms with parallel sessions, George and myself chairing the first sessions, under orders to get things back on time again.

Many of the speakers were highly academic nutritionists – some with talks where I struggled to even understand the title... but there were also many other topics, including one from me on world veg*ism, and there seemed to be something for everyone during the day.

Dr, Susianto Tseng, from Indonesa, IVU Coordinator for Asia-Pacific, and now Vice President of AVU, also chaired some sessions and gave a talk. And Marly Winckler, IVU Coordinator for Latin America, came all the way from Brazil to take an equally active role (IVU does NOT pay for any of this). Most Asian countries were represented, with the largest delegation naturally from China.

The conference sessions were just for one day, we’re out for all day for day 2, so it was decided to have the ‘closing ceremony’ at the end of day 1.

On the way in we went through a very large foyer area with a huge, and quite extraordinary, exhibition of vegetable carvings. What the Chinese chefs can do turning vegetables into works of art has to be seen to be believed – photos next week...

The ceremony consisted of more speeches, handing the flag over to Malaysia, and a very grand banquet. I’ve been to many countries around the world but none do banquets like the Chinese. Photos of that next week too.

After dinner we boarded busses and were taken to see some Chinese music and dancing – which turned out to be in a vast auditorium, with dozens singers, dancers, acrobats, and an array of technological wizardry. All on a gigantic scale, way beyond anything I’ve seen before. Photos of that to come...

Today we’re visiting veg businesses in the morning, an interesting innovation for a Congress, and an afternoon of sightseeing at a temple by the lake (rain is forecast...).

Thursday I’m on the flight back to Beijing for a one night stopover with more veg friends up there. Then home on Friday to start sorting through all those photos.

This is an historic occasion. Just three years ago at the IVU Congress in Germany, we discussed how we had so few veg contacts in China, and whether we could find a way to improve that. Susianto and I went to Xiamen the following year, to speak at the first international veg forum in mainland China. But none of us imagined that we would be here at a full veg congress so soon. The waking of this sleeping dragon will have just as much impact on the veg*n world as on the rest of the world. This is just a beginning for organized veg*ism in China.

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