CRI Interview in French

In our office meeting room

On 8 November 2021 CRI Interview in French in my office, with the journalist Zhang Xiyan who had prepared a list of questions for me, see here: 211108 CRIquestions
The topic was my 40 years in China.

The interview online on 28 November 2021, in French

Média: service radio, CGTN français, or CRI (China Radio International)Gilbert Van Kerckhove, dont l’arrivée en Chine a coïncidé avec le début de la politique de réforme et d’ouverture, a, durant cette période, mis en œuvre le projet d’un centrale électrique dans la province du Henan, au centre de la Chine. Il a ensuite créé le bureau d’Alstom pour la région de l’est de la Chine à Shanghai.

Voici le contenu: 211128 CRIinterview

Un extrait des 36 minutes:

“Originaire de Gand en Belgique, Gilbert Van Kerckhove est titulaire d’un master en Ingénierie électronique. Sa première visite en Chine remonte à 1980. Il a travaillé pendant plus des 40 ans en Chine, principalement à Beijing. Mais l’ingénieur belge a aussi travaillé quelque peu à Hong Kong et à Shanghai.

Gilbert Van Kerckhove, dont l’arrivée en Chine a coïncidé avec le début de la politique de réforme et d’ouverture, a, durant cette période, mis en œuvre le projet d’un centrale électrique dans la province du Henan, au centre de la Chine. Il a ensuite créé le bureau d’Alstom pour la région de l’est de la Chine à Shanghai. C’est aussi lui qui a sollicité et obtenu la construction avec succès de la ligne 3 du métro de Shanghai et de Shanghai Jinmao Tower. Toutes ces réalisations lui ont valu le Prix Magnolia, une distinction qui récompense les étrangers qui ont contribué au développement de la municipalité de Shanghai.

Il était impliqué dans les Jeux Olympiques 2008 de Beijing. Durant la préparation de ce rendez-vous sportif mondial, Gilbert Van Kerckhove a travaillé au sein de plusieurs départements du gouvernement de Beijing. Fin connaisseur de la Chine, il est fondateur d’une société de conseil en matière de gestion. Sa société propose des conseils stratégiques aux entreprises tant chinoises qu’étrangères.”

VIW hosted 3 Flemish China Old Hands


In the evening of 28 September 2021 VIW hosted 3 Flemish China Old Hands in the Belgian Embassy of Beijing.VIW – “Vlaanderen in the Wereld”, see

I am not sure but I think I am member of VIW since the early eighties. We now have a dynamic representative in Beijing, Tina, who organised the succesful event in collaboration with the Belgian Embassy. Thanks Tina, thanks to our embassy!

Gilbert, one of the speakers

I found it a challenge to give an overview of my 40 years of China in less than 20 minutes… (I think I talked for about 22 minutes). I had a valuable help from Tina’s son who was the “clicker”. I also brought “3 exhibits”.

I never did a similar presentation but my talk was a bit like the following talk I gave:

“In the evening of 29 May 2018 Gilbert spoke for the Rotaract Club of Beijing West, in a lecture hall gently provided by Beijing University. The audience of 45 young people listened to the story of two major projects Gilbert was involved in, to understand how the Chinese administration works and how one can succeed in “Mission Impossible” through perseverance, innovation and continuous learning. One project explained how subway building resumed in China in 1998 through his success in getting Shanghai Line 3 approved by the central government. The other case explains how Gilbert received the challenge to look for funding for the 2008 Olympics, to build the major venues, and how the contracts were awarded.
The two projects are part of his seminars on how to do successful lobbying in China.”
(I still need to write a post about it… see the picture)

The other speakers

Johan from the embassy welcomed us all and Tina hosted the rest of the meeting. Snacks were sponsored by TRB and beers by Duvel Moortgat.

Two other seasoned expats with an impressive career presented their story:
Pol Castermans, Sales Director, North China at Duvel Moortgat – Beijing, China
Kris Van Goethem, Managing Director MICE, LEISURE & SPORT at Thomas Cook – Shanghai, China

Rotary Club of Beijing memories

Cleaning up my paper mountain

As many friends know, I have this annoying statement since a few years that I am trying to clean up the mountain of files in my office. Annoying because I always mention it but failed to make any progress. But I am discovering a lot like Rotary Club of Beijing memories, among many other. It seems like a huge jigsaw puzzle as papers are all mixed up, sometimes with no date stamp. But yes I am making progress and my tricycle recycling friend has more waste paper to collect.
But sometimes I am left puzzled about those hazy memories.

A gold medalist

I stumbled on this small newspaper clipping:

I think the small article is from China Daily. I found the longer version here:

I had nearly forgotten about it. I found back the old post on my website, see here the updated version:
Sergey Bubka, the IOC and Beijing Rotary Club,

Few of our present members ever heard about Sun Children Village… One of the projects we supported. We even had a Rotary Villa there…

GSE 2008

GSE is “Group Study Exchange”. We did that in 2008 when we sent a Chinese team to New Zealand and we then received their team in Shanghai and Beijing. It was a difficult and complicated organization with our Kiwi friends staying all over the city in different locations and changing then from one family to the other. One, Jo, stayed with me and I found back her note, see the pic. I had also organized for her a meeting with one of the most important pharmaceutical companies involved in diabetes medicine; Ms. Joana Young BSc, PG Dip SCi was doing her PhD – Clinical Scientist, Lipid and Diabetes Research Group, Christchurch Hospital.

We had a very varied and full program for the group, but also filled with fun: I took them to a big lesbian evening where we had a great night. To say farewell to our New Zealand GSE team we organized a dinner on Friday 25 April 2008 in Restaurant Sahara (long gone, close to Salsa Caribe, also gone). We had a large VIP room with our own buffet of Middle East cuisine plus belly dancing in our room.

See some of the many pics (never published). One is during our Rotary lunch with the whole team presented; one in Pipe Cafe, long gone and razed, gongti nan lu, that time the biggest lesbian bar where I had privileged access; one in Sahara Restaurant.
Overall it was a big success but it also proved to be too much work for the Club.

Little Leopard went to space

VHS tape

As I mentioned the VHS tape, there was another section at the end: Little Leopard went to space. As it is on that 1984 tape I assume it came on TV that year. Strangely enough when I researched the story, it was apparently only “known” in 2018. Weird!
See the SCMP article:

‘China’s secret 1960s mission to send two dogs into space”
25 February 2018
Academy reveals how it selected the animals and strapped them into tiny, windowless capsules mounted on rockets for a journey they somehow survived
Stephen Chen in Beijing

It is Little Leopard

As maybe many cannot reach the article, see a PDF of an edited version. Read the original for all details.

180225 dogsinspace

Comparing the screenshots and the pictures, it is clearly Little Leopard and not Shan Shan.

See the screenshots, with the brave dog being prepared for launch, placed in the rocket and welcomed back on earth. The launch was apparently on Friday 15 July 1966, on a secret military base in Guangde county, Anhui province.

1 October 1984 Military Parade

Gilbert in Beijing

I witnessed the 1 October 1984 Military Parade for the 35th anniversary of PRC, the first in 24 years. After 1984: 1999 (50th anniversary); 2009 (60th anniversary – with me!); 2019 (70th anniversary).
That time I was working and living in the West Wing of Beijing Hotel, with my office in suite 5087.
The hotel had asked us to leave a few days ahead,  as on the day of the parade we could not leave, we could not open a window nor stand “too close” to it.
I decided to stay. It was a unique experience. Armed with my camera I stayed on a chair to look over the balcony at Chang’an Avenue below. Security was all over the parking lot, armed with binoculars and scanning the windows. As expected, they saw me and soon got a visit to “behave”. I didn’t.

Parade and fireworks

In the evening I was able to see the fireworks on Tiananmen from my balcony of my bedroom (5109), that had a great view on the Forbidden City and Tiananmen. That room and balcony no longer exist as a new hotel was built next to the West Wing. As far as I can reconstruct, I then went out to Tiananmen and shot more pictures there.

Ah I miss those times. Tiananmen had zero barriers, you could walk over there any time of day and night. I even remember I rode my Vespa on that square! (yeah I had an embassy plate…).
The pictures of the fireworks are great, already at that time China was a master in doing it. No need for fake stuff on TV screen (like for the Olympics fireworks…). It was all real.

VHS tape

I recovered the VHS tape with the full coverage of the 1 October 1984 Military Parade. The quality is poor, I actually assume it is a copy of the original VHS tape done by a friend, see some screenshots. Mind you that was some 35 years ago… different technology today!
Interestingly the images do not have any CCTV or BTV logos! I was wondering, is the tape that bad or was there really such a horrible pollution?

Yes, pollution was terrible that day. At that time nobody paid attention to something called AQI as we never heard about it. I guess AQI was way above 500.

The pictures

The proof was with the pictures I took that day, see the scans, all enhanced as much as possible. It’s a thick haze. Most of the time it had a sulphur smell (and color). I still have tons of old pics to scan, and to find back the negatives.

Pretty interesting to see those images of 1984, the people, the trucks, the soldiers, the floats, the TV presenters. On 1 October 2009 I was myself in the parade, on a float. Our daughter was running besides it with other young people. Somehow things change little, somehow things change a lot.

Madam Chen Muhua

I saw Madam Chen Muhua in the movie (she is not listed below). She was a remarkable person and I had a lot of respect for her. I also met her at one point, I forgot when. But she did visit the company in Charleroi I was representing in China: ACEC. Another great lady I met a few times in person was Vice President Wu Yi. Sadly, I don’t see ladies like that today in the government.

Chen Muhua, Vice Premier – State Councilor. She also served as Minister of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade. The veteran Communist Party of China revolutionary, the second female vice-premier, held several other key posts including state councillor, Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress vice-chairwoman and All-China Women’s Federation president. In 1985, she became the People’s Bank of China governor and was credited by some as a pioneer of China’s financial reform.

The leaders

1984 leaders present – Government top:
President Li Xiannian
Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping
Premier Zhao Ziyang

Parade – Leaders in attendance

  • Hu Yaobang (General Secretary)
  • Li Xiannian (President of the PRC)
  • Deng Xiaoping (CMC chairman and Conference chairman)
  • Zhao Ziyang (Premier, official master of ceremonies)
  • Other Politburo Standing Committee members and Politburo members
  • Deng Yingchao (widow of Zhou Enlai)
  • Li Ximing (Party Committee Secretary of Beijing)
  • Chen Yun, First Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection
  • Peng Zhen, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress
  • Deng Yingchao, Chairwoman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference
  • Ulanhu, Vice President of the PRC
  • Xu Xiangqian, the 4th Minister of National Defense
  • Nie Rongzhen, the first and only Commander-in-Chief of the PLA
  • Prince Norodom Sihanouk (see the pic)
  • Son Sann, 22nd Prime Minister of Cambodia
  • Khieu Samphan, Chairman of the State Presidium of Democratic Kampuchea
  • Hoàng Văn Hoan, former Vietnamese Ambassador

Watch (with comments in Cantonese) the parade (Youtube, needs VPN):