JUST a little over three months ago, while visiting the Pacific Joint Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in China, I got to know that I would be assigned to a country called Lesotho.
I was filled with excitement as I had never been to Lesotho before or anywhere else in Africa.
I immediately took my wife and son to the Africa Joint Pavilion where I had my first glimpse of how Lesotho looked like.
I soon learnt that Lesotho was literally a kingdom in the sky and that it was also in the belly of South Africa.
I also learnt that it had abundant mineral water, sandstone, maize, potatoes, mohair, aloe, trout and most amazingly the big diamond.
But what impressed me most was that thatched hut shaped like a peaked straw hat.
When I was back in Beijing from Shanghai, I kept surfing the internet and browsing through several books on Lesotho and southern Africa.
Interestingly I found some historic, cultural and ethnic linkages between China and Lesotho.
Some historians even suggest that the conical shaped Basotho hat originated from contact with the Orient or was most probably adopted from communities of so-called Chinese Hottentots of the Eastern Cape in South Africa.
I also came to know that in recent years Lesotho has gone through trying times particularly during the 1998 riots and post-election disturbances in 2007.
The Chinese community in Lesotho has been going through their business lawfully, living in peace with the local people while contributing their share to the development of Lesotho.
Three days before my departure for Maseru, Li Zhaoxing, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress and former Chinese foreign minister told me what fond memories he had of his posting in Lesotho.
He was then charge d’affaires of the Chinese embassy which was still under construction.
Because there were so many things to do yet so few staff members with him, he sometimes had to serve as his own assistant.
In his spare time, he even planted many trees with his colleagues in the compound.
Li wondered why he could do so much work and he concluded that perhaps it was because he was in the prime of life.
As Chinese Foreign Minister, he visited Lesotho in 2005 and was warmly received by His Majesty King Letsie III and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
He also visited the Chinese embassy and much to his delight, the trees he planted 20 years ago had grown tall and shady.
Li later presented me with a book which he edited entitled Little Stories of VIPs.
The book also mentions Moshoeshoe I among 67 other figures of world stature.
It mentions that Moshoeshoe I was well known for his eagerness to learn, his strong will and resourcefulness in dealing with difficult situations and his historic feat in uniting different tribes into one nation.
The moment the small plane I took touched the ground of Moshoeshoe I International Airport, I knew that the land which had been on my mind for some time was eventually unveiling itself, dissolving my curiosity and wild imagination.
Then, I was thrilled by the beautiful natural environment and admirable weather conditions in this country.
In the days that followed, whenever I skyped through internet with my wife and son talking about fresh air, lush trees and various flowers and chirping birds in our embassy compound, they could hardly conceal their envy.
Fortunately, they plan to join me on vacation in the near future.
Now it has been over a month since my arrival, I am getting more familiar and comfortable with everything around me.
I have started picking up some few Sesotho words and expressions.
I have also come to notice some similarities between Basotho traditions and Chinese culture, which are evidently reflected in some proverbs.
For instance, as a Basotho proverb goes: Lepotla-potla le ja poli, lesisitheho le ja khomo which can be translated the hasty one eats a goat, while the steady and thorough one eats a cow.
The proverb means success only comes from masterful planning and patient waiting.
You cannot achieve much if you are too hasty to get things done.
This is quite similar to our Chinese proverb which advises people that ‘hasty makes waste’. If you are impatient you cannot have the piping hot tofu. We also have a proverb which says fine products come from slow, patient work.
I have also learnt that the Basotho have a proverb which says: Motho ke motho ka batho which means a person is a person through other people.
It means that one can only become a member of the community by living together and interacting with other people.
This is commensurate with the Confucian emphasis on proper familial or social relationship.
Finally let me comment at the matter of China and Lesotho’s bilateral relations and co-operation.
Since my arrival in Lesotho Ambassador Gao Deyi has introduced me to several leaders of the government of Lesotho.
I have discovered that they, like many other leaders in developing countries, are putting tremendous effort to pursue stability and bring development to Lesotho.
Their aim is to essentially find solutions to poverty, disease and other tough problems affecting the people and effectively improve the living standards of Basotho.
China and Lesotho have enjoyed sound and friendly relations and co-operation over the years.
Since the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1994, particularly after the convening of Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation in 2000, China has provided aid within its capacity to Lesotho and other African countries.
The projects in Lesotho range from the Manthabiseng Convention Centre, the National Library, the new parliament building as well as schools, roads, broadcasting and television network and telecommunications equipment.
China has also sent agro-technology experts and seven groups of medical teams to Lesotho.
All these efforts testify to the good-will and friendship from the Chinese government and people toward the people and government of Lesotho.
At present, we also see progress in bilateral trade and economic co-operation between the two countries.
The Chinese government has been encouraging and supporting Chinese businessmen to invest in Lesotho, thus playing an even more important role in Lesotho’s economic development.
This year has been highly significant in China-Lesotho ties. His Majesty King Letsie III and Prime Minister Mosisili both attended the Shanghai Expo on separate occasions.
The traditional performances staged by the Basotho artists at the Expo won wide acclaim.
Therefore, Lesotho is no longer that far from us.
All of us should think seriously about what we can do to enhance the friendship and co-operation between China and Lesotho.
I firmly believe that with concerted efforts by both sides, what lies ahead of us will be an even more promising prospect for a mutually beneficial co-operation in various fields.
● Lai Bo is Counsellor of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Kingdom of Lesotho. Before assuming his current position, he served as Deputy Director for policy analysis at the Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously, he had worked at the Chinese Embassy in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the Chinese Consulate