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Connecting with folks in Galt — and in Shanghai

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Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:02 am, Tue Sep 25, 2012.

On a recent Friday while having a great lunch at Wholey Ravioli with the incomparable Frank "The Tank" Duwel, owner of Propane Express and president of the Real Men's Club of Galt, Frank handed me a flyer: "Thursday, October 4th at the McFarland Ranch. Charitable lunch donation of $25."

Frank the Tank has at one time or another handed a flyer to nearly every man in Galt, Herald and Wilton. The Tank explained, "Most of our members are either too old or too stubborn like me to bother with Facebook and emails."

On the other hand, maybe they are just too smart. No electronic device will ever replace with power of a face-to-face meeting, especially one that is shared over a great meal. We humans are just wired that way.

Serving lunches for 200-plus men at a time, the Real Men's Club has raised over $40,000 this year for Galt charities.

"I know we can reach $100,000 by the end of the year," Frank said with a contagious confidence.

Originally from Galt, Ontario, Canada, Frank's first language was French. His parents moved to Oakland when he was just 12 years old. Growing up in Oakland speaking only French molded the young Frank into a tank with an indomitable spirit.

Today living in Galt, California, he begins his work day at 4 a.m. so he can finish by noon. After that, he dedicates much of his time to charity work. I was surprised to learn over lunch that Tank followed my columns.

"Hey, make sure the next time you go to China that you bring back some jobs with you," he said.

It so happened "next time" was going to be in two days, and bringing jobs to our region was the purpose of my trip.

Saturday was dedicated to packing and saying good-bye. Six bottles of Barsetti's wine, several tubs of Spaans' windmill cookies, 8 pounds of almonds and several bags of Ghiradelli chocolate made for a tight fit, but strategically fell just shy of the 50-pound baggage limit. My second bag included two suits, both a Galt Chamber and Lodi Chamber logo shirt, along with my only pair of cowboy boots. My carry-on was filled with brochures for the Port of Stockton, five brass Lodi belt buckles and a about a hundred newly designed Visit Lodi! pamphlets specifically geared for the Mandarin-speaking traveler.

Before leaving for my South San Francisco hotel, I made sure to drop by and visit the man who first introduced me to the fascinating Chinese culture when I was just a teenager. Yau Hing "Peter" Leung is a long-time Lodi resident and retired "New Shanghai" noodlemaker whose resume includes being a cook for the British Army in Nepal and a bouncer in Hong Kong. Both he and his wife Wai Ling have been like second parents to me for more than 25 years. They gave me a little "lucky money" for my trip before hugging me good-bye.

Sunday's 12-hour-and-59-minute flight against the wind to Shanghai went very well. After traveling 6,158 miles, it was a welcome sight to see the "Welcome Frank Gayaldo" sign being held by Mr. Quin, the gentleman who drove former California Gov. Schwarzenegger during his September 2010 China trade mission.

I was dropped off at a four-star hotel suite within close walking distance to the AIG Building, where a lot of my meetings in Shanghai would take place over the next few days before I had to leave for Guangxi. My dear buddy Tie Zhang was busy arranging last-minute details for his huge "Discover California Wines" press conference, which I was invited to help kick off.

After not allowing me to unload my own luggage, Mr. Quin graciously handed me a couple hundred RMB. I now had 300 RMB (roughly $50 USD) to entertain myself with.

Around 8:30 p.m., after taking a shower and changing into a T-shirt and some blue jeans, I decided to go for a walk. The weather was perfect, and the city was alive with a chaotic orchestra of cars, mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians.

From looking at the pictured menu, it was clear one red 100 RMB bill would be more than enough to cover my meal at the mid-scale noodle house I stumbled upon. The slightly English-speaking staff seemed rather amused at the fact that I could use chop sticks like a local. They brought me great-tasting Hong Kong-style noodles, and a lot of them. The staff of eight smiled broadly in unison as my waiter and the owner graciously shook my hand as I got up to leave. The owner put my leftover noodles in a plastic container.

In a city of 24 million people, it is surprising how easy it is to feel lonely.

On my way back to the hotel I noticed a man about my own middle age with clearly atrophied legs, pushing himself across a busy street on a crude plywood platform supported by four small coaster wheels. The man smiled at me very kindly and then quickly took off. I stood at the corner for a moment and then inexplicably decided to follow him down a dark and narrow street.

When I caught up to him, between his gnarled and disfigured legs I noticed a tin can looking rather empty. I offered him some leftover noodles and then stuffed the remainder of my lucky money into his can. He clasped his hands together and bowed his head. I did the same.

As I walked back to my hotel, I didn't feel so far away from home.

Frank Gayaldo is the CEO of the Galt Chamber of Commerce.

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