June 28 was a memorable and eventful day for Michel Humbert, one that the 67-year-old Frenchman said he would never forget.
At 8:30 am, he arrived as usual at the Yantai Investment Development Board office in the city in East China's Shandong Province, where he works as a senior adviser.
He dealt with some e-mails from overseas business groups, and then with some urgent matters. At 10:30 am, he went to the Overseas Chinese Hotel to take part in an official ceremony held especially for him.
At the ceremony, Humbert was made an honorary resident of Yantai for his contributions to the coastal city.
"This is the proudest moment in my life! Two words are coming to my mouth: happiness and pride," Humbert told those at the ceremony. "I love Yantai and I am so proud of being considered a son of the city."
Humbert first came to China 13 years ago to work for a big multinational company.
During his time at the firm, he travelled to many parts of China to supervise the establishment of many joint ventures.
His honesty and hard work won him the respect of many people. In June 2000, Humbert retired and decided to stay in China.
"During my 13 years in China, I've fallen in love with the country. I can't leave China, and China has become my second homeland," he said.
On the recommendation of the Shandong provincial government, he started to work as a senior adviser at the development board.
He gladly took up his new job and insisted that he get only a living wage. In the past two years, Humbert has sent more than 7,700 e-mails and over 2,000 faxes to multinational enterprises to help seek out business opportunities for Yantai.
He has helped establish ties between Yantai and more than 700 well-known companies in Europe, including 15 of the world's top 500 enterprises. Nine companies have signed memorandums with the city, and five large projects are to begin in the city soon.
Many overseas organizations have visited Yantai on Humbert's recommendation. They were surprised to see the prosperity of the city and the development of China.
"I don't work here for money. During my stay in China, I've set up my career and accomplished my life's value. Now I am repaying this country," Humbert said. "Yantai is a very nice place. People here are extremely honest. I am not just helping Yantai but also promoting China."
Ren Jinfeng, a young man who has been working with Humbert for the past two years, said Humbert regards Yantai as his home. Yantai is forever in his mind and on his lips, said Ren.
Once Humbert noticed a State Tourism Bureau photo album that didn't have Yantai in it. When he was on a plane, he saw that Yantai was not marked on the airline's route map. He wrote letters to the authorities in charge, suggesting that they add Yantai.
In Humbert's mind, Yantai cannot be ignored.
To let more people find out about Yantai, Humbert always wears his development board identification card wherever he goes. He keeps a small map of China in his pocket to show new friends Yantai's location.
Humbert said Yantai and many other Chinese cities lack due recognition in the world and even within China.
Humbert and his wife Chantal are now leading a simple life in Yantai.
Reading newspapers and studying Chinese characters form part of Humbert's daily routine after he gets up at 6:15 am every day.
Humbert told China Daily that he is fascinated by the evolution of Chinese characters.
Peking Opera is Humbert's favourite television viewing.
He said that he has read many famous books translated into English written by Chinese authors from ancient to modern times, such as Confucius and Lao Tzu, and the 20th-century writers Ba Jin, Lu Xun and Ye Shengtao.
Humbert said he is becoming more and more Chinese as he makes more and more Chinese friends.
He said he loves Chinese food and believes that Chinese food is the healthiest and most delicious food in the world.
Humbert is also a man of letters. He has written six poetry collections. He said he is planning to write a book about his life in China.
Humbert is intoxicated by the sea view of Yantai. He likes walking by the beach and going fishing with his colleagues.
Though always busy with work at the weekend, the 67-year-old is still very energetic.
"I will be dedicated to my work for Yantai all the time. It is my pleasure, not a duty," he said.
He said that he plans to stay in Yantai as long as he can be of service "to my Chinese colleagues and friends."
He added: "I see no end to my life in Yantai, as long as I am strong enough to work efficiently for the city."
(China Daily July 18, 2003)