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Canadian consul sings praises of expat community, Mexico’s warmth, grasshoppers & birria consommé

Yvonne Chin rejected posts in Barcelona, Barbados and Vietnam to head up the Canadian Consulate in Guadalajara and says she has never regretted the decision for one moment.

“My favorite assignment in 14 years,” is how Chin described her stint in Mexico, as she packed suitcases this week in preparation to head home after three “fantastic” years in Mexico – a country she says exudes warmth.

Naturally outgoing and down to earth, Chin from the outset made a special effort to engage with the large Canadian community in the Lake Chapala area.

The connection was immediate and the amiability reciprocated.

“From the moment I met Yvonne I knew she would make a valuable contribution in representing Canadians as our consul,” said Dan McTavish of the Canadian Club of Lake Chapala. “She was so very generous with her time with all Canadian organizations and organizations with Canadian membership in the Lake Chapala area. As Yvonne cared and was interested in our lakeside lifestyle she got to know so many Canadians living here and they got to know and admire her.”

Chin says she always tried to emphasize the importance of the Canadian community when talking with state and municipal authorities.

“They contribute so much to the economy, and are so active in many charities,” she said.

Increased tourism proves that Canadians “still love Mexico,” Chin said, “despite what at times is written in the press about this country.”

The 1.8 million Canadians who visited Mexico in 2012 represents 5.6 percent of the population, she noted.  The figure is up from 1.6 million in 2011.

Contrary to some reports, Chin said the Canadian population in the Lake Chapala is almost certainly increasing, since Consulate staff have not seen any decrease in the quantity of services they deliver to citizens.

Chin’s background is in trade and she said her commercial duties during her tour have given her immense satisfaction.

As well as overseeing a slew of incoming and outgoing trade missions, Chin has got to see first-hand the impact of Canadian investment in the region covered by the Consulate, which includes six states.

Heading a list of projects Chin quickly rattles off is the 25-million-dollar value-added-center in Lagos de Moreno (Centro de Valor Agregado) that opened in March 2012 and which is of Canadian design and modeled on a similar facility in Alberta.

Another enterprise with significant Canadian input is Agricola al Rosal, a greenhouse operation in Guanajuato that produces tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers for export and is the second largest producer of greenhouse vegetables in North America.  “A reason why they are so efficient is that 70 percent of their technology comes from Canada (from a company called Harnois),” Chin said, adding that she had never seen “such perfect” tomatoes and peppers in her life.

Unbeknownst to many,  Chin said, “70 percent of anything milk and egg related in this region comes from Canadian genetics.”

And Chin also highlighted the natural gas pipeline running from Manzanillo to Guadalajara being built by TransCanada – yet another feather in Canada’s cap.

Describing herself as “a small town girl” – she was born and raised in Sarnia, Onatario – Chin said she often had to pinch herself during her tour when meeting with important dignitaries and heads of state.

One person who left a lasting impression was Canada’s Governor General David Johnston, who attended the Pan American Games in October 2011.

“He was so sincere, intelligent and willing to do anything I asked of him, including interviews, even though he was on the point of losing his voice.  I just wanted to hug him. I didn’t, of course.”

On a personal level, her time in Mexico will always hold special memories for Chin, as she married her husband David in Playa del Carmen in 2011.

When she started her assignment, the couple had formulated plans to explore other Latin American countries during their free time. In the event, Mexico offered all they needed and, apart from a short visit to Belize, they never ventured outside its borders.

Favorite spots visited, Chin said, include the Jalisco mountain towns of Tapalpa and Mazamitla, the beach resort of Sayulita and the fascinating southern city of Oaxaca.

With cooking one of her major hobbies, Chin found herself right at home in Mexico.

“I have to admit I love food with fat in it, so the discovery of things like manteca, chicharron, carne en su jugo and tripe tacos was wonderful.

“I think I have a more adventurous palate than many of the (Mexican) staff at the Consulate. I’ve eaten things that  some of them have never tried, such as grasshoppers from Oaxaca and menudo.”

Chin said she learned how to make tamales, salsas and moles, and shopped regularly at the local Atemejac market at Federalismo and Patria, where she got to know the vendors and could always rely on the fresh produce and find her favorite tipple – birria consommé.

And in becoming the first Canadian consul to ever participate in the annual Chili Cookoff in Ajijic, Chin made a big impression, finishing in second place.  Her popular recipe included Canadian beer, ground chicharron and her own homemade chili powder.

Another favorite haunt of Chin and her husband has been the Zapopan Fish Market, where she said a delicious plate of a dozen fresh oysters can be bought for 45 pesos, rather then the 45 dollars one might pay in Canada. “It’s silly not to go there,” she said.

And in sampling some of the many top-class restaurants in Guadalajara, Chin was always pleased to find the increasing presence of Canadian beef – even in Argentine grills advertising that they served Argentine beef.

Chin has also pushed the Consulate into the modern era by developing its social media networks, including setting up a group of former Mexican alumni who have studied in Canada and want to continue engaging with the country.

Chin also paid tribute to her 10-member staff at the Consulate – including four Mexicans who have each been there for more than 15 years. The team, she said, “is of the highest caliber and among the best bureaucrats I have seen anywhere in the world.”  They have “a strong belief in what they are doing.”

As for her immediate future, Chin will be taking a year off from the foreign service to travel with her husband throughout South East Asia, taking in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma and other countries.

Although Chin said she would have loved to stay on an extra year in Guadalajara, she promised her husband that she would take a sabbatical. “And I always keep my promises,” she added.

Unable to single out one particular highlight of her tour in Mexico – ”there have been so many” – Chin said taking part  Remembrance Day services on behalf of Canada was especially rewarding. 

“At home we always used to go to these services but this is the only time I’ve been asked to speak and represent Canadians in the room. It’s a very humbling experience because you’re not just representing fellow citizens but people that you’ve lost, people who are continuing to serve.”

Understandably, Canada often falls “under the radar” in Mexico given the size and dominance of the United States, but Chin said she hoped her efforts had managed to raise the nation’s profile in some way.

“At the end of the day, we are just bureaucrats and I will be happy if people say the mission was run well.”

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