Let me first start off by saying that these past two days of my life were easily two of the most wonderful days I’ve ever experienced, thanks to China and representatives from around the world. I had the honor of attending the 2011 Canal Cities Expo and First Cities Design Summit as a part of Mayor Cooke’s delegation. After meeting the founder of Shuren school when the mayor came to visit Shuren to come and get me, we had a meeting about the importance of Sister City programs and cultural exchanges. (For those of you who didn’t know, I was a youth ambassador for our Sister City program in 2006 in Yangzhou.) We then took a car to the extravagant banquet prepared just for us. I sat with mayors, government officials, representatives from international programs (like me!), and more. Everyone was more than friendly towards me and I enjoyed the company of every great person I met. The banquet included all kinds of entertainment, from singers to dancers and a unique, magic puppet show. My amazement didn’t end there, however. After the banquet we were entranced by the opening ceremony, which rivaled that of Beijing in 2008. (Okay, well maybe it wasn’t as large but it was still incredible!) The amount of work put into this expo and the unmatched hospitality of China towards its guests still has me in awe to this moment. Unfortunately, words cannot express the miraculous display at the opening ceremony. Noteworthy events included the breathtaking fireworks show and absolutely gorgeous boat show which included ballet dancers on lit vessels, choreographed to perfection with the music and light/laser show. We also got a moonlit tour on dragon boats and witnessed the brilliance of floats as they passed us in the canal. There were 16 floats in total, each one more outstanding than the next. I had the pleasure of speaking with delegates from Belgium, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Korea, Panama, China, France, England, and more! And they all certainly got a kick out of me knowing words or phrases in their native language (automatic conversation starter!)
I was the youngest attendee at this event by far, but I felt welcomed and respected by all who encountered me. Today after having breakfast with Mayor Cooke (who is, by the way, a marvelous person to say the least) and Alan Lai (an awesome person as well), I attended the Mayors Forum and got a front-row seat, thanks to Madame Deng! We discussed city development/urbanization, environmental renovation and preservation, and many more topics on which I took a plethora of notes. My table included an earphone translator, where there were 18 channels (English was channel 2) so no matter what language was being spoken, everyone could understand. The service was incredible – you take one sip from your glass, and an attendant is at your side. Two sips, and your glass is filled. The fantastic attendance was outdone only by their genuine congeniality and the fact that about 90% of the people working this event… are VOLUNTEERS. Yes, that’s right. (By the way, there were hundreds if not thousands of people who worked this event.) I was told by someone, “Of course they volunteer their services, they want to show their hospitality and welcome you to their country.” I’ve never seen anything like it.
I then, later tonight after our dinner, had the wonderful pleasure of attending a concert full of symphonies and opera music which were extremely well done! Standing ovations and encores were the theme of this night, as one of the last symphonies incorporated a cap-gun and hilariously startled the entire audience. I’m sad that I can’t make it to the last part of the expo (I start teaching tomorrow!) but you can be sure I will cherish the past two days for the rest of my life. I wish there were terms which could properly paint a picture of this event, but there is simply no adequate way to explain the feelings, the sights, the tastes, or the company. (Quick shout-out to my dad: At least five people at the expo recognized me as your daughter and they said to tell you hello and that they much appreciate your work with the Sister City Committee and China.) This was a great experience for me, and I’m blessed to have made so many contacts in so many countries who are awaiting my future visits! Also, did I mention I had a translator and assistant helping me throughout the entire event? I don’t know where I would be right now if I hadn’t received such help. There is truly no country like China.