By Carla Marie Rupp and Nina Di Rupp
We have a rare, personal story to tell that is much more than being wined and dined and seeing scenery in China. It’s that we found real friendship is possible when people visit each other’s countries, eat together and share stories.
We are sisters-in-law, united by brother and husband Larry back home in the U.S., who are part of a Sister Cities International project with Jinzhou, a historic city in China, and Arvada, Colorado, Nina’s home city.
As vice president of the City of Arvada’s Sister Cities program, Nina was appointed by the Mayor of Arvada to lead the city’s delegation for the big opening ceremony of the 2013 Jinzhou World Landscape Art Exposition, which lasts from May to October. We feel so fortunate that we “sisters” are able to make a Sister Cities Friendship trip together to Nina’s native country of China.
Jinzhou is a harbor city on the Bohai Sea in the northeast of China and our story begins following an easy, three-hour ride on the high-speed train from Beijing. When we arrive at the city’s South Railway Station the first thing we notice is how beautiful the blue sky appears and how clean the air is in contrast to Beijing.
We are warmly welcomed by Ma and Hawk from the Jinzhou Foreign Affairs Office, our hosts on this exchange visit. They smile and tell us they will show us around and make us feel comfortable before the grand opening of the much-awaited Landscape Expo in a few days.
We’re excited as they bring us to the Sheraton Jinzhou, a beautiful five-star hotel. During our stay there we found the staff so polite, and the service and food exceptional. Soon after checking in, we are invited to a bountiful, private Chinese banquet hosted by Deputy Mayor Ms. Jingxiang An, the first of several delicious feasts prepared at the hotel.
At these banquets food certainly plays a part in breaking the ice for us all in getting to know each other. We relish passing around plates of fish, lemon grass, dumplings, Chinese cabbage, spicy tofu, purple yams, clams and boiled peanuts, and as we comment on the variety of dishes, conversations between us turn more personal. It’s not long before friendships begin to develop.
But during this first banquet more than the sumptuous meal awes us. David Anderson, a member of our delegation, surprises everyone by speaking fluent Chinese! He admits that as a China expert and lawyer, he had lived in China for several years.
In the evening, as we stroll about the plaza around the high-rise hotel, we find plenty of friendly people, some of whom invite us to take part in their nightly dancing-for-exercise class. It’s so much fun, imitating them and working off some of the calories from the earlier banquet!
Since organized touring in China often includes meeting local people and touring businesses, we have cultural exchanges in places as diverse as the Bank of Jinzhou (with each employee standing as we entered a room), a glass-door factory, at large port facilities down at the harbor, a high school and at Bohai University, where the campus features waterfalls and even a London-style, Big Ben clock.
We also enjoy visiting many of the charming city’s cultural attractions, including the Beizhen Temple and the Guangji Temple, also known as the Great Buddha Temple, part of the Jinzhou Museum downtown. The temple includes the celebrated Liao Tower, constructed to preserve Buddha relics.
The groundwork for our trip was set in 2007 when Jinzhou officials came to Colorado to set up the ongoing project of friendship in a Sister Cities relationship. One night we were fortunate to meet Wei Liu, the former deputy mayor of the city of Jinzhou, who made that visit to America, and he entertained us with a typical barbeque grill meal that was so incredibly fun and jovial.
Nina, who is also the President of the Colorado Chinese Chamber of Commerce, loves talking about her life in the United States and about all the Chinese businesses, attractions and restaurants she knows about.
Jinzhou turns out to be a great four days. We discover that the city not only offers a special environment for foreign businesses, but is also an attractive place for travelers, as well. It’s an ideal place for at least a few days holiday in a smaller metropolis than huge Beijing.
An intriguing reason to visit the city this summer is the beautiful 2013 World Landscape Art Exhibition that is taking place there, a series of large, creatively-designed, gorgeous gardens planned by 19 international landscape architects. It’s a great mix of nature and creativity of humankind in the gardens, and you see beauty celebrated everywhere by garden lovers and landscape architects from Germany, Taiwan, Italy, Holland and other countries.
We enjoyed traveling through the rainbow of flowers in the gardens on open-air trams and later attending a magnificent show in the theater, with fantastic dancing, singing, acrobats and set design. All visitors to the Expo will be able to see the same show we saw on its spectacular opening day and the park will remain for visitors to enjoy after the official Expo closes in October.
Perhaps then the skies will still be clear blue every day, just as they remained during our entire sister visit.
If you go:
2013 Jinzhou World Landscape Art Exposition
Jinzhou Sheraton Hotel
No. 68 Keji Road
Songshan New District
Jinzhou, China 121000
+86 (416) 7999999
China National Tourism Office