China - Friendship Cities Conference and the Olympic VIllage, Beijing, 2008

The next day was the China International Friendship Cities conference and it was a big deal. Headline speakers were Vice Chair of the Foreign Ministry, and the Vice President of the country, Xi Jinping who called China “an all around open country”.  He stated that China’s future relies on reform and opening up.

Sister Cities is very important to everyone, with today nearly 1600 pairs of sister cities and provinces in China. The US has something like 700 sister city relationships already set up. In fact, I was at the head table for the banquet and sat next to the Mayor of Cologne, Germany and he told me that Cologne was a sister city of Indianapolis, which surprised me. Small world. You could look it up:  I did look it up and Indianapolis has four sister city programs including Taipei, Taiwan which we didn’t talk about in China.

To the right is Liu Qian, someone who we got to know years earlier from the Houston Consulate so it was a lot of fun to see him again in Beijing.

It was quite a conference over two days and over 500 people attended. For most of us, it was a huge pr session with each city or province touting their value to the friendship cities delegates and from a tourist perspective, it gives you some ideas of places to visit in China.   One of the presentations came from Shanghai, which has over 72 pairs of sister cities in 52 countries. They are gearing up for the Shanghai Expo 2010 which so far includes 222 countries to be exhibiting there.

This conference had speakers from many different languages and we were provided with headsets to listen to simultaneous translations and for the most part, came off very well. I was impressed.  Many of the foreign speakers actually spoke in English. The one that didn’t work well was a speaker from Ecuador, where the translator did not have the speech and so it was translated from Spanish to Chinese to English. You had the feeling of listening to a distant radio station where all you heard was small snippets of the conversation as it keeps cutting out. So we heard from representatives in Germany, Finland, Ecuador, Vanuatu, Japan, Hungary, Australia, and a number of other countries.

All of the hotels we had in the major cities were first rate and very luxurious. I spent one afternoon in Beijing trying to connect to my home computer to check my email. What I do is to run a small software package on the hotel’s computer to use what is called a VPN (Virtual Private Network) between that computer and mine at home which I had preset up for such connection to actually tap into my computer at home, take control of the keyboard and mouse, and use the hotel's monitor and printer. Makes checking all the email accounts so much easier. That is unless someone at home decides to use the computer to scan pictures <g>. I have discovered that two people using the same computer doesn’t work very well.

When the conference ended in the afternoon, the organizers decided to take all of us (probably 350 at that time), on a number of buses to see the Olympic village and to the Water Cube and Olympic Birds Nest stadium. They literally had hundreds of police officers lining the route to block traffic for a motorcade of over a dozen very large tour busses and the escort cars. 

A guide came on the bus I was riding on and told us to look for him and stay with him and to look for his very distinctive Olympic blue flag he was carrying. Problem was that every other bus guide had that same blue flag. I must have seen 20 of those blue flags all over the place as I wandered around taking pictures and having seen much of the Olympics on television, never realized the texture on the wall of the Water Cube. It looks like giant water bubbles that will change colors.

The Bird’s Nest stadium was also very impressive up close and seeing those massive steel girders is quite something to see. We got inside, wandered around, nearly got lost in the stadium but the sights there were something to see. Kind of wish I had gone to the Olympics.

To the left the Australia Delegation to the Friendship Forum. Check out their web page at:

Below is the inside of the Bird's Nest stadium and costumes from the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Dinner that night was a banquet hosted by the Beijing Municipal Government and was something else and I was privileged to sit beside the Mayor of Beijing.  It was an interesting dinner and if you had been in China, you would have seen it on the evening news. Sitting at the head table like that means I had little to eat as while there were many courses, they came prepared individually on very small plates which were placed in front of you and taken away very quickly. If you turn to talk to someone, it was gone. And in my case, I had an interpreter sitting behind me so that the Mayor and I could carry on a conversation.  It was a large table seating 25 people and you had plenty of elbow room.  Lots of toasts means congratulating all sorts of people on all sorts of events and that also means another plate disappears.  If you have never sat in on a prestigious Chinese banquet, you really should and while I do make light of it, it is a very special occasion that they throw with regularity.  The mayor of Beijing, Guo Jinlong, who was appointed in January 2008, has enormous prestige in China, even his business card is a point of elegance.

So, from here, now Hunan Province and Changsha.

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