Roanoke Valley Sister Cities, Inc., founded in 1964, is honored to collaborate with seven sister cities around the world including Lijiang, China; Saint-Lo, France; Florianopolis, Brazil; Kisumu, Kenya; Wonju, South Korea; Pskov, Russia; and Opole, Poland.
In November, I had the honor of traveling to China to attend the 2018 Chinese International Friendship Cities Conference in Wuhan, China. That trip was followed by a visit to our sister city, Lijiang.
The high-level, diplomatic conference in Wuhan featured more than 700 delegates from around the world celebrating innovative ways to create and sustain win-win cooperation and relationships. With more than 11 million citizens, Wuhan is well known as a leading urban design city and is currently experiencing in excess of 10,000 construction projects throughout the city. Wuhan also is home to the famous Yellow Crane Tower and Eastlake Greenway, which much like Roanoke’s Greenway system is home to biking and pedestrian paths. The Greenway also is home to a new eco-wetlands complete with a public art project and electric bus shuttles to various parts of the lake.
In contrast, Lijiang in the mountains of the Yunnan Province is located at the foot of the sacred Snow Mountain, and much like Roanoke, has mountains all around. The city’s main industry is agriculture and markets abound featuring locally grown produce, cafes’, restaurants and shops ranging from stationery and gifts to home accessories and hardware. With a focus on the arts and education, I was introduced to Mr. Mu, an extraordinary sculptor and storyteller from the Naxi ethnic minority people (one of 26 in the Yunnan province and the largest in Lijiang. He works primarily as a woodcrafter, bringing together the ancient mystical relationship of nature and humanity with roots in the Dongba religion and Naxi stories. Along with his wife, Ajun, a photographer, we toured their warehouse workshop and heard stories of history and inspiration.
First, he took me to a vibrant stand of trees, red and shimmering with what appeared to be glints of light. As he began to tell the story of these ancient trees, dead at the hands of development and human neglect, he sought to bring new life, even while acknowledging the deep pain felt by the trees in the violence enacted upon them. To symbolize this pain, he filled each tree with intricate designs made by flat top nails. Each nail represents a scream of the trees, while also symbolizing a new pattern of hope in restoring the harmony and balance of nature and humanity. It reminded that art has the power to reclaim and restore that which has been violated or diminished and is returned to new life and meaning.
As part of our education initiative, I visited the Lijiang Teachers College, where I met with the dean, faculty and students, to further explore ideas for expansion of our new teacher/student internship program (with Virginia Tech and Roanoke College). We discussed hopes of expanding our exchange to include an English teacher from the U.S. Roanoke area, who would like to teach for a year in Lijiang.
In addition, I visited Lijiang’s top high school, meeting with a class of students who were eager to learn about our schools and students. With their principal, I discussed several creative proposals including a potential high-school teacher/student exchange.
Even in these difficult days of global and political divisiveness, our people, in Roanoke and in Lijiang, have an abiding belief in friendship. This friendship, especially through education and the arts, can overcome any obstacle as a way of growing our relationships with one another. For the experience and the people I will never forget, I say “xiexie” which means “thank you.”
For more information about or getting involved with Roanoke Valley Sister Cities, visit www.rvsci.us