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Committee works to contact sister city in China

Sister Cities Committee may be close to Mishan City connection

Posted: September 2, 2012 - 11:01pm

The chairman of the Juneau Sister Cities Committee said he has made progress in revitalizing Juneau’s sister city relationship with Mishan City in the far northeastern People’s Republic of China, a critical step toward a potential visit to the city by student musicians next summer, at a meeting Friday.

Tom Chard told fellow committee members assembled at the downtown public library that he has been exchanging emails with an official at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., who is trying to find a contact for the committee in Mishan City.

“I’m confident that within the next few weeks we’ll hear something from them to at least find out who’s on the other side,” Chard said.

The news was happily received by Chard’s fellow committee members. The Sister Cities Committee has been working recently to breathe life into Juneau’s sleepy sister city relationships, including its one with Mishan City, but has struggled to make lasting contacts abroad.

Renewing the relationship with Mishan City is especially timely because the Juneau String Ensembles, a group of local student musicians led by Shanghai-born conductor Guo Hua Xia, is raising money for a planned trip to China next summer.

Mishan City is not currently on the group’s travel agenda. The nearest city that is on the agenda, the Chinese capital city of Beijing, is connected to Mishan City by train.

While 25 people, including Xia and his wife, are slated to go on the trip, Chard said it appears likely that if Mishan City were to be wedged into the musicians’ itinerary, not all of that group would be able to travel there.

“They’ve expressed some preliminary interest in maybe taking a smaller group up there, especially if it’s something that, you know, we can help support,” said Chard.

Maria Uchytil, the newest member of the committee, was cautious.

“Putting some kids on a train and going to Mishan City, I think for that, we would need some type of contact with Mishan City, so there would be some kind of event where they would go into schools,” said Uchytil. Glenn Gray, the committee’s secretary, murmured assent.

Chard answered, “That’s what I’m hoping, that the embassy will give us a contact in Mishan City, so we’re trying to work that avenue.”

Chard’s enthusiasm for the idea of the students visiting Mishan City was palpable.

“Initially, when we talked about this, it was, ‘Yeah, let’s try to figure out a fundraiser to help support them as they go to China.’ But then the conversation went to, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be neat if while they were over there, they went to our sister city,’” Chard explained, partially for new member Uchytil’s benefit. “It would be really neat to have our schoolkids with their schoolkids in our sister city, in the schools.”

Sue Baxter, vice-chairwoman of the committee, was not sold on the fundraiser idea.

“I have a few concerns about that,” said Baxter. “A group just went to Japan, and we, as a Sister Cities Committee, did not support that.”

“Just to be clear, though, we don’t actually have a sister city relationship in Japan,” Chard responded.

Uchytil suggested that she could work on developing a mission statement to help guide the committee and avoid any confusion about its role, while Gray suggested the committee work with the city clerk’s office to determine what, if anything, it could do to support the nonprofit Juneau String Ensembles’ trip.

In the end, no motion for action was taken, though the committee seemed to agree on continuing to wait another two weeks for the Chinese Embassy to send them contact information for Mishan City before taking more concrete steps.

The committee also discussed putting together information for the benefit of Juneau’s mayoral candidates this fall on the Sister Cities Committee and Juneau’s sister city relationships.

“I went to a fundraiser for Cheryl Jebe, and she … knew the committee existed, and that was it,” Baxter said. “And she’s pretty aware of what goes on in city government.”

Baxter’s suggestion of drawing up a “bullet sheet” of informational items for Jebe and former Assemblymember Merrill Sanford, the other certified candidate for mayor, met with approval.

“Great,” said Chard, who offered to put together the list and submit it to committee members for approval. “I think that’s a great idea.”

Municipal elections, including the election for mayor, will be held Oct. 2.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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