Irvine Mayor Beth Krom just might be unmade in Taiwain.
As reported in OC Register's blog and print edition, as well as The Blotter, Irvine recently set up a sister-city in China, after agreeing to ignore Taiwanese sovereignity. They can't partake in Taiwanese National Day celebrations and civic leaders can't visit the island in an official capacity. Unfortunately, Irvine is famous for its large Taiwanese population, making it O.C.'s most Taiwanese city by a landslide. And that population isn't impressed, because Irvine has been sister-cities with Taoyuan, Taiwan for years. Finally the LA Times has thrown its hat in the ring, and it's the rather fetching and stylish hat of one Jean Pasco. Pasco seems to be headed to work at the County Clerk's office, opening up access to documents for the public. The mere thought is enough to make journalists drool like a pack of Pavlovian dogs, even though we'll all have to work that much harder with Jean otherwise occupied.
Pasco Pasco provides great content and context; for example, she managed to get comments from Ami Neiberger-Miller, communications director for Sister Cities International (and my future bride - don't fight it Ami, you will be Mrs. Brant-Zawadzki-Neiberger-Miller). The organization reports that none of the 28 U.S. cities with sister-cities in both Taiwan had ever encountered this problem; Neiberger-Miller described it as unheard of and "bizarre".
No, Beth, it's Red China Krom, still befuddled, has this to say to Jean in her city's defense:
"This is not something where we had two competing initiatives," she said. "They understand that we greatly value the relationship with Taoyuan. There was no effort on their part to exert pressure on us. We haven't bent to the will of anyone."
No, Beth, you haven't. Especially not the will of your Taiwanese constituents. And if Irvine greatly values its relationship with Taoyuan, then it should be more aware of what sort of actions will greatly offend Taoyuan, endanger its relationship with Irvine, and embarass the entire Sister-City Program. Krom's protests sound like ignorant whining when juxtaposed with the frustrated, angry or just plain baffled comments from Sister Cities International, Irvine Sister Cities Foundation, and Taiwanese-Americans.
But the saddest thing? Irvine can't possibly do anything more to degrade the Sister City Program than its student exchange program already does.
Years ago, I traveled to Okazaki, Japan as part of Newport Beach's Sister City program (thanks, Rotary Club!). For five days my small group of four students + chaperone travelled to the various schools of our host brethren, met with local officials and business leaders, even toured factories. Each of us was treated like a visiting dignitary, and entire schools turned out for assemblies in our individual honor.
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I'll never forget one girl's host-school and the choral concert they put on for us. After a long series of American film tunes and patriotic hymns, they burst out with "Edelweiss". We all looked at each other with that 'Gosh this sounds beautiful, but what in the name of all that is sacred does Edelweiss have to do with America?' expression on our faces. Almost as fun as the drunken businessman in Tokyo who tried to force Melanie and me into the back of his sedan. But I digress.
"We think y'all are great. Really. Send sake." The point is, months later my host brother Koji came to visit my family. We had a wonderful time, and I did my best to show him all the sites an 8th-grader can appreciate in Orange County. But when he came to Corona del Mar High School, the reaction was unbelievable. Basically, no one gave a rat's ass. No assembly. Little recognition. Even less interest. He might as well have been a prospective student. I was shamed to my core, something I'd picked up in Japan.
Four years later I received a letter from Koji. He was thrilled to hear that I'd left CdM for a snooty prep-school; he sounded almost embarrassed to report that all he'd achieved in the intervening years was a law degree and a blackbelt in Judo. While I'd just made it to junior year of high school. We're doomed.
This entry is dedicated to my host brother Koji Mizuno and his family, and the future of the Sister City Program