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Sister cities for 40 years: Guilin and Hastings celebrate

In just over five weeks Hastings and Guilin, two sister cities almost exactly 10,000 kilometres apart [9975km], will celebrate a relationship that dates back 40 years.

The ever-popular Lighting of the Osmanthus Gardens (bigger and better than ever), a free show in the Opera House at Toitoi - Hawke's Bay Arts and Events Centre celebrating the relationship, and a mini-expo in Functions on Hastings telling the story of Guilin and our Sister City journey, are in the mix – all happening between March 1 and 7.

In the same week, Guilin’s Council will be holding an exhibition celebrating the Sister City relationship in that city’s new museum, and large screens in public squares will show video of Hastings and the shared experiences that have grown out of the agreement.

The Hastings and Guilin (China) sister-city relationship was suggested by Hastings horticultural scientist Dr Don McKenzie, who had links with the Guangxi Institute of Botany in Guilin. In the late 1970s, Hastings was considering approaching a city in Japan to form a sister city agreement when Dr Don, as he was known, suggested Guilin would be a better fit for Hastings.

While almost five times the area of Hastings and with a vastly larger population (4.7 million), the two districts do share things in common. Both have an average temperature of 19 degrees (although Guilin’s summer is wetter and more humid than Hastings), both are excellent growing areas with a focus on processing local produce (including wine), and both have growing tourism industries.

The formal agreement was signed in 1981 by the mayors of the time: JJ O’Connor (Hastings) and Liang Shan (Guilin).

The aim was to foster interest, understanding and relationships between the people of the two cities, and encourage the exchange of ideas, information and trade. “It has been remarkably successful,” says Hastings District councillor and strong advocate of Hastings-China relationships Kevin Watkins.

Since the agreement was signed there had been regular ‘goodwill’ visits between the two cities by business and education leaders, skills exchanges (including horticultural and English language), inter-school cultural and educational visits, exhibitions in both cities, and increasing commercial and trade contacts.

“But it is even more than that,” says Mr Watkins. “It has helped us to understand each other and, particularly for our business people, enabled an understanding of China’s culture that has enabled them to spread their trading wings over much broader areas of China.

“It has also raised awareness of our city over there, and as Chinese visitors to our shores have become more independent travellers, it has certainly increased the number of tourists getting off the well-worn Auckland-Rotorua-Queenstown track to come and visit our beautiful part of New Zealand.”

Planning for the celebrations over the week of March 1 to 7 is well underway, held in two areas: The Osmanthus Gardens in Cornwall Park and at Toitoi – Hawke’s Bay Arts and Events Centre. A primary focus will be the annual Lighting of the Osmanthus Gardens, which every year celebrates the relationship with Guilin.

“It is always incredibly popular and this year we have additional space and lanterns ready, to help us celebrate what is a very special occasion,” says Mr Watkins.

At Toitoi, there will be a free four-day exhibition in Functions on Hastings showcasing information on the Hastings-Guilin Sister City journey and demonstrations of Guilin and wider Chinese culture, and there will be a free live event in the Hawke’s Bay Opera House on the Friday night of that week.

“We will be able to provide our community with much more detail about the events in the coming weeks,” Mr Watkins says.

15 February 2021

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