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Guilin visitor's perfect timing

Guilin gardens visit

From left Qian Lihong, Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, Hastings District councillor and Hastings-Guilin Sister City events organiser Kevin Watkins, and Ms Qian's daughter Rong Wilks.

A visit to the Osmanthus Gardens in Hastings turned out to be perfectly timed for Wellington woman Qian Lihong, originally from Guilin in China – visiting the garden that celebrates her home city just as the Hastings mayor was signing a reaffirmation of the Sister City relationship between Hastings and Guilin.

Ms Qian, the vice-president of the Guilin Fellowship Association of New Zealand, was visiting the gardens for the first time last week [March 3], with her daughter and son-in-law Rong and Greg Wilks and their children.

It had been a long-held wish of Ms Qian to visit Hastings, given its strong links with Guilin, and especially the Osmanthus Gardens.

The family happened to be walking through the gardens just as Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst signed the reaffirmation of the Sister City agreement between Hastings and Guilin, marking the 40th anniversary of the relationship, in the central pavilion in the gardens.

It was one of a number of events that had been scheduled to be held in Hastings over the week to celebrate, however the larger ones have been postponed due to the crowd restrictions that came with the change in COVID alert levels.

Ms Qian was one of a group of more than 50 friends from all over New Zealand who had planned to attend Hastings celebrations. While the rest of the group changed their arrangements, Ms Qian’s family decided to go ahead with their holiday.

“I especially wanted to see Osmanthus Gardens with my own eyes and feel the warmth and friendship that the Hastings people hold for us. It was joy, fate and a blessing that we were there at that time and were able to meet Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst,” said Ms Qian.

Mrs Wilks said they had intended to visit the gardens on Thursday [Mar 4] but had changed their minds and decided to go on the Wednesday. “It could not have been better. It was a lovely coincidence that we were there at the same time as the mayor and councillors and the signing. It was lovely for my mother. ”

It was not the only coincidence. One of the osmanthus trees, ‘the flower of Guilin’, was blooming, a rarity in Hastings in March. Ms Qian said on entering the garden she could immediately smell “the familiar and unique osmanthus fragrance. It led me straight to the tree.”

Mrs Hazlehurst said it was wonderful to have a visitor from Guilin in the gardens on the day of the signing. “We talked about Guilin and our Hastings relationship and how much we value it. It was such a lovely surprise to have Ms Qian and her family in our beautiful Osmanthus Gardens that celebrate our Sister City links.”

Ms Qian said the relationship was highly valued in Guilin as well. The former lecturer at Guangxi Normal University, said students from the affiliated high school had taken part in exchange visits with Hastings students “many times”.

Now retired, Ms Qian moved to Wellington two years ago to be near her daughter’s family. She said she will be back for the rescheduled Lighting of the Osmanthus Gardens in April, and for the further celebrations in September, timed to align with the Blossom Festival.

11 March 2021

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