MANSON - The biggest country in Asia is forging new links with a small town in Calhoun County. On Saturday, members of the Chinese Association of Iowa gave a public presentation at the Manson Public Library in connection with Manson Northwest Webster School's plans to begin hosting exchange students from China.
Executive Director Swallow Yan, board of directors member Hilda Wolle, and three Chinese students from Des Moines came to meet with school administration representatives and families who plan on hosting students next year.
Wolle spoke of the special connection between Iowa and China.
-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Xiaodi Sun, or Sarah as she’s known in the United States, plays a traditional Chinese harp to open the program Saturday afternoon at the Manson Public Library. She plucks the strings with picks taped to her fingers with her right hand, and presses down with her left hand to modulate the string’s pitch.
"In February this year the vice president of China visited Des Moines; now Iowa is on the front page of every newspaper and magazine. We've become popular in China," she said.
"I'm proud of the comments Mark (Egli) made in an email, where he said, in 50 years we can see the relationship between these two countries will be more than it is now, so it's very important for young kids to learn different cultures and have foreign connections."
Sicong Ma, a sophomore at Drake University, said she liked Manson so far.
"This town seems very nice, and quiet, not too much people here," she said. When asked if that was a good thing, she laughed. "That's why I came here. China's so crowded and noisy."
Ma and Weimo Zhao gave the presentation on China, explaining a bit about the writing style, the food, the culture and the geography.
"The farmers in China do not have so many lands," Zhao said, compared to America, "and not so much machinery. Even though we have machinery in China - if they all used so many machines, the people would have no work to do."
Zhao is a student at Des Moines Area Community College. She said she comes from Shanghai, but her hometown is a city more in the middle of China.
"After I graduated from the university, I worked in Shanghai for more than 10 years," she said. "I studied Japanese and international trade, and worked in a Japanese company. Global companies need people who can speak English, so I came to America to learn another language."
The program began and ended with a playing of a traditional Chinese harp by Xiaodi Sun, a freshman at Urbandale High School. Sun said she began studying the instrument when she was 6 years old.
"You see this often in China," she said. "Lots of people play it. These years the traditional instruments are more popular than before."
Ma and Zhao explained how competitive college exams are in China, and how hard kids have to work in school.
"I remember when I was a middle school student, one of my best memories was having a no class weekend, which was very rare," Ma said. "We only have two weeks for summer break, and one week for winter break. You have to study hard."
The students also took questions from the audience. They explained how in China, given names come last and family names come first, so Sicong Ma and Weimo Zhao would be Ma Sicong and Zhao Weimo.
"In a foreign country, we want to adjust out of respect to the culture," Ma said.
They also explained that you could usually spot the family name because they tend to be very short.
Iowa state Sen. Daryl Beall was at the meeting.
"I will be making my third trip to China in June," he said. "I've been invited to speak at a traditional Chinese medicine symposium. I think we can learn a lot from that, even though Western medicine kind of eschews the Eastern ways.
"I can cite all kinds of magnanimous reasons for citizen diplomacy ... but I have found that it's fun. I love meeting people who look different than what I see in the mirror," Beall said.
He also said he was very proud of his home state, because more Iowan per capita have passports than any other state in the Union.
Contact Joe Sutter at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org