Autumn is a time for festivals in many cultures and countries. Last week, I wrote about our local Mason District Park Festival, which will be held this Saturday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the park, 6621 Columbia Pike in Annandale. This past weekend, the seventh annual KORUS Festival, celebrating Korean and American culture, business, and friendship, held a three-day event at the K-Mart Plaza in Annandale.
Perhaps the most unusual and exotic autumn festival I attended in recently, though, was the 2009 International Tourism Festival held in Changsha, China, earlier this month. The Hunan Province, of which Changsha is the capital city, wants to bring more Western visitors to their area, and invited leaders from capital cities of the world that have rivers and islands among their special features. Thus, guests were from the D.C. area, Rio de Janeiro, Rome and Vienna. I represented the National Capital Region as chairman this year of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
The mayor of Changsha, Zhang Jianfei, welcomed the delegation to a special meeting with city and provincial leaders. Mr. Zhang speaks fluent English, and he told me that he spent a year at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, living first in Georgetown and then in the Clarendon section of Arlington. He was familiar with Fairfax County and the Metro system, he said. He was appointed mayor after spending several years as director of China’s Department of Traffic and Highways. Each delegation member was asked to give ideas about how to improve tourism, Chinese hosts on one side of a long table spread with gorgeous floral arrangements, and the international guests on the other. Translations were done in five languages: English, Portuguese, Italian, German and Chinese. Then each delegation member was escorted to a stage where we signed letters of cooperation and friendship with Mayor Zhang, and exchanged gifts. The event was well-covered by the news media; I did stand-up interviews with three different television stations!
The piece de resistance was the tourism festival opening on Friday night at Orange Isle in the middle of the Xiangjiang River. The island recently was rebuilt as a park, and contains walking paths, ponds, fountains and thousands of transplanted trees and shrubs. Previously, the island was home to several hundred households that often flooded because of low elevation. The residents were relocated to new housing off the island; the topography was increased several feet by using island soil excavated for new ponds and water features. The 90-minute televised event on a huge riverside stage started and ended promptly. The dancing and singing reminded me of the Olympic Games Opening last year.
Just before the closing entertainment, the Mayor and six international delegates were introduced and escorted individually onto the stage by young women dressed identically in white silk cheongsams. Then, we walked downstage to a stand topped by a clear glass globe, a symbol of the earth. As we placed hands on the globe, lights inside whirled around, to sustained applause, and fireworks exploded. News reports said later that, at the same time, an airship floated slowly in the sky, symbolizing a “round tour to the whole world,” but I did not see that since it was behind us. I was told later that 500 million Chinese people viewed the event on television.
The Tourism Festival was a fascinating experience, but the long-term benefits of the trip will be the friendships and contacts made, and how those might benefit the Washington Metropolitan region.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]