After my first year as an Intern with the Tai Initiative, I joined an intensive summer 2014 language program at Sichuan University. I learned so much more than just Chinese in Chengdu, but found myself in a whirlwind of adventures and amazing food. With the University of Washington and Sichuan University as sister-schools I was spared the entangling bureaucracy and had a wonderful transition. Our two cities were also very similar; Chengdu’s atmosphere mirrored Seattle’s laid-back attitude. Seeing the region’s famous pandas lolling about in the Chengdu Panda Breeding Center, happily enjoying their lunch, reflected much of that.
My experience was fortified by what I learned at the Tai Initiative’s 2nd Annual Conference on Subnational Relations May 2014 in Denver, CO, which included several sister-city representatives. Through sessions detailing the importance of city-to-city connection I was able to bring a practical understanding of the benefits of having a local-level connection in China. At the conference, I discussed education policy and best practices with organizations such as the Confucius Institutes and the 100,000 Strong Foundation. With this experience I could see the unfolding possibilities for these types of relationships in Sichuan, including business.
Chengdu is well-established as a business center. For example, it produces 80% of the world’s iPods. I was able to visit the city’s Global Center, one of the largest buildings in the world with an impressive mall, water park, ice-skating rink and countless administrative offices.
I also saw plenty of opportunities for eco-partnerships to flourish in a place like Chengdu. Where there is so much industry, a secondary effect is the demonstrated need to find cleaner and more efficient ways to use energy. Taking short trips just an hour or two away from the city revealed some beautiful areas; I couldn’t help but think how Chengdu could benefit from protecting the clean air and water of these outskirts as well as preserving a healthy ecosystem in the bustling city.
I see the Tai Initiative playing a huge role in helping motivate such collaborative connections. Few other existing organizations are dedicated to helping us make these essential connections across so many sectors. I’m so glad to confirm that my work at the Tai Initiative this past year was truly applicable to this experience in Chengdu.