Madera Mayor Robert Pothress, left, and Mayor of Yilan, Tsung-Yuan “Curtis” Chiang, each strike the gong at Madera City Hall during a tour for the Madera/Yilan Sister City Corporation. (Wendy Alexander)
In Madera’s City Hall, there rests a large, brass gong near the entrance in the front lobby. More than a simple decoration, it is a gift to the City of Madera, a token of friendship from Madera’s Sister City of Ylan in Taiwan.
It was with that friendship in mind that the mayors of these two cities struck the gong together Tuesday morning, kicking off a visit of music and cultural exchange.
The company of dignitaries and musicians, who arrived in Madera on Sunday, are all residents of Yilan.
“We’ve definitely been blessed by this relationship,” said Madera Mayor Robert Poythress. “It’s beyond a formal relationship — at this point, it’s friends and family, and we really count it a privilege to have this relationship, and it continues to grow over the years.”
Yilan, which is situated in Northern Taiwan, became the sister city of Madera in 1994. Like Madera, Yilan is the seat of its county, which bears the name of the city. The two cities also are in areas that rely deeply on agriculture, with Yilan focusing on growing rice. In addition, the two were similar in population when the partnership with Madera was started. Yilan, however, has since grown to surpass Madera by more than 34,000 people in the last 22 years.
The visit, put on and hosted by the nonprofit Madera-Yilan Sister City Corporation, usually is simply a visit by musicians from the Taiwanese city. This year, however, the visit featured officials from Yilan.
“This is an official city visit, so it features the mayor, and four of his department heads,” said former Sister City Corporation head Julie O’Kane. “They brought the musical group with them.”
The band consisted of five musicians from the Formosa Melody Music Center in Yilan, along with their conductor, Vincent Li, playing traditional Chinese folk songs, along with American songs played on Chinese instruments.
For Yilan Mayor Curtis Tsung-Yuan Chiang, it was not only his first visit to Madera, but also his first time in the United States.
“He wanted to come to Madera to visit. That’s why he came to the United States,” said Sister City Corporation board member emeritus Krystle Kidwell, who acted as a translator for Chiang and the other visitors.
Kidwell, who lives in Madera, was born in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei. Through her, Chiang stated how impressed he was at the efficiency of Madera, especially in law enforcement. He even stated his interest in introducing a local version of the National Night Out to Taiwan, after watching videos from the recent event.
“To get to know and be part of the community, and provide that close relationship with the citizens — that’s what they’d like to learn when they go back to their city,” Kidwell said for Chiang. “He saw that the policeman was dancing for the citizens, and to make them laugh, make them happy, and relax — he said he’s never seen this in Taiwan.”
“He said the impression of the police in Taiwan is just that they catch people, and issue tickets. He said it’s very good to see that our policemen would dance for our citizens.”
During the visit, Poythress also reflected on what he was able to learn from the people of Yiilan.
“The thing that was really impressed upon me was the parents’ involvement in the lives of their children, and showing a focus in emphasizing an education,” Poythress said. “The people of Taiwan have about a 95 percent graduation rate from college. Not high school, but college, which is really, really impressive.”
Poythress visited Yilan as a delegate in 2002, before he was elected to the Madera City Council.
Instead of a hotel, the visitors were invited to stay in the houses of host families. As for Chiang and Li, they stayed with Poythress and his family.
As part of their tour, the Formosa Melody Music Center musicians performed at venues across Madera, with their main concert being performed at Madera South High School, at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, and then returning to Taiwan this evening.