Four months ago, three officials from cities in Shandong Province that each house millions of people came to Connecticut to learn how local government works here.
For the past two months, they’ve been looking over the shoulders and getting advice from their counterparts in Bristol.
“The government is a small government” in Bristol, said Rong Gao, vice chairman of the Qingdao Youth Federation, “and it serves the people.”
The idea of serving the people resonated with all three of the Chinese visitors who said they are used to a system where government holds more power.
“The power of the government is big in China,” Gao said.
When he returns home next week, he said he’s going to try to organize volunteers because he’s learned from his American visit “how volunteer service really improves the standards of morals in the whole community.”
Last year, Gao helped organize volunteers in his coastal city of 8 million people to lend a hand with the sailing competition held there during the Beijing Olympics.
The three are part of a program sponsored by the U.S.-China Business Center at Central Connecticut State University that allows Chinese officials to learn public administration. It also serves to create connections for state businesses to extend their reach into a fast-growing Chinese market.
Mayor Art Ward said he’s glad the city had the chance to host the interns for a couple of months. They spent time with 17 departments of city government, they said, and talked to many municipal workers and residents along the way.
Groups of Chinese officials have been studying City Hall’s operations for several years through the CCSU program.
Mary Suchopar, the mayor’s assistant who coordinates it for the city, said it is mainly “about expanding some people’s horizons about other cultures” and ways of doing things.
“The department heads learn as much about the Chinese way of government as the Chinese do about the American way of government,” Suchopar said.
Keqiang Li, a senior engineer with the Shandong Province’s division of mining management, said he hopes that Bristol businesses will follow the lead of ESPN and Otis Elevator to develop in China.
“There are many chances for these businesses to enlarge their market in China,” Li said.
He said ESPN and Otis, which has a testing facility in Bristol, are well known in China.
Shengyong Dong, who holds a law enforcement position, said he’s been impressed with the commitment to environmental protection he’s seen in America. He said the Chinese can learn a lot about how to combat pollution from regulators he’s met in Connecticut.
Gao said that Americans “know very little about China.
He said programs such as the one at CCSU provide “a good window for the exchange of information and culture.”
Gao said that relations “must be solid, must be improved” because of the importance of both countries.
The Chinese men, who are all in their forties, said one thing they especially enjoyed in Bristol was attending a camp for children organized by youth services at the Pine Lake ropes course. They said the spot was beautiful – and Gao said he tried dangling on the ropes while he was there.
“We had many wonderful times,” Gao said, though all three said they are anxious to return home to their families after so many months away.
Suchopar said the Chinese men “always invite us to come over and visit” but so far nobody from Bristol has taken them up on it.
“We’ve never really taken advantage of sending someone over to reciprocate. Right now, it’s a good will thing,” she said.
After Gao wished Ward well in his election campaign, he invited the mayor to fly over.
“As soon as you send me airline tickets, I’ll come visit,” the mayor responded, laughing.
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