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Lodi, please meet Loudi ...

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Posted: Saturday, January 5, 2013 12:00 am

"The Sister Cities Program is an important resource to the negotiations of governments in letting the people themselves give expression of their common desire for friendship, goodwill and cooperation for a better world for all." — President Dwight D. Eisenhower

This Dec. 7, 2012, I returned from my eighth trip to China. The majority of this two-week trip was focused on assisting a job creation strategy that I personally refer to as "Project 5400."

What is Project 5400? It is a plan to increase value-added California agricultural exports by $1 billion, and in the process create an estimated 5,400 to 12,000 jobs, depending on whose theoretical calculator you trust.

In today's global economy, every region in America should determine what their unique competitive advantage is and then take positive action at a local level to increase exports. In the case of the Galt-Lodi-Stockton area, the greatest opportunity to create more jobs is by taking advantage of the immense export opportunities that the world's finest agriculture — coupled with world class logistics — provides us

More local jobs, more tax revenue for our ailing cities, and even increased global security based on win-win business relationships are all achievable, but first we must realize that the world — and therefore our collective fates — are more interconnected than ever before.

"Friendship first" were my marching orders from President Bill Hinkle and the Lodi Sister City Committee, who asked me to put aside business for a few days and visit Loudi, which is a little "village" of almost 4 million people that is located in the center of the Hunan Province.

The flight from Shanghai to Changsha (Hunan's capital) took slightly less than two hours. When I arrived, I was greeted by two representatives from Loudi's Municipal Tourism, Foreign and Overseas Chinese Bureau, along with a large bouquet of flowers.

After having the best airport meal of my life, we jumped into a brand-new black Buick LaCrosse and drove on a very well-maintained highway.

Two hours and three toll booths later, we arrived at my hotel in downtown Loudi. "Warm welcome Frank Gayaldo, representative from Lodi Sister City Committee" was prominently displayed above the front door in both English and Chinese.

After quickly dropping off my luggage in my very nicely appointed room, we drove over to the nearby Hunan University of Humanities, Science and Technology. Once again, I was greeted by a large "welcome" sign and several smiling faces. The campus was very attractive, and large enough to handle its more than 14,000 students.

Faculty officials asked if I could help them make contact with University of the Pacific, as they have a sincere desire to increase their own international exchanges with top-quality institutions.

The next day was filled with sight-seeing and more friendly meetings with various government officials. The highlight of the day — in fact, the highlight of every trip I have ever made to China — was touring a school of 1,700 children that mixed both academic education with traditional "Meishan" kung fu training.

After a short performance of amazing martial and acrobatic skills, I walked out into the schoolyard, where I was greeted by hundreds of kids wanting to shake my hand. An ocean of kids dressed in yellow and red jumpsuits greeted me. Shouts of "USA!" and "Nice to meet you!" increased as I walked through the crowd.

The experience was so moving I told the principal of the school I want to come back and teach English for a week in February. It was very hard to leave.

As a kid growing up on a small vineyard in Lodi, I never imagined that I would someday get to enjoy such a surreal experience. These wonderful children from Loudi somehow felt connected to Lodi, and I very much felt connected to them.

The next day I went to Loudi's city hall, where I met with numerous local government officials. I started my presentation by handing out Visit Lodi! brochures printed in Mandarin, spoke a little about my positive impressions of both Loudi and Lodi, and then finished by giving a couple bottles of Barsetti wine to the vice-mayor.

In response, Loudi officials said they would like to initiate a formal sister city relationship with Lodi.

I told Loudi officials that several more meetings, including with the Lodi City Council and the Lodi Sister City Committee, would have to occur before such an agreement could be formally entertained — but yes, I thought it was a great idea, too.

In front of one local television camera and some other photographers, I signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding on behalf of the Lodi Sister City Committee that we would continue the dialogue between these two great cities.

The Lodi Sister City Committee is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that was formally established in 1961. Prior to that, a brief school scrapbook exchange took place with Lodi, Italy in 1958 on the occasion of the Italian city's 800th year. In 2011, Lodi celebrated its 50th year relationship with Kofu, Japan.

The committee does not receive any financial support from the city of Lodi, so community support is crucial.

The committee will be having its eighth annual crab feed and raffle on March 9 at 7 p.m. at the JACL Hall, Elm and Stockton streets. Tickets cost $40 and will become available at Pine Auto or the Velvet Grill in Lodi beginning Jan. 11. Hope to see you there!

Frank Gayaldo is the executive director of the Galt District Chamber of Commerce. Please feel free to contact him at gayaldofarms@ aol.com for more information.

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