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Sister Cities International: The Oracle Of Municipal Matchmaking

December 29th, 2007

In case you haven’t heard the news, four new US-China air routes have been announced. Beginning in 2009, the routes will run between: (a) Philadelphia-Beijing; (b) Chicago-Beijing; (c) NY-Shanghai; and (d) Detroit-Shanghai. Great news, but the announcement made me wonder how much thought went into the choices here.

One organization pairs up municipalities as a part of its charter - Sister Cities International. Local government types are involved, and the point is to get your hometown matched up with a “sister city,” or a “twin town”. They say that it’s a diplomacy network, but I suspect that it’s just an excuse for the occasional cross-border boondoggle. No matter the point, it’s always fun to see what city is a sister of what other city.

When I was in Chengdu and discovered that its sister city was Phoenix, I thought: now, that makes sense. Both are western towns, landlocked, and geographically isolated. Traveling over the years, I’ve found myself amazed at how well some of the cities are matched. Just take a look at these examples from China:

1. Shanghai / San Francisco. That kind of makes sense. Both are rather romantic towns with old-fashioned architecture. Tons of tourists.

2. Guangzhou / Los Angeles. Like LA, Guangzhou is a city of immigrants, and it has no real geographic center. Gertrude Stein once said of Los Angeles that the problem was “when you get there, there isn’t any there there.” That pretty much describes the ‘Zhou.

3. Hainan / Hawaii. Tropical island, Hainan, paired up with Maui, Hawaii? That’s a no-brainer.

4. Harbin / Minneapolis. Two cities where the locals don’t just live in the snow - they get off on it. If you want to show a lady in Harbin what a gentleman you are, take her out for an ice cream in the dead of winter. I bet that one makes perfect sense to a Minnesotan.

5. Xishuanbanna / Austin. There’s something to this link. Both are smaller places that are laid back and have tons of character.

6. Beijing / NY & DC. Beijing, the harlot! She’s two-timing it with Washington DC and New York. The double pairing makes sense, though, if you think about it.

7. Qingdao / Miami. Both magnets for retirees.

8. Hefei / Columbus. Hefei in Anhui Province and Columbus, Ohio? Now, that’s just pure genius.

A more complete list of China’s sister cities can be found here. Welcome to leave your own comments related.

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