While the seeds for a Chinese garden were planted back in the year 2000 by the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association -MN Chapter, resulting in the formation of The Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society (MCFGS), much cultivating has taken place over the years. The actual groundbreaking ceremony took place during the annual Dragon Festival at Saint Paul’s Lake Phalen Park in July. For a more complete chronology of the garden’s evolution, visit www.mnchinagarden.org.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, the official name of the Garden, The St. Paul-Changsha China Friendship Garden of Whispering Willows and Flowing Waters, was announced. Built on a 1.2-acre site at Phalen Park, this sister-city collaboration was initiated by MCFGS with the City of St. Paul and its Parks & Rec Department, St. Paul’s District 5 Planning Council, the City of Changsha, Hunan Province, the Changsha People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, and the Changsha Yanghu Wetland Park (Phalen Park’s sister park) in China. Changsha has been the sister-city to the City of St. Paul since 1988.
As part of the gift exchange between the sister cities a replica of Changsha’s Aiwan Pavilion has been donated by Changsha. Saint Paul sent five statues of Peanuts characters created by St. Paul’s famous son, Charles Schulz. In addition to the pavilion, other elements included are a West Entrance Arch, an East Entrance Moongate Donor Wall, a Hmong Heritage Wall representing the historical connection between the Hmong in Minnesota and the Hmong in the Changsha area. Changsha also sent a team of 13 artisans, part of the construction team, to put all these elements together.
Minnesota State Senator Foung Hawj spoke at the ceremony, which was attended by current and former St. Paul Mayors Melvin Carter and George Latimer respectively, and other government officials. Officials unable to attend sent congratulatory letters that were read during the program. It was also an honor to have Master Lei Yixen travel from Changsha to attend -- he carved the “Meditation” sculpture that has been erected at Phalen Park since 2006. He also carved the Martin Luther King, Jr. Stone of Hope Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The groundbreaking ceremony concluded with a celebration of Chinese and Hmong cultures that included a Hmong Qeej solo by Ntxawag Faaj, a performance by CAAM-CDT dancers, a Chinese instrumental performance by Zhang Ying and a Qeej and dance performance by Hmong community members.
The artisans from Changsha have been busy assembling the structures that were built in Changsha, disassembled and now being put together by them. To show appreciation for their efforts, a number of organizations hosted luncheons for them. The first group to do so was the Chinese American Association of Minnesota (CAAM). According to Connie Mei Ledford, CAAM president, a number of Chinese restaurants provided the food. Bingwin Yan, president of the Alliance of Minnesota Chinese Organizations, provided a “home-cooked” meal provided by Grand Szechuan Restaurant in Bloomington, Minnesota. The Hunan Fold Association also hosted a luncheon.
Recently on a steamy Friday in August, the Chinese artisans took a break from climbing 25 feet high to supervise the assembly of timbers on a replica of Changsha’s Aiwan Pavilion. According to Romi Slowiak, MCFGS board member, they came down for a lunch hosted by the project’s Hmong Cultural Plaza Advisory Group. Group Chair Ying Chuyangheu addressed the crowd of artisans, City construction project partners, China Garden Society board members, and park visitors, welcoming the artisans and thanking them for their work. Translated expertly into Mandarin by a young lady from Hmong TV, Chuyangheu said, “We are sorry. We would have liked to host this in a home and offer you a cow and some chickens.” The leader of the artisans spontaneously responded in Mandarin, “But we ARE in your home. This park is your home!”
How is the all-Chinese group who speaks little English managing through a translator to direct city construction workers in collaborative work? The RAK Construction Supervisor, Jason Kryzer, said, ”Actually, it is working out better than we thought!”
Bryan Murphy, St. Paul Parks & Rec Project Manager, observed, “This is a very sincere event. It is really heartwarming to see the Chinese artisans, the Hmong community, our construction workers, Garden Society board members and neighbors enjoying each other and sharing food together.”
The luncheon feast included Minnesota-grown Hmong corn prepared by Chuyangheu’s wife, Yang.
The Chinese artisans are scheduled to return to China at the end of August. You can also check the garden’s progress at www.mnchinagarden.org.