By William Zajicek, contributor
Hello, my name is Bill Zajicek and I am the new president of the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society. Linda Mealy-Lohmann passed on the torch this February and moved to a less demanding role of secretary of the organization. She is definitely still active with the organization and you will no doubt hear from her from time to time.
A little history as this project of creating an authentic Sister City China Garden in Minnesota represents a walk through the past 15+ years. My own involvement started almost 10 years ago when the master plan for the Phalen/Keller Regional Park came up for revision. As an active community member in the Phalen Lake area of St. Paul, I was involved in the revision of the Master Plan. One footnote item in the plan called for a China Garden. The East Side of St. Paul is generally the under invested end of town and to see the possibility of something as exotic as a China Garden at Phalen just seemed like an impossible dream. Understand that I knew nothing about Chinese gardens at that point. I just knew they could be amazing. Four years later, I encouraged our Community Council to call a meeting about the possibility of a China Garden at Phalen Park as specified in the new Master Plan and met Linda Mealy-Lohmann, Mary Warpeha & Joyce Hsiao. They did a presentation for 30 community members, including our State Representative Tim Mahoney and his wife. The next year Tim and our State Senator Foung Hawj submitted a Legacy Bill for preliminary design of the St. Paul-Changsha China Friendship Garden.
The last five years have been a blur: trips to Changsha, fund raising, community engagement meetings. many meetings with Parks & Recreation, Peanuts sculptures to Changsha, replica of the Aiwan Ting to Minnesota, ground breaking, dedications, successes and failures and, in the end, certainly one of the most amazing single pieces of public art in the State of Minnesota, the Xiang Jiang Ting. (‘Xiang’ is the name of the river that goes through our China sister city Changsha, ‘Jiang’ is river, and ‘Ting’ is pavilion.)
These gardens are all more expensive than anticipated. Talk to anyone who has been involved in one if you don’t believe me. As a result, we have a promissory note with the City of St. Paul to pay off Phase I. Donations, big and small, are welcome. ... If you donate $1,000 or more, you will become a Ground Breaker for the Garden and your donation will be recognized on the donor wall. The Ground Breaker title will only be available for Phase I.
Until the promissory note is paid, we can’t start Phase II: a Hmong Cultural Plaza, a Chinese Moon Bridge between the garden and Picnic Island, completion of the rock garden from the Pavilion to the water’s edge, and a permanent Gate/Donor Wall on the east side of the garden. Ironically, we already have nearly $500,000 of restricted funds for Phase II, which we can’t use until the promissory note for Phase I is taken care of.
The Saint Paul-Changsha China Garden of Whispering Willows and Flowing Water, “Liu Ming Yuan,’ was dedicated in July 2019. Well before that, one of our Board members did his engagement there. While weeding last month, we came upon a small wedding. Apparently, there has been over a dozen such events at the location already. In addition, there are the movies that have been made at the site, individuals in mediation, and always the families taking pictures.
During our COVID morass, come out to Phalen Park and see the “Liu Ming Yuan.” The entrance is right across from the Phalen Golf Club House parking lot. Bring your tea or lunch. Spend a few minutes. Visit Master Lei Yixin’s sculpture from Minnesota rocks “Meditation” at the other end of Picnic Island. You will be far more hopeful and serene afterwards.
The project started out as an engagement to build a garden and, instead, it has become an engagement to build a community. Join us in supporting the Saint Paul-Changsha China Friendship Garden of “Whispering Willows and Flowing Waters.”
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