A former Riverbank city manager last week described for patrons, volunteers and other visitors to the Riverbank Historical Society how the residents and officials have participated in exchange programs in the past. Emphasized was his trip to China in 2004.
Rich Holmer was the featured speaker at the society’s “Memories Day” presentation on Thursday morning at the city’s Historical Museum. The audience included museum volunteers, city staff, local residents and a few members of the school district staff, including Riverbank Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Daryl Camp, and the district’s Mandarin Chinese instructor, Rui Dong.
During the presentation, Holmer called upon Dong to contrast how things currently are in China with what he remembered from the 2004 trip to Fuyang, Riverbank’s first Sister City.
Dong teaches first through third grade students in the Riverbank Academy of Multilingual Education at California Avenue School.
Students who participate in R.A.M.E. expect to achieve academic competence, technological literacy and become multilingual and cross-culturally sensitive, according to district officials.
Holmer described how the Sister City program came about.
He said originally, it was the idea of a member of the Chinese Ambassador’s staff at the embassy in San Francisco. Holmer said he was told Riverbank was located in the middle of an abundant farm area, something the local Chinese leaders were looking to partner up with.
On the other hand, he said, Fuyang, a city of about 700,000 at the time, was said to be the home of the world’s largest paper manufacturer. Unfortunately, Holmer noted, when he was there, it appeared that the paper factory discarded its waste into the local river and all the fish there were dead.
As part of the lavish welcome the entourage received in China, Holmer related a controversial incident he unknowingly caused while shopping for souvenirs.
He said he came upon a vendor selling pen and ink art works. He found one he liked and asked the price.
800 Yuan, Holmer said he was told.
“But we haggled a bit, and got the price down to 720 yuan. I received 80 back in change,” remembered Holmer.
He then took the art piece and sat down at a nearby table. The difficulty started as local officials in the group, along with the ‘party’ representative angrily asked him where he got it.
After describing the transaction to them, they promptly accosted the vendor, and after a heated exchange, he came back with them and handed Holmer his money back.
Taken somewhat aback, Holmer said he tried to protest, telling them he “really wanted to buy the art piece.”
The vendor, however, insisted on returning the money. So, Holmer said, “I tried to give him back the change he had given me, the 80 Yuan.”
The vendor insisted that he keep that, too.
To this day, he said, he remains puzzled by what transpired, ultimately chalking it up to the officials wishing to ‘save face,’ wanting to have it be a gift from the city.
Earlier, Holmer had described the efforts Riverbank went to, hosting a delegation from China before the 2004 trip. He described the events and local entertainment put on, including some local music and folklorico dancing, presented in Jacob Myers Park.
During the Memories Day program, he also mentioned other Sister City arrangements Riverbank has made, with Tamazula, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico; and, to a lesser extent, Fürstenfeld, Austria, near the Hungarian border.
Holmer said the Sister Cities programs have dwindled over the years, particularly Fuyang’s, when the Chinese representative who sparked the idea was transferred from the San Francisco Embassy back to China.