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A Sisterly Visit : Monterey Park Gives Taiwan Guests a Taste of 'Chinatown'


MONTEREY PARK — " Wo guo yu jiang de bu hao. Qing duo duo yuan liang ," Mayor Judy Chu said slowly into the microphone, reciting the syllables printed on a piece of paper in her hand.

Laughter and applause rose from the audience of 100 revelers at Harbor Village Restaurant Tuesday night. The mayor flashed a smile.

"For those of you who didn't understand, I said my Chinese is very lousy," she said.

That didn't seem to matter, for the guests of honor were in town for a dose of American culture, Monterey Park-style.

Lin Chung-Yung, the mayor of Yung-Ho, Taiwan--one of Monterey Park's sister cities--did what tourists usually do when in California. He, his wife, 32 officials, their spouses and a cadre of Taiwanese reporters went to Disneyland. They saw Sea World. They ate a vegetarian lunch at Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, the largest Buddhist monastery in the Western Hemisphere.

But for most of their three days in Southern California last week, the Yung-Ho visitors marveled at the "suburban Chinatown" their fellow countrymen helped shape--a city where two Chinese-Americans sit on the City Council, where many residents speak their language, where a good Chinese restaurant isn't hard to find.

In fact, they ate dim sum for lunch on their first day in Monterey Park.

Lee Chun-Chun, Mayor Lin's wife, was quick to point out, however, that American food is popular these days in Yung-Ho, a city of 300,000 near Taipei.

"My 9-year-old very much likes American hamburger, Coca-Cola," Lee told Chu in English.

But the conversation quickly turned away from American fast food. "After lunch they want to go to the Chinese grocery, Hoa Binh," announced Walter Kiang, a Monterey Park resident who was translating for the delegation.

"Why do they want to go there?" Chu asked.

"He (Mayor Lin) heard the fruits are very plentiful," Kiang explained. "He wants apples for sure. In Taiwan it's a subtropical climate, and apples are more expensive."

Of course, the Yung-Ho visitors came for more than just bargain fruit prices.

Although their city is about the same size as Monterey Park, it has about five times as many people, making it one of the densest cities in the world. And with such a large population come problems typical of any crowded metropolitan area: air pollution, traffic congestion and garbage dumps filled to capacity.

So, on Wednesday morning, the group members got up early, piled into a bus and headed for the Puente Hills Landfill, where they learned about recycling, a concept foreign to them, and saw waste treatment and water reclamation in action for the first time.

As their bus slowly climbed the dump's ramps and navigated around compacted mounds of dirt and garbage, many of the visitors snapped photographs and took diligent notes. They appeared impressed with the elaborate process of burying waste.

"In Taiwan, we just take trash and throw it into the road, or wherever there's a vacant place," Jeng Yuan-Yuan, Yung-Ho's city clerk, said through an interpreter. "The trash collectors come and pick it up."

But Chang Chi-Yuan, a councilman, doubted a Puente Hills-type landfill, where garbage is carefully packed underneath layers of dirt and cloth tarps, would work in Yung-Ho.

"Unfortunately, in Taiwan we can't do this," he said. "First of all, we don't have enough land. Second, the weather. During the typhoon season, this would all fall down."

The entourage was paying a reciprocal visit to the city they established ties with 10 years ago. Last October, Chu and a group of Monterey Park officials and residents spent a week in Yung-Ho.

The Taiwanese visitors largely paid their own way, with help from Monterey Park's Yung-Ho Sister City Assn. Monterey Park's only expense was the $425 it contributed to help pay for the Harbor Village banquet. Several local service clubs and the Coordination Council for North American Affairs--Taiwan's de facto consulate in Los Angeles--paid for other meals.

The delegation departed Thursday. On the night before, it was treated to a traditional--if out of season--all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving feast at Luminarias Restaurant.

In the course of the evening, perhaps in musical tribute to fond feelings that had developed, a barbershop quartet from Covina serenaded the guests with "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

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