▲ Friends of Santa Rosa and Jeju City sisterhood committees toasted the 20th anniversary event. Photo by Matt Collison.
A special bond between Jeju City and the US city of Santa Rosa has been marked during a 20th anniversary event.
The two cities have shared sister city status since 1996 with a host of cultural exchanges taking place during the two decade relationship.
The latest event was a celebration dinner, hosted by Don Taylor, president of the Santa Rosa sister city committee at Neul Bom restaurant in Sin Jeju.
Mr Taylor brought gifts to share among guests and committee members in recognition of the enduring, long-distance partnership.
"Congratulations for 20 years of the sister city committees," toasted Mr Taylor, as glasses were raised amid cheers and applause for the March 7 meal.
Long-standing Jeju City sisterhood committee member Ko Bong Kyoo received a bottle of Californian Zinfandel wine, produced from a 100 year-old grape vine.
"It is with great love and respect that I bring this bottle for you Mr Ko," announced Mr Taylor as he handed the bottle, engraved in Santa Rosa and decorated by Jeju Weekly artist Agne Latinyte.
Mr Taylor, who is also a Californian restaurateur, added: "This wine will be fantastic for the next 10 years. So you have to plan on drinking it sometime in the next 10 years.
"I know that there are very wealthy wine people here in Jeju who will be so jealous of this bottle."
The Jeju benefactor also presented Mr Ko with a plaque of appreciation for what was described as his "unmatched" commitment to the partnership between Santa Rosa and Jeju City.
Signed by Santa Rosa city mayor John J Sawyer, the plaque read: "In recognition of 20 years of dedicated service to the Santa Rosa - Jeju sister city program.
"Your personal commitment to the positive relationship and cultural exchange between our two cities is unmatched."
▲ Jeju City sisterhood committee member Ko Bong Kyoo received a Plaque of Appreciation signed by the mayor of Santa Rosa. Photo by Matt Collison
Accepting his gifts, Mr Ko said: "I didn't expect to have all this! This is the first time I have been given these kind of gifts in my life. I am going to keep this forever. Thank you."
The celebratory meal was the latest in a series of cultural exchanges that have taken place over the two decade partnership.
In 2012, a statue of the Peanuts cartoon character Snoopy was shipped over from the US as a gift to Jeju. The famous hound was chosen because its creator Charles Schulz was a longtime resident of Santa Rosa.
The statue's pedestal, a dog house built in the style of a traditional Jeju home and made from the island's volcanic stone, was designed by Jeju artist Jang Eun Bong.
The life-sized monument was given a new home in Santa Rosa Way, located close to the city's government buildings in Jeju City.
And, just as Jeju has its own street named after its US counterpart, there is also Jeju Way, a small plaza on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa.
The footway features a fountain with a stone statue of a woman pouring water into a vessel as well as murals depicting Jeju landscapes.
In 2002, Mr Taylor sent a group of dancers from Santa Rosa to take part in the Jeju Daeboreum Fire Festival and the performers have since been a regular highlight of the annual event.
The celebratory dinner was the culmination of the Santa Rosa contingent's latest Jeju trip which once again saw the dancers raise spectators' spirits at a rainy Jeju Fire Festival 2016.
Indeed, the entertainers join a host of international performers credited with breathing new life into the event.
Speaking at the celebratory meal, Mr Taylor recalled how Jeju was offering to send two 3m-tall dolharubang stone grandfather statues to the US city, and in return they requested that dancers be sent to perform at Jeju Daeboreum Fire Festival.
He set about raising funds to bring the dancers to the island. Happily their performance became a festival's highlight that continues to this day.
He said: "My funniest memory of the fire festival was, when we first got here, the Chinese were bringing Chinese opera to the festival which sounded like animals being killed. It was that bad and it was just not appropriate for an outside festival. It was such a specialised, niche event.
"Then we brought all the American girls and not too many years after that the Chinese turned up with cute young girls doing a dance show too. I think you can argue that is more approriate to the festival than a Chinese opera."
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