Mayor demonstrates his Mandarin skills

Hai, zaijian! (Or hi, goodbye!) Those are  two of the many words Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan has added to his vocabulary since starting to learn Mandarin.

This week, the Central Otago District Council posted a video of Mr Cadogan travelling from Queenstown to Dunedin, stopping at  major attractions and speaking Mandarin along the way.

Mr Cadogan presented the video to mayors and vice-mayors from Chinese cities at the New Zealand China Mayoral Forum in Wellington earlier this week.

He said he started learning Chinese a few years ago, after an idea he suggested to his children bounced back to him.

"I’d been telling my children for a very long time that they needed to learn Mandarin because I believed the future of New Zealand was going to be inextricably linked with China.

"They kept telling me ‘Well, you do it, old man’, so I tried and failed."

His children did not take up the language, but not long after becoming mayor he decided to try again.

"I want to be able to get to a point where when Chinese guests come to Central Otago I’m able to introduce myself in Mandarin, I’m able to introduce other people in Mandarin, offer them a cup of tea in Mandarin— the basics of showing respect and being welcoming really."

At the New Zealand China Mayoral Forum in Wellington this week are (from left)  Central Otago...
At the New Zealand China Mayoral Forum in Wellington this week are (from left) Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan, Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan and Shenzen Vice-Mayor Gao Zimin. Photo: Supplied
He started Skype lessons with a tutor from the Confucius  Institute, a non-profit Chinese organisation that promotes Chinese culture worldwide, from the University of Canterbury branch.

He was at a "very very basic conversational" level, and had  learned only to speak the language, not write the characters.

At the forum, Mr Cadogan was one of 15 New Zealand mayors to meet  mayors and vice-mayors from 10 of China’s biggest cities.

"For a small council like ours to have the opportunity to be face to face with the mayors and vice-mayors of 10 large or up-and-coming cities without having to go to China was an absolutely golden opportunity," he said.

He spoke to numerous officials at the forum in Mandarin.

"For me to be able to walk up and introduce myself in Mandarin and introduce people who were with me in Mandarin, to offer them a glass of our wine and cherries ...  they responded very positively."

Mr Cadogan said the video he presented at the forum was  completed only a week ago and produced in three days with Ross MacKay, of Lake Hawea company Stash Media Worx.

The Queenstown-Dunedin route the mayor drove on the video was part of a Chinese heritage trail he  wanted to promote to Chinese tourists.

The heritage trail could include restored Chinese settlements and Chinese graves in Otago cemeteries.

"I believe that was the best way to get visitors from  China to spend some of the vast sums of money they spend in Queenstown in Central Otago and in other parts of Otago," he said.

Mr Cadogan said the Central Otago District Council paid for the video and it cost less than  $4000.

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