by Phoebe Ho
TORONTO, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- A Canadian mayor who can't read or write Chinese has found an unlikely way to reach out to the Chinese people.
Politicians embracing social networking sites is nothing new, but Mayor Brenda Halloran has taken it a step further. Ignoring language and cultural barriers, the mayor of Waterloo, a Canadian city, has entered the world of Weibo.
According to her, she is now the first Canadian mayor to join this popular Chinese networking site, known as China's version of Twitter.
Halloran hopes that, by using the popular social networking tool, she can promote cross-cultural exchanges between the two countries.
"I love China, I've been there several times, I'm going back in September and I think the Chinese culture is just magnificent, it's beautiful," the mayor said in a recent interview with Xinhua. "The people and the generosity and the kindness. I think that Canadians and people from China are very similar. And why not make those connections and build those relationships?"
It's not the first time Halloran has sought to reach out to Waterloo's large Chinese community. Home to the University of Waterloo, a popular school among Chinese, the Chinese population is the second largest minority group in the city.
Since Halloran took office in 2006, she has made China one of her many focuses. Back in 2009, Waterloo signed a friendship agreement with Chongqing municipality in China. Since then, she's visited China, and played host to several Chinese delegations.
Weibo was the next natural step, she said.
"I as a mayor have a Twitter account, Facebook account, the city has all social media accounts. So we have been using social media as a city, I have been for years as a mayor," she said. "I believe in it, and I believe it's such an important communications tool to reach out to people, so for me, this just made sense."
But first, she had to address a glaring issue. With no Chinese reading or writing skills, the language barrier was the first problem she had to overcome. For that, she enlisted the help of a city employee, Max Min, who moved to Canada from Beijing more than a decade ago.
"Within a few days, we started the blog, we opened up the Weibo account and we've been growing in popularity ever since," she said.
With the help of Min, the mayor's Weibo account has attracted a long list of followers that's now grown to almost 12,000. According to Halloran, about 75 percent of them live in China.
But Min said it took some hard work and dedication for the mayor's young blog to catch on so quickly in a country halfway across the world. Min meets the mayor on a daily basis to translate comments people write on her blog and discuss the types of things they should post.
"I tried to let the mayor know what they are really asking, sometimes simple questions, right. Like the mayor does not understand what they're really asking for, so I can give the mayor some explanation how, from the culture background, what they're really asking for so we can pinpoint the issue more efficiently," Min said.
With Min's help overcoming the language and cultural barriers, Halloran's blog has been a fount of information for those in China looking to invest, immigrate, or send their children over to study.
Posting information about the city, it's university, it's climate and business opportunities, Halloran said her primary goal was to answer any questions people who knew absolutely nothing about Waterloo might have, but was also a way for her to reach out to students struggling to adapt in a new environment.
"It also provides me with an opportunity to hear from our international Chinese students, who sometimes are a bit lonely, miss their families and they don't know who to ask questions of," Halloran said.
She said parents in China had expressed to her through comments on Weibo that they felt safe sending their children to Waterloo because "we know you're mother mayor and you'll take care of our children."
But it doesn't stop here. The mayor says she's going to keep improving the blog and is planning to invite some students to guest-blog and use her account to share their experience living in Waterloo as students.