News / Kitchener

Waterloo mayor dubbed 'Auntie Mayor' in Chinese blogs

WATERLOO — Mayor Brenda Halloran has an unusual new fan base.

She doesn’t even speak their language, yet she’s connected with a devoted group of Chinese followers who call her “the auntie mayor.’’

Halloran met these new friends on China’s version of Twitter — the social networking site Sina Weibo. The popular microblogging service boasts 300 million registered users and Halloran is one of them.

She’s been told she’s the first Canadian mayor and the second North American mayor to register on one of the fastest growing internet sites in China. It’s been described as a hybrid of both Facebook and Twitter.

“It’s very exciting,’’ Halloran said. “I look at it as an opportunity of using social media for global outreach — attracting business and interested students.’’

Halloran decided to start posting on the site as a way of promoting the City of Waterloo to people in China: potential international students, businesses, academics and tourists.

She started just three weeks ago. Already, her blog has been visited 2,366 times and she has 1,387 fans.

It turns out many of those fans are Chinese students living in Waterloo Region. They’re thrilled to see her promoting their adopted city in their home country.

“Chinese students talk about their auntie mayor,’’ Halloran said Monday. “They’re very proud their mayor is blogging about Waterloo.’’

They post comments such as “ ‘Thank you. We’re so happy to be here,’ ’’ she said.

“They think the mayor is very approachable. Some of them said this is the first time that they feel the mayor is so close to their life,’’ said Max Min, a city of Waterloo employee who translates Halloran’s blog into Chinese. His parents live in China.

While Halloran is pleased to reach some of the 10,000 Chinese families living in Waterloo Region, her blog is targeted at people in China who might want to come here.

“We just see it as a great opportunity for our city,’’ she said.

The city already has links to China. In 2009, Waterloo signed a friendship agreement with the municipal government of Chongqing, a city of 33 million.

In 2011, Halloran was part of a delegation which visited China to foster ongoing business and cultural relationships between the two countries. Waterloo has played host to several delegations from China.

The University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Canada’s Technology Triangle all have offices in Chongqing.

Halloran had been asked to participate in Weibo before, but was put off because she couldn’t write Chinese. With Min’s help as a translator, she was able to make it work.

Her blogs include information about the area’s high-tech companies, MacLean’s magazine’s rating of the University of Waterloo as having the best reputation of any Canadian university, and video of her talking to the vice mayor of Chongqing when she visited last November.

. Min says response has been excellent.

“They never expected that a Canadian mayor who does not have Chinese heritage will open a Weibo account and actually reply to all their questions,’’ he said.

She’s received about 400 comments. People want to know about the weather and the population here.

They ask about investing in Waterloo and sending their children here, Min said.

Souping Zhao, international Relations Specialist for Waterloo International, a department for international programs at the University of Waterloo, says Halloran’s blog is a big deal.

The buzz is that “People here are quite excited about this event,’’ she said. “To people, it’s a really big thing.”

For a western person to be willing to become established on a Chinese website when they don’t even speak the language is “a really friendly gesture’’ toward Chinese people, she said.

“She wants to speak something on the Chinese Twitter. She wants to speak in Chinese even though she may not know Chinese.

“She also opens a window to people in China to see Waterloo. The University of Waterloo is very famous in China,’’ Zhao said.

One of the interesting questions on her blog was how many government employees in Waterloo get free cars.

“The Chinese government owns quite a few of the cars for the mayor and other people to use,’’ Zhao explained. “Many people aren’t happy with that. They feel it’s a lot of money.’’

The answer Halloran gave was that not many people in government get cars. Most use their own personal car.

Zhao thinks Halloran’s outreach will attract many more international students and businesses.

Her blog is proving popular, Min says.

“It is very popular. Actually, the hosting company has asked us to submit a fun story about her, so they can post it on the front page to promote the blog,’’ he said.

To see the blog, visit:

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