Chinese delegation soaks up Tarpon Springs culture

TARPON SPRINGS — A Chinese delegation visited Sunset Beach, felt natural sponge and dined at Hallas Restaurant at the Sponge Docks on Friday, as the visitors tried to consume everything Tarpon.

The six men are on a 10-day tour in which they will see several major U.S. and Canadian cities. The delegation includes politicians, a tourism specialist and the owner of a green tea company.

"It's very beautiful," one of the men said through a translator as he looked down Dodecanese Boulevard at the Sponge Docks.

The group comes from Tunxi, the Chinese district where the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed.

The district was initially introduced to Tarpon Springs by Commissioner Robin Saenger, who visited the area several years ago. Then last summer, she and Mayor Beverley Billiris returned to the country where they shared tourism information about Tarpon Springs and Pinellas County.

"You look at the list of cities, and Tarpon Springs is truly giving the small-town perspective," Saenger said Friday.

The delegation has visited New York, Washington and Toronto. After leaving Tarpon Springs, the group will head to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The city invited the delegation, but did not pay for the trip.

In addition to dinner at the Sponge Docks, the men visited the Cultural Center, where a Greek Mideastern cultural dance was performed.

This morning, the men will see a presentation at St. Petersburg College's Tarpon Springs campus. They also will be given a tour of the Leepa-Rattner Museum.

The group stayed overnight at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club and inquired about how to create an exchange with the facility.

The relationship between the Chinese delegation, Billiris and Saenger became a sticking point earlier this year.

Commissioner Peter Dalacos questioned the city's invitation. He also found issue with the city spending less than $100 to ship tourism items to China.

"I have no problem with them being in town," Dalacos said Friday. "My biggest thing is the mayor should have brought it to the board instead of unilaterally sending an invitation on behalf of the city. And if I had a chance to see them (the Chinese delegation), I would say 'Free Tibet.' "

On July 8, Billiris and Saenger traveled to Tunxi, for a conference at which they promoted Tarpon Springs and Pinellas County.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

Chinese delegation soaks up Tarpon Springs culture 11/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 8:27pm]

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