THEY went to Taiwan to say thanks for the wonderful help during last year's floods and came back with their eyes opened to a special world.
Mayor Paul Pisasale and Cr Cheryl Bromage led a delegation to thank the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation for their help, to develop business opportunities and promote Ipswich, Queensland and Australia as a lifestyle and education destination for Taiwanese people.
The mayor also continued on to Ipswich's sister city, Nerima in Japan, to thank them for their support after the floods and their continuing close relationship.
"The Tzu Chi organisation on the Gold Coast rang me during the floods and said they wanted to help. I'd never heard of them," the mayor said. "When I looked on the internet I saw they had shown tremendous care and compassion all over the world.
"A busload came all dressed in blue uniforms; Cheryl refers to them as the Blue Angels. They were better organised than our State Government. I'd put them on the same level as our Defence Forces and their care and compassion is second to none.
"We were invited to meet the Master and say thank you in person. They paid for us to go."
Master Cheng Yen founded the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association in 1966 to help the poor in eastern Taiwan.
From donations, volunteers make candles, clothes and porcelain statues and manufacture rice and food for aid relief as well as farming.
Cr Pisasale said his discussions outlined the great relationship between Ipswich and the Tzu Chi community and the desire to strengthen the bond.
"Tzu Chi will be part of us forever," he said. "It's the most incredible experience I've ever been through.
"When we got there we went to a recycling plant where they take bottles that are crushed, melted down and turned into material to be made into clothes and blankets. Their philosophy is all about coexisting with the earth.
"All the people who make the blankets are in their 80s and 90s and they use it as therapy for dementia. They've got about 6000 of these centres all around Taiwan with 67,000 volunteers.
"They've got shops where they sell the items that they make from recycled plastic."
After the recycling centre, shops, trade fair and hospitals, they visited a TV station where they broadcast a thank you message before a train ride to meet the Master.
On the train Cr Bromage and Cr Pisasale handed out toy koalas and collected donations for the Tzu Chi Foundation.
After they arrived, they met people who receive assistance from Tzu Chi in Taiwan including a hearing-impaired woman with two injured sons who sews finger guards. She gets $12 for 3kg and gives it to Tzu Chi.
"We were given an hour and a quarter, which is one of the longest the Master has spent with a delegation," Cr Bromage said.
"We gave her a collage of all the photos of the Tzu Chi helping in the floods and the donations we had collected on the train.
"The master expressed her thanks to the citizens of Ipswich and Ipswich City Council for embracing Tzu Chi and for allowing her foundation to become a sister city and to work together to help people in need."