Lifetime memories are made of this
Updated: 2012-02-17 07:06
By Kelly Chung Dawson, Zhang Yuwei and Tan Yingzi (China Daily)
Vice-President Xi Jinping catches up on old times at the home of Roger and Sarah Lande in Muscatine, Iowa, on Wednesday. [Liu Jiansheng / Xinhua]
Vice-president returns to Iowan town 27 years after his first visit
MUSCATINE, Iowa - Hanging by the door in the Victorian house that Vice-President Xi Jinping visited in Muscatine, Iowa, on Wednesday, was a colorful Chinese folk painting.
Xi's host, Sarah Lande, has been a long-time admirer of China and the small Mississippi River town, once known as "Pearl City" for its pearl-button factories, put on a traditional Iowan welcome.
The vice-president returned on Wednesday 27 years after staying in the town as a young official from Hebei province, Iowa's sister state.
Lande said the gathering was "very warm" and "went very nicely". Seventeen people he met from 1985 were invited to the gathering on Wednesday.
Xi was able to recall many details of his 1985 trip, Lande told China Daily after Wednesday's reunion.
She said that Xi told the group that when he was in Washington, US officials asked him why he was going to Iowa.
"He looked at us and then said 'this is why'," she said.
Xi was presented with a gift from the Muscatine residents: a book of memories with a collection of photos taken during the 1985 trip.
Also in attendance were Muscatine Mayor Dewayne Hopkins, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Governor Terry Branstad, who suggested the trip to the vice-president during a visit to Beijing in September. During Xi's 1985 visit he toured a corn processing plant, a pork farm and a small vegetable farm. In 1985 he slept in the Dvorchak's sons' room, they had just left for college and Star Trek character cutouts were posted on the walls.
"He has an amazing memory," Mary Jo Stanley, who attended the reunion, told China Daily. "As we each shared our memories he was bringing up details about that first trip that even some of the hosts had forgotten. He was charming, warm and friendly, and the whole thing was a testimony to what individual-to-individual diplomacy can accomplish."
Xi spoke to the audience in a strong and confident voice, said several people who attended the event.
"Coming here is like coming home," Xi said. "You cannot even imagine what a deep impression I had from my visit 27 years ago to Muscatine, because you were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with. My impression of the country came from you. For me, you are America."
His first visit had occurred just several years after the normalization of relations between China and the US, and just two years after Hebei and Iowa became sister states, Xi recalled.
"We were so excited and honored to have him here," Sarah Margaret Minor, Landes' granddaughter, told China Daily.
Landes described the vice-president as having been particularly fond of one of their puppies on his previous trip, Minor recalled. Xi told the group that he now had a dog of his own.
"He was very well-spoken. He said that he felt like an honorary citizen of Muscatine, and said that he was really thankful to be back."
Janet Rauch, who gave Xi a tour of her farm on his first trip to Muscatine, described him as "a calm and ambitious man who will do a great job. He is very personable".
Xi's stop in Muscatine was part of a weeklong trip. He will fly to California for the last leg of the trip.
Although Xi's visit to Iowa was framed around his visit to families in Muscatine, the trip is also widely viewed as a chance to strengthen economic ties between China and the state, the largest producer of soybeans in the US. In 2010 Iowa's exports to China totaled $627 million, an increase from $45 million in 2000.
As the media gathered in the town to cover the event, local residents reacted with excitement.
Beverly Thumann, the owner of a gift shop just a few blocks from the Lande home, believes the reunion holds a lesson.
"Probably back in 1985, there was no thought that something that happened here in Muscatine 27 years ago would bring the vice-president of China back to us today," she said.
"I am hopeful that everyone can think about how it's the small things that occur that can really make a difference. Sarah and other people that met with (Xi) back then must have really made some kind of strong impression for him to want him to come back."
Cynthia Beaudette, a reporter for the Muscatine Journal, said Xi's visit is important for the whole community. The international media focus attention around the larger American cities and it is gratifying to see Muscatine in the news, she said.
But Minor said that Xi's trip to Iowa will have been a clear indication of how excited Americans are about China.
"Even here in Muscatine, way out in the middle of the US, away from the coasts, we're just as excited about China as anywhere else."
Indeed, in a city of 43,000 three hours from the state capital Des Moines, Iowans were pronouncing Vice-President Xi Jinping's name with a perfect Mandarin accent.