Mon, February 13, 2012
China > China & World

Town ready to welcome return of special guest

2012-02-13 00:30:32 GMT2012-02-13 08:30:32(Beijing Time)  China Daily

The Muscatine Journal covered Xi and his delegation's trip 27 years ago. (Provided to China Daily)

Xi Jinping (center) at a picnic at the farm of Janet Rauch in 1985. (Janet Rauch / for China Daily)

Guillermo Munro / China Daily

The small town on the banks of the Mississippi River is "Feeling Great", abuzz with excitement and recalling happy memories as it looks forward to the return of an old friend - Vice-President Xi Jinping.

It was 27 years ago that Xi visited Muscatine, an agricultural center in the US heartland, when he led a delegation to learn about farming technology. The delegates were all given badges to wear sporting the town's slogan: "Feeling Great".

Sarah Lande, a resident of the town, had the same feeling early last month when she got a call from Iowa State Governor Terry Branstad.

"Sarah, guess what, I think Xi is coming to our state," Branstad said.

"I was really surprised and excited. I also felt humble, honored and, of course, a little proud," Lande said.

Lande, 73, and her husband Roger, 74, were among several families in Muscatine to host Xi in April, 1985.

Xi, then a local official in North China's Hebei province and director of Shijiazhuang Feed Association, led a five-member delegation to learn about agricultural technology in Iowa, the state that calls itself the Food Capital of the World.

They were visiting as part of an Iowa Sister State program after Hebei and Iowa cemented the relationship in 1983.

The delegation spent two weeks in Iowa, visiting farms, feed suppliers, and grain processing and food biotechnology companies.

The three days Xi spent in the small, charming town of 23,000 left him with fond memories.

At the invitation of US Vice-President Joe Biden, Xi will visit the United States on Feb 13-17. He will arrive in Washington DC to meet with US President Barack Obama and other government officials, and then leave for Iowa and Los Angeles.

On Wednesday afternoon, Xi is due to meet up with old friends for tea in Muscatine before heading for the state capital Des Moines.

Lande, who was the executive director of Iowa's Sister State program for 12 years, is organizing the reunion.

She will prepare jasmine tea, champagne, spring rolls, sweets and other local tidbits for the occasion.

"He wants to meet only the people he has met before," Lande said. "There are 17 of them. It will be at least an hour. We will remember the old days."

The intervening years may have changed appearances, just a little bit, Joan Axel, who also played host to the 1985 Chinese guests, said.

"We all look a little bit different now. He remembers some of his old friends. I think he's curious about what we do now."

Many have retired, but one of the people who took the delegation on a tour around the Muscatine Foods Corp grain processing plant in 1985 still works for that company.

Xi will meet his host family Eleanor and Tom Dvorchak at the reunion. He stayed at their four-bedroom house for two nights in 1985.

The Dvorchaks, moved to Florida three years ago, but will fly back to Muscatine on Tuesday to meet Xi.

"I lost track of him after he left," Eleanor, 72, said. "I was surprised when I heard he was coming back. But we had a lot of fun then and I am more than happy to go back to meet him again."

She has prepared a gift for Xi: Obama on the Couch, a book by Justin Frank, a highly regarded expert on psychoanalysis.

"I hope it will help Xi understand the man (US President Barack Obama) better and help them get along, so it will lead to a peaceful and successful relationship between China and the US," she said.

The Dvorchaks visited China in 1987 with a tour group and are hoping to go again. Their son Mark runs a China-related business consulting company in California.

Other folk in Muscatine, including a Chinese language teacher and her students at Muscatine High School, are equally looking forward to the vice-president's visit.

"He is such an important person from such an important country and all of us want to meet him in person," teacher Carol Kula said.

Aric Bower, a senior student who has studied Chinese for four years, added: "I was really amazed when I heard Xi was visiting. I never expected him to come to Muscatine."

For the local newspaper, the Muscatine Journal, it will be the biggest story of the year. Its editor Chris Steinbach has received dozens of calls from the media at home and abroad inquiring about Xi's trip.

"We will see how people from two different countries get together again after almost 30 years," he said. "It is pretty unusual and I have never heard anything like this happening before. It shows the importance of friendship and being open-minded about learning about other people's countries. I think that's pretty cool."

Sweet memories

Writer Mark Twain, once writing for the Journal, remembers Muscatine for its sunsets, while Xi remembers the town for its people.

Iowa Governor Branstad said Xi has kept the itinerary of the 1985 Iowa trip. "When I met him last September in Beijing, he mentioned many people he had met in Muscatine," Branstad said.

The hospitality of its people and its advanced agricultural industries were the reasons the small city was picked to host the Chinese delegation, Lande said.

"Joan and I had been to China in 1984 with the Sister State program and we were so excited about China, that we wanted them to share our homes and learn about our people," she said.

As the delegation was on a budget of $400 for three days, most of the local programs then were run by volunteer hosts such as the Dvorchaks.

Xi stayed in the bedroom of their two sons who were at college at that time.

"There were two beds with Star Wars wallpapers and Star Trek toys - a typical middle-class children's room," Eleanor said.

After a busy day touring with his delegation, Xi would enjoy some peace and quiet at the Dvorchaks' place. "I would make him a tea and let him unwind a little bit," she said.

Most Chinese visitors did not stay with host families at that time, Lande said.

"But that's one of the things Mr Xi enjoyed so much. He was brought in as part of the family, ate at the breakfast table and stayed in the kids' room. He really got to see a slice of American life," she said.

In addition to the tours to farms and companies, the delegation also enjoyed their social time with the hosts.

They had dinners at family homes, went on a boat trip on the Mississippi, had a farmhouse picnic and watched a local baseball game.

"It was the first delegation from China that we had and we were curious about each other," Axel said. "We talked about the family, business, food, homes, the kids, dogs and so on."

Xi is remembered as a good delegation leader with a warm heart.

"He was organized, curious and professional with a really warm nature," Lande said.

"I remember that he had a really nice smile," Axel said.

According to an article at the time in the Muscatine Journal, Xi said about the 1985 visit: "So far we have learned a lot, seen a lot and achieved a lot. The impression of the US is very good, I think. We have seen a lot of your advanced technology. The people here are very warm and very friendly. They too have left a very deep impression on us."

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