At a meeting in Washington, D.C., Jack Garvey, of the Maritime Administration’s Office of Advanced Ship Development, said, “I would like to know about the shipyards in the Peoples Republic of China.”
At that time, no representative of the National Shipbuilding Research Program had been in one. I spoke up about the Port of Seattle having recently established a rapport with the Chinese government; I might get a letter of introduction. Jack, the Port, and the Chinese went along with the idea. I was to teach Japanese shipbuilding methods in Beijing and Shanghai in exchange for being able to tour and photograph inside two shipyards.
Thus, during 24 May 1981, at age fifty-eight and still an incurable romantic, I was the first passenger off of the jet in Beijing, whizzed through customs, and walked right into the official who was waiting for me. Within a few minutes we were in a chauffeured Chinese-built vehicle.
Just outside the airport, we drove over a small bridge that spanned a gully; it was no larger than a highway overpass. I noticed a rifleman, so I asked, “Why is a soldier standing there?”
Mr. Zhang said, “Didn’t you see the bridge?”
I replied, “Yes. From whom is he protecting it?”
Mr. Zhang’s eye’s rolled upward as part of an expression that conveyed the message, “I’ve got to put up with this crazy American for five days.”
Regardless, Mr. Zhang was gracious and then took me to see the Temple of Heaven. On the other hand he may have wanted to pray that I would cause him no problems.
When I was dropped off at a hotel, I asked, “Is it all right for me to walk outside after dark?”
Mr. Zhang smiled and replied, “Oh yes. You won’t get mugged in Beijing like you would in Washington, D.C.”
Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo