He's arrival at Reagan National Airport is a moment that I will never
After corresponding for 17 years, we finally met each other
He was the third passenger exiting the plane.
When our eyes made contact, I pointed at him and he pointed back at
me and started running towards me.
He grabbed me in a big bear hug and seemed to be in a state of
total joy (as was I).
|After finding our way to baggage claim and
retrieving Mr. He's luggage, we exited the airport, drove south through
the town of Alexandria and along the George Washington Parkway to Mount
Vernon. Mr. He was surprised
at the number of birds he saw everywhere.
In China some years ago, many of the birds were eradicated in a
campaign to increase harvest yields.
We stopped at the snack bar for lunch and Mr. He consumed one
muffin and some bottled water. Next
we toured the buildings and grounds and learned many things about life in
colonial America. We left Mount Vernon and headed for Springfield,
Virginia, in Fairfax County. We
stayed the next two nights with my 86-year old mother-in-law, Mrs. Dorothy
Crider. Mr. He was amazed
that she still lived in her own house and that she drove a car.
|In China anyone over the age of about 70 is
considered a venerated elder, is never left alone, and is cared for by
younger relatives. Mr. He
thought her house must be new, but in fact it was built in the 1950's.
||For dinner Wednesday evening we met Merrilee
Zellner and her friend, Martha Delaney, a financial analyst for the
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, at Squire Rockwells Restaurant in
Annandale. Merrilee is an
internet consultant and travel agent.
She had visited Mr. He at his cafe in China.
She has her own website for her travel business, www.iatravel.com. Two hours of good food and stimulating conversation followed.
Mr. He had some soup and fruit from the salad bar, as his teeth
were still bothering him.
This was a long day of touring in the District of Columbia (9 AM - 9 PM).
We left Springfield on the Metro to downtown, and walked several
blocks to the White House. Many
photos were taken on both sides of the White House and with the Washington
Monument in the background. There
were the usual hordes of people and Mr. He was amazed at all the tour
||We saw the Old and New Executive Office Buildings, several nearby parks
and statues, and then walked to George Washington University to meet Dr.
Jim Hershberg and two colleagues, David Wolff and Thomas Blanton, for
lunch at Kinkead's Restaurant. Jim
had met Mr. He at his café in Dali.
Mr. He was able to eat some mashed potatoes and scallops.
Another round of interesting and delightful conversation followed.
After lunch Jim and his friends presented Mr. He with a newly
published book of the Kissinger Transcripts from his trip to China to set
up Nixon's visit. All of the
guests autographed the book for Mr. He.
|We next dashed off to the Voice of America to
take a tour of the studios. Mr.
He asked the tour guide if he could meet someone from the China
broadcasting section. After
seeing the studio facilities, we met the lady in charge of VOA's Special
English Lessons program and then met Peter Chen, head of the China
Section. Mr. He was thrilled to tour the China Section and meet some
of the people who worked there. He
was able to convey to the VOA people how grateful he was for their help
over the years through their broadcasts in his struggle to learn English
and that the success he is now experiencing is in part due to their help.
Mr. Chen escorted us out of the VOA after our tour and showed us
the way to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
||We took several photos on the mall in front of
the Smithsonian with the Capitol in the background. We then went to the Air & Space Museum to meet Roger Lin,
a Taiwanese student at American University and graduate of Bates College.
Mr. He could not believe that there was no entrance charge for the
museum and that all the museums in the Smithsonian complex were free.
Roger had read Mr. China's Son when it was first published and had
started corresponding with Mr. He shortly thereafter.
He has been in the US since the age of 13 attending schools and
speaks fluent English.
|After the Air & Space Museum, Roger drove us
to the Lincoln Memorial and we toured the nearby Vietnam Memorial and
Korean War Memorial, pausing at each spot for pictures. Next we drove to the Dupont Circle area for dinner at a
Chinese restaurant named Oodles of Noodles.
The word "oodles" was new to Mr. He.
Several days later I showed him the word in the dictionary.
Mr. He was able to enjoy some soup and a noodle dish very much.
Roger dropped us off at the Metro after dinner and we headed back
to Springfield for a good night's sleep.
Before breakfast Mr. He went out to observe the street paving work in
progress in front of the house. I
went out to check on him a few minutes later and could not see him.
I finally located him a half block away talking with a paving crew
worker in the middle of the street. I
remember from his autobiography that he worked many years ago on a road
construction crew in China. Perhaps
he was talking shop and comparing roadbuilding techniques with his
||We headed out by car after a breakfast of
oatmeal, soft whole wheat bread and jam, and tea, bound for Oxford,
Maryland, on the Eastern Shore. We
drove over the Bay Bridge near Annapolis, which was fascinating to Mr. He.
He was also intrigued with a truck carrying new cars over the
bridge and tried to take a photo from the car.
He frequently commented about the number of cars he saw everywhere.
|In Oxford we met Fletcher Hanks and his wife,
Jane. Fletcher was a pilot
during World War II with the China National Airways Corporation, flying
supplies over the hump from India to Kunming during the Japanese invasion
of China. Jane had been a
nurse with the Flying Tigers in Kunming and was married to a pilot who was
killed just a few days before he was to leave for home.
Both Mr. And Mrs. Hanks are in their early 80s and both are still
full of life. Jane is
planning a solo trip back to China in a few months for a college reunion.
Fletcher had led an expedition to a remote part of Yunnan in 1997
to find the remains of CNAC-53, which had gone down in 1943, and says he
will go back for the dedication of a museum which is being planned,
possibly in Kunming, to house the salvaged remains of the plane. He had sent us videos about his trip and about the Flying
Tigers, which were both fascinating.
We had lunch at the Robert Morris Inn (Mr. He s first experience
with crabcakes, I believe), toured the village of Oxford, caught the ferry
to St. Michaels, toured the waterfront there, then returned to Oxford.
||After saying our farewells to Mr. And Mrs. Hanks,
we headed south via US Route 50 and US Route 13, down the Eastern Shore of
Maryland and Virginia. We
reached the Bay Bridge-Tunnel and stopped at the fishing pier in the
middle of the bay for more photos. We
continued on to my home in Portsmouth, Va., arriving around 9:00 PM.
|Having been without E-mail for 2 days, Mr. He
used the opportunity to catch up on his electronic correspondence.
My wife Dottie and daughter Jennifer went out to get some Chinese
food from a local restaurant and brought it back home for a meal around
the dining room table. Mr. He
enjoyed the soup, noodles, vegetables, and rice dishes.
Mr. He relaxed during the morning and looked at every inch of my home.
Dottie gave him a tour of each cabinet and closet in the kitchen.
He was fascinated by our Waring blender.
The azaleas were in full bloom across the back fence.
Mr. He was very interested in my small Dutch barn shed where we
keep our lawnmower and garden tools.
He even took a picture of the inside of the shed.
He then had me take a picture of him pushing the mower.
When he explored our city trash bin, he was surprised to find that
we were throwing away pine cones. Our
pine trees seem to drop a dozen a day.
In China, pine cones are used for fuel for cooking and heating.
|We next headed out to WalMart to get Mr. He's
film developed. It turns out
that there is a Chinese WalMart in Kunming that Mr. He had visited.
While the film was being processed, we roamed the store and noticed
that nearly every product in the store was made in China.
The photos turned out very well.
On the way back home I showed Mr. He Churchland High School, where
my daughter graduated about 7 years ago.
|That evening Dottie made some homemade Chinese
dishes from the "Yan Can Cook" cookbook. Mr. He seemed to really enjoy that meal and ate more than he
had consumed in the previous two days.
After dinner the parents of my son s wife, David and Elizabeth
Harris, came over to meet Mr. He. They
had been missionaries in Belgium some years ago, and Elizabeth had taught
English in China last summer. A
pleasant hour of tea, coffee, and conversation followed.
|Mr. He presented them with an autographed copy of
his autobiography. David
commented that he had seen both of Mr. He s books at the house of friends
who have an interest in missionary work in China. Later that evening, Mr.
He worked on his correspondence till after midnight.
He had his own room (my son s former bedroom) with a desk and
computer and seemed to be very comfortable there.
After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, tea, soft bread, jam, and grapefruit
slices, Mr. He resisted our attempts to cajole him into touring the main
attractions of Hampton Roads. He
wanted to write some letters and said he might go out later in the day.
My wife looked out the kitchen window when Mr. He was taking a smoking
break and called to me to have a look.
He was sitting in the grass under our pecan tree near the azaleas
enjoying the sun and the solitude. I
went out with my camera to capture this moment on film.
Later in the day we lined up our three cars (another thing that
amazed Mr. He) and took a photo of Mr. He behind the wheel of the first
car, me driving the second, and my daughter driving the third.
|Early in the afternoon the telephone rang and the
caller requested to speak to Mr. He.
Howard Cohen of Baltimore, MD, who had visited Mr. He's café with
his wife Jane in July of 1999, had sent Mr. He an E-mail recommending the
book "The River at the Center of the World" by Simon Winchester.
Mr. He's son had responded to their E-mail telling them that he was
in the US and passed along our phone number.
Mr. He was quite amazed that my daughter had washed two cars and
mowed the lawn for us and thought she was a good dutiful daughter.
He gave her a pair of Chinese slip-on shoes with rubber soles that
actually fit her perfectly.
|Unfortunately, the afternoon tour of Hampton
Roads never materialized. Mr.
He continued working on his correspondence all afternoon, all evening, all
the way till 3:30 AM. He is
truly dedicated to keeping up his correspondence.
He prepared around 30 letters thanking everyone he had met during
his trip. A couple more
letters were posted to Chinese addresses.
My wife prepared more home-cooked Chinese food that evening and Mr.
He enjoyed another hearty meal. He
seemed very much at home with us, which was very gratifying to all of us.
After many photos and hugs we bid goodbye to Dottie and Jennifer and
headed north over the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel to Hampton, west to
Richmond on Interstate I-64, and north to Springfield on I-95.
Mr. He was very surprised to see the old James River Bridge a few
miles upstream from the new bridge-tunnel.
He couldn't understand why two bridges would be needed so close
Mr. He lasted about
half an hour before falling asleep in the car.
He slept for most of the remaining two and a half hour drive.Back at my mother-in-law's house in Springfield,
we had a hearty meal of Chinese food that my wife had sent up the road
with us. Mr. He had some mail
waiting, which he opened and then packed away.
We left for Reagan National Airport around 1:00 PM and drove past
the Pentagon. He had never
heard of the Pentagon, and I explained that it was the headquarters of our
At the airport, we checked Mr. He's luggage and
made our way to the departure gate. I
had downloaded maps of Newark Airport, where he was to change planes for
his flight to Brussels. I
found out the gates at which he was arriving and departing in Newark and
tried to explain to him where he had to go to change planes.
When departure time came, Mr. He gave me another bear hug and kept
turning around to wave every few steps down the departure ramp to the
plane. I felt like I was
saying goodbye to a family member. He
is a truly wonderful man, this son of Mr. China.
I hope to be able to see him again someday, somewhere!
Three months later, in July 2000, the company magazine of Mr. Mike
Davis,the "NR&C News Reviews Comment" published an article
about Mr. China's Son's unusual visit to Mike. To see the details about
why and how they have become good friends , please
click the magazine.
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