By Assunta Ng
Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman frequently walked to restaurants near the embassy to buy his own lunch box.
The Chinese media never noticed, although he is fluent in the Chinese language and culture. But Locke, a Chinese face, has instantly changed the scenery. The Chinese public adores him for his lack of extravagance — no bodyguards or servants follow him.
During his governor and post-governor days in our state and in D.C., people often approached him for an autograph or to pose for a photo. Locke carried a black felt-tipped pen with him, ready for such requests. What is different in China is that the admiring crowd, including the media, is about 50 times bigger.
He shared a story with me and the New York Times. While he was flying back from his native village, 150 people on the plane wanted to meet and take photos with him once they recognized who he was.
The airline staff had to order the passengers to go back to their seats. Those folks were surprised the U.S. ambassador was sitting in the back, flying coach. Locke said all other officials, including ambassadors, had to fly coach, too.
When we had lunch in the restaurant, there were no bodyguards around him, just his family.
However, even for a short distance, we had to take Locke’s van to a restaurant nearby, the Bellagio. Everywhere the Lockes travel, they have their own Chinese driver and van, which is different from the official ambassador black car with a U.S. flag displayed on the dashboard and used when he goes to work. The official vehicle looks classy and grand.
Beijing is famous for traffic jams. What should be a 20-minute drive from Locke’s residence to work can sometimes take as long as an hour. Locke said he was more shocked by the traffic than any other aspect of living in China.
What does Locke think of all the attention?
“It’s part of the job,” said Lock, who has gotten used to the mob scene.
In America, Locke took pride in doing things for himself, such as fixing the plumbing in his house. Now, he has seven household staff members at his residence. The entourage of maids, cooks, driver, and managers helps to maintain all the busy functions held at the ambassador’s house.
And an interesting side note: All the records of personal and business expenses are kept separate — it’s a government requirement to avoid commingling of interests. (end)
Publisher Assunta Ng will continue her blog series on Gary Locke next week. Be sure to remember to flip to page 10 for it or view it online at www.nwasianweekly.com.