By Assunta Ng
On weekends, family time is U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke’s priority. He is in charge of accompanying his kids to their school activities, picking them up in their own family van. Locke and his wife, Mona, encourage their kids to be active in making friends at school. Emily is now a swimmer. Dylan is a drummer in a band. Madeline is a gymnast. They celebrated Madeline’s 7th birthday on a Sunday by inviting many of her new friends to join them. Emily is two inches taller now, a poised young lady.
“How do you like China?” I asked Emily.
“It’s an experience,” she said. Friends knew how much she wanted to finish high school in D.C. But she was well versed in her reply.
“Do you like being in China?” I asked Madeline. She shook her head.
Then, she spoke Chinese to me. That’s the benefit of being educated in China. The three kids go to three separate schools. Mona says she let the kids choose their own schools.
It’s a wise move and smart parenting, I think. The kids were moved three times in the past seven years, from the governor’s mansion to Queen Anne hill in Seattle (when Locke decided not to run for a third term as governor and instead practice law) to Washington, D.C. (when he accepted President Obama’s appointment as U.S. Commerce Secretary) to China for the ambassador post.
The up-side is that Locke and his family get to meet lots of interesting people. They’ve been invited to spend time with actor Jackie Chan.
Has Locke’s Chinese improved?
If there’s any improvement, it’s insignificant. Whether his Mandarin has improved is not important to me anymore, even though I have teased him about his inability to speak the dialect. What’s important is what he brings to the table.
Some Chinese perceive Locke as Chinese, while others say he’s American. To me, he represents what is great about America.
A son of immigrants, he said, “It is a tribute to America that we (Asian Americans) can represent America,” referring to himself and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Sung Kim.
But his wife, Mona, has improved her Chinese a lot. She speaks to the Chinese maids, staff, and drivers all day long. Locke needs her language skills to get through to the Chinese employees.
Doing an interview with Locke
Before he left for the embassy job, Locke often said, “Don’t quote me.” I thought I had his undivided attention at the embassy. It turned out to not be a simple affair. Bear in mind that all his family members were present, two kids, his sister, and his wife.
There were also numerous constraints. Locke was cautious in his words.
For instance, he has often tried to show American values by example to influence the Chinese public. When asked if there’s a conflict between Chinese and American values, he responded, “They are different.”
There are guidelines for the embassy — what he can and should say. When my husband asked to take a photo, Ambassador Locke’s secretary had to check with security to see which corner was permitted.
Don’t forget that part of the interview was done while eating lunch at a restaurant. No one interrupted us at the Bellagio. Why?
He was sitting strategically, with his back facing out.
I would still say that it was a remarkable occasion with memories for a lifetime. (end)