By Assunta Ng
If you see U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke’s family walking around Seattle’s Chinatown this fall, you’d probably think that Locke is back in town. Well, no, he isn’t, but his family will be.
While Gary will continue serving in China, his wife and children will be moving back to Seattle this summer.
I can only think of one reason why the Lockes would make that decision: They’re thinking of their kid’s welfare. The Lockes have three children: Emily, 16; Dylan, 14; and Madeline, 8.
Nolan Barkhouse, U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Beijing, said Locke’s wife Mona and the kids will move back this summer “so that Emily and Dylan can complete their high school education in their hometown.”
Mona will be commuting back and forth between U.S. and Beijing. During her visits to China, she will continue to serve as Special Advisor to Education USA, the United States diplomatic mission’s educational advising service. She will also continue hosting the embassy’s live-audience online program “U.S.–China Focus with Mona Locke.”
“While they deeply value living in China for the past two years,” Barkhouse said, the Lockes want Emily and Dylan to be able to “participate fully in their high school years [including] sports team and proms.”
Barkhouse said it is common among U.S. diplomats and private companies’ employees stationed in China to send their children back for their last two years of high school.
It’s a good time for Emily and Dylan to be back to prepare for their U.S. college applications as well.
The kids were also the reason why Locke didn’t run for a third term as governor in 2004 although polls had indicated that he would win.
By the time he would have finished a third term, his kids would have spent their entire lives in the Governor’s Mansion. All three children were born into the mansion.
Wouldn’t you be concerned if your kids didn’t have an opportunity to see the real world during their childhood? Who wants their kids surrounded by politicians all the time?
While there are benefits for the kids to live in China — learning Chinese and about Chinese culture — there are challenges as well.
The other rationale for the family not staying in Beijing is obvious to outsiders.
China’s water is polluted. It contains high levels of lead. The air pollution in major Chinese cities, according to the state-run China Daily, is a level “barely suitable for living.”
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing measures the levels of air pollutants hourly and posts its data on a Twitter feed. The pollution would be difficult for the Lockes not to notice.
China’s air pollution problem — which contributed to 1.2 million deaths in the country in 2010 — has gotten sharply worse in 2013, according to the Atlantic.
And who does pollution impact most? Children. Air pollution is one of the leading causes of pre-mature deaths in China. Air pollutants can cause respiratory symptoms, asthma exacerbations, development of asthma, and even produce deficits in lung growth.
And after all, the kids would love to come home so they can have a little more freedom to do what they want. Imagine if one of the kids asked Locke, “Can I ride my bike outside?” or “Can I go to a slumber party?” or “Can I hang out with friends at this mall?”
“No” would probably the answer.
Most importantly, Locke’s children will no longer need to worry about the media scrutiny and security restrictions.
Welcome home, Emily, Dylan, and Madeline. See you during the summer. (end)