Would I still be a journalist if I could live to 96 years old?
I was wondering when we came across Sid Hartman, the 96-year-old sports legend who has been writing for the Star Tribune for 72 years in Minnesota.
We had a group photo with him, and I requested a selfie too. When the other fellows went on with the newsroom tour, I went back and looked for him again.
With the help of Chris Miller, the assistant sports editor, I got to know him a bit more. He started selling newspapers at nine years old and later he was hired to write.
He still writes three or four columns a week; he still interviews people with the old-fashioned tape recorder; he can’t hear so he reads people’s lips; he was married for only a few weeks.
His advice to young journalists: If you take it only as a job, don’t do it.
Do I take it only as a job? Well, I take it as a job that I really love.
So far I have never been tired of going to new places, meeting new people and learning new things. But I did have doubts, hesitation and uneasiness when I struggled to balance work and life.
For me, the most rewarding part of this once-in-a-lifetime trip is that, it reignites my passion and reinforces my willpower to be an upright, curious, productive, international journalist.
We had meetings with Thomas L. Friedman, James Fallows, Scott Pelley and many other well-respected American journalists. We visited newsrooms of The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, as well as many other regional and foreign-language media outlets across the States.
Our trips to the White House and the United Nations, our talks with various nuclear security experts, and in particular, our exposure to the ongoing dramatic presidential election with visits to Hillary Clinton Campaign Headquarters and Republican National Committee, were equally engaging and fascinating.
And our tours to the U.S. district court of Minnesota, Jimmy Carter presidential library, Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, Pew Research, Rand Corporation and many others were no less interesting.
All together, it widens my horizon, drives me forward, urges me to jump out of the China box, and encourages me to think bigger and further.
With politics being the bulk of our trip, we also got to enjoy American arts, music, food and real life. Just to name a few, places like Ron Brown Academy, Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Minnesota State Fair, and International Wolf Center were on our schedule; we also went canoeing on the lake, drove a truck in the farm and watched a baseball game.
Apart from group events, I made good use of the free time and pushed myself to be alone once in a while, exploiting this trip as if it were my first and last chance.
On Sept. 11, the 15th anniversary of 911, I wandered around the Statue of Liberty, spent hours reading pieces of history at the Ellis island immigration museum and went through the names of each victim at Ground Zero. I noticed a young man staring at one name while leaning on the marble and holding his chin in complete silence for at least half an hour, and I burst into tears when I saw the “No.1 Dad” flag.
My whirlwind museum tours were incredible and I would love to revisit the MET, the Broad, de Young and many others at any time; my food adventure couldn’t be better, with traditional American breakfast, oyster at Chelsea market, San Francisco clam chowder, Texas barbeque, Chicago deep-dish pizza and Cuban mojito all on the list; I also enjoyed five films (Snowden, Command and Control, etc), three musicals (Cats, Disgraced, and Dream of Red Chamber) and one concert performed by L.A. Philharmonic.
Thanks to the WPI, my host families, all other fellows, and my friends and colleagues in various cities, I have had multiple chances to try and understand America, in a sensible and meaningful way, and I really appreciate it.
One thing that I couldn’t ignore though, is the ignorance and prejudice of some Americans over China. While the U.S. government has acknowledged since 1979 that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China, the tour guide on the Big Bus in San Francisco introduces Taiwan to international tourists again and again as “the other China”.
And Coca-Cola, one of the first American companies that entered into Chinese market decades ago and makes a big fortune there, still puts two labels of “China” and “Taiwan” in parallel at the tasting room in its World of Coca-Cola museum, a major tourist attraction in Atlanta.
During a panel discussion on nuclear weapons, an American researcher said, “We [the Americans] are the good guys. Look at Russia and China.” I had zero reporting experience on nuclear issues, but I am still aware that the U.S. is the one with the largest number of nuclear weapons and also the only one that has ever used nuclear weapons (twice) in the world.
When our big-city tour started from Washington D.C., we visited the Newseum and I bought a magnet printed with an anonymous, enlightening quote: “Freedom of speech is not a license for being stupid.”
I took it as a constant reminder to myself and I have been putting my heart and soul into this fantastic adventure so that I will be as less stupid as possible about this country that I have liked a lot and will possibly like even more.
I am very, very grateful for this fellowship and hopefully one day I will be able to return the favor in a fashion that benefits our two peoples.