Taking a Chinese friend to the Museum of Flight in Seattle
One of the reasons I used to travel overseas on a regular basis was that very few people who flew eight thousand miles to do business in major port cities wanted to waste time in Denver, Colorado. Unless they were forced to change planes in Denver, and/or they got snowed in, we rarely saw foreign visitors; and on the rare occasion when we did, they stayed overnight and then split town the very next morning.
So, it was a very special occasion when, after I’d moved to Seattle and left the industry, one of my friends and former associates from Shanghai was in town, and spent a couple of nights at my home in between business meetings. Franz had chosen the name he did because when he started doing business overseas, he mostly interfaced with companies in Germany. He would have used “Fritz,” he told me, but that was the name of a big company in the shipping business, whom its competitors disliked.
Franz was a brilliant guy; he’d just missed out on going to Columbia University by a few points on some exam, but he’d been on track to become a physician until then. He ended up in the shipping business, and luckily he eventually found his way to the West, as did a number of my friends.
I had a lot of time to think about where to take Franz on his first-ever trip to the U.S., and the first place I came up with was The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field/King County Airport in Seattle.
The United States may not have man-made wonders like The Forbidden City or The Great Wall, but we do have some great museums where you can actually play with some very cool stuff.
I previewed him on the exhibits he could expect to see, and he was really looking forward to going on the old Air Force One.
We set out for the museum early so we could maximize our time there. We were behind a few groups who’d arrived shortly before we did, so we paced around the entrance area, and suddenly Franz looked up as if he’d forgotten something.
“What’s up, guy?” I asked him.
“I need to get my passport; it’s in the car,” he apologized.
I asked him why, and he postulated that surely a foreigner needed to hand his passport over to gain entrance. “No, why would they need your passport?” I asked him.
He thought about that for a moment and said, in a hushed voice, “Because I am from a Communist country, and that was your president’s plane. Isn’t it?”
“Well, yeah,” I told him, “but it’s open to the public, which means you can go on it and take pictures and do whatever anyone else can. These things aren’t national secrets; it’s just an old airplane.”
I think he was confused by how casually I referred to it. To him it was a really huge deal; to walk through the airplane that used to carry the President of the United States of America, leader of the free world. To me, well, I never did like Henry Kissinger, and I spent my last year of high school protesting in the streets to demand Richard Nixon’s impeachment. So it was for me a reminder of my tumultuous teenage years.
I’d also stood in the shadow of President Clinton’s Air Force One, a mighty and impressive 747 a couple of times, and although I never had the chance to see the inside of it, I was quite impressed by it.
Franz and I walked back to the car anyway, but not to pick up his passport; instead, we went to get his camera and a spare roll of film, which he’d left behind because he never expected to be allowed to take pictures there. He was pretty excited to see the American fighter jets, but even moreso to see the Chinese MiG-15 a North Korean defector flew to freedom during the Cold War.
I really didn’t think much about it, because I’d seen the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels many times before. But it was the first time he’d ever seen one of his own country’s fighter jets.