From Cho Oyu Mountain to America

By Jin Fei Bao (from the city of Kunming, capital city of Yunnan Province, China)

Translated by Raymond and Joan Ma of Schenectady, New York

More than ten years ago, it was a fashion to go abroad. There were many young people going to different countries, working and studying at the same time. Some even washed dishes in restaurants, trying to make a living. Some friends asked me if I'd be interested in going to America, saying that even if you wash the dishes in the restaurant, you will make more money than working in China. I said jokingly: "If someday I do go to America, I will go as a VIP, giving lectures, presentations, doing cultural exchanges". Many years have gone by and my dream is coming true. I visited America the way I wanted it to be.

In World War II, the American government helped the Chinese government in the fight against the Japanese intruder. They first sent 14 courageous Air Force teams known as the "Flying Tigers". These “Tigers” built a Chinese-American friendship bridge. A year ago, there was an ordinary e-mail message that connected me with a person who lives in Schenectady, New York -- Dr. Gregg Millett. His e-mail began our friendship and through this friendship bridge, I came to America.

When I walked down the steps from the airplane, I could feel the autumn wind that chilled the air. Dr. Gregg Millett was already waiting for me and he reached out his arms and hugged this Chinese friend. He seemed very happy to see me coming over without a scratch. He told me that he and his wife had been checking on us through the Internet everyday during our trekking of Cho Oyu.

In 1945, Gregg's father, Dr. Clinton Millett, came to Kunming with the US Army 172nd General Hospital. During his eighth month stay, he used the first color film and recorded the first recorded colored pictures of WW-II's precious people and places of Kunming. In March of 2004, by chance, I received an e-mail from America. “Attached with the text are many pictures of Kunming taken 60 years ago by an American U.S. Army doctor.” Gregg wrote, "My father, Dr. Clinton Millett, specifically told me, before he passed away – “Take these pictures and go to Kunming when the time is right, and also try to take some pictures of the same places and bring them back to America." Gregg wished to complete his father's wish. He wanted to bring those pictures back to China and do a small-scale slideshow. One daring thought came to my mind, and from this thought, the following year, Dr. Clinton Millett's colorful pictures were shown four times with huge success. Over 500,000 people came to see the exhibits. Lastly, these pictures were shown at the National Museum in Beijing and later were designated as national treasures.

These exhibitions of these photographs got attention from the business world and the news media. With Gregg Millett's support and help, it increased the friendship between China and America. In America, the photographs and the China exhibitions gained the attention of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association. This group gave our cultural activities the best of praise and I was invited by this group and The Schenectady Museum to be a special guest at their 20th Anniversary National Convention.

Schenectady - Edison's Home Town.

It's 170 miles from the Newark, New Jersey airport to Schenectady, New York. There very good highways. I was very curious when I first arrived in the United States. When I talked with Gregg, I kept my eyes on the outside taking in all the scenery. After an hour's drive, there were still trees along the road, the northern wind printed the red color on the maple leaves, some others gradually turning to yellow, typical north east country's Autumn. Gregg pointed out the other side of the tall building and said that is New York City, we will go over there some other day. New York, the world's most influential city. When we drove near the city, the speed slowed down and all different kind of cars appeared on the highway. Those we see on television, movies, and magazines. All the expensive cars and big horsepower trucks. The full size Lincoln and Cadillac made my head spin. I truly felt the life in this country. Because of a wrong turn on the New Jersey Turnpike, we drove across the George Washington Bridge. So we did some sight seeing in Manhattan for almost an hour, then we turned north and continued driving for about three hours and finally we arrived home, in Schenectady.

On this drive we passed many car dealerships and I noticed the price is a lot cheaper than in China. The used car price is even cheaper. In America, if the car is three years old, the resale value is all very low. The market is big. Most Americans change cars every 3-5 years. Some also lease their car. One couple I met has changed their cars six times over the past eight years, each time with a new car.

The Golden Pond at Gregg's

Mr. Gregg Millett got his Doctors degree in Education at Stanford University. He resides in Schenectady after his retirement. My wife Li-Jia and I lived in Gregg's house while we were in the States. Their house is away from the city. The surrounding areas are beautiful. The nature habitat is wonderful. Gregg and his wife Ann live in a house about 2000 square feet -- like most American family homes. It's a two level home of wood structure, the front and backyard covered with velvety green grass, surrounded by trees. There is a pond in front of the woods. Gregg built a small wooden cottage by the pond. He stored a paddleboat and a small canoe in it. When we are at leisure time, we would be paddling or rowing the canoe, watching the beavers building their dam.

October in America. This is the peak foliage season in the northeast. The leaves gradually turning red and gold. When the wind blows, the leaves will fall. If we do not sweep the ground in a few days, the leaves will cover it all. The squirrel that lives on the trees is busy hiding their food in their nest, preparing for the winter months. Sometimes, they will come to the window looking for food. Ann would put nuts on the wooden picnic table saying that those are for the squirrels.

Most of the American families like to have dogs. Dog has a very high reputation. Gregg has a dog name Chica. She is a black Labrador. She is quite big and her fur is shinny black. She is very smart as well. She gets very excited when it's time to go out for a walk with her master. She is so smart that she understands what "take a walk" means. All we have to do is say it casually: "Chica, do you want to go for a walk?" Before you finish the sentence, she will be dashing right toward the door. After dinner, we went to Lock 7 at the Mohawk River for a walk. We saw two luxury boats just passing through the gate. I would estimate it would probably cost a few million dollars for each one. Later on, we met a Chinese couple, so we started the conversation in our native tongue. They mentioned that they came from Taiwan. We exchanged our names and address. Then we went along the bike trail for about an hour. Finally we went home and enjoyed a wonderful Italian feast prepared by Ann. It seems that we will never go hungry as long as we are living with them. After a full stomach, I took out my laptop computer, went on the Internet and worked for an hour. In this world, there are changes in every minute. After dinner, Gregg likes to invite me to the little cottage in the woods for a quiet chat, have a cigarette, a sip of whiskey and listen to the beavers flipping it's tail quietly in the water. At night, the woods seem a lot quieter. Once in a while, you will hear the coyote cry that will make Chica bark loudly in return as if this scenario is just what we are looking for as human beings and nature trying to harmonize with each other.

Colorado - The Rock & Roll Choir

Colorado is a pretty well-known State. A lot of western cowboy movies were made there. The Capitol of Colorado is Denver which became a sister city with Kunming in 1995. Denver - 5280 feet above sea level is a high altitude city, surrounded by over 14,000 feet high mountains. In Colorado, I was lucky enough to stay in the home of Gregg’s sister Mollie and her husband, Glenn Vaad. In the morning, we made post cards for his campaign to become a Colorado State legislator -- "Vote for VAAD". Then we drove the 4-wheel-drive car toward the northeast going to the ranch of Colorado University. The manager of the ranch is Joel Vaad, Glenn and Mollie’s son. The ranch is in the Rocky Mountains. There are lots of horses, deer, and close to 3,000 cattle. Mrs. Jennifer Vaad is pregnant and expecting her first baby in six weeks. Today, she went to a nearby ranch for a baby shower. My Denver friends knew my interest in climbing, so they asked me if I wanted to go to mountain climbing or go to church. I chose to go to church. It's the first time I stepped into an American church. The huge roof, the spacious room, that can hold over a thousand worshipers. It is truly magnificent. It was an eye opener in the way they worship. The people wear formal attire. The service choir is singing in rock-and-roll style. I just realized that you could worship in this crazy style. The choir and audience are singing together. I felt like I was in a concert. This is an American Christian church.

New York - through my eyes

The wonderfulness of New York is not only the tall buildings and the many neon lights, it is also the center of economics. New York is one of the world's most famous cities. The "Wall Street" controls the world economics. Each brick on the ground is the evidence of the wealth going through like a river to the world. In the aged and old big house of Wall Street, those busy sound of footsteps, controlling the world's stock markets. Once famous "Solos Foundation" is only the small branch of the Wall Street, but it's power can destroy a small country's economy. 1997 "Solos" locked the stock market of the southeast economy, used their foundation to get to the Far East Market. It caused quite a stir. Afterward, the Foundation took thousands of money and left, leaving all those broken investor totally bankrupt. Many Far East County's economies were hurting terribly. This is the storm of stock market crash in Far East in 1997.

In Wall Street, there are two groups of stocks - Dow Jones Industries and NASDAQ. Wall Street is the center of world wealth. People who worked here are all the most experienced brokers. There, the everyday stock market exchange is shown on the electronic screen, in the mean time, there are people who become millionaires in a flash. When the stock market goes down, those people will also be penniless in a flash. It is because of the importance of Wall Street, where the world's economy is controlled, that it became the target for terrorism in the 9/11 attack. To avoid the terrorist attack you can see a lot of well-equipped policemen patrolling the street. Every big building has very sophisticating alarm systems.

Manhattan View

The common sense in American is the way of life in the public. You don't see people spitting, smoking, fighting, or shouting unhealthy actions. When you go in or out of the shopping center, the one who walks in front of you will open the door for you. I was in New York for a month, but I've never seen one traffic accident. I think this is all because of the attitude of the people.

The cities of America are very scientifically planned. Middle or large cities are all very pretty. The cities have very large areas of greenery with lots of trees. Beautiful in sight. Most of the cities have nature habitat parks.

150 years ago, the State of New York passed a law. Right in the center of Manhattan, there will be a park. The architects thought there should be a park suited for all kind of people. There it happened, an empty space became full of trees, grass, ponds bridges, statues, and different kind of flowers and artificial gardens. The park is large enough - 843 acres. It was an empty piece of land, now it is a large spread of field with plenty of trees, streams, green grass, even farm animals and vegetables. There are also sheep. In a noise filled city, they created such a park that was applauded by the world. More so, in this busy section, the subway system was built underground so it won't interrupt the peacefulness of the park,

The United Nations is not the tallest building in the States, but very eye catching. In front of the rectangle building, there stood flags of each member countries. Every Monday through Saturday from 9AM till 5PM, people can come to visit the United Nations. According to the plan, we were led by our friend to visit. The weather was gloomy when we arrived there and there was lots of security guarding the building. Nearby a tree, a little wet squirrel jumped down. It's big fat bushy tail curled up like a big umbrella covering him trying not to get any more precipitation. It's a truly UN squirrel, know how to protect himself. Then he would go over to the guard and start “talking” to the guard. Everybody was laughing after they saw this scene. Afterwards, we followed the leader to visit a few different important rooms. Some of them are in progress and having international meetings, so we could only look at them from a distance.

I lived in Schenectady, population near sixty thousand. It is a medium city but basically all the public equipment and construction are all very much eastern style. They respect people, caring people, it is a very warm environment. All the city streets and public places have access for the handicapped people. No matter if it is at a train station, elevator or subway station, or in the shopping center, bar or bank, even the public restrooms, there are signs for the handicapped to use. This kind of caring is worth copying.

Museum - Name of the City

In New York, the most cultural place is the museum. They include the world famous Museum of Modern Art and The Guggenheim Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are over 30 large or small museums in the City. They all have their own characteristics. They enhance each other's development. It's a cultural property. All the Museums require entry fees of about 10 to 15 US dollars per person. There are some smaller museums, which are free of charge, like the Forbes Magazine's toy museum. There is one more thing that's worthy of mentioning here. I often see teachers leading students to the museums as a field trip. Almost all of the students are very seriously recording what the teachers are saying. The museums seemed to be a second classroom for the students. Therefore you can sense the museum is very important in the American cultural point of view. It shows how strong the cultures are.

A long time resident of New York, Mr. Lin Xiao Tong found out that I am coming to America for a visit, specifically told me that if I go to New York, be sure to visit the Guggenheim Art museum. When we arrived in New York, Gregg asked me what I wanted to see. Naturally I told him that I would like to see the Guggenheim Museum. So we went and visited this museum, which had a special exhibit on Modern art paintings and Russian Arts.

The Guggenheim Art Museum, a world famous private modern Art Museum, is the earliest one using "Cultural property" idea on business and succeeded. Their idea is being called the "Guggenheim way". This beautiful building was opened to the public in 1959. The outside of the building is upward and twisting all the way up. The inside curving and angled all the way up to the sixth floor. In the middle of the turn, there is a large open space where the lights shine through from the rooftop and brighten up the entire area.

The museum kept most of Solomon R. Guggenheim's modern Art collection. Therefore, this museum was named after him. Some show pieces are hanging in the air by a metal chain. In tradition, the wall around the building should be showing art pieces. But, Guggenheim broke this tradition. The outside of the building is very plain, only the name of the museum is on it. The smooth white painting covering the walls made it look like a huge statue, not a building.

The Guggenheim Museum was designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright, America's most inspired architect. He has created two large buildings in America: "The Robie House" and "The Fallingwater". He worked until his death in 1959. His art shows received over 100 thousand visitors in a few months thus creating the art show business. Ticket sales were over 100 thousand; souvenir sales has also generated large income for the organization.

Massachusetts - The original place for Indian Culture

In Massachusetts, we visited an Indian Village and Indian Museum. It might be the best place to see the Indian culture. It made you feel that you are among them and lived with them.

In the sixteenth century, the Europeans immigrated to America. They caused the war and sorrow for the Indians. The Indian population went down drastically. According to 2003 investigation of resident census, there were only 2.75 million living American Indians. That's only 1 % of America's population, and these people are still very poor. During the 18th and19th centuries, the American government has ruled to claim the land belonging to the Indians. Large amount of Indians were forced to leave their native habitat and moved to a poor environment. Recently the Indian history has been recognized by scholars, which is the most important piece of American history. Indian culture is a standout and most original cultural legacy.

Semi official cultural exchange -

Most Americans can express their ability. They love to study. Able to give public speeches. I have a feeling in this country, as long as you can talk, then you will be able to become a president. No matter whether you are an elementary student or a president, they can all go on stage without any preparation and will be able to talk in public non-stop. I did six public speeches on various topics with the theme on minority groups. Chinese and American friendship, war, and Chinese religion as topics. I even left plenty of time at the end of the speech for questions and answer period. They were all very well received.

At the Schenectady Museum, I talked about Dr. Clinton Millett's 1945 color pictures returning to China. Those old pictures have historic value on building the friendship between China and America. At the conclusion, Li-Jia sang a Chinese Minority folk song. The audience gave us a standing ovation!

One weekend afternoon, I presented a slideshow at the Schenectady Museum about one of the minority groups living in Yunnan and also some of my trekking and mountain climbing experiences. Li-Jia also sang one of their traditional native songs. It was also very successful. Mr. Chris Hunter asked me if I would like to visit the museum' archive. It was a collection from General Electric & Edison Company. There were a lot of black and white pictures taken in the 1900's in China and were colored manually. I was deeply attracted to those old pictures. I immediately talked to the museum about transporting some of those pictures to China for an exhibition.

Before I came to America, Gregg had already talked to the Chinese American Friendship Association in Denver, Colorado about the China Photo exhibit. After I came to America, Mr. Yi-Yuan Han, the 86-year-old Chinese American Association president in Denver, came to my lecture. Mr. Yi was born in Yunnan. When he was young, he was in the Anti-Japanese war. He was an interpreter for the "Flying Tigers". He witnessed history in the making. He also helped to create the friendship between the Flying Tigers and Chinese people. Mr. Yi worked hard on building the friendship between the two countries. More than 10 years ago, Denver and Kunming became sister cities. He is the one who made it happen. All those years, this immigrant is very observant about the development of his old country. Caring about the place where he spent his youth. When he saw us, he started to communicate with us using the same dialog. When the lecture was over, Mr. Yi was very kind to invite us to his home and kept reminding us "don't forget to come over on Saturday to eat that special Yunnan noodle". In Denver, you get to eat Yunnan noodle? When he saw the surprise on our faces, Mr. Yi smiled: "It's dry noodle. A friend got it from Yunnan". I never thought, that after so many years, he still loves the home-style food. He loves his own country. He will never change, no matter how many years have gone by.

Realize the America's Harmony -

After visiting some of the cities with the most typical American's living style, the kindness among each other, makes me feels like I was in another world. On the street, no matter whether you know each other or not, they always greet you with a smile, (good morning, good afternoon, or good evening). When you are on the phone or meeting each other, they are so kind. If people meet in public, they will nod to each other, or when they are in the super market, they will say, "excuse me" if they need to. If you just squeezed through between people, it will be considered rude and "uncivilized" action. Americans always look to both sides when they drive and will almost always stop at the stop sign to be sure that it is safe to proceed. If there happens to be a pedestrian walking by, the driver will wait patiently until the pedestrian has crossed the street. Sometimes the pedestrian would want the car to go first, but the driver usually lets the pedestrian have the right of way which is the traffic regulation. A severe penalty will be levied to those who violate this rule.

Most Americans are Christian. Christianity emphasize that happiness is from God's grace; therefore people should appreciate the world that God created. No matter how large or small is the gathering; there will always be a short prayer of thanks. The master of ceremony may be a pastor, organizer or the most prominent person in charge. The prayer usually includes thanks to the lord for providing food, chance to meet people, and a happy life – “may the Grace of God be with us forever.” In most of the activities I have participated in America, there are always a thankful atmosphere. Americans are very serious and sincere about this.

What a terrific life it is. In a short period of two months. I went from Cho Oyu Mountain and crossed the Pacific Ocean to America. The month in America, I have met all different kinds of Americans, discussed and exchanged between our cultures. To me, the trip to America and the trip to Chu Oyu are trips of my spiritual search. The only difference, climbing Chu Oyu Mountain is a conversation with nature, and the trip to America is communication with people and culture. After understanding the American's cultural advance and scientific marvel, somehow I am missing my hometown more. After our scheduled visit is completed, Li-Jia and I decided to go home immediately. Back in Kunming, friends are wondering and asking me many times why didn't I want to stay in America? I was speechless in replying to those questions. Friends are jokingly saying that I am the specialty of Yunnan and I don't disagree at all.

But when I finished this article, I finally found the answer. The reason is very simple. As the old saying goes, "Even though other countries are good, it's not the place to stay forever". So, even though America is terrific, it's not for me to stay, because I have grown up under the Yunnan sky. I cannot leave this red dirt beneath my feet. I cannot leave the Snow Mountain. Only at home in Kunming, I can easily go to sleep and dream of my familiar Snow Mountain Plateau and my poor and dear friends, and beloved family. This is the true reason for me to come home. At the end of this article, I finally can tell my friends, and myself, because of my simple attachment to my country, I am sure that I love this land we live in! With this thought at dawn, my tears are running down my face.