Blake Forges Ties on China Trip
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
State Sen. Harris Blake spent this Thanksgiving in China.
The Pinehurst Republican was in the midst of a two-week trip to North Carolina's sister state. He reported on his trip last week in a very long-distance telephone interview.
He went at the invitation of two Duke MBA students from China to attend the wedding of the -sister of one of the students and meet the family. Just as here, people in China build business relationships on personal ones, he said.
"This has been an extraordinary trip," Blake said, speaking from the other side of the earth and 12 hours ahead. "Truly extraordinary, and it is just another step ahead. Many things are already starting to happen from this relationship."
Blake met the two students as a result of ties between China and this state that began in the heat of World War II when a Moore County man, Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch, from High Falls, lost his life helping China fight Japan's invasion.
After DNA identified the remains of the previously unknown American pilot villagers had honored for decades, formal agreements were made between Moore County and a sister county there, and between this state and Hunan Province where Upchurch's plane had been shot down.
At the request of the family, Blake got involved. He has been involved ever since, and has grown more and more enthusiastic about the possibilities of a China/America relationship.
Retired surgeon Dr. Robin Cummings, of Pinehurst, accompanied Blake on this trip. Blake asked the doctor to talk about his impressions.
"People in China are eager to learn about America," Cummings said. "There is a curiosity about us from them. It is a very friendly curiosity."
While language, tradition and history may differ greatly, both Blake and Cummings remarked on how familiar the Chinese way of making friends and doing business is to people from this state. They both said they felt right at home.
"Really, it reminds me of being in the South as opposed to being in the North, if I can put it in those terms," Cummings said. "In the South, you know, everyone sort of looks at you and there is a smile. They don't mind making eye contact, versus just 'go on and mind your business.'"
Other things they encountered were quite new and different. They had made the call late in the evening after returning from seeing a traditional Chinese drama performed at an outdoor waterside theater.
"We just attended a play out at West Lake," he said. "That is one of the central parts of Honzhou City, which is the capital of Shanghai. It was just an incredible experience. Just a visual, total experience."
Jeff Pan, one of the Duke MBA students who had invited Blake and his party, said the senator's energy surprised them.
"He is outwalking us all the time," Pan said, laughing. "When we walk somewhere, he is always out in front. Nobody here believes he is 80 years old. He actually gave his North Carolina Senate pin to the bride's mother. She really enjoyed it. He said he will bring a flag of North Carolina when he comes next time."
Blake plans another trip in the spring when he will again visit Hunan Province and Guidong City, where the memorial to Upchurch stands near the place the Flying Tiger from High Falls lay buried in an honored grave for so many years.
"I am sitting here now, but my young friends are going to bed," Blake said with a chuckle. "This performance tonight was done on a lake. You would have said it was awesome. I can tell you that, with the lighting and the choreography for this show, it could have been part of the Olympics. It was really extraordinary stuff."
The 2008 Olympics took place in China, and elaborate productions performed in the new stadium at Beijing had been a featured element.
"Anybody would be thoroughly impressed by this trip we are on, the folks we are meeting, and how we get around because of their family connections," he said. "The dad, because of his capabilities and everything, took the village he grew up in as a rather rural village and has made it into a high-tech community."
That reminded Blake of how residents from Robbins had worked to bring Research Triangle Park into existence long ago.
"I am convinced that meeting these students from Duke is building a bridge that North Carolina will benefit from one day," Blake said. "Based on their connections here in China, and especially on Sally's family and their connections here in China, I am convinced that one day we will see results from this trip and the fact that we know Sally and Jeff. The people in our own great country need to move a little further along a little faster to understand China today, not the way it was yesterday."
People back home still hold habitual ideas about China that are no longer valid, the senator says.
"I am telling you that is exactly right," Blake said. "We need to try to get that message out when we can. The longer our people don't realize that China is moving so fast, and I mean first class. They are on the route to be where we are. That is what is going on. The transition from the farms to the jobs is overwhelming. They are not moving from farms to little shacks; they are building beautiful buildings for these people to live in."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story