The China Opening Of 2005: Don't Ask

A jet-lagged President Bush tries unsuccessfully to exit a Beijing news conference during his Asian economic summit trip.
A jet-lagged President Bush tries unsuccessfully to exit a Beijing news conference during his Asian economic summit trip. (By Jason Reed -- Reuters)
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 21, 2005

BEIJING, Nov. 20 -- After all the pomp and circumstance, after all the mind-numbing statements in all the mind-numbing meetings, President Bush finally seemed happy.

He slipped into athletic shorts, plonked a helmet on his head and jumped onto his mountain bicycle ready to race off with the Chinese Olympic bicycling team.

"How do you say, 'Take it easy on the old man'?" he asked jovially.

Not to worry. They did.

For an hour Sunday afternoon, the commander in chief took a break from the worries of the world and pushed himself against a half-dozen twenty-something athletes for a bracing ride around a Beijing training facility. At an appearance with Chinese President Hu Jintao just a few hours earlier, he had seemed flat and listless, his voice drained of energy, but zipping over the rugged trails put some air back in his tires.

"Remind you of Crawford?" Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press shouted at him as he raced around a bend.

"Better than Crawford!" he replied.

For the president, it was a rare moment of fun on an otherwise dreary overseas trip. In five years in the presidency, Bush has proved a decidedly unadventurous traveler, an impression undispelled by the weeklong journey through Asia that wraps up Monday. As he barnstormed through Japan, South Korea and China, with a final stop in Mongolia still to come, Bush visited no museums, tried no restaurants, bought no souvenirs and made no effort to meet ordinary local people.

"I live in a bubble," Bush once said, explaining his anti-tourist tendencies by citing the enormous security and logistical considerations involved in arranging any sightseeing. "That's just life."

The Bush spirit trickles down to many of his top advisers, who hardly go out of their way to sample the local offerings either. A number of the most senior White House officials on the trip, perhaps seeking the comforts of their Texas homes, chose to skip the kimchi in South Korea to go to dinner at Outback Steakhouse -- twice. (Admittedly, a few unadventurous journalists joined them.)

First lady Laura Bush usually has more interest in looking around. In Pusan, a bustling port city perched on the sea against the backdrop of woodsy foothills in southeastern South Korea, she went to the Metropolitan Simin Municipal Library to read to orphans and the Pusan Metropolitan Museum to check out an exhibition of traditional costumes and palatial silk flowers. Here in Beijing, she explored the Ming Tombs, the underground chambers where 13 emperors are buried.

She has had little luck enticing her husband into joining her over the years. The first time the Bushes traveled to China together in their current capacity, she had to tell him to slow down as he tried to race through a tour of the Great Wall. She once persuaded him to go to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, only to see him burn through the place in 30 minutes. He dispensed with the Kremlin cathedrals in Moscow in seven minutes. He flatly declined an Australian invitation to attend the Rugby World Cup while down under.

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