Cho Lin, wife of the Chinese vice premier, Teng Hsiao-ping, toured the Freer Gallery and the Museum of History and Technology yesterday morning.
Madame Cho survived with nothing worse than a damp forehead and a powerful hankering for lunch. The event itself was covered to death.
Two dozen reporters and photographers and TV camerapeople -- including one in a blue Mao hat -- saw her enter the Freer at 9:38, eight minutes behind schedule. Late-risers kept joining the group, each one having to be told who was who, what was what, and where we were all going.
One Chinese photographer came along, in a gray suit and brocaded redgold tie, and we had a Chinese-speaking reporter from Voice of America who called out some broad questions from behind the ropes and got some broad answers:
"I am very impressed with the hitory of the United States," Cho said, "because it has derived from the struggles of many peoples and then developed into this present state."
At the Freer, she especially admired the Chinese bronzes and director Thomas Lawton's expertise on Chinese history. She found the Whistler Room "superb" and spent some time studying the Japanese screens and ceramics. One of her daughters is a painter, she said, and besides, she was in Japan just three months ago.
Chatting with Lawton about the Chinese influence on Japanese archintecture, she invited him to China (he hasn't been since 1974) and called for more such cultural exchanges.
As her party, which included Grace Vance and Loula Woodcock, meandered through the marble halls, the press crowd was herded, raffish in down parkas and scruffy camera bags, from one vantage point to another.
Now and then they would leak out of the designated areas, only to be rounded up by the young men with the hearing aids and gently placed back in their paddock.
Hustling across the Mall to the museum ahead of the limousines, reporters woundered why Cho -- a military adviser in the Chinese Communist Party -- hadn't visited the Air and Space Museum instead. As it turned out, she had plenty to interest her at History and Technology.
There was the "Nation of Nations" exhibit, a quick overview of America's ethnic diversity. There was a stagecoach, which delighted her, for she and her husband love cowboy films. There were rice bakets and chests from the China trade. There was a show-biz display, Ziegfeld to Louis Armstrong, at which she perked up.
Checking out a 1920s Italian immigrant kitchen with gas range, clothes wringer, and phone: "They certainly had high living standards."
On the museum itself: "I got a clearer and more detailed explanation of the history of the United States from this tour than I got from books.... Your nation is very great. It has absorbed different things from different nations, and this has further developed your cluture and history. That is very impressive."
Community life curator Carl Scheele commented on the meltingpot concept of America, and she replied cryptically, "You're at the historical stage when you'll be able to merge all nations." Whether she was thinking of America's Coca-colonization of the world or simply of brotherhood, no one was quite sure.
As museum-goers sidled past with that odd combination of bald curiosity and diffidence, she chucked some children's chins -- she seems to love the blond ones -- and even tried to lift one tot. The girl didn't want to be lifted, unfortunately, and her struggles almost knocked over the sturdy but short Cho.
At last, fading a bit, rushing past the noisy diesel engines, she found the little general store that has been wafted here from West Virginia. She loved it. She wanted to know if it was a co-op.
It was nearly 12:30. Smiles and handshakes. Out to the limos, photographers melting away like a morning mist. In the lobby, a knot of writers huddled around the pool reporter, listening frantically to every quote.