McDermott recounts visit to Guangzhou

2012-03-27T11:58:00Z 2012-03-27T12:20:23Z McDermott recounts visit to GuangzhouBy Tom McDermott Jr. For The Times
March 27, 2012 11:58 am  • 

Editor's note: Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. is sending updates to The Times while he's in China.

Final installment from China

I'm sorry it's been a couple of days since my last installment, but we've been very busy ever since we've arrived in China. Make no mistake about it, this is a working trip. It was totally financed by Chinese billionaires, and every minute is planned to the fullest extent possible. For instance, last night I only slept for four hours, which was more sleep than I've had in the past three days. These wealthy Chinese individuals were very generous to fly Hammond's delegation across the world, so lounging by the pool is not an option for us. Besides, it's been no higher than 8 - 13 degrees C in Beijing since we arrived (approx 45 F - 58 F for us Americans.)

On Thursday, we flew from Shahe City's airport to Guangzhou, which is translated in Mandarin to "Flower City." It was a three-hour plane flight south and the weather, we were told, would be similar to the weather in Florida. However, much to our luck, it was cloudy (or smoggy) and cool when we arrived at the airport (about 16 degrees C or 64F). I learned from Marissa, on that day, it was 87F in the region. How do you say "bad luck" in Mandarin? However, it was tropical & humid, so shirts were appropriate and comfortable.

We arrived at our hotel, met our Guangzhou sponsors, and had 20 minutes to get dressed in full suits so we could hurry across the city. We arrived 40 minutes later to a yacht full of very wealthy and powerful Chinese officials, who delayed the departure of our yacht until we arrived. I was thrown onstage in front of around 50 of these officials and drilled on the City of Hammond, and the advantages of investing there. Keep in mind, at this time, we had only landed 90 minutes earlier and we hadn't even unpacked. This was typical of our days in China, a fascinating journey for sure, but an absolute breakneck schedule.

After the presentation, which (in my humble opinion) went very well. I was placed at the center of the table seated across from a very powerful Chinese judge. He took an instant liking to me, and wouldn't let me out of his sight for the remainder of our stay in Guangzhou. We literally spent hours together comparing the American legal system to the Chinese system. It was incredibly interesting for both of us, and we formed a bond that will last a lifetime. He was an incredibly intelligent & insightful judge, who is guaranteed lifetime tenure under their legal system. In my opinion, the Chinese legal system is comparable to our federal court system, with the exception of the personal freedoms we Americans share.

After the yacht cruise, offering incredible views of the Guangzhou skyline, the judge asked me and my delegation to tea. Our hosts for the tea were two, American educated, Chinese billionaires and the Judge. I'm not one to drink tea back in America, but once I learned the price our hosts were paying for the tea, I felt an obligation to gulp it down and smile. Let's just say that the tea party we were hosted to attend would have paid my mortgage for two months! Not kidding, the place we went was only attended by the elite in Guangzhou, it was embarrassing (for a blue collar kid like myself) to think how much money our hosts were throwing around. It must be nice to be a billionaire!

At the tea, we had a three hour discussion again focusing on Hammond and the advantages of investing there. We then ventured into an incredible discussion on misconceptions both cultures shared about each other. It was a frank conversation and enlightening. I wish it were taped and shared with residents of both countries. I learned more about China at that tea than I did on the entire trip. It was the kind of conversation that should have appeared on 60 Minutes. Then again, maybe the reason we spoke so much was the incredible amount of caffeine in the tea we were drinking :). Either way, it was a great way to end the day (by now it was past 2 a.m.)


Day #2 in Guangzhou, after fours hours of sleep, had us finally doing some site-seeing. We went to the business district, with my flip camera in hand, and had a comical time observing the differences between our cultures. We will edit the videos we took and make the video available on shortly after our arrival in America. Their business is conducted by negotiations instead of the fixed prices we enjoy in American stores. In fact, if you purchased anything for the face value listed on the price tag (in RMB), the shopkeeper would take you for a fool. Most listed prices could be discounted close to 50% for the savvy shopper.

One of the most pressing issues we needed to find, while in the shopping district, was getting Tom Dabertin proper clothing, as he was markedly under dressed in shorts and a polo golf shirt. The temperature that day had dropped much more than we expected it to, and was now around 10 C (52F) with a chilly breeze as well (it was 80F in the Region on that day). Unfortunately for Tom, who is 6' 8", he was probably the tallest person in China. It was literally impossible for us to find him anything that fit him, so Tom froze instead. The video of this episode is classic, and will be made available for public viewing shortly after our return.

We arrived back at our hotel and had 25 minutes to shower and dress in our suits for the evening, another typical rush from one event to the next scheduled event. The judge with whom I referred to earlier had requested us to dine with him that evening, which is a great honor in Chinese culture. However, I must admit, the breakneck pace of our schedule was starting to wear on me. I politely declined dinner that evening, the lack of sleep and the break-neck pace of our journey had finally taken a toll and I missed my first formal event. I sat in our room, which had wireless Internet, and enjoyed catching up on phone calls & emails. I was starting to really miss home, and America in particular.

After dinner, the Chinese Judge came back, in his Communist Party issued vehicle along with his personal security detail, to pick me up personally. He had made plans to take us to the Canton Tower, which is slightly taller than the Sears Tower, but much newer and brighter. In fact, all of Guangzhou, at night, was lit up in a display of colors that could only be compared to Las Vegas (without the dirtiness & sin of Vegas). We went to the observation deck of the tower & had an awesome view of a gorgeous skyline. The tower isn't residential, nor is it commercial. It is simply a facade wrapped around a tv antenna with an observation deck. I wish we, in America, decorated our smokestacks & TV towers the way the leaders of Guangzhou did. It was a beautiful city in the evening.

Little did we know, the Judge had a surprise for us! He had arranged to take us above the observation deck, onto the roof of the observation deck. Up there, the only thing keeping us from falling off the tower was a 2 meter tall, clear, piece of plexiglas. It looked sturdy, but with my fear of heights, I wasn't about to test its strength. Besides, it was chilly that night (7degrees C or around 50F), with 40 - 50 mph continuous wind gusts on top of the building. In other words, being on the top of that tower was both scary and cold!

The Judge had another surprise for us, he arranged for us to take a slow moving roller-coaster ride from where we were to almost the top of the building. Although the system looked sturdy, with the wind blowing so hard, it wasn't the most comfortable feeling I've ever had. But the view was incredible. It would have been impossible not to have such an awesome view, after all, we were hanging over the side of the building in a gondola with all windows. Thankfully I had my flip-camera in hand. However, that portion of the video will have to be edited. I was honestly scared at that height, and felt vulnerable & exposed. I must say that my American sailor tongue was working overtime on that portion of the trip. Once we bleep out the "sailor talk", that video experience will be available as well.

After the tower experience, one of our interpreters, born & raised in Guangzhou, told me about their only Irish bar in the city. Being Irish & missing St. Patrick's Day, our delegation was starving for American beer and French fries. Boy, did they taste delicious! In fact, the Irish pub was the first place, in our time in China, I felt comfortable about my actions as well as the food we were eating. It was filled with Americans, Europeans, Germans, Canadians, Irishmen, Chinese, etc.. But the predominant language was English in that bar. Finally, we met people we could speak with without an interpreter!

We celebrated St. Patrick's Day six days late in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, but it was an awesome experience. The Judge and his interpreter had never been in an Irish pub, so it was a whole new experience for them as well.

We finished up as the bar closed down (2 a.m.) Then, as the rest of the delegation entered the van to take us back to our hotel, his honor refused to let me go in the van. He felt that I should be with him, in the marked car with security, and he wouldn't take no for an answer. Being as exhausted as we all were, all I wanted to do was go straight home. But, because the Judge would not take "no" for an answer, I obliged. Little did I know I was in for a much longer trip than the delegation was. The problem, the Judge took me in the exact opposite direction than the delegation's van went. No problem right, we still had our interpreter, so what could go wrong?

The problem was, after a 15 minute ride in the wrong direction, the first stop was to drop off our interpreter at her home. After that, there was the driver (who spoke no English), the Judge (who spoke some English... Like at a 3 year old level) and me (I could only say thank you and good morning in Mandarin). It was an interesting 45 minute ride back to my hotel. Funny enough, with the use of pens, paper & smart phones, the Judge and I actually communicated decently without an interpreter.

We arrived at my hotel at 3 a.m., I had four hours to pack, sleep and shower before the next leg of our journey back to Beijing. The Judge walked me from his car to the elevator bank and said goodbye. It was an honor to have such a high ranking member of the Chinese Government take such an interest in me. From the hours we spent together, I learned much about their legal system and country. I think the judge would tell his people the same about me. I formed a friendship over those two days with a Communist Judge that was old enough to be my father. What an interesting six days I had at this point, but there were two legs of the trip left (Beijing & the flight home).

Tom McDermott

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Robert Blaszkiewicz

Robert Blaszkiewicz

Robert Blaszkiewicz is a Northwest Indiana native and joined The Times in 1994. He has filled a variety of roles, including night editor, Porter County editor, features editor and new media coordinator. His current position is assistant managing editor for operations.

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Doug Ross

Doug Ross has been covering Northwest Indiana for 30 years, including two decades at The Times of Northwest Indiana.



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