Sunday, October 08, 2006

OK. I take back all the things I said about French people being slow and me, an American, being punctual and efficient. The French are slow, and so am I! I did an interview last week, and it has taken me a week to complete! Putain. I am such a slacker.

But this interview was really something else. I don't think I can write terribly much about it here, as I am being paid to write about it for the magazine, but let me tell you just a bit about it. A friend of mine, while drunk at a party last year, told me about these Americans living on farm outside of Beijing who came to China to join the communist revolution. After many e-mails and phone calls, I found this woman. She was out in the city at a dinner event with Wen Jiabao when I called, but much to my surprise, she returned my call later that night. She asked me what I wanted and told me that all sorts of people were bothering her for interviews and that she had camera crews at her place following her around all the time. I told her I was interested in talking to her about what she's been up to recently and she asked bluntly, "How much time do you need?" I told her I didn't know, just a couple of hours, and then, in my usual tact, I said "I've not writing the book of your life, it's just a magazine article." She laughed at this and said she would give me two hours, "but no more!", and that I would have to come the next morning.

I called my editor and told him we had to move quickly and that this woman, Joan Hinton, was waiting for my call. We arranged to catch a cab together the next day, and I called Ms. Hinton back to let her know we would be there.

Gregoire and I, after some minor delay, made it to the farm WAY OUT in the countryside. Ms. Hinton brought out a notebook for us to sign--she keeps track of all her interviews--and she said, "So, what do you want to know."

For 85, Ms. Hinton is in pretty decent shape. She talks slowly, and her memory was perhaps not as sharp as it once was, but man, she flew across the room when the phone rang, or when she went to recover a piece of personal history to show me.

This woman came to China in 1948! She was a nuclear physicist with the Manhattan project, and after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she left Los Alamos and tried to get the technology into civil hands. Of course, that failed. Then she came to China to join the communists! She married her husband, another American here, and had three children. They worked on dairies, and lived like everyone else.

Needless to say, interviews like this leave me a little starry-eyed. There are heaps more details to share, but I'm afraid that I'll have to leave them until after the magazine is published.

But wow. China is awesome.

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