Xi's 'tea time' rekindles 27-year-old friendship

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Muscatine, a small city in rural eastern Iowa, entered its "China time" on Wednesday when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping came to chat and drink tea with his old American friends.

Xi, who stayed at the homes of Muscatine residents 27 years ago and now is on a five-day visit to the United States, traveled from Washington to join a dozen of his old acquaintances for tea and conversation at a reception in a house in the Iowa farm community.

Most of the people at the reception were friends Xi made during a 1985 visit to Iowa as a member of an agricultural research delegation. The Chinese vice president, then a local official from China's northern Hebei province, stayed and dined in the homes of local residents.

Wednesday's reunion was held at a house that Xi visited 27 years ago. Sarah Lande, who owned the house and was one of the organizers for Xi's first trip, hosted the gathering.

When Xi entered the house, all of his old acquaintances became greatly excited to see him and enthusiastically shook hands with the Chinese vice president.

Each of Xi's old acquaintances wore a button on their coats that reads "We Muscatine Feel Great."

Sitting near a burning fireplace, with several Chinese paintings on the wall, Xi and his old friends cheerily recalled the old days.

"When I see you today, I feel as if I came back to 27 years ago. I feel the kindness of all of you," Xi said. "You are the first Americans I have ever met in my life. For me, you are my first impression of the United States."

Xi said that his biggest impression of the United States at that time was that Americans were as hard-working, hospitable and friendly as the Chinese.

The peoples of the two countries have much in common, and could certainly become good friends and good partners and carry out mutually beneficial cooperation, he said.

Xi's American friends were touched by his remarks.

"You are also the first Chinese I've ever seen," said 72-year-old Eleanor Dvorchak. She and her husband traveled from Florida for the reunion.

Twenty-seven years ago, Xi slept in a bedroom belonging to Dvorchak's sons who had departed for college.

Xi recalled how his American friends took him on a picnic and showed him hog farms, agricultural companies and the nearby Mississippi River.

"I will never forget all that," Xi said.

The Chinese vice president's American friends were impressed by his keen memory for details that occurred 27 years ago, saying "wonderful, wonderful" occasionally.

For their part, Xi's friends recalled that he had given them Chinese liquor as a gift. "So strong liquor," one of them said with smile.

One of Xi's old friends even kept a tin of tea that Xi sent him as a gift 27 years ago.

Xi on Wednesday again brought Chinese tea and tea cups for his American friends in the town of 23,000 people. Muscatine officials, in return, presented him with another "golden key" to the city, just as they had done in 1985. Xi still keeps the old "golden key."

Xi noted when the time came to say goodbye that "one always feels the shortage of time when meeting with old friends."

The reception did not last long. Before leaving, Xi took a group photo with his American friends and invited all of them to visit China soon.

For the American people, Xi's Iowa "tea time" has become an impressive moment in the China-U.S. friendship -- a moment reminiscent of the waving of a cowboy hat by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping when he visited the United States some 33 years ago.

Thanks to the "tea time," Muscatine has become one of America's most famous towns to the Chinese people.

"We feel so honored," Sarah Lande said, adding they hope that Xi's visit could set a good example for the peoples of the two countries.

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