It was the time Mr. Reagan was reelected. Mr. What’s-his-name Mondale was standing against him. Wonder what happened to him, he seems to have been totally forgotten.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip, as any all-taken-care-of tour of the US is bound to be.
There were about 25 of us, all journalists, and not all Third World journalists, from countries stretching from Indonesia and Italy to Norway and Argentina. There was a man from Beijing, Mr. Ling, who was the only non-journalist. He worked on the American desk in Beijing. He once told the Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom we met in Lynchberg, “I’m what they call an American watchdog.” There was a journalist from Israel and one from the West Bank, who maintained gentlemanly cordiality between themselves. India was the only country which had two representatives, the other was a gentleman called Mr. Puri.
He was from Delhi and I believe he owned a Hindi magazine there.
The trip lasted four weeks and began in Washington with several lectures, briefings, backgrounders, seminars. It was my first visit to Washington or the US, and the American capital, in its autumn colours, looked exactly as it does in photographs.
It was not all politics and elections. We toured the Virginian countryside, saw Jefferson’s university and home, stayed through a rainstorm at Charlotteville. In New York, Mr. Ling’s representative at the UN invited us to a Chinese banquet at his official residence. The journalist from Israel was not invited. So some of the other guests boycotted the dinner. I also did so, not because I feel strongly about these matters, but because I thought I had to make a point.
We toured Detroit, the motor city, went to North Carolina (Raleigh), flew across the continent to Tulsa, Oklahoma, then ended up in San Francisco.
The hospitality was excellent without being overbearing. Travel was looked after by the government; we were given allowances from which we managed accommodation (at high discount rates) and food, plus a book allowance, from which we could buy books and ship them home.
I did not buy the books, it was not compulsory (nothing is compulsory in America, it is a free country), I spent the allowance on Budweisers and Jack Daniels, on food at San Francisco’s Chinatown and on its fishermen’s wharfs, and had an immense amount of junk food at MacDonalds and Wendy’s and Roy Rogers, had breakfasts of waffles and honey.
At the end of the study tour (junket), we took a vote among ourselves as to who would win the elections. Twenty-one of the 25 voted for Mondale. We all know who won.