Thursday, July 25, 2013

Looking for Millennials in Santa Barbara Wine Country

We had rented a place in Santa Barbara in the Mesa neighborhood on the other side of Highway 101 from the downtown.  We’d never visited there so we had some anxiety about the VRBO house we had rented for the long weekend.  Everyone in the car was saying it was going to be a loser which would mean we’d spend half the weekend going over the missed clues in the website description and blaming me, the guy who picked the house, for missing them. 

But the place turned out terrific -- a little house, a bit odd -- but leafy, private and completely delightful.  We soon had the wine out and were chatting happily over the buzzing hummingbirds and some lovely cheese and salami.  A Scrub Jay who apparently owned the yard insisted on getting some of our bread but soon shut up when we tossed an almond his way and he flew off to a fence post where he puzzled over what to do with it.

We talked our way through the early evening, watched the sun alter the Santa Ynez Mountains by the minute, cooked perfectly moist chicken breasts on the nifty adjustable level barbecue and tossed almonds at the Scrub Jay until the can was empty.  Later, we went to the other side of the yard with our strawberries and clumsily slid into the hot tub as the last light fell, calling it a fine day.

We had just a handful of items on the agenda.  We wanted to hang with our friends who were headed back to Ireland and its weather after three years in sun rich Santa Monica.  We wanted to cook some delicious food at our now favorite VRBO house in the Mesa neighborhood.  We wanted to visit the wine country on the other side of those lovely mountains.  And, a bonus, it was close enough to Barbara’s birthday to call the trip a present.

Santa Barbara uses the term “America’s Riviera” to describe itself, but really, the true comparison to the Riviera is only the climate.  Santa Barbara has a much more survivable scale than the French Riviera version.  In 2012, 800,000 people went through Santa Barbara’s Airport while the Nice Airport handled 10,000,000 passengers.  

Santa Barbara is small – about 85,000 people.  Combined with nearby municipalities -- Summerland to the north and Goleta to the south -- this narrow strip between the Pacific and the Santa Ynez Mountains has a population of about 120,000 people.  At the far north end of the county and a bit off the coast is Lompoc, about 45 miles from Santa Barbara. 

Santa Barbara’s unique geology is, in part, an interaction between the rising and falling of the sea and the rising and falling of the land.  For the past 20,000 years, beaches form at different sea levels and later the land is pushed up, starting the beach on its trip to the mountain top.  Each new sea level and new upthrust create a series of uneven steps leading up to the oldest events, now the eroding peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains, lines of sedimentary rock reaching upward. 

Santa Barbara rises, on average, from two to five millimeters a year.  The hummingbirds, the Scrub Jay and we four are located on one of those old beaches at our mesa house, perhaps 125 feet in the air, as we have coffee and cantaloupe on our ancient beach and prepare to head out.  We’re headed for the downtown farmers' market that turned out to be as good as we had heard.  The markets move around the county and even across the Santa Ynez Mountains into the Northern part of the county and are in Santa Barbara two days, Tuesday and Saturday.

It is every urban market you see, white tents crowded with earnest people selling mostly organic.  It is distinguished by its wonderful products.  The agricultural bounty of Santa Barbara County is headlined by the strawberry, a crop that brings $450 million a year with many, many small organic growers growing with the big guys.  It’s a year round crop there and the market was full of them and they were very good. 

We also found some Shishito Peppers, a Japanese varietal that I’d just had for the first time on this trip.  They were fantastic, sweet and thin-skinned, simply prepared by blistering in a little oil, squeezing lemon over them and sprinkling with sea salt.  They had an amazing taste though we found one of them whose genes overrode the pepper’s sweet, gentle taste and was as hot as any Jalapeno.  Turns out that about one in ten Shishito carry the heat and this little genetic risk makes them taste even sweeter.

The melons were astounding and you could find Rock Crab, rare up in the Northwest, but common here where there are few Dungeness.  We bought mussels and bread, a big sack of Shishitos and headed up to our ancient beach on the hill for lunch.  Though the mussels were fabulous, I regretted not getting a couple of Rock Crab. 

California’s agriculture, like much of the agriculture in the west for the past several years, seems to have hardly noticed the Great Recession.  After a down year in 2009, in which California’s agricultural output dropped about 6% in value, it returned to its steady, China-like growth rate.  In 2012, California was generating agricultural products worth $55 billion dollars annually, more than 70% of them crops and the rest cattle and other animal products.  By comparison, the Boeing Commercial Airplane Division reported 2012 revenues of $49 billion in 2012.   Santa Barbara ranks 14th  in agricultural production of the 58 counties that make up California, but still provides nearly $1.5 billion a year in farm income, four times less than the state’s powerhouse, Fresno County, but still substantial.  After strawberries, you’d think wine grapes.  But you’d be wrong.  Humble broccoli beats out the grapes for second place in the Santa Barbara agricultural pantheon.

After all those mussels at lunch, we thought twice about going back to town but wanted to check out what Santa Barbara calls the Urban Wine Trail which led us directly to the Funk Zone, a chaotic 16 block area of low slung commercial and warehouse buildings near the beach, bisected by one of the two North/South rail lines serving the state.

In the mid-eighties it was zoned for hotels and related tourist uses and the pressure was building for major development.  Artists always find these cool, yet endangered spaces and were moving in and putting art not only on the inside of their studios but on the outside walls of the buildings containing their studios.  In the mid-nineties it had truly become an artist colony, home to one winery, surf and marine
equipment shops strung along its dark streets.  As the pressure to tear down and build grew, some members of the council and the mayor began to advocate for a new kind of zoning that would protect the funkiness of the place.  Ultimately, they adopted a code that requires activities there to be mixed use residential/commercial, tourist serving and marine light manufacturing. 

Three or four years ago the wineries began moving in and with them the food trucks, the restaurants and the music that flows after the wine.  From one winery tasting room back in the old days to more than 20 today, it has evolved from funky to cool.  A similar set of events is happening in Lompoc, creating a warehouse district there called The Wine Ghetto.  Places like these are growing up all over wine country and they demonstrate just how volatile and adaptable the retail side of the industry has become, seeking, as it does, more direct sales to its customers.  It is what happened to Woodinville outside of Seattle in the last five years and what has happened in downtown Walla Walla. Washington state law changed to allow wineries an additional tasting room outside of where the wine was actually made.  Soon, 120 or so wineries and a few distilleries took over those little mini-mart mini-malls, warehouses, old bungalows and storefronts.  It created an easier destination tasting experience and consumers like us in Seattle don’t have to drive several
hours to try new wine.  Though Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is small with lots of change ahead, all of them are terrific and authentic.  We focused on the young people in those places, the family atmosphere, the young tasters lounging on a wicker couch, their kids at their feet with crayons marking up some old wine cases.

Real estate in Santa Barbara is now back to full throttle and property in the Funk Zone is changing hands in all cash, asking price deals.  All of this makes the artists anxious as they look at their relatively short leases and see all this success around them. It will be tough to stay.

We sat in the tasting room at Kunin Winery, owned by Seth Kunin and his wife Magan Eng, and tried their wine.  They made big boys, plenty of alcohol, though they managed to keep the tasty fruit around that they started with.  Kunin came from New York to UCLA and its medical school, but veered off into the restaurant business and then wine via the Gainey Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley where he first signed on as a volunteer at crush.  Eng comes from Chicago’s retail wine world and the newspaper business -- growing up, her Mom had a long relationship with the late Roger Ebert, the film critic.

In 2009, Kunin was one of a handful of wineries offering tastings in the Funk Zone and recently doubled down with a new concept tasting room called AVA Santa Barbara, just around the corner from his first place.  Kunin and Eng will offer very small batch wines – 120 cases or so – from the American Viticulture Areas in Santa Barbara County and from other areas that will, over time, qualify as AVAs.  This will allow customers to have wines from the many different micro-climates in Santa Barbara County in one place.
 
These places seem to have captured one of the elements that bring in the Millennials, the generational cohort on which the future of the wine business
in large part depends.   The idea of pulling together many wineries in a relatively small geography seems to really work with their generation.  Born between roughly 1982 and 2000, a little more than half of them are now drinking wine legally.  By 2021, all 70 million of them will be legal drinkers.  Just as the boomers discovered wine and nurtured the industry in the sixties and seventies the Millennials will shape wine’s future by the tastes and preferences they discover themselves or learn from winemakers and marketers.  The bad is that every day, 10,000 Boomers retire.  The sort of good news is that they are replaced by 15,000 Millennials.

They are a make or break generation.  Without the Millennials, John McCain would have been President of the United States.  More Millennials voted in 2012 than citizens over 62 -- 16% of the electorate versus 14%.  In 2020, 40% of the electorate will be Millennials.  As in political life, the wine industry is struggling to figure out what to do about the Millennials, how to gauge their impact and what kind of wine to make, package and sell to them.

While the research shows that many Millennials like wine, there is a substantial debate about whether Millennials will buy good wine or buy wine on the cheap.  Rob McMillan, who writes a breezy “State of the Wine Industry Report” for Silicon Valley Bank, believes that the Millennials don’t have the kind of net worth that justifies the purchase of premium wines over $20 a bottle and that other, older generations will have to foot the bill for better wines, reducing market share for them.  He’s down on the Millennial contribution to the wine industry at the moment, and I wondered reading his report whether a child has moved back into his house.  He believes they are
Silicon Valley Bank
all about "caring about color, price and varietal."  He thinks they have little respect for where the wines come from.  He observes that millennials buy a lot more imported wines, cutting into US market share.

However, California’s Wine Market Council says that Millennials are driving the growth in wine consumption in the US.  More of them drink wine daily, 28%, considerably more than other generations.  Because of the high percentage of Americans who say they do not drink any kind of alcohol, 43%, the rate at which Millennials drink is important.  Driving the abstemious number down to 30% means a great deal to the US wine market.  By comparison, only 5.3% of Germans don't drink alcohol and 6.3% of French. Millennials drink on more occasions and in non-traditional venues and they drink more per sitting, all good news to the industry.  Other consultants think that the food lovers populating the Millennial generation will have good food be the gateway to premium wine consumption. 

A problem in the Millennial population is that it is so racially and ethnically diverse.  It has a large Hispanic segment, a particularly difficult group to attract to the wine life, if not the picking part of it.  

The amazing generational research done by the Pew Charitable Trusts tells us this about the Millennials:

“Generations, like people, have personalities, and Millennials — the American teens and twenty-somethings who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium — have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.”


Despite a rough time entering the job market in recession, the Millennials tend to be confident about the future, according to Pew.  They are on-line, green, educated and say they have enough money on hand to meet their financial goals, despite the fact that 37% in 2010 were out of work or not in the job market.

They have, according to Pew, a quiky kind of self expression.  Four in ten of them have a tattoo and half of that number have multiple tattoos, though most say their tattoos are obscured by their clothing.   A much larger number than other generations reports a body piercing other than in their ear lobes.  More say they want to help other people than say they want to own a home or have a high paying job. 

Along with the financial factors, marketing wine to them is a challenge and the industry seems a bit perplexed about how to meet it.  The branding I’ve seen “OMG Merlot” and the Be. Brand – “B. Flirty, B. Radiant, B. Bright” -- seem to be trying to take the pretension out of wine with a condescending tool.    

I think of my Millennial daughter’s friends and, to them, the scene at Kunin would work, starting with the gobs of red wine being served.  But also fun.  No pretension.  No hard sell.  Authenticity.  Forget the pear and pomegranate finishes.  Remember that price, for now, matters.  The crowd at Kunin was a Millennial outfit and they were indeed having fun.  It was as much drinking wines, as tasting wines, bottles on tables, full wine glasses sloshing about.  One couple sat on the stairs leading up to the porch, a bottle of Syrah between them, sharing a store-bought salad from a plastic container, one plastic fork working just fine for the two of them. 

As five o’clock came, no one was scurrying out.  Most of the tasting rooms stay open at least until 6PM and some to 7PM, another feature of the urban wine zones.  We went back with a couple of Kunin Syrahs for dinner and, despite the blood oath we took on the way to the airport in Seattle, we had a new wine club membership.

For those of us who love Walla Walla but don’t like the 4-1/2 hour drive, the 39 mile drive North and West of the city and across the Santa Ynez Mountains into Santa Barbara’s rural wine country is a gift.  The unique land forms create many different micro-climates and soils that help distinguish Santa Barbara wines.  The county sits in a westward bulge in the North American land mass that gives it a south facing
shoreline running east and west.  Most of the valleys have the same east/west orientation due to the way the mountains have folded over time.  All this makes it easier for the marine air to move in and out of many of their vines, creating hot weather in the day and cool, even cold weather at night.

The variety of soils is also fairly dramatic.  Some vineyards are perched on seabed limestone and sandstone and decomposing clay rich in magnesium.  Others are in a smooth, loamy mixture, on which stand those noble California oak trees, solitary in some places, in others bunched together as if sharing a secret.

The movie “Sideways” is still playing in Santa Barbara’s wine country.  The story of Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) and their tour of the the valley prior to Jack’s wedding is memorialized in several maps and marketing initiatives.  You can get the same room, sit in the same booth at the Clubhouse Sports Bar and, if you want, take a swig from the spit bucket at Fess Parker’s Winery.  We saw a couple of large banners flapping “As seen on
Sideways.”  Released in 2004, the residual value of “Sideways” helped the valley get through the Great Recession.  And, the hits just keep on coming.  A Japanese version of Sideways was made in 2009 although, it was shot in Napa.  The author of the novel "Sideways" is Rex Pickett and he's playing the movie again as well.  After writing "Vertical," where he travels with his Mom through Oregon and to Wisconsin, he's now got a new project.  He's in Chile. 

There are 90 wineries in the county and some 16,000 acres of wine grapes, a slightly higher acreage than Washington’s Yakima Valley.  Nearly half the grapes are Chardonnay with another 20% in Pinot Noir. 

We stopped at a couple of the older wineries, Sunstone, where barrels are stored in caves and the wine dispensed in a lovely building.  They make a really good Merlot and we shared a glass, smacking our lips as if Miles might hear us. 

We drove to Solvang, an old Danish settlement that is the largest town in the
grape growing country, though we never stopped once we saw the crowds of tourists, the mall-like look of the place and the fake building fronts tarted up in some kind of Danish village theme. 

We did stop at a place called Los Olivos for lunch.  A wide spot in the road, but to me, it looked like what a village in wine country should look like.  It had several storefront wineries, among them Longoria, another wine pioneer.  

A college kid at UC Berkeley, Rick Longoria and his friends would drive up to Napa and Sonoma on weekends and soon were falling in love with the wine life and the beautiful landscapes in which it thrives.  In the early seventies, he was a cellar man for Buena Vista Winery in Napa, one of those kids you see hanging around the winery at the end of the day, eating a tuna sandwich and drinking a glass.  After some courses and a couple more years, he moved on to the Firestone Vineyard as a cellar manager and began the process of becoming a winemaker by borrowing gear and buying grapes from others and making a few bottles.  Among the wineries he worked as a winemaker was Gainey Vineyard, the place Seth Kunin threw his hat in as a volunteer.  He began producing his own label in 1982, though he continued to work as a winemaker a several wineries.   

He worked for others until 1997, always making a few hundred cases of his own.  Finally, in 1997, he and his wife began working full time for their own label and purchased his tasting room storefront in Los Olivos in 1998.  He planted his first vineyard in 1998.  If you are counting, that is a 23 year apprenticeship. 

After he built his first vineyard, in the hills above Lompoc, he needed a place to make his wine that was nearby and inexpensive.  He leased space in a Lompoc warehouse with aluminum siding and soon others like him were moving in, creating the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, a country cousin to the Funk Zone.

Among his wines are those that call up his Spanish heritage and we decide to eat lunch in his side yard that is home to three simple tables and the shade of a plum tree on a day that has become just a bit hot.

We choose a bottle of Alberino, a Spanish favorite of ours, to go with the wheat thins and a couple of salads from the deli in the small grocery store across the street.  We took the cold bottle to the side yard and, in a moment of weakness, joined the wine club.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

When Deng Xiaoping Came to Seattle

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger get nearly all the credit for the opening to China that culminated with the iconic Nixon-Mao handshake in February, 1972.  But while Nixon may have turned the door knob, the man who swung the door wide open was Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, seven years later.

President Obama’s visit with Premier Xi Jingping earlier last month got me thinking, reading and remembering Deng’s visit to Washington, Atlanta, Houston and Seattle in January and February of 1979 when the promise of 1972 was redeemed by the tiny pragmatist and the comeback kid of the People’s Republic, Deng Xiaoping. 

I worked on Deng’s visit to Seattle, serving on an organizing committee of business and civic leaders, and remember it as a fantastic few weeks of preparation and problem solving.   I was a deputy to my brother Charles, the Mayor of Seattle, who was just then starting the second year of his first term.  We’d had a bumpy first year but were feeling good toward the end of the year, celebrating a Christmas and New Year where we actually had some money to spend on gifts, good food and something other than jug wine.  Most of us had worked for a year on the campaign without pay, considering it more of a crusade than a job, and were largely broke when we took office. 

But we also working hard over the holidays.  We held a staff retreat and did some major planning and reorganizing for 1979.  We started work early on the State of the City speech, a requirement of the City Charter that was somehow overlooked in the madness of the rookie year and we had been embarrassed by the fact that we had failed to give it.  We joked that the second speech would have to be so good that people would forget the first, just like we did.

Also, we had a lot of plans for the first year that got blown off the table when the Panamanian freighter Antonio Chavez ran into the old West Seattle drawbridge in June, sticking it in the up position and closing half a bridge carrying nearly 100,000 cars/day, for six years.  It was our first crisis and a persistent one.  However, by the end of the year, thanks to Senator Warren Magnuson, most of the $200 million for the replacement was in hand and land acquisition and environmental review processes were underway. 

We felt ready for the New Year, excited, wiser and more experienced.  Then, right around the New Year, the Mayor had a call from Washington, DC that he was told to keep quiet about.  Deng Xiaoping was coming to the United States and would, as part of his visit, come to Seattle, likely in early February. 

I learned in that first year that skill at governing was only partly how well you do what you plan to do, but how you handled what you had to do, something thrust on you with little or no warning.  The Deng visit was an example, two months torn from the calendar and a full out sprint.

Stan Barer on the left, and the sneator
Seattle attorney Stan Barer’s life was also getting very busy at that time.  A Walla Walla native and former staffer for Senator Warren Magnuson, he had come home to Washington state to practice law shortly after the Nixon visit to China.  He brought his law firm the considerable expertise that came from the Commerce Committee Magnuson was then chair of.  He also brought the enthusiasm Magnuson had for the great potential of China and his desire to bring China fully into the economic life of the west.  Magnuson, as a young man, served in the Pacific during World War II, championed many issues involving China over the years and didn’t view China in the ideological terms that so many of his colleagues in the Senate did.  Like Deng, he was a pragmatist.  He knew that a resurgent China was good for his country and especially good for the
airplanes, wheat, fresh fruit and technology in his state.  Very soon after Nixon left, Magnuson was leading a United States Senate delegation to China,in 1972, where he met with Zhou Enlai, the second in command, creating a photographic symbol of the new, more human scale relationship with the emerging giant. 

While serving with the the senator, Barer worked on a Magnuson consumer protection initiative for the safety labeling of fireworks, an early export from China to the United States. The Nixon visit had set loose a host of issues that needed to be resolved before trade could be conducted smoothly and many of them came through the Commerce Committee.  Clients wanted Barer to make sure the Chinese got through the maze of consumer protection and other issues they would find in America.  He soon had clients who wanted him to work on many other China-US trade issues.  His timing on the China opening could not have been better.  While working on the fireworks, he became involved in cleaning up the commercial messes left when the communists drove the nationalists off the mainland.  Each country had claims against the other and the Chinese feared that, pending a solution, their ships bringing trade goods would be seized, as then allowed by US law, when they landed in American ports.  In the early years, trade had to be conducted between third parties, not directly between China and the US. 

Barer contemplated the possibility of new legislation to solve the seizure issue, but concluded it would just bring up the old wounds about who lost China and why.  But something had to be done and, as well, some tangible progress had to be made in settling the claims on both sides.  Barer started watching a piece of legislation in Congress that had a provision on which a legal interpretation could stand, if approved by the Carter Administration, that would clearly ban the seizure of foreign vessels for claims.  Fortunately, the provision was deeply buried in complicated and technical trade legislation and he watched it roll through the process silently, without serious notice, until it passed.

He also had a shipping company client, New Orleans based Lykes Brothers Shipping, who needed to settle a claim from 1949 that rose from a Chinese fishing vessel that had been struck and sunk by one of the company’s ships.  Lykes needed to resolve that problem before its ships could call on China.

From the beginning of the opening to China, the development of trade had to compete with a host of old and unattended problems from years ago, but also with the brutal political life at the top of the Chinese leadership.  While the Cultural Revolution began five years before the Nixon opening, its madness continued and was still highly disruptive.

Three months after Kissinger’s secret July, 1971 visit to set up the details of the Nixon meeting, Mao’s chosen successor, Lin Biao, attempted a coup and died when his military jet ran out of fuel and crashed in Mongolia as he fled to Russia.  At the same time, The Gang of Four, led by Jiang Qing -- Madame Mao -- controlled much of the Chinese media and had set up a relatively independent quasi-government in Shanghai over which the central government asserted little control.  In addition, Mao and Zhou Enlai, the second in command, were frequently sick and unavailable for long periods of time. 

An early victim of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping was dubbed a capitalist roader and was, when Nixon arrived, in his third year of exile, working as a pipefitter and taking care of his paraplegic son whose disabilities stemmed from being thrown out a window and beaten by a Red Guard mob.  But Zhou Enlai worked to bring Deng back into government and succeeded, in 1973.  But Zhou had just three years to live and it was a constant struggle to keep Deng in office against the efforts of Mao’s wife, the boss of the Gang of Four. 

Then, in January of 1976, Zhou dies and the power struggle between the Gang of Four, Deng and the Party is in full flower.  Later that year, Jiang appears to have won and Deng is once again thrown from power and she seeks in earnest to become the country’s leader.  Then Mao himself dies in September and the chaos is complete.  September/October, 1976 were pivotal.  On October 6, the army and the party seized control of the mass media and, in a midnight meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, they decide to quickly arrest the leadership of the Gang of Four.  A hurried party congress names Hua Guafeng Premier and the army suppresses a rebellion in Shanghai, the Gang of Four capitol city.  Deng once again was restored to authority, reinstated as Vice-Chairman of the Central Committee, Vice-Premier of the State Council, Vice-Chairman of the Military Commission and Chief of
the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army.  Now in control of the media, the government told its version of the Gang of Four story to the country on October 14, one of several steps that ended the Cultural Revolution.  When the Gang of Four went to trial, in 1980, the government televised the trial nationally with the scary Jiang Qing taking over her own defense.

Deng’s leadership message was to “seek truth through facts” and pursue the economic opening of socialist modernization.  He strongly opposed political thinking focused only on Mao.  Some called the old way of blindly following Mao as "the two whatevers," the idea that whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao had made and whatever instructions he had given must be followed unswervingly.

Rather, while turning from Mao and toward modernization, he applied his skill at pragmatic messaging to solve the great problem of Mao’s legacy:

“His contributions are primary.  His mistakes are secondary.”

By the time his Boeing 707 aircraft landed in Seattle the evening of February 3, 1979, he was in power and would remain so for 19 years. 

Events for Deng’s visit were a tough ticket.  And he made the ticket even tougher when he caught a bad cold.  He went to only three of the formal events planned for him – a luncheon at the Westin Hotel on Sunday, where he briefly spoke through his sniffles, a tour of Boeing’s 747 Plant in Everett and an intimate dinner with business and political leaders at the restaurant Canlis.   The White House protocol office called the Westin before he arrived and said he would require at least one spittoon.  Doubling down, the Westin bought two spittoons, one for his rooms and the other a kind of traveler spittoon that was always nearby. 

He skipped a Boeing Hydrofoil tour of the Seattle Harbor Sunday morning and other marine points of interest.  Boeing was in the throes of a post-Boeing bust effort to expand its business lines and fast boats made up one of the new products.  He also skipped a breakfast meeting with editors and publishers from around the Northwest the Monday morning he left, saying his cold had gotten worse.

He was hell on police overtime.  The Revolutionary Communist Party, a Mao supporting group, hung and burned Deng in effigy several times.  The Young Americans for Freedom demonstrated outside his hotel and elsewhere as did the Native Taiwanese Association. 

Lots of people came by the office with messages they wanted to pass on to the Chinese delegation.  Many were families trying to connect across the 30 year chasm of the fall of China.  I remember talking to one man, Otto Sieber, who, as a ten year old departed China with his mother, a German who taught English and German at China’s Whampoa Military Academy.  The nationalists were fleeing the mainland and she had helped the nationalists during the civil war so, when she found two seats on a nationalist plane headed for Taiwan, she and Otto took them.  Sieber’s Chinese father, a college professor, and two brothers remained behind, thinking he and the boys had nothing to fear.  Since then, Sieber had not heard from anyone.  The letter he gave us asked for help in finding his two brothers, whom Sieber believed to be alive, though he thought his father likely dead.  We gave the letter to our contact in the Deng delegation.

We had asked professor Robert Kapp, a University of Washington teacher with a doctorate in China Studies from Yale to help us with the visit.  One morning we were talking about a gift to the Chinese delegation that would be meaningful and he said something like this:

“These guys want to know how to do things.  They admire getting things done and accomplishment.  They want to do things right.  Why don’t we put together something that shows them how you make things happen in Seattle.  I can’t think of any piece of art or memorabilia that would be more important than showing them how you make your government work.  In their eyes, that would make you unique.”

So, we started collecting materials that showed them how we governed our water, electric and garbage utilities.  How we put together our budgets.  How we planned to replace the bridge that was stuck upright.  How we cleaned our streets.  How our zoning worked – and didn’t.  Stuff poured in from departments and soon we had boxes piling up in our conference room.  We labeled them, I recall three or four big boxes, drove them to the hotel and handed them over with a letter of explanation to the Vice Chairman.

Soon after our boxes were flown off to Beijing, a ship entered the harbor in Shanghai on March 15.  It was the Letitia Lykes, owned by Stan Barer’s client.  It was the first American flagged ship to call on China since 1949.   A month later, the Liu Lin Hai steamed into Puget Sound and set off a celebration, not a seizure.  Barer’s legal opinion, the adoption of the opinion by the Carter Administration and the
obscure legislation he had noticed in 1975, had held.  Soon, the Liu Lin Hai would take on 30,000 tons of Washington state corn and sail for the People’s Republic of China.

Later that Spring, Otto Sieber received a letter from his father, now 82 and living in Manchuria.  After 30 years of being a non-person, an R for rightist stamped on his identity card, he was teaching once more.  The two brothers had died.  One of them drowned trying to rescue his son from an irrigation project and the other, also a drowning victim, but a suicide.  The Cultural Revolution nearly killed his father, and did kill the woman he married after Sieber and his mother left, but like Deng, he struggled and survived.  Sieber was reunited with his father in the fall of 1979.

In Seattle, Deng Xiaoping, one of the few survivors of the Long March then alive called for “a new Long March toward modernization.” 

The new Long March he articulated through his cold in Seattle in 1979 has made China a great nation once again.  Total US – China trade rose from $5 Million dollars the year of Kissinger’s secret visit in 1971 to $5 Billion two years after Deng took power to more than $500 Billion in 2012.

Warren Magnuson would be delighted to know that his home state was providing $8.0 Billion in annual exports to China, an amount that comprises about 7% of total US exports to China and is third among all states behind California and Texas.   

Richard Holbrooke, the assistant US Secretary of State who staffed the effort to recognize China in 1978 and knew Deng well, put him at the highest rung of accomplishment in 1997, the year Deng died, though with one great cloud over it all, the 1989 violence at Tiananmen Square:

“Other than Nelson Mandela, probably, Deng was the most extraordinary living person in the world up to his death," Holbrooke said.  "He did everything he set out to do and made China a great nation again – except for one thing.  He couldn’t manage the transition from a full communist dictatorship to a more open society without tremendous political oppression at the end and this will be a cloud over his otherwise extraordinary accomplishments.”

Selfishly, I have always wondered about the boxes full of reports the earnest planners from Seattle gave them and what person in China, if any, ever read their contents or at least thumbed through them.  Was there a young Deng Xiaoping somewhere, seeking truth through facts, carefully studying and sometimes sharing these documents?  Did they give him an idea or two that helped build a great city? 

Nice Summary of US China Trade, 1971-Present

Richard Holbrooke discusses Deng Xiaoping's legacy with Charley Rose

Trial of Gang of Four, You Tube