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Reporter's Notebook From Asia : Shultz Knows S. Korea Picked Right Mascot

March 08, 1987|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

PALO ALTO — When a British newspaper first reported in January that Secretary of State George P. Shultz had a tiger tattooed on his buttock, Shultz coyly refused to comment. But, over the course of his Asia tour, which ended Saturday, the secretary of state became positively up front about his backside.

When Shultz visited the site of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, the stadium's giant television screen showed a videotape of scenes of Olympic competition ending with the tiger mascot of the Seoul games. Reporters and aides broke into cheers, and Shultz responded with a wide grin that must have seemed inscrutable to his Korean hosts.

A few minutes later, Shultz opened his press conference by telling Korean Olympic officials, "Your choice of an emblem and mascot couldn't have been better."

At the start of the trip, Shultz had waved away questions about the tattoo by saying that he had few secrets left and he intended to keep those that remained. However, his wife, Helena, readily confirmed that Shultz did, indeed, have such a tattoo, a remnant of his days as a Princeton undergraduate.

Shultz's visit to China began just a week past the 15th anniversary of the start of former President Richard M. Nixon's historic trip, which ended more than two decades of bitter Sino-American hostility. Like the parade of official visitors since 1972, Shultz came under pressure from his Chinese hosts to take time to see more of the country than the drab and smog-bound capital, Beijing.

In China, the pilgrimage to historic sites is as much a part of diplomacy as drinking strong black coffee is in the Middle East--nothing really works without it.

As a result, Shultz's visit lasted five days--his longest to any nation as secretary of state--although his official talks with Chinese leaders took up only about eight hours. For much of the rest of the time, he played the role of enthusiastic tourist.

At almost every stop outside Beijing and Shanghai, the Shultz party drew large crowds of Chinese spectators. It is the sort of reception that tends to inflate the ego. And there is no doubt that Chinese officials believe it is to their advantage to make their guests feel important.

In Shultz's case, the ploy may not have quite worked. He remarked to reporters on the flight home, "I can't help but believe that the Chinese authorities had something to do with their (the crowds') presence."

The anti-smoking sentiment that has swept the United States has not reached China. Chinese, both high and low, avidly smoke strong and mostly unfiltered cigarettes.

For years, China's top leader, Deng Xiaoping, has been a chain smoker. But, according to members of the Shultz party, he seems to be tapering off. One senior U.S. official said that Deng lit up only a time or two in his hourlong meeting with Shultz. Possibly as a result, he did not make frequent use of the white enamel spittoon that is always at the side of his chair.

Much of the egalitarian ethic imposed in China by Mao Tse-tung has eroded since his death a decade ago. But one thing remains firmly embedded in Western mythology about the nation's folkways--there is no tipping. The U.S. Embassy advises American tourists and official visitors that tips are considered an insult.

Hotels in Beijing often reinforce that attitude, probably because the government wants them to. When a reporter in the Shultz party left a few cents worth of Chinese money on the table after breakfast, the waiter pursued him into the lobby to return it.

Yet when another reporter needed the help of a bellman to open a balky door at the new Sheraton Hotel in Shanghai, she asked if he could accept a tip.

"The Sheraton is the only place in China where you may tip," the bellman replied.

This reporter received his most vivid reminder of the often mysterious ways of the East when he tried to telephone the office to dictate a story following a late-night meeting in Beijing.

The operator was given the number of The Times transcription service and, after the 10-minute delay, which is about normal these days, the operator called with the cheerful report, "Your call to America is on the line."

I asked if I was talking to The Times transcription department, and when the answer was affirmative, I dictated the dispatch. About 20 minutes later, shortly before 1 a.m., David Shipler of the New York Times called to tell me that I had dictated my story to his newspaper. His hotel room number was similar and he apparently placed a call to his paper about the same time I called mine. The operator apparently gave me his call.

Eventually, I was able to file my story with the right newspaper.

Oh, yes, I was charged for both calls.

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