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1990s: The Golden Decade : REPORTER'S DIARY : Envious Chinese Say Warm L.A.'s the Place


BEIJING — Most people in Beijing, a dusty city of hot summers, short autumns, frigid winters and windy springs, don't know much about Los Angeles. But when they have any image at all, they've usually heard--with envy--about its climate.

Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, who appear on television every Sunday night speaking fluent Chinese, are immensely popular. Unfortunately for Southern California boosters, however, not many here know where Mickey and Donald were born.

The Lakers are another matter.

"Know anything about Los Angeles?" an American asked an old woman selling maps outside the Beijing railway station.

"Los Angeles' basketball team is really excellent," she said. "You play really well. I watch on TV sometimes."

Television also brought China the 1984 Olympics--and glimpses of L.A.

"Did you watch the Olympics in 1984?" was the question to the 22-year-old owner of a clothing shop.

"All I remember is a guy singing at the beginning," came the reply. "He was really good. It was Michael Jackson, right?"

Well, no, it was Lionel Richie. But at least the show made a good impression.

Those who have actually visited Los Angeles don't always have a much better grasp on things.

Disneyland was OK, but it couldn't match, what do you call it, "Forest Land?" said a woman in her mid-60s.

"It was so beautiful," explained the woman, as it became apparent she was speaking of Forest Lawn. "You could push a button, and lovely music would come out of the trees. And so many nice statues! To think that Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks are buried there!"

Not everyone thinks of gardens and beautiful music.

"I think of crime right away," said a man in his early 30s who visited Los Angeles a few years ago. "When I arrived there, I had my bus ticket stolen in the Greyhound bus station downtown. That is really an ugly part of the city. But when you go north, I forget to which city, but it is where the mountains start--it is beautiful. The big houses are wonderful. I'm looking forward to going back someday."

Another young man rattled off what came to his mind: "Hollywood, beautiful beaches, a great climate, a 20th-Century city, a short history, UCLA."

But for many of those who have visited Los Angeles or have friends there, Southern California is more the stuff of dreams.

"I went to Los Angeles from Milwaukee," said a woman in her 30s who visited several years ago on a business trip. "At that time Milwaukee had heavy snow, but Los Angeles was like spring. So my first impression of the city was very good--people wore spring or summer clothing, with light colors, so I had the impression people there were very cheerful. This is my deepest impression of Los Angeles.

"I also had the impression that in Los Angeles there're a lot of people from other countries--a lot of Mexicans . . . and a lot of Chinese.

"My close friend (who lives in Los Angeles)--she is nearly 40--she likes Los Angeles very much. Of course she thinks it is much better than here. But she is very busy. She says everyone is busy with their own things--they have no time to care about other people's affairs."

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