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Q&A WITH KIM NG

Trip was a chance to learn

December 08, 2007|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng was one of about 20 American fellows to attend the Young Leaders Forum on U.S.-China relations and spent 3 1/2 days last week in Nanjing, China. The YLF is in its sixth year and its fellows, who serve for at least two years, come from a variety of backgrounds. Among the other U.S. fellows were Minnesota House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen and astronaut Christopher J. Cassidy.

Ng, 39, who is Chinese American, had never previously visited China. She spent time with Times reporter Dylan Hernandez at the winter meetings in Nashville this week to share her experience.

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Question: What was the basic idea behind the program?

Answer: The idea of it is to bring together, I believe the cutoff is 40 years old so they bring together people that age together, people who are leaders in their fields, who are established as experts. It's basically to bring Americans and Chinese together to talk about their lives, what affects their lives and to learn about each other's countries in hopes that as we progress in our careers and become more influential, we have a better understanding of each other. When you have better understanding of a culture and a system, it can only lead to better decisions.

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Q: Where did you stay?

A: It was a state government house. It was the place where Mao had stayed. We got to see his big suite.

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Q: What were the days like?

A: In the morning, there were tai chi lessons, if you wanted it. I couldn't wake up. My clock was so abnormal. We had three-hour discussion sessions that started at 9, break for lunch and do something in the afternoon. One day we went dragon-boat racing. Another day, we rode bikes to the Ming tombs. There were these huge, beautiful gardens, lots of statues, a museum of artifacts from the Ming dynasty.

We went to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center [which is jointly administered by Nanjing University and Johns Hopkins University]. We went there for the day, had a few sessions, exchanged ideas. We had the president of Juilliard School in New York speak to us.

Early evening we had the professor of U.S.-China relations speak. We had a cocktail hour with the students there, who were from the U.S. and China. I had my first glass of Chinese wine. It wasn't great, but it was fine. It's so different. The Chinese view a lot of the American wines and French wines to be overly sour. Chinese wines are sweeter.

We also went to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, which is for the people who were killed by the Japanese when they invaded. There's a trough that held 10,000 excavated bodies. It puts things into context. It makes things more real. I understood more why people of my mother's generation harbor harsh feelings toward the Japanese. My grandparents are from that area. My mom was born in Thailand because my grandparents emigrated during the war.

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Q: Interacting with your Chinese contemporaries, did you recognize anything in your thinking or behavior as coming from that culture?

A: I felt like a hybrid. There were certain parts of Chinese culture that I understood. With my grandparents being as influential as they were, I knew there were certain characteristics that I had that I knew were considered to be Asian, like the whole idea of respect. I respect my elders.

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Q: Was there anything that made you feel particularly American?

A: When you hear about their hardships, how their government is structured, the laws they abide by, they're completely different. I was taken aback by how much we as Americans, how lucky were are. One of the Chinese fellows was talking about how he used to make $20 a month. And his girlfriend left him! Through hard work and determination, he managed to form his own company. One guy was a constitutional lawyer who took a lot of pro bono cases and was fighting many injustices.

We flew into Shanghai and had to take a five-hour bus ride to Nanjing. One of the first things the director of the program said was, "I'm sorry it smells like gas in here." This was a 15-passenger shuttle, like a hotel shuttle. We got in there and it smelled like gas. There was only one gas station on the way from Shanghai to Nanjing and they weren't sure that gas station would be open. So they had tanks of gas in the back of the bus. It's such an odd concept for Americans. We have gas stations every five blocks.

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Q: Was China's one-child policy discussed?

A: Not in a formal way. When I was at that cocktail reception with the students at the university, it did come up. When I was in college I did one of my big papers for my major on the one child per family policy. When I did the paper, it was very soon after the implementation of the law. Going there made me realize the unintended consequences. I was talking to one of the Chinese fellows, a banker, who used to work in the States. She went back to Beijing because she had her parents and two sets of grandparents that she had to take care of. That's difficult, for one person to take care of that many people.

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