LETTERS FROM BEIJING: 'DEAR MOM...'
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Our daughter Kerry, traveling to and in China with a dozen University of Pittsburgh engineering students in tow, kept in touch with us almost daily from cybercafes. Responding to a lighthearted thought that we might rent a bus, pick up our families in assorted cities for a family reunion on wheels, and, in general, have a ball, she wrote:
"China, June 8, 2002. Dear Mom and all. The bus trip sounds great as long as the busses are different from the ones in China ... this place is incredible. I am in a little Internet place right now, it is a room filled with computers and you pay for Internet use by the hour (very cheap). It is 6:00 a.m. and there are literally about 20 Chinese guys playing video games that are, I guess, so exciting that they are screaming at the computer ... also, they are smoking! No air conditioning here and it is probably 80 degrees and 90 per cent humidity. My room does have air conditioning.
We went to the ruins/tomb of a Chinese Emperor yesterday and it was incredible ... they are restoring it and these little Chinese men were carrying huge rocks with just rope. Not in my hotel but everywhere else you have to squat to go to the bathroom. It's almost impossible to make a phone call and very few people speak English. I'm proud of my students because they have been resourceful. They bought a fridge and worked out a deal to teach English on the side for cash. Today, I visit their engineering labs."
"June 11, 2002 I wish I were in a cybercafe. This is like a cement-block room with about 100 terminals. All the people are Chinese.... smoking, yelling, spitting -- except for me. They smoke like crazy!!! Today we had a campus tour and this afternoon we are seeing more cultural places. I'm taking the students out to dinner tonight. I leave for Beijing tomorrow. Hot today ... very hot. Love, Kerry"
"June 12, 2002 From China. The Great Wall was fantastic!!!!!!!! unbelievable... unreal !!!!!! What a trip this has been... home on Tuesday morning and am hoping many Daleys will be in Georgia for the 4th. Tom..please? What about Wendy? Will Maggie be there? My next international trip will be in February, Mexico again ... maybe London in the Fall. For the 4th, let's plan a low country boil ... Mom, we also have to make one of our Brie's ... so good .... but only when I can enjoy it with you! Hope all is well. Kerry."
"June 14, 2002 I have taken many pictures... today was spent in Tieneman Sq. and the Forbidden City... just great... Tom, will you be in GA for the 4th I will have my pictures with me then... also my pictures from Germany... what a year this has been... Love, K."
"June 16, 2002 Dear All: I went to Mass this morning ... it actually was a Catholic Mass -- but all in Chinese. They do the sign of peace by bowing to each other. It was soooo funny they kept bowing to me -- it wouldn't stop. My legs hurt today from climbing the Great Wall ... well worth it. Today (our last day) we are going to the silk/cashmere market ... I have picked up gorgeous silk scarves for pennies ... the dollar goes a VERY long way here... more later ... will report on the market ... actually looking forward to my 13 hour flight ... it is soooo comfy ... they pamper you the whole time ... how I love to be pampered. Love, Kerry"
China being China, we were surprised Kerry wrote so openly about the cybercafes but we felt we knew exactly what they were like. So this morning's news of 24 dead in an Internet bar similar to one Kerry wrote from was not surprising -- given the 100% smoking among those using the service. The Chinese government immediately closed down the cafes so I can't expect to hear from her. Yes, I feel concern, but I'm not obsessing about it.
What is surprising is my son Tom's take on this. Hours before the BBC announced Internet users were protesting the closing of all cybercafes, "one of the very few arenas in China for free expression," Tom wrote to me saying "they don't close down all McDonald's for one grease fire. I suspect foul play. A witness who escaped through the window smelled gasoline."
The Communist Party line is that the Internet bars are destroying the kids there. (Sounds like us with MTV). Where we are very concerned with access to pornography here, the Chinese rules ban not only pornography, but foreign news sites, and discussion issues of human rights or topics on government interference or corruption.
The students have nicknamed the high technology police: "the great firewall of China." It keeps watch over the Internet night and day. The city government agreed to open 200 of the cafes that are legal of the 2400 that were operating. Most are operating underground and certainly not applying for fire safety certificates and so blow their anonymity.
Just today, I read a line from a letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail: "We live, my dear soul, in an age of trial. What will be the consequence, I know not."
That was written in 1774. Has there ever been a time that was not a time of trial? Not in my years, not in my memory. This nagging trial of knowing Kerry could very well have been in harm's way will end when she answers her cell phone. That will mean she's somewhere in the United States -- our comfort zone.
Editor's note: In Orange County, Calif., this week, authorities also announced a crackdown on cybercafes that is expected to put many out of business.