Beijing welcomes you, Ambassador Locke

Updated: 2011-08-19 09:06

By Patrick Mattimore (

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By now you surely have heard that America's new Ambassador to China, Chinese-American Gary Locke carried his own bags and backpack through the Beijing airport this past weekend. His widely distributed photo in the Seattle airport before he left for China shows him wearing that backpack and ordering his own coffee at Starbucks.

The most interesting part of the story is the larger moral tale that folks are spinning about this scenario, such as what a great humility lesson Ambassador Locke has provided for us. There are literally thousands of comments to that effect attached to the Yahoo story regarding the incident and, though I can't read Chinese, that appears to be the sentiment on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, as well.

Here's another interpretation. The man's frugal. How do I know? Because I carry my own bags and backpack through airports and would use a coupon to buy my Starbucks coffee if I ever drank there, which i don't because I'm too cheap - uh, I mean frugal.

But the former Governor of Washington is demonstrating some savvy here too since Starbucks is a Washington-based company which sells over-priced coffee. It's nice to know that the US former Commerce Secretary learned the financial crisis lessons about economizing and is saving coupons.

My best guess about the guy is that he's embarrassed by staying in overpriced hotel rooms or paying too much for a meal. That doesn't make him a saint nor does it establish his street creds as a common man, but it does suggest he's willing to get down a little. Call it frugal or humble but he's got a certain type of personality that's appealing. Let's call it the down-to-earth personality type.

It's not as if all American governors have that salt-of-the earth common touch. Ex-Governor Schwarzenegger used to be driven in his chauffeured Humvee across the street in Sacramento to get to work and would have his entourage clear the halls of the Capitol building as His Eminence made his way to and fro. Let's call him the high-priced, high maintenance personality type.

Then of course there's the former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer. Hard to know where to put him. Apparently, he was willing to spend $3,000 bucks or so a pop to shack up with high-priced and rather low-class call girls. He's sort of the high-priced no class personality type. Might work as a nice book end with that other guy who was Arkansas' governor and later President and also got caught with his pants down in the White House. But that's another story.

Ambassador Locke is by all accounts off to a good start and as we like to say, Beijing welcomes you Ambassador Locke and be you frugal, humble, or both, you sure seem like a welcome breeze.

The author formerly taught Advanced Placement Psychology in the US and is now an adjunct Professor in the Temple University Masters of Law program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.