As I've mentioned before, I love living in Salt Lake City. Along with Iowa City, it's one of the most liberal, left-leaning places I've ever lived in my life; along with Tucson, it's one of the most geographically beautiful spots I've been lucky enough to call home. It's well planned (kudos to Brothers Joseph and Brigham for that), well maintained, clean, diverse, prosperous, interesting. It has a truly magnificent library that is always packed because I and countless others use it all the time; it has really great public transportation that I hardly ever use because it's so easy to walk in this city and I prefer that to riding the bus or figuring out train schedules. It has a vibrant arts scene, lots of green space, a fascinating graveyard, and plenty of fascinating architecture. It even has a violin making school!
OK, it also has a bunch of homophobic Mormons and the headquarters of the Mormon church, but all of that is remarkably easy to ignore, because as I said, the city itself is really liberal, and that affects life in the city itself (I'm NOT talking about the rest of the state) more than the Mormon church does. And some Mormons here do really great things for the city, the state, and perhaps even the world.
I'm speaking of the current governor, Jon Huntsman Jr, the Republican who miraculously succeeded in making Utah's liquor laws less weird and who has alienated more hardline conservatives by arguing for gay rights. (He balks at legalizing gay marriage, but advocates recognizing civil unions, which is much more generous than many conservatives.) He's a decent guy who makes careful policy. And now Obama has appointed him ambassador to China.
While I'm sorry that Utah will lose a prudent, effective, likable governor, I'm thrilled with this appointment. I think that the ambassadorship to China is one of the more important diplomatic positions within the US government, and I think Huntsman is an ideal candidate to fill it.
Like me, Huntsman became fluent in Mandarin when he served a mission for the Mormon church in Taiwan; unlike me, he appears to have maintained his fluency. But aside from the language issue, I think a mission in Taiwan was probably really good training for understanding a lot of issues in China. I mean, if you want to be a xenophobic jerk who learns nothing at all about the culture you're living in, you can manage that as a missionary, but if you want to understand what motivates people and what they care about, you can manage that too, fairly easily. Actually, I take that first part back. You couldn't even get in the door of someone's house or buy groceries if you didn't understand something about Chinese attitudes toward courtesy and indirectness.
There's also the fact that at the time Huntsman served a mission, diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the Mainland were nonexistent--people couldn't even send mail between the two places. Even when I was there, missionaries were often enlisted to help people in Taiwan correspond with family or friends on the Mainland: missionaries would mail letters from people in Taiwan to the missionaries' families in the US, who would then use US postage and a US return address to send the letter to Peoples' Republic of China. That was a huge lesson in international relations right there.
Plus Huntsman is a billionaire, which I have a feeling the government of China will totally respect.
And unlike Mitt Romney, another Mormon governor/rich businessman with lots of hair, he's not a douche nozzle, which I think will help things too.
The title of this blog entry, by the way, is the Romanization for a question easily translated as "do you understand?" "Dong" doesn't rhyme with "long," you should know; the vowel is the same as in "don't." The question is composed with a standard way of constructing a question in Chinese: you offer someone a set of options and they pick the accurate one--about like, "Do you get it or not?" Even when posing a question that could be answered with "Yes" if the question were posed in English--say, "You understand this, right?"--the answer would not be "Yes" but "I understand" (or even just plain "understand") because Chinese doesn't have a word that corresponds exactly to "yes." All of which is important in effective communication in Chinese, and all of which Huntsman already dongs.