Someday a TV situation comedy will be made about what goes on behind the scenes on a White House trip. But it won't be nearly so interesting as what happened on George Bush's maiden voyage abroad as president.
Bush's spokesman got engaged, his fiancee ended up with a dislocated jaw, the cloisonne artifacts inventory of China was diminished, a wire service reporter was left in China, new White House staffers conceded they have a lot to learn and Jennifer Wilder was happy.Wilder, 17, saw none of the turmoil. One of 150 students in Seoul whose good grades got them a day off from school for the Bush visit, she saw only the glamour of the president's appearance.
As she watched Bush shove his glasses into his pocket and give a snappy salute at the door of Air Force One, the pretty young woman, whose mother is Korean and whose father is in the U.S. military, momentarily lost her poise. "Boy, that was neat," she exclaimed.
Then, she got serious about the historic nature of the visit - presidential visits have that effect. "Well, actually, I'm sad he only spent five hours in Korea. But I'm happy he came. It's real important because of all the anti-American demonstrations going on right now."
Then she scampered off to get her picture taken with friends near Air Force One as Marlin Fitzwater, the president's spokesman, stood in the background.
Meanwhile, Fitzwater had his own problems.
His fiancee, Carol Powers, a White House photographer, had gotten her jaw dislocated when she was pushed into a door by Chinese security guards in the Forbidden City while photographing Barbara Bush's museum tour.
Mrs. Bush got upset, raising her voice at the guards to tell them the photographer worked for her husband. Fitzwater, who hadn't formally announced his engagement to Powers, let the cat out of the bag while voicing his concern.
Determined not to put a damper on the visit, the White House downplayed the incident. Privately, aides said that the problem was both poor advance work for the tour and the fact that Mrs. Bush wanted no "staging."
Meanwhile, reporters were besieging Fitzwater for a clarification of why a dissident Chinese scientist named Fang had been kept out of a Texas barbecue for 500 people that Bush hosted in Beijing and why the president wasn't more forceful in voicing concern about human rights violations in China.
Fitzwater said, "Quiet diplomacy is the appropriate course for raising the human rights issues in China. But we do publicly and officially regret this incident."
In other words, the White House was furious and was trying to find out why Chinese officials didn't let Fang in. But, again, determined not to put a damper on the visit, they downplayed the incident.
Bush's advisers, meanwhile, were huddled together trying to figure out how to minimize the damage from the Senate's gingerly approach to John Tower, who promised he wouldn't drink anymore if he's confirmed as defense secretary. Nobody had any answers.
In order not to put a damper on the visit, the White House downplayed the Tower story.
With nobody getting any sleep because of the full schedule and 14-hour time change, most people on the trip opted to shop until they dropped.
So many cloisonne vases, jade Buddhas, oriental rugs and battery-operated pandas were sold in Beijing's Friendship Store for tourists that the White House tour director, Billy Dale, was concerned the press charter plane might not be able to go all the way home without refueling. The plane was OK.
Fitzwater joked after a shopping expedition that he was the "cloisonne kid." A New York Times reporter, handing his parcels to a flight attendant, said, "Be careful. Part of the 16th century is in one and the other has the 18th century."
But the plane was lighter by one White House reporter, an exhausted French wire service reporter who worked all night and missed the 6 a.m. bus to Beijing airport. The poor man was left in Beijing without luggage and without a passport (the White House had it) while French and American embassy people worked urgently to get him back to the States.
As reporters and staff waited in the chilly dawn in yet another line as their bags were hand-searched before boarding the plane, a rumor swept through the line.
"Did you hear Bush might go to Australia and South America before he goes to Brussels for the NATO summit and Paris for the economic summit?"
The chorus of groans was deafening.