Getting it Built – Arnold Palmer’s China Experience
During my construction site inspection in January 1982, I saw what appeared to be an enormous tent village dotting the landscape. Upon closer inspection I found that these were 10’ by 6’ thatch huts, and each hut housed at least eight construction workers. As we wondered through the village and shook hands with the workers, I was amazed by their upbeat and indefatigable spirit. The work was backbreaking, but they couldn’t wait to invite us into their modest dwellings and offer us food and drink.
Standing outside one of the huts, I took out a small tape recorder to dictate some notes. One of the workers looked at me as though I had just come from another planet. I showed him the recorder and had him speak into the microphone. When he heard his own voice he almost fell over in astonishment. In appreciation he ran to another hut and came back with four new straw hats, the kind worn by the workers. “No, no,” I said. “We don’t want those. But we’ll give you the new ones and take the old ones from four of the workers.” They were thrilled.
I also gave this man a golf ball I had in my pocket. He stared at it for a few moments, then tried to take a bite out of the cover. “No,” I said. “You don’t eat it.” That’s when it dawned on me that the men engaged in the grueling labor of building our course had no idea what golf was. When I explained through an interpreter that this ball would be used to play the course our new friend was building, his eyes lit up and he took the ball from me as if I’d just presented him with the crown jewels of China.
Later that afternoon we were caught up in a terrible downpour, the kind of blinding rain great for growing rice, but that shuts down the shaping of a new golf course. Ed and I were quickly escorted to a nearby hotel when we stripped naked, given thick towels and told to wait in our rooms while our clothes dried. I felt silly standing in a room with only a towel around me, but we had a television, which proved quite entertaining. The only channel we got was playing an old black-and-white Glenn Ford movie I didn’t recognize.
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