Sitting for nearly 3 hours at the departing gate for Los Angeles at Beijing Airport, a face approaches asking for the seat next to me. I’d left my stuff in the chair, oblivious to how crowded the area had gotten.
It’s a slight man dressed in all black with black luggage. His face I recognized
“I know you. You’re Mr. Kuhn.” I don’t remember his first name.
He sits down and positions his bags.
“I watch your programs on PBS. Both the ones on China and the other ones.....”
“..Closer to Truth” He completes my sentence.
‘“Yes closer to the truth”
“I watch both of them. I enjoy them.”
He offers his hand. “Well I’m Robert. Nice to meet you....”
“..Sean” I say
“Nice to meet you”
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, I find upon later research, is not only the host of the PBS shows, he advises Xi Jing Ping on global financial strategy. He received the China Reform Friendship Award, the highest award in China. He’s been instrumental in shaping Chinese financial strategy on the global stage for 20 years. He’s written 25 books. His brain works ceaselessly. He travels 1st class on Air China.
“It’s unusual that you know about both programs. People usually only know one or the other.” He remarks.
“No no, I like both of them”
“So you live in Los Angeles?” I ask.
He’s not expecting it. He turns vulnerable in a split second.
“ Yes,… New York. I live in New York where my two sons are. I keep a place in Los Angeles too.”
“Where are you from?” He asks.
“I’m Iranian, living in the States.”
“You know we get a lot of feedback on Closer to Truth from Iran. We get more from there than any other country.”
“That’s very interesting.” I say.
He continues “Yes, they have a lot of ideas, they’re not knowledgeable but they have ideas.”
I wonder who, what segment of Iranian society, sends him feedback, and what he means by “not knowledgeable”?
Then he turns it to me.
“How long have you been here?”
I take it he wants to know about my trip so I go over a brief itinerary.
He listens through it.
Finally he says “So how long have you been in the United States?”
“Oh, 44 years.”
“So before the revolution?”
“Yes, came to go to school..”
“And you stayed?”
By now he is taking out his laptop.
“Your programs on China are objective and not partisan, which is hard to find in the United States...”
"...and here in China too”
He completes my sentence.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a civil engineer.”
He is now working on his laptop.
“ So, Closer to Truth, not to the truth.” I murmur to myself.
He can’t wait to respond, quite animated. “ When we started the show 20 years ago we thought calling it Closer to the truth would imply exclusivity and arrogance, so we called it Closer to Truth.”
“ By the way I also have another show on CGTN, the Chinese....”
I interrupt him “Yeah, I know.”
By this time he is fully into his laptop.
I stay quiet and play with my phone.
Few minutes pass. The announcement comes on, first in Chinese.
“That’s our flight.” He says
He extends his hand. “ Nice meeting you. See you on the plane, or at the luggage.”
“Nice meeting you. Keep up the good work. We enjoy it.”
By then I had forgotten his first name again.
“It’s challenging.” He says as he walks away.
I did run into him at the luggage at LAX but didn’t initiate anything. Total introverted ignorance. He didn’t make an effort either.