Alabaster mayor brings back experiences from trip to the Far East

Published 6:31 pm Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Beijing is a long way from Alabaster, but Mayor David Frings recently bridged the gap during a weeklong trip to China.

Frings, who was traveling on a Samford University environmental management graduate program recruiting trip, took part in the 15th annual China International Education Exhibition Tour and he said the cultural experience was one he’ll never forget.

“I didn’t speak any Chinese,” Frings said. “I was a little apprehensive.”

The 22-hour flight from Birmingham to Minneapolis, Minn., to Tokyo is not an easy one for anyone to make, much less someone who hadn’t flown in 3,103 days.

“I hadn’t flown since September 11 (2001),” Frings said.

On that day, Frings, State Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and members of the City Council were traveling to Washington D.C., on a business recruiting trip.

So not only was the cultural experience new, but the new international airline security guidelines were eye opening.

Once in China, Frings immediately begun to shed any preconceived notions he had about the Communist nation.

While many view China as an opponent to the United States and as opposition to the capitalistic and democratic world, Frings said you can’t always believe what you see on TV.

“They have all classes of people like we do — the upper, rich class, a middle class and a lower class,” Frings said. “Beijing is so big that there are people there who have never traveled to certain parts in the city because it is so large.”

One difference Frings did immediately notice was the food.

“There were no fortune cookies or sesame chicken,” Frings said.

Frings said the Chinese people hardly ever use plates when eating, but rather pick off the same platter and eat out of bowls.

While he ate traditional meals like duck, seafood and beef, he also branched out for some area favorites such as hot pot, a meal of boiled beef, and sleeping fish, a big bowl of a dark-based stock with tofu covering several whole 8-inch fish.

“I was a little worried it may wake up in my stomach,” Frings said jokingly.

As a result of the Chinese cuisine, Frings came back 10 pounds lighter, although he didn’t completely give up his American diet.

While Frings did pass by the local McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut, he couldn’t resist the Starbucks.

Frings also took in several sights in the city, including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

And for people in Alabaster who think traffic is bad, Frings said Beijing’s 17 million people help make for some back-ups.

“Traffic was horrendous,” Frings said. “But in seven days, I never saw a wreck.”

In fact, he said he also never heard a siren or saw an emergency vehicle on a call, although he said the number of people employed as law officials was overly unproportional.

But as much as he learned from the country and the Chinese people, he said he also hopes they learned a bit more about the United States.

When he informed people that he was the mayor of a city with nearly 30,000 people, many could not believe that an elected official would just be among the people.

“They were shocked I was by myself. They wanted to know where my entourage was,” Frings said. “They seemed a little surprised by the fact that I am just an everyday person here.”