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East meets the Old West

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By Stephen Knapp

Declaring that “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” Rudyard Kipling clearly never envisioned last Wednesday’s congenial blending of hemispheres at the Hiwan Homestead Museum.

In chill dark of early evening, a vanload of visitors from the Far East arrived for a personal tour of Evergreen’s most prominent symbol of the Old West. It was a distinguished group: 10 professors from the Yunnan Radio & TV University in Kunming, China, getting their first look at Rocky Mountain-style cowboy capitalism and apparently liking the view.

True, the lecturers hadn’t come all the way from the Republic of China for a look at the Homestead, although some might say it would be worth the trip. In fact, they’d come to Colorado at the invitation of Metropolitan State College of Denver. As it happens, Kunming (“The City of Perpetual Spring”) and Denver (“The Queen City of the Plains”) are sister cities, and MCSD and the Yunnan Radio & TV College are busy forging a mutually beneficial exchange program.

“We’re talking about a collaboration of students from both schools producing films on a single subject,” said Ken Bisio, an Evergreen resident and ace shutterbug with MSCD’s Department of Communication Arts & Sciences. “It should be interesting to see how two groups of students from two widely different cultures tell the same story. It’s visual anthropology.”

Anthropology, of course, is the handmaiden of history, which brings us back to last Wednesday’s happy affair. On disembarking, the Chinese were immediately taken with the small herd of mule deer quietly grazing Heritage Grove, and museum director John Steinle should be commended for artfully staging that highly authentic display.

Inside, after a suitable exchange of greetings and recognitions, the delegates were ushered into the homestead’s Great Room, where they arranged themselves in front of a bright and colorful Christmas tree for a battery of keepsake photographs.

Curiously, or maybe not, Steinle’s move to snap the scene met with cautious resistance from the group’s leader, Dr. Xu Bin. A slender man of immense dignity and impeccable formality — sort of like Yunnan Province’s answer to Basil Rathbone — Dr. Xu wished to know the director’s “purpose” in taking their picture. Schooled in the esoteric arts of diplomacy, Steinle deftly recited some very passable boilerplate about how their photograph would occupy a place of honor within the museum’s historical archive, which was true enough, and satisfied Dr. Xu, and the tour continued in a spirit of good fellowship and international cooperation.

For more than an hour, the Chinese walked the Homestead’s ancient hallways and admired its antique artifacts. Because Steinle’s Mandarin is about on a par with the delegates’ English, interpreting duties were performed by Angela Yang from MSCD’s Office of Academic Affairs. According to Yang, the group had a lot of good things to say.

“Dr. Xu is very interested in history, and he thought the museum was wonderful,” she said. “He also liked the deer, and how everything here is so natural. Instead of urban beauty, you have natural beauty.”

Well, that’s what the good Dr. Xu thinks. How about the rank and file?

“They are all interested in the American West,” Yang said. “Everybody liked all the old things, the furniture and tables and chairs, and the American Indian artifacts. They thought it was admirable that you have preserved these things so well.”

Before arriving in Evergreen, the professors had already enjoyed a whirlwind tour of the MSCD campus, lunch at Famous Dave’s Barbecue and, still packing a load of Dave’s famously dense product, spent the afternoon clambering around Red Rocks Amphitheatre. “They had a snowball fight,” Bisio remarked.

From the Homestead Museum, it was off to El Rancho for supper and carriage rides on the unapologetically decadent 16th Street Mall.

“It was interesting to see how everybody deferred to Dr. Xu,” said Steinle. “Even Angela did it. You could tell they were following a pretty strict protocol.

“They seemed very interested in the chapel, and they seemed fascinated by the icebox. They also liked the part about Dr. Jo — Josepha Douglas — who was one of the first women to earn a medical degree.

“They really were a great group, very interested in everything. I really enjoyed having them.”