My wonderful editor, Paul Basile, who recommends subjects for this column from time to time, faxed me an article from an old edition of the Washington Post with the headline “The ‘Last American Tourist’ Flees Beijing.” The article, dated June 13, 1989, identifies this month’s subject, Daniel Nardini, as “the last American tourist,” a dedicated educator and journalist. The article describes Nardini’s misfortune to arrive in Beijing on June 3, 1989, the night tanks and troops smashed into Tiananmen Square to recapture it from student demonstrators, as we vividly recall only too well.
Nardini’s adventures and travels to the Far East are best described in his own words, which we submit for this profile:
“Since age 15, I had a great fascination for lands near and far: my ancestral land of Italy, Mexico and Latin America and Europe. But the country that fascinated me most was China. I was inspired even further by the film “The Last Emperor” (a Bernardo Bertolucci film), which came out in 1988, and I went to Shanghai, China, in May of 1989.
“When I arrived in China, pro-democracy demonstrations were taking place in Beijing, Shanghai and many other cities. I saw all of downtown Shanghai literally shut down by 500,000 students and young people. The pro-democracy marches and demonstrations continued in Shanghai for three and a half weeks. More than 1 million people occupied Tiananmen Square during the middle of May. Because of the pro-democracy movement, it was extremely hard to travel, but the family I stayed with managed to get me tickets to Beijing on June 2.
“When I arrived on June 3, soldiers had already taken over the train station. That night, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army smashed their way into Beijing. I was a witness to the mass killings, and shall never forget the horror of that night and what came next. The next week, the Chinese government launched a wave of mass arrests and terror. I had to hide most of the time since I was not registered with the authorities. With the help of friends, I managed to sneak into the U.S. embassy, where they helped me get a flight out of the country. While at the embassy, I met with journalist Daniel Sutherland and photographer Dudley Brooks of the Washington Post. Mr. Sutherland would eventually do an article on me titled ‘The Last American Tourist Flees Beijing.’
“In 1990, I was nearly destitute when I received a job offer to teach English as a foreign language to children in Taiwan. I took the job offer to teach at Hess Language School in Taichung, Taiwan’s third largest city. The job proved to be a lifesaver. Not only was I earning a living, but I was now able to learn more about traditional Chinese culture, history and religion.
“Five months after moving to Taichung, I found an ideal place to live — a nearby Chinese farmhouse in a village called Sze Jiang Li. It was a wonderful way of observing some of the fundamental traditions of Chinese society — a way of life that was rapidly becoming lost in Taiwan’s major cities.
“I stayed at Hess Language School for four years, retiring in 1994 when I returned to the United States. But I still missed Asia so I applied for a teaching position at ELS International in South Korea and was assigned to their largest school in Seoul.
“I lived in Seoul for one year, teaching adults English as a foreign language. I gained a great deal of insight into Korean history and culture, and explored a number of places in the country such as the ancient capital Kyongju and Kangwha Island. In one of my English classes, I met my wife, Jade (maiden name: Ryoo Hoa Soon).
“Before working at the Lawndale Newspaper, my position since 1994, I wrote about my experiences in China. My book, ‘Last Tourist Out of China,’ was published in 1991. My commentaries became a hit, and I’ve been doing commentaries as a permanent columnist of the Lawndale Newspaper ever since.
“My grandfather, Dominico Nardini, immigrated to the United States in 1907 and married Maria Penagasser in 1920. In the 1920s and 1930s, my grandfather and three other Italian immigrants owned a dairy plant on the North Side of Chicago. My father, James Nardini, was born and raised in the Italian slums in Chicago, and wrote a fictionalized account of his childhood titled ‘The Kid.’ “My wife and I reside in the village of Chadwick, Ill.”