Skater glides gracefully into role as envoy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2007, 12:00am

Skating queen Michelle Kwan is proud of her Chinese-American heritage. The glamorous 26-year-old remembers growing up with the sights and smells of her parent's Chinese restaurant, speaking Cantonese to her grandparents and relishing Lunar New Year and collecting lai see.

Kwan is known worldwide as an Olympic medallist, five-time world champion and the woman who won the US figure skater of the year award so many times, seven, it was named the Michelle Kwan Trophy.

Kwan, now a mother of two children, is in Hong Kong this week, not to demonstrate her skating prowess but as the first American Public Diplomacy Envoy. She is travelling with US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes.

But while Kwan was happy to talk about Hong Kong - 'I feel like a local when I come here because I can shop, bargain, order food and get around fairly easily' - she was not so keen on revealing her own political views.

'As an envoy, my personal political views are not in play,' she said yesterday. 'I'm here to express my experiences. That's my position, that's where I stand.'

She did, however, say that she admires Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who studied at the University of Denver, where Kwan is now a political science student.

Kwan was not in China to 'sell' the US, she said, but to 'share' and inspire others.

'I've been to several schools in Beijing and Guangzhou and talked to many students. Some asked me about how they can study abroad. Some were curious about studying in the US. I shared with them that some of my classmates wanted to study abroad in either Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong.'

Kwan considers herself lucky to have grown up experiencing Chinese and American cultures and said they share plenty of common traits, especially a desire for education, good health, respect for parents and to seek opportunity.

'I've had a great experience growing up Chinese-American,' she said. 'The world is so much smaller now and I'm very fortunate to have been exposed to that already. I'm open-minded when it comes to visiting other countries, understanding the cultures and traditions and respecting cultures.'

Kwan said Hongkongers recognised her as Guan Yong-shan rather than Michelle.

She returns to the US at the weekend, but not before giving several more talks to the young.