To be tall, fair and blond in China is to be noticed. To be the daughter “of a visiting VIP is to be stared at. To be all those things on a new pair of polyurethane-wheeled shoe skates is to draw a crowd, and a fascinated one. Which is how Eleanor Mondale, the 19-year-old daughter of the Vice-President, became the hit of her dad’s recent seven-day swing through the People’s Republic.
Originally, Eleanor packed her blue-wheeled skates to get some exercise, preferably along the Great Wall. “Her father nixed that,” says Joan Mondale, mindful perhaps of how that scene might play in Peking. Eleanor settled instead for a concrete rink in the Cultural Park in Canton. “Most people wore the old-fashioned skates with metal wheels,” says Eleanor. “I can do a few tricks, but some of the young kids were really very good, able to spin each other around in circles. When we did the snake I was glad I wasn’t at the end—we were going very fast.”
When not in her size-seven skates, Eleanor examined life-size pottery figures excavated in Xi’an and attended two banquets in the Great Hall of the People with her mother and father. The highlight? “Meeting and talking to girls my age,” she says. “I would ask them what they thought of Americans and of how we dressed, and if it shocked them to see pictures of us at discos with practically nothing on.” They giggled diplomatically. What her new Chinese acquaintances seemed to find most surprising was her height (5’8″, and two inches taller on skates) and Minnesota blond good looks. “The funniest thing was my hair,” she laughed. “They kept pointing at it and then touching their own.”
Returning home, Eleanor flew off to Canton—Canton, N.Y., that is—to begin her sophomore year at St. Lawrence University. She competes in horseback riding for the college team and works two days a week in a drugstore to earn spending money. “I have to,” she confides. “I don’t get any allowance.” The other thing she doesn’t get (by her choice) is Secret Service protection. “They just draw attention,” she says, “and make people nervous.”
Because someday she hopes to be an actress, she did publicity work this summer for Neil Simon’s Chapter Two in Los Angeles and New York. Wherever she goes she lugs her skates along and practices. “In California, I wasn’t treated any differently from anyone else,” Eleanor says with gratitude. “I guess they are used to so-called celebrities out there. It was great.”